Wednesday, July 16, 2014

For Most, System Doesn't Matter

This should be filed under the heading 'Duh', but sometimes such things are worth highlighting for a moment or two.

Over the years one of the things I keep hearing people say in various forums and blogs is that the game system doesn't matter. Back when I first heard that, it struck me as impossible given that the rules of a game are... well very important to the course of what happens in a game. So the question was why were people claiming such a thing?

It didn't take long to figure out the answer if the people involved ever described one of their sessions in any significant detail or if you happen to be watching. They flatly just didn't use the rules. And when you're not using them, of course they don't matter.

D&D AC, to hit rolls and HP points? Useless when a GM allows a PC to pop the head off a villain with a simple STR check. Rules for vehicle armor and damage? Forgotten when a GM simply allows the PC to fire a round through a grate or a vision slot to inflict immediate destruction.

And so it goes.

All these have one thing in common however, they always and I can't recall a single exception- make things *easier* for the players. Following the rules is difficult you see, and might get in the way of the player's goals. Just making stuff up on the other hand is call 'creative' , when in fact it's just a cheap and very likely a stupid way of avoiding any negative possiblities in a rpg.

All nice and well if self-serving and more than a bit childish, after all one of the measures of becoming an adult used to be learning to follow the rules, to show sportsmanship while doing so, and to earn your victories while admitting your loses. Used to be, those days seem gone and I find it unlikely they'll ever return.

This explains why such horrible rules as D&D (any version, any company) and the 40K rpgs sell. None of the buyers every used the rules enough to figure out that they suck.

The only question that remains is why people who are very willing to ignore the rules and decide outcomes based upon the most flimsy of player excuses- buy and 'play' games with a significant amount of rules in the first place? There is no possible answer that doesn't reflect poorly upon the people in question.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Converting Only War

As I've noted before (here), we found FFG's Only War to be an very safe and easy game. It's also a very broken one mechanically making the common design error of stacking bonuses resulting in PCs shrugging off anything short of anti-vehicle weapons .

While the marketing for the game is the complete opposite (i.e. promising death around every corner and uphill battles), the reality plays to what I've decided is majority mindset in RPG circles today, easy and quick wins for the plays with lots of loot and other goodies although most won't admit to it (as a talked about here).

So my group is something of an oddity. They get bored real quick with that sort of game.

As a result I've been working on expanding Age of Heroes to cover sci-fi settings in general and 40K specifically. It's a fair amount of work to say the least, but we reached the point where the draft Science-Fantasy Expansion and the 40K campaign supplement can manage some adventures.

Being test games, I used encounters that would have been a cake walk for beginning characters in Only War. Even so, The resulting change in style of play was as expected day and night.

These first two sessions ended up being violent and dangerous battles that saw two characters nearly killed, others knocked out of the battle, and the destruction of the team's M41 multi-laser (getting a replacement is far from a certainty). The PCs only managed to edge out a victory in the second one due some very timely and important Orc weapon malfunctions. As hoped, the course of the battle was like something out of a Hollywood war movie.

Compared to the previous cake walks, this was far more satisfying.

I don't really expect the rate of character deaths to increase over anything but the long term. Age of Heroes has very decisive and bloody combats with a high rate of PC incapacitation and injury, but still keeps PC death unlikely to support long campaigns. Unlike most modern RPGs however, character deaths are possible and indeed become likely if unless the players keep their heads about themselves.

At this point I'm very happy with the result.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Was worried that this movie would throw itself aground by making seriously overt political statements and screwing up what was best about the first Captain America movie.

In the end, it turned out better than I expected and all in all I liked the movie more than not.

The characters were well done and in general true to themselves, the action scenes were great, and I was surprised that they didn't go with the Black Widow romance instead setting up a possible future connection with Sharon.

On the political side of things, I think they managed to walk a nice tightrope that allows viewers on the Left to blame Bush/Military thinking as the 'big picture Bad Idea" while the Right can point to Obama's Kill List and expanded Drone use (the makers of the film openly claimed the latter as their inspiration for what it's worth).  If one insists on being political at all, at least that's ideal method for a big tent pole summer movie.

However on both sides of that question they backed away from making it a strong link by making the US President and other government members and SHIELD agents the first targets of the Insight Weapons.  In short, they made it so big and so disconnected from loyal US citizens that they blow their underlying 'message'. So yes, better than expected although I think less than what the makers thought they were doing.

Other than that it's just a general and obvious warning that one can go too far on the Security-Freedom scale. In that line some of it (the scenes between Cap and Fury for the most part) come off a lame half-arguments
that doesn't let anyone really address the issues. More walking the tight rope while pretending otherwise.

Still for my part, I could have done without any of it as none of it added to my enjoyment of the movie. On the bright side it was a passing moment easily ignored.

But there was a much more major part of the plot I didn't like...

Modern comics loving giving readers neat characters and awesome toys, and then destroying them. And now the movies have followed in that path first with the Iron Man armors and in this movie with SHIELD. I like SHIELD, it's cool and fun- more so than the CIA (where Sharon ended up) or the FBI (who I assume are the guys arresting the Hydra senator). Now it's gone (at least for while, there's still a TV show named after it assuming it doesn't get canceled).

I also didn't care for the fact that they basically tossed all the heroes of the past under the failure bus (Peggy Carter and Howard Stark where the founders of SHIELD, and thus the ones who allowed it be corrupted from the beginning). There should be room for "Heroes of another Story" without them being torn down revealed to be fools or road kill. In fact this applies to the whole background of the movie, in which every evil and threat of the post-war period is due to the manipulation of a single comic book villain group instead of the evil that mankind does as a matter of course.

As to the grittier and darker take this movie represents, I do think there's room for stale beer in a comic book movie, as long as its contained. But in this case it was too far reaching, and cast the entire world in terms of failure. This was the Dark Age of comics with a Golden/Silver Age character guest starring.

And perhaps that's why I ended up liking the movie more than not, because I've come to view the world as entering its own Dark Age and would like an icon of what was great about the past to still exist. Still, wouldn't it be nice to have more than one of those?

Friday, April 4, 2014

Deadly Games- Now without Death

One of the common conflicts one sees in online RPG forums is that between posters who say that the PCs risk death in their games, and those who want to play their characters without worrying about losing them to random and often meaningless events. The former call the latter wimps and pound their chests about how hardcore they are.

Previously I personally didn't care much about either side, not because I didn't have a opinion- but because I play both ways depending upon the campaign's genre. I took them at their word and passed them by.

However I've noticed something about "Our Campaign is so Deadly" types that arose out of our Only War experience a bit back. On of the players in the online campaign made the statement "this game is so deadly...", but no one had died. How could he say that? Then a thread over on therpgsite referenced my posts about those campaigns and the same subject came up there and so I put the question to the 'deadly game' proponents there.

And guess what? None of these players of these so called 'deadly games' actually could give an example of a significant PC being killed.

The key word there is *significant*, as I did get examples of characters that hadn't been played long dying, 1st level guys in a D&D dungeon crawl, newly created 5th level D&D characters intended to introduce new players to the game, or a PC in a CoC that wasn't meant to last more than a few sessions anyway. Those were the examples I got. But of characters dying after years of play with real history behind them? None except for those I provided myself.

In short, these 'deadly' campaigns would kill the hamsters (i.e. short lived PCs that don't really have much player investment) but long lived ones were in practical terms as safe as the wimpiest 'PCs don't die unless they want to' campaign.

And to add an even weirder outcome, most of the people who started the thread making the claims of deadly campaigns- ran from the thread and repeated their clearly untrue claims in other threads. They were completely unwilling to face the fact that their threats of 'deadly campaign' had been proven empty by their own history. I must wonder if they are lying to themselves as much as they are lying to others.

So in the future dear reader, if you see one of those types- asked when was last time he had one of his long played PCs die. Or anyone else in the campaign. Odds are good that you're get a blank look, or find out that they don't do long-run campaigns at all.

Monday, December 23, 2013

New Blood, and Onward to the Next Campaign

Finished up our Only War campaign, and it's rather nice to be done with it. It was fun to stomp everything that comes along, but the joy of doing that quickly passes when its too easy. My son's online Only War campaign continues, there the Guard (having gotten a hold of the better weapons like auto-cannons and Meltas) can handily curb-stomp Chaos Space Marines due to how forgiving the game system is.

We have a new player which is always fun. The whole concept behind RPGs greatly intrigued her when she heard about it, so much so that she attempted to drive into whatever game she could last week including going to one of the local D&D gatherings (multiple groups in a local hobby store) because all those books for it looked... well wonderful.  She came away saying that if that had been her first experience, it would have been her last.

Afterwards I attempted to explain the state of game design and the hobby to her. Basically it comes down to the fact that today's players want to win, and win easily. If they can get loot while doing so- all the better. Both their games and their role-playing are centered on those goals, and that's the end of their needs and desires. Thus you have games like D&D and Only War. This makes up nearly the entire market now and I've given up any hope that it will change.

We've started our next campaign, which has the traditional (for us) title of X-babies, attempts to give it a real name always fail for some reason.

It's superheroes using 5th Edition Hero System, centering on a new class of Mutants at the re-imagined school for Gifted Youngsters (i.e. re-imagined because it's really quite different from the comics or movies- which we all loathe this days) . Intended to be a fun and care free campaign it's a great introduction to role-playing with a tactical focus during combat, with a huge amount of fun and silly role-playing (in and out of battles). This is a setting we often use for new players for just those reasons.

Our next game is tomorrow and I'm really looking forward to it.