Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Ozymandias

It is hard for those of us who grew up with wargames, who loved them, who spent so many years studying them and taking them seriously as works of scholarship and art, it is hard for us to acknowledge this. We keep on hoping for some last minute reprieve, some renaissance; how could so much effort, so much inspired work, go for nought? How can it be that all of our labors will be forgotten? Yet it is so: whole artforms, whole genres grow and disappear. Where now is vaudeville? Radio drama? The air story? Perhaps board wargaming will survive in some form, greatly diminished from its glory days, as have poetry and the western; but that is all that can be hoped for.
In one of those odd bits of synchronicity, I was reading the above earlier this morning just as it was being linked to in another forum. With Fall finally upon us, I suppose it's natural to think about senescence and death and, for those of us in the RPG hobby, especially those of us who picked up our first polyhedral dice in the late 70s, the shade of our hobby's "old brother" -- wargaming -- looms very large.

Costikyan's essay is a little out of date, since wargaming has in fact had something of a renaissance in recent years, though it's a fairly modest one, driven largely by hobbyists. The days of selling 50-200K copies of a hex-and-chit Civil War or World War II games are long gone and they ain't ever coming back. But, from what I gather (not being a wargamer myself), there are now more games available from more small companies than there have been in some time. That's a Good Thing™ for guys who love wargaming as a hobby.

I think this offers an instructive example for us in the old school renaissance. I won't go so far as to say that traditional roleplaying's future will be the same as that of wargaming. Nevertheless, I remain committed to the notion that our hobby's previous glory days -- in the sense of mass market popularity and success -- are gone, unlikely ever to return, except through some unexpected wave of nostalgia for the 80s. I'm perfectly fine with that and, much as I'd enjoy seeing traditional roleplaying take off in a big way again, I don't expect it. And I don't think there's some "magic bullet" RPG publishers could find to change the course of history.

As Costikyan writes, lots of entertainment forms rise, fall, and effectively disappear and roleplaying as it was constituted in its Golden Age may be one of them, but that has almost zero effect on my continued enjoyment of it, since, so long as there are others who share my particular idiosyncratic passions, I don't really lack for anything. I'm not a big corporation that needs to make tons of money off gaming nor am I a salaried employee of same whose livelihood depends on huge sales. Except for the fact that I'm older and thus have less free time overall, I'm enjoying gaming as much as I ever have.

I won't go so far as to proclaim that today is a new Golden Age by any means, but it's a pretty good one. There's lots of cool stuff happening on my side of the fence and it's enriched my OD&D gaming considerably. And even if there weren't, the best part about this hobby is that you really don't need anything beyond the rules (and even they are optional) and some people to play with. Beyond the people who sit around my table each week, I don't owe anyone else anything, least of all game companies. With the notable exception of Paizo, I don't think I've bought anything from a long-established game company in about two years and I don't see that changing anytime soon. It's a really liberating feeling, honestly. If every game company with more than 2 employees ceased to be tomorrow, I wouldn't be adversely affected one bit and that's how it should be.

In short, I'm very happy with my gaming these days and have been for some time. I don't care if what I do is appealing to a wide audience and neither should anyone else. The value of any hobby is the personal enjoyment one derives from it and I get a heck of a lot of it from gaming. End of story.

29 comments:

  1. Costikyan's a great writer but I think he was myopic in this essay. Its upshot is basically 'TSR did it,' which is like saying Orly Taitz killed Clinton's healthcare plan. In fact Costikyan passes by a crucial part of the answer only to dismiss it:

    It seems likely that many board wargamers have drifted off to computer games, and that many younger players who might otherwise have been attracted to wargaming have gone to computer games instead. [...] Computer roleplaying games have not killed D&D; computer adventure games have not killed novels; and computer wargames did not kill paper wargames.

    The crucial bit isn't 'drifting off,' it's (1) younger players and (2) the incorrect supposition that the only possible competition for paper games is their specific computer analogues. A kid's not gonna skip D&D for a lame computer version of D&D, he's gonna instead choose the streamlined, very very computer-specific experience of World of Warcraft (or Tetris). Kids aren't born loyal to older 'pure' entertainment forms and then simply distracted; that's a silly, traditionalist view of media history. Paper gaming isn't instinctual; it's just a mode of fun, and every other mode of fun is its competition. Costikyan's essay seems to glide by this point.

    Paper games are not able to compete on even ground in the computer/video game era; they lack the movement, sound, fast-paced interactivity, and flash of machines. They have to compete on their own terms, which means honesty and outreach. What are the signal pleasures of paper wargames? Meditative pacing, unhurried puzzle-solving, detailed simulation, historical consciousness, etc. The question is, how do you sell those things? Kids value cool, alas; what's cool about such an activity?

    By analogy: What's cool about a church youth group? Something, obviously, for some. But nothing is less cool than church youth groups attempting to co-opt mainstream aesthetics. (It's an 'uncanny valley' problem.)

    Obviously the specific business problems Costikyan discusses played a major role in gutting the U.S. wargames industry in the 1980's; his history there is excellent. But if there had been a youth audience interested in taking up wargames - and an adult audience committed to outreach and mentorship outside its own comforting niche - such games could still be reaching a commercial (not just a hobbyist) audience. The industry didn't die because it stopped reaching its existing audience; it was ready to die because it had stopped creating new audiences. (Costikyan seems to explicitly and uncritically accept that this was fine for the industry - see section 3 paragraph 5 of his essay.)

    The 'OSR' is in a similar situation. You're not competing with other roleplaying games; you're peddling a variety of fun, so you're competing with other kinds of fun. WotC believes it sells a kind of fun that can hold up in a wide-open entertainment marketplace. The OSR guys don't seem to be involved in the same kind of endeavour for the most part. But the growth of old-fashioned roleplaying can't simply be redistributive, borrowing audience from disaffected D&D 3.0 players, Peter-unwitting-funding-Paul style.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Honestly, so what if it isn't the "hot and sexy" hobby it once was. I don't need it to be widely appreciated or followed for me to enjoy it. I had a friend who was a black-powder rifle enthusiast. Needless to say, he was part of a small community. While it did make it difficult for him to find fellows to chat about flintlock rifles on a Saturday afternoon, it brought him pleasure and joy.

    When I moved to the very, very small town in which I know reside, I couldn't find anyone to game with, and spent years not doing RPG's. But then I recruited people, some one whom had experiences with RPG's in the past, but who some hadn't, and now I've got an active little gaming group of my own creation.

    As you say, the best part is that I don't need to find manufacturers of black powder or round munitions to make it happen.

    ReplyDelete
  3. A positive specification, then: What's stopping gamers from doing story-game hours at, say, a local library? Not just for little kids but for adults of all ages. Use the trivially simple Over the Edge rules (dice pools make intuitive sense) to run a super-rules-lite story/exploration game set in, say, the Harry Potter universe or some such thing. Advertise it to local parents as a 'fun story game hour.' That's a hell of a lot closer to old-school D&D than to 4e, and it's a form of outreach that's way, way outside the hermetic RPG/hardcore-gamer demographic.

    Anyhow that's to clarify my goal, which is making new gamers. Let them choose their systems later, I don't care, but get them trying the games, under whatever names you like. Advertise the activity, not the game name, and you'll highlight the intrinsic appeal of the activity. RPGs are plenty appealing in play, once you get past their generally stupid content; maybe that's one way to make a new audience for old games.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Your words ring true James. I stated something similar on a forum where people where debating how to "save" the industry.

    My reply was that I didn't care about it because I have more than enough RPG material to last me a lifetime.

    From this prespective the only real downside of not living in the 80s boom-times is that it's harded to form a gaming group because the pool of players has decreased. But that doe not prevent us from going out and try to grab a bunch of newbies to play; it just requires a little extra effort.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Wally:
    "But nothing is less cool than church youth groups attempting to co-opt mainstream aesthetics. (It's an 'uncanny valley' problem.)"

    Wow, that's one interesting insight.

    I was just thinking about uncanny valley on my way in to work today, about the oft mooted humanoid 'peacekeeper' military robots. I was thinking how trying to give them human faces creates Uncanny Valley effects, and a big Smiley-face would be similarly unnerving, but you don't want them looking like ED-109 either. Best approach I think would be to give them the faces of lions, bears, eagles and other fierce creatures.
    Which relates to RPGs how... Well, let them sell on their USPs, not as poor imitations of video games.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Personally, "a renaissance ... a fairly modest one, driven largely by hobbyists" is all I'm shooting for. We got more people doing more creative work with the games I love than I've seen in a long time. That's a win in my book. Direct support by a multimillion dollar company would be sprinkles on top, but the sundae is already pretty tasty.

    ReplyDelete
  7. While I do think GC is quick to blame TSR for something that might have been a bit beyond their control (It sounded like SPI had a whole lot of debt and stuck TSR with a bad deal), your quote from him is spot on.

    The key to remember is a old Biblical expression. "This too shall pass", which can apply to good and bad.

    Entertainment is constantly changing. As we get older we will see certain aspects of our culture change and not everything will survive. The people who say "there will all be RPGs", sometimes don't realize this. vaudeville virtually died off, so did scripted radio dramas.

    I have a feeling in the next 20 years, we won't have (the current american version of) comic books, comic strips in newspapers, and TV may move to a total "on-demand" service outside of news and live events.

    The important thing is to enjoy what you like today, and try not to berate the younger people with bitterness. I learned in my late twenties that lesson. Enjoy the fact that YOU enjoy things, don't worry about "how popular" it is.

    If the music you grow up with becomes "oldies", don't get mad at music today, go to the oldies shows and listen to those stations and enjoy the acts you love while they are still around and performing.

    And be at least open to new entertainment as well. If you can't find a gaming group who plays your version, be open to trying new things. You might not find an OD&D group, but maybe there's a computer game, an LARPG, or an alternate game that gives you as much fun.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I agree with James' main point: My personal gaming sessions in the last 2 years or so have been the most free-wheeling, comfortable, low-anxiety, flexible, satisfying events that I've had in my 30 years of gaming. Discovering the OD&D roots, and simultaneously finding that other people were doing the same, was remarkably fortunate.

    ReplyDelete
  9. As a wargamer, I can attest that there has been a resurgence in that hobby. While it's very small compared to the heyday of Avalon Hill, a few companies are putting out great games, and the number of wargamers is growing (albeit very slowly).

    One thing that was a huge boost to wargaming was the creation of software that allowed one to easily play a wargame, by email or live online. I know that there are similar programs for RPGs (and let's be honest, all you really need for RPGs is Skype or something like it). Will these programs have a similar effect on RPGs? Maybe they already are; it's not an area of the hobby I know much about.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I think this IS the golden age for niche hobbyists of all stripes. Simply because the internet allows more members of a given niche to be in contact than ever before. I just don't happen to view mainstream ubiquity as the be all and end all.

    At the their heart tabletop RPG's are a very personal experience, meant to be shared with a close group of friends. That face to face social activity is the real magic, and what I think producers of this content (like WotC, for example) should be promoting. It's the one thing no amount of digital tech can do better.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Edsan: I stated something similar on a forum where people where debating how to "save" the industry.

    My reply was that I didn't care about it because I have more than enough RPG material to last me a lifetime.


    I trust you didn't intend to mean that as short-sightedly as it sounds: "things are good for me right now, therefore things will be good for everyone everywhere forever."

    Snark aside, I happen to agree the continued existence of an RPG industry is unimportant, at least for supporting the actual hobby of tabletop play. Perhaps may favorite aspect of the OSR is how its returned the focus of the game to its hobbyist roots; enthusiasts doing their own thing and trading ideas without the need for any corporate validation or support.

    But maintaining that hobby and its society is important, even if the health of the industry ultimately isn't. As pointed out in the linked essay, a mortal wound for wargaming came from insularity and apathy towards bringing new people into the hobby.

    ReplyDelete
  12. And yet there the saga of miniature wargaming that worth investigating. Remember RPGS wasn't born out of hex and counter wargames. It was born out of MINIATURE Wargaming. It just that paper wargames hit a high point just before the high point of RPGs.

    I think it would be instructive to look at the impact of paper wargames and RPGs on miniatures and how they managed to recover and even thrive to this day.

    ReplyDelete
  13. E.T. Smith: Nope, I didn't mean it "short-sightedly", I was merely counterpointing the attitude on the thread that seemed to be: BIG INDUSTRY NAMES DEAD = DEATH OF RPGs

    :)

    ReplyDelete
  14. For those of you, who think that Radio Drama and vaudeville are dead forms of entertainment, I invite you to check out ZBS productions, which makes rado theater, and also Firesign Theater and the CCCP (Christmas Coup Comedy Players)as examples of moden vaudeville.

    As to the wargame hobby. Somehow I can't picture 8-11 year olds playing Pencil and Paper Squad Leader. I was 13 when I got it and I had trouble with the rules. Avalon Hill was not about Warhammer style miniatures wargaming. It wasn't even anything like Chainmail. It was about thousands upon thousands of punch out cardboard little counters. There si a reason why the AH style wargaming didn't reach mainstream pop culture and Milton Bradley's Risk and Axis and Allies reached the wider audience. Higher production values for the game pieces (like miniature toy soldiers) was a part of it to make for a greater consumer appeal. But that's part of. Most of the wargame rules were written in the days BEFORE the PC. AH Games like Source of the Nile, Magic Realm, Wizard's Isle and Dragonhunt would have become awesome as computerized board games. AH was created along the busienss model for a book publishing company. They could have went the way of Microprose and produced computerized versions of some of their games. They also could have hired hot new designers and hot new writers, employed brain storming and produced something on the order of Duel Of Ages (DOA), but they didn't. So, we have waht we have today, but I don't consider it a tragedy or a decline.

    ReplyDelete
  15. For those of you, who think that Radio Drama and vaudeville are dead forms of entertainment, I invite you to check out ZBS productions, which makes rado theater, and also Firesign Theater and the CCCP (Christmas Coup Comedy Players)as examples of moden vaudeville.

    I'm surprised radio plays haven't made even more of a comeback in podcast form in the U.S. A 20-minute radio serial, say twice a week, would surely find a commuter audience, and would be a good way for aspiring writers and (voice) actors to build up credits.

    Somehow I can't picture 8-11 year olds playing Pencil and Paper Squad Leader. I was 13 when I got it and I had trouble with the rules. Avalon Hill was not about Warhammer style miniatures wargaming. It wasn't even anything like Chainmail. It was about thousands upon thousands of punch out cardboard little counters.

    Right, and that sucks for easing people into the hobby. It needn't suck. Lose one piece from your $100 copy of Pacific War and your set is incomplete; lose a Magic: the Gathering card and you just replace it, trade for something better, etc.

    But while the sensual appeal of wargames is a strong attraction for many hardcore wargamers, that same appeal made available to brand new gamers with cheaper buy-in could be part of what grows the industry. M:tG is a good model of how to proceed: modular equipment, subscription model, transparent design process, etc.

    Spitballing here. I dunno.

    ReplyDelete
  16. As someone who's a wargamer, both cardboard and metal & a role player, I can say there's so much cool stuff going on in my hobbies online that I can't keep on in any of them! :D

    ReplyDelete
  17. For those of you, who think that Radio Drama and vaudeville are dead forms of entertainment, I invite you to check out ZBS productions, which makes rado theater, and also Firesign Theater and the CCCP (Christmas Coup Comedy Players)as examples of moden vaudeville.

    There's also the Atlanta Radio Theater Company, which has been doing audio presentations (mostly SF, horror, and fantasy stuff) in the tradition of the classic radio dramas since the mid-80's.

    http://www.artc.org/

    ReplyDelete
  18. I have a hard time seeing that tabletop wargames really have much to offer in the face of computer wargames. I mean, sure, I still enjoy tabletop wargames when I get to play them, and there are some elements that are nice that you lose with a computer game. For the most part, however, I think tabletop wargaming merely morphed into computer wargaming.

    (I do wish there were more variety, though. Computer games tend to be too trend-driven.)

    Besides the fact that a lot of the D&D I see played these days looks a lot more like a wargame than a role-playing game to me, but that’s flame-bait territory I suppose.

    To me, role-playing games are different in a couple of important respects.

    What makes a role-playing game special is that the rules are intentionally open to interpretation, so there’s a limit to how much automation of the rules can improve the experience.

    Secondly, many good wargames really need well designed rules and components. A big part of what makes Kingmaker good is the board, which not only features the typical “terrain” and such but also with movement modifiers incorporated into the size of the “spaces”. The specific nobles and resources and their numbers. The specific ratio of event cards. And so forth. I could run a Risus or Fudge or classic D&D game from memory and do fine. (Because even the stuff I get wrong isn’t necessarily wrong.) Trying to run Kingmaker without a copy of it with all (or at least most) of the pieces isn’t going to go so well.

    Are role-playing games destined to fade away like everything else? Perhaps, but I think—despite the historical connection—wargames are not a very good analogy for the future of this hobby.

    ReplyDelete
  19. RPGs were never mainstream entertainment. Even at the peak of D&D's popularity, society tended to stigmatize gamers as geeks who couldn't get a date. Like most stereotypes, there was a grain of truth to this. The insularity of gamers has only bolstered that stereotype.

    This is a shame because RPGs are great fun. They deserve a wider audience, including women and young people. Their potential mass appeal is considerable. Everybody loves stories.

    Our failure to recruit new gamers matters because ultimately, we need other people with whom to play RPGs. When you live in a rural area, it can be difficult or impossible to find other players. Even in urban areas, it can be hard to find gamers. (I'm playing 4.0 now because I can't find anyone who wants to play old-school D&D.)

    I don't think we should resign ourselves to the death of our hobby. I liked Wally's suggestion for outreach.

    ReplyDelete
  20. I've been running a Labyrinth Lord game for eleven months now (gosh has it really been this long?) and the majority of the players in my group have never played a pen and paper based RPG before. We play once a week. Thats new blood people, and guess what, some of those players are quite young... one of them is only eleven...

    ReplyDelete
  21. Mac, on Google you can get a pretty decent article, just search : How to find a D&D game near you.

    Robert, I think that D&D has its roots in wargaming and it is becoming more of a wargame thanks to tie ins with WOTC Minis, but role-playing has evoled. Consider the wide field of rules and setting available with Indie RPGs from the series that includes Magic and Changeling, to Dust Devils, where rule mechanics are tied to story telling and a deck of cards, to games utilizing pools of dice tod etermine outcomes, to games that are driven by the type of deep role-playing that is used by charater actors. So, D&D never was the most role-play oriented of the RPGs.

    Wally, I think that the operative question is the popularity of the web based radio. Also, gaming hobby being what it is, WOTC did a pretty decent job of popularizing D&D to a newer and wider audience, using the greatest and latest marketing talent available, but they did so at the expense of the game, by changing the nature of it to appeal to more people. It becomes a question of choosing the lesser of two evils - whether you want to change the hobby and make it more popular or keep it as it is, but pay in terms of a smaller scene and a risk of eventual extinction.

    BTW I dont think that Gygax was much of a businessman. He ddin't have the education or the background for it. Rater than bringing in the Blumes for the money, he could have gotten a commercial business loan and kept the TSR in his own hands. But, he was working out of his house as a shoe-repair guy, doing the whole fringe busienssman thing and existing outside the mainstream and middle class. The right thing he did ws to go to California to promote D&D in Hollywood and make it more popular. Tomn Petty did the same thing for his band, the Heartbreakers. But whereas Tom Petty was both, a skilled businessman, who both, networked and played a role in the growth of the music video/MTV, Gygax existed on the fringes of Hollywood studos, pulled off a cartoon show, but did not at the expense of losing control over TSR. The only other thing that he was able to accomplish was to hook up with the copyright holder to the Buck Rogers character. And that person too, was a one hit wonder - pulled off a Buck Rogers TV show in 1980 and that was it. He would have done better if he simply hired a standard corporate team: a CPA, a lawyer, an ad/marketing exec, a publishing industry type and told them: Here is my product, that's what I want to do with it, I will develop it, you will manufacture it and market it. The Blumes have bought into TSR with a measely sum of $3,000.00 USD in 1972, when a new car would cost $ 4,500.00 USD. So, Blumes bought in with about a $12,000.00 USD investment in 2004 Dollars. That's not a whole lot of money for the amount of influence over TSR that they had and the kind of income that they reaped.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Also, gaming hobby being what it is, WOTC did a pretty decent job of popularizing D&D to a newer and wider audience, using the greatest and latest marketing talent available, but they did so at the expense of the game, by changing the nature of it to appeal to more people.

    Cut the word 'expense' and I think you have a description of WotC's marketing approach most everyone can agree with. But you should be careful not to conflate their marketing dept. with their designers. I like Jonathan Tweet's description of the design changes (from a panel at Dragonflight 2009):

    '3rd edition made everything so clear that you could finally see just how out-of-whack everything was. I think before, what was a balance was - everything was so unpredictable that there was nothing that was "unbalanced," because it was just - too chaotic, too unpredictable. 3rd edition everything became clear: clear that clerics were the best class, which was sort of depressing...In any event, we realized what problems it had. 4th edition fixed a *ton* of problems. Really solidly fixed a ton of problems. The thing that I like least about it is, you buy the Player's Handbook and you can't just play a guy who hits somebody really hard with a two-handed sword. It's like...that's the simplest kind of guy I might want to play, but since that role hasn't been laid out for you, it isn't there. If you want to play the guy who has fun by dealing damage he's a striker; if he's a striker he's a ranger/warlock/rogue...I agree with you that it's too narrow...I feel like I'm playing the character that they designed for me to play, rather than making my own character.'

    I think 4e is actually evolving to address some of Tweet's complaints, but that seems like a fair assessment to me, and more benign than you're implying(?). And Tweet knows evocative game design better than most. The point being: you don't give your lead design job to someone associated with minimalist avant-garde RPG design if you're looking to give people more of what they like about AD&D, sure - but you also don't hire him because you're looking to put out bland, easily-marketable material.

    I read an article the other day saying that the big 2e/3e shift was (in broad terms) from DM control to player control. I've heard that in a few places. I'm guessing the so-called 'OSR' predominantly consists of DMs accustomed to a certain level and form of control. Are the attending resentments more legitimate, design-critique-wise, than marketing worries?

    ReplyDelete
  23. I've been running a Labyrinth Lord game for eleven months now (gosh has it really been this long?) and the majority of the players in my group have never played a pen and paper based RPG before. We play once a week. Thats new blood people, and guess what, some of those players are quite young... one of them is only eleven...

    That's great! Do you guys play other RPGs?

    ReplyDelete
  24. "That's great! Do you guys play other RPGs?"

    No we don't play any other RPGs, but we do play board games from time to time such as Talisman (from 2e to 4e), Advanced Heroquest and Warhammer Quest and the odd computer game such as Lords of Chaos. Our favourite pastime by far though, is classic (basic) D&D through Labyrinth Lord.

    ReplyDelete
  25. The designer notes for Twilight Struggle (one of the recent, truly great consims) states a game designer's (Jason Matthews) perspective on wargames:

    "Like a modern day Lazarus, card driven wargames have brought our hobby back from the grave. Yet even five years ago, when Ananda and I first decided we wanted to try our hand at design, the writing was on the wall. Card driven games were going to become less like 'We The People' and 'Hannibal' and more and more like 'Paths and Glory' and 'Babarrossa to Berlin'. That is not a critique of Mr. Raicer's work. In fact, we think it took 'Paths of Glory' to demonstrate just how rich a card driven game might be. But it conflicted with another reality. We were getting older. Our lives were less like the gaming rich days of college, and more like the work-a-day world of the "nuclear" family. Eight hours for a single game was becoming less and less likely. So selfishly, we designed a game to fit our schedules. You can play 'Twilight Struggle' from beginning to end in the same time it takes to play the "short" scenario of many other games... That is a long way of saying the number one constraint on the design was time."

    ReplyDelete
  26. One way to increase the exposure of the OSR to "new blood" would be to get some of you guys participating at the new RPG Geek site. There are a lot of people from the Board Game end of things checking it out who've had little exposure to the online RPG "scene", and from time to time they'll ask a question like "I'm really interested in playing a D&D game like we did back in the 80s. Is anyone making a game like that any more?"

    I'm doing my best to point them in the direction of the retro-clones, but I'm only one man! Help me out here, you guys who are constantly hand wringing over the fate of your favorite game and how hard it is to grow the audience!

    ReplyDelete
  27. Wally,
    WoTC decided that they can sell more to players than to DMs, simple marketing arithmetic. I am the biggest proponent of the use of skills in RPGs, but the use of feats and prestige classes ties the game to miniatures and table top battle scenes. They went as far as to recommend that all the Dungeon corridors be at least 40' wide to accomodate the new D&D facing rules. Under WoTC the characters are more like super-heroes and less than fanatsy types from sword and sorcery. To me, a good role playing game requires dice, paper, pens, and imaginative players. Figures are good to make sense of combat scenes, but anything more and the game becomes a tablle top miniatures wargame with the additional dimension of character development thrown in. Another thing I don't like about the WoTC is that you have a DM throwing combat encounters at players as opposed to players moving across the sandbox and exploring sites, which the DM prepares for them. The focus fo the play shifted. I am not thrilled about the combat system either. It was abstract to begin with, but OK, but instead of shifting the game emchanic on the historic use and effectiveness of these weapons in battle, the rules startign with AD&D 2nd supplement Combat and Tactics have been based and designed to accomodate table top miniatures play. Role Playing game is not about playing toy soldiers with character sheets! The closest thing that GYGAX had to historical accuracy was the extensive list of pole arms and the infamous weapon versus armor table. First thing that was thrown out with the second edition.
    I LIKE and use that table and had myself fleshed out a system based on AD&D 1st edition combat that gives players advantages to using specific weapons in certain situations. With my house rules the choice of shield and weapons realy DOES make a difference beyond how much damage is rolled.

    As to avant-garde RPGs, I wish there WAS one that was based on D&D as opposed to retro clones! My biggest problem with WoTC writjng is that they took soemthing that was at least of some interest to a thinking adults (Gygax's writing, his take on medieval society and some of those SPELL COMPONENTS, reputed properties of gems, his artefacts/effect) and turned that writing into slick msnual for kids wanting to play superheroes to run smooth table top games centered around their beloved miniatures. In short, I DON'T LIKE WoTC approach because it is too slick, too commercial, too kid-oriented, and I have a lot more respect for the folks who wrote the rules for the Aftermath!, Dogs in Vineyard, Ars Magica etc, in part because these people aren't only game writers, they are also THINKERS and philosophers to an extent and it is inetersting to read them. Meanwhile, WoTC just puts out fluff for the mass market.

    ReplyDelete
  28. Well, there are some indie games that are, if not based on, at least trying to replicate the "D&D experience".

    Try Storming the Wizard's Tower by Vincent Baker or Donjon by Clinton R. Nixon.

    ReplyDelete

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.