Sunday, November 20, 2011

"Adventure Games"

Over at Mesmerized by Sirens, the Catacomb Librarian reminds us that significant portions of The Compleat Arduin is available as free PDFs from the Emperor's Choice Games website. The Compleat Arduin (sometimes called "Arduin II") was a compilation, expansion, and -- dare I say it? -- rationalization of the original Arduin books, begun by Dave Hargrave and completed by Mark Schynert after Hargrave's death. The finished product was published in 1992 and is still available from Emperor's Choice. I must confess I've never read it myself, though I'm starting to think I ought to grab a copy sometime and make up for this gap in my gaming publication. I encourage others to do the same.

Until I get the full book itself, I've been perusing the PDF excerpts that Emperor's Choice has placed online. One of the things I found most interesting is a section at the beginning of Chapter One, in which Hargrave says the following:
This game, Arduin, is part of the genre known as Adventure Games. Role-playing is at the heart of all adventure games, though other elements such as conflict, chance and strategy are also important.
Now, let me start upfront that I think it's too late to call the object of our shared hobby anything but "roleplaying games." However inadequate a term that may be, it's the term that we're stuck with and every attempt to alter it that's been attempted thus far has been alternately quixotic and pretentious. That said, the term "roleplaying games" is inadequate, or perhaps more accurately, it's too narrow.

As Hargrave rightly points out, roleplaying is definitely at the heart of our hobby, but there are other important facets to it as well. By adopting the term "roleplaying game" for the kinds of games we enjoy, I think we've unintentionally emphasized one of their facets to the point that it overshadows the others. That's a mistake in my opinion, which is why the description above pleases me. Conflict, chance, and strategy are essential elements of the games I enjoy (more on this in a future post) and their absence -- or at least diminution -- dissatisfies me.

I make no claim that this passage from The Compleat Arduin says anything that others have not said elsewhere, but it says what it does in a way that spoke to me today and I thought it worth sharing with others.


  1. The only Arduin product I ever owned was the rule book for The Arduin Adventure. I literally wore that book out from so much reading and use. It had a very similar feel to the Holmes Basic book to me. Alas, I no longer have it. During my 8 year stay in the Army, my brother decided to "liberate" it.

  2. In my rpg alternate history what we know as RPGs were labeled as Adventure Games.

    Use of Roleplaying Games appears to emphasis roleplaying over the other elements that Hargrave metnions. However except for a brief period in the mid 90s when TSR was faltering and Vampire was a strong 2nd place, roleplaying has never been emphasized over the other aspects. Mainly because of how Wizards choose to present D&D 3.X and 4.0. I would also say that the majority of Vampire player treated the same as superpowered monsters and White Wolf knew it in putting out all the splat books.

  3. I think one of the most overshadowed aspects of our hobby is that these are supposed to be games. Some of my favorite rpg's these days are the ones who aren't afraid to be just that- a game.

  4. And, of course, Hargrave joins Gygax and Arneson; the LBBs famously refer to D&D as an adventure game, not a role-playing game.

    I completely agree that the preferred term "role-playing game" has lead people to overemphasize role-playing and, especially, one narrow form of role-playing -- acting and speaking in character.

  5. I concur. D&D is not a role-playing game. (link)

  6. I concur with Karnak, the Arduin Adventure is a neat little book and very much in the spirit with Homles basic and works quite well in conjunction with the Complete Arduin books, especially if you want to use the D20 combat system over the extremely flawed "baffle system".

    Another thing too about the Complete Arduin books, is they were part of "Arduin Bloody Arduin" and was to be his magnum opus RPG, which sadly, much was lost after his death.

  7. karnak wrote:
    the rule book for The Arduin Adventure ... had a very similar feel to the Holmes Basic book to me

    Exactly! I wrote a comparison of the two here.

  8. I think one of the most overshadowed aspects of our hobby is that these are supposed to be games.

    I very much agree.

  9. I completely agree that the preferred term "role-playing game" has lead people to overemphasize role-playing and, especially, one narrow form of role-playing -- acting and speaking in character.

    I don't have anything against such activities, if that's what people want to do, but I also don't think that they're essential to playing what we call "roleplaying games." I think the guy who says "My fighter does X" is playing D&D every bit as "right" as the guy who always speaks in the first person when describing his character's actions.

  10. I concur. D&D is not a role-playing game. (link)

    That's a very good post. I'm sorry I missed it the first time around.

  11. If you can get your hands on The Compleat Arduin, you should definitely give it a whirl. I've just recently bought both of the original books (I can't understand why they were sold seperately, as they clearly belong together–page count too high, perhaps?) and I have to say that it is an somewhat absurdly competent introductional role-playing game, contrary to what one might expect coming from a game with the name Arduin on it. Newbies are actually guided through the whole aspects of adventure gaming on the fly rather than just at the beginning of the book. When there is a new chapter like "classes", there also is a description of what this chapter is about beforehand. Cool stuff!

    Having read through all of the Grimoires, one comes to the impression that The Compleat Arduin is to them, what AD&D was to OD&D. A codification.

    Oddly enough, there are several elements throughout the book that reminded me a bit of 3E, like the special abilities several classes have.

    If there's one problem I've got with CA, it's the attempt to fill in the gaps in a game that actually has none. D&D works best when you fully embrace the concept of abstraction. Everything in the game is abstract at best. What CA tries to do, is put some light–some more detail if you wish–on certain parts of the game, to make it a more comprehensive experience. And while I think the game often succeeds in bringing just this sort of credibility to the table, it more than utilizes just that sort of abstraction, it tries to deviate from.

    But all in all I hold the game in highest regard and think it is the best example of the DDR-Syndrome ("D&D-done-right").

    Luckily, the game is still available from Emperor's Choice in a single-volume edition.

  12. IIRC, Howard Thompson of Metagaming used to regularly use the term "Adventure Gaming" in The Space Gamer (late 70s) as a broad category that included fantasy and science fiction games, regardless of whether they were roleplaying games or counter and dice boardgames. I think he was trying to distinguish this segment of gaming alongside the longer established historical wargaming crowd. It was probably all self-serving on his part, but I always liked the term and find it a useful way to describe SF/F games that have RP elements but use counters or miniatures. Melee/Wizard, DragonQuest, Snapshot and solo quest games come to mind.

  13. I dunno... I think a lot of the issues I've been having lately with RPGs has been with there being TOO MUCH game in them. So much focus on 'optimization' and rules minutae... it's like listening to a bunch of Warhammer 40K players yammer on about their army 'builds'... or players in World Of Warcraft and their 'gear scores'. If that's the 'game' I don't want it... at least not when I sit down to play an RPG.
    I do want to play the character, think like the character and (within limits) speak in its voice. But for some reason it seems like it's becoming increasingly hard for me to find like-minded folks to game with... our game session last night was one long bitch-fest where we tried to decide what to play next... with all the squabble focusing on rules and numbers vs. settings.
    I'm suppose I'm just down on the 'game' part of RPGs at the moment... though I'd happily go play a wargame or something quasi-RPG like 5150 or .45 Adventures.

  14. lol, I was going to mention .45 Adventure as a perfect example of my vision of Adventure Games, but Rattraps games don't seem very well known in roleplaying circles. I've had an absolute blast playing the sci-fi Fantastic Worlds, and found we roleplayed it just as much as "traditional" RPGs.

  15. Fantastic Worlds is great fun. Chaos In Carpathia is another one I enjoy (same folks just put out Blasters & Bulkheads... a 'Star Wars' adventure game).

  16. Well, I don't think of rules as the game. Rules are game framework; they are supposed to facilitate play and get out of the way.

    And yeah, it gets tiresome for game designers to assume we all want to get a doctorate in their game, when what we want is something to play with.

  17. In my experience, too few rules mean more meta-game discussions. For example Barbarians of Lemuria, which is much loved as a rules light system; the few times I've actually played it, a big chunk of time was spent discussing whether PC's careers would give them any particular ability at such and such a task. I find that kind of thing quite boring, but it probably appeals to people who like talking about their characters. I'd much prefer to have a massive list of skills if that's the alternative.

  18. @torus: haven't played/read Barbarians of Lemuria, but AD&D has the secondary professions, and I like to use something like that (backgrounds) in OD&D. The simple solution to whether careers (backgrounds) give a bonus in a situation is to say "yes" and move on; only say "no" when it's obviously outside their experience. If a peasant from the frigid north could have conceivable slaughtered a goat, then the peasant knows how to slaughter animals, so just let the PC slaughter an animal, if the player asks. If a peasant doesn't know how to fly a space ship, don't give them a bonus when they find that space ship in the mountains.

    The meta-discussions that take a long time almost always boil down to one person being a dick. Either a GM gets too nitpicky, or a player is trying to squeeze absurd skills out of their character. A single "yes", or a string of emphatic "no"s, pretty much ends superfluous discussions.

  19. I enjoy RPGs where the mechanics of the game generate the roleplaying organically. Indie games generally do a good job of this, such as Burning Wheel or anything by D. Vincent Baker.

    I'm turned off by any game where the job of the rules is to "get out of the way" so that the players can get back to speaking in funny voices.


  20. @ Talysman: I think it certainly does boil down to individual styles. Some GM's are keen on the approach of 'you can have the bonus if you can justify it with a story about how you got that skill'. Which is fine if everyone enjoys that.