Thursday, November 18, 2010

Side-show Arcade: RPG System Review


Keep your X-Box and your PS3.  Hold your PSP, your Wii, your vintage GameBoy, your Nintendo DS.

I’ve no need of them. 

I’ve been involved with Role Playing Games since I was in grade school.  My brother and I nicked a copy of one of the old Dungeons and Dragons solo-adventure modules (something about a thief and a gem) from an older kid on the bus, and we were hooked.  This was back in the old red-box days…the original Red Box days.  Yes—we memorized charts of experience; the ridiculous AC system; everything.  We convinced my grandmother to spend the dough on getting us all four tiers of the system: Basic, Expert, Companion, and the Master level.


We moved off of D&D to TSR’s d10 line of modern RPGs—the Top Secret/SI line, which was brilliant.  Hit points no longer in a pool, but distributed equally across parts of your body?  So you could kill a guy by doing 10 points of damage to him, as long as it was a head shot. 

topsecretsi Of course we loved it.  We were Texans, after all.  What could possibly be more Texan than carting around a huge shotgun, hunting down a deadly government conspiracy?

Nothing, that’s what.

We dabbled with Advanced D&D; we got the Player’s Guide and the DM’s Guide, and the Fiend Folio, but that was really it.  After we left Texas, I played D&D exactly once. 

Fast forward to 2002.  An online acquaintance asked if I’d be interested in playing a Dungeons and Dragons campaign through email; I jumped at the opportunity.  Since then…well.  I’ve had the opportunity to play in a number of campaigns, with a number of different gaming systems. 

My gaming point of view, these days, is largely narrativist.  I like games where the system supports the story telling; where combat is a chance to further express your character’s goals, desires, and personality.  I don’t mind numbers, don’t get me wrong, but I’m never going to be the one spending hours pouring over the source material, looking for the combination of feats/stunts/etc that will make my character the most powerful character EVAR.  I am LIKELY, however, to spend hours on his backstory, and I may be inclined to justify feat selection through writing a complete novella about my character’s personal growth between levels.  :)

A couple caveats: all of my recent gaming experience has been playing through email or through forum postings.  Additionally, most of the groups I’ve participated in have had story-telling as the significant element in the game.  It’s worth noting; the kind of pace that online gaming engenders isn’t for everyone.  A battle that might only last fifteen minutes gathered around a table may last a month or more when played out over email.  For my extremely crowded schedule, a glacial pace is about all I can handle… 

To a certain extent, then, most of my gaming experience resembles collaborative story-telling more than it resembles a dice-fest.  I enjoy this sort of exercise, and so my biases are slanted toward gaming systems (and Game Masters) that reward story-telling.

And therein lies a pretty big problem with the reviews hereafter: so much of the game experience depends on the type of GM you’ve shackled yourself to.  The GM’s predilections are such an omnipresent part of the experience, it almost seems unfair to the system to review it.

Nontheless—consulting my tables, I don’t see a ‘Save against Unfairness’ listed for this blog…

Coming up: D&D 4E!

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