Sunday, July 17, 2011

I Suck at Roleplaying Games

When it comes to the rules, I’m usually more lost than a Baptist at Dragon Con. I would honestly LOVE to crack into a game like FASA’s Mechwarrior or Renegade Legion and start rolling dice. I’ve read over the books and lovingly caressed the complex diagrams and stats a dozen times, but I still do not have the first clue on how the game is actually played. My brain is just not built that way.
Might as well be written in ancient Swahili as far as I'm concerned

When I was a kid, I’d read articles in Dragon Magazine containing detailed charts for falling or drowning damage, or weapon speed/length/weight. I can even remember a semi-serious article containing some fairly intricate rules on telling jokes for the Jester class.
I would seriously play this character.

And I found every bit of it fascinating even if, like my ill fated attempt at a Latin class, it left me utterly befuddled. As a result, my interest began to wane as AD&D continued to pile on the rules and we began to drift to other systems. We played RIFTS for the world, not the rules and we tended to ignore everything but the combat system anyway. It was rare that anyone wanted to play a straight magic-user or psi since there was a reason the game called regular humans, “squishies”. What Palladium ultimately left me with is a deep distaste for character sheets with long lists of skills and overall incongruous game mechanics.

I also found other systems like WEGs Star Wars which I found to be gloriously simple and marvellously easy to play. Then there was TWERPS, one of the grand-daddies of rules-lite which I never actually got to play, but revelled in its ability to boil things down to one stat and one dice. I still have a complete set of TWERPS supplements on my game shelf.
Does anyone else remember this game?

But the one that really opened my eyes was Talislanta. I’m certain that I will gush about Tal a lot in this blog and I’ll save the raving fandom for another time, but sufficed to say seeing everything boiled down into a simple chart was nothing short of a double-rainbow moment for me in terms of how simply a game could be played.
Judge this book by its cover.

No matter what you play, how long you have been playing, or who you play with, something or someone is going to throw you a curveball. The player is going to suggest something completely out of left-field or the game is going to go in a unexpected direction exactly like some other baseball analogy.

In order to compensate for this, the game must have a specific rule for every scenario, or an overall system that any scenario can be plugged into. Talislanta did this with a chart outlining success rolls for Combat, Magic and Skills/Everything else. Want to know how long your character can tread water in full armour before the other PCs realize he fell down the well? You can either find that specific article in Dragon Magazine, or simply make a Swimming skill roll with modifiers for the armour, strength and time on one easy chart. Maybe the rules don’t specifically cover falling in a well in full armour, but the overall system is flexible enough for the GM to improvise a solution that the player will accept.

I can certainly see the appeal of having a rule for every scenario, and every scenario its rule. For tech-heavy games, this is almost a must. But my natural inclination will always be towards simpler systems and has deeply influenced me both as a GM, and as a game designer. While the rules are the framework of the game and should be adhearded to, they should never get in the way of good game.My Sword Glows Blue in the Presence of Rules Lawyers

1 comment:

  1. I ran a TWERPS Kung Fu game at our college game club con in the early 90s. I remember one of the NPCs in the scenario was "Lo Fat".