Old Dog on the prowl
As those with any familiarity with this blog will know I have been focused pretty heavily on running games with the Ubiquity roleplaying system for almost two years now. One interesting side effect of that which I noticed this week was that other systems are starting to look awfully slow and in some cases needlessly cluttered.
I had the opportunity to watch a video of a game session for a game the development of which I supported via Kickstarter and it struck me how strong my reaction to the GM’s calls for both hit and damage rolls was. While liking the resolution of both hit and damage together is definitely something dependent on personal taste, slowing down combat is typically viewed as a less than ideal condition. Now that I have been running Ubiquity at regular face-to- face games over the last year and change I have to say that the standard approach of “Ok, roll to hit” + “Ok, tell me what you got” + “Ok, that…hits” + “Ok, now roll for damage” + “Ok, tell me what you got” + the dramatic interpretation and description of all the numbers now seems e x tr e m e l y slooooooooooow.
Worse, once I noticed this, I started to wonder about some of my favorite die-pool games where the roll to hit and roll for damage phases can take things in opposite directions. If I am already thinking about how long this is taking to resolve, how will I react to hitting with 5 successes and scoring 0 damage? Extreme case, true, but we have all been there.
Has Ubiquity spoiled me? Has it stolen the enjoyment of the other games in my collection?
Nah… probably not. It has, however gotten me thinking. I know… not a surprise.
Old Dogs, New Tricks?
I got my PDF version of Godlike this week. As I reacquaint myself with ORE, a system I have learned and played, but never actually run, I see in it some of the speed and efficiency I so like about Ubiquity. Unlike Ubiquity, it has a distinct connection to the genre it was trying to simulate (WW2) and reading through this book again makes me wonder once more about how that predisposition colours games like Wild Talents. While not as quick to pick up and use as Ubiquity, I think ORE is another example of a fast-playing system which might have an impact on regular players over time so that when they return to games with a separated die mechanic for success and degree of effect they might sense the dragging slowness of the extra step.
The 4th Edition rules for Mechwarrior are a similar case. While the charts for modifiers make it seem daunting at first, in play it is very fast, and hit and damage are resolved in a single roll. Even opposed rolls are resolved quickly. Considering the level of crunch in the game, when I compare it to similarly detailed games it is a sprinter and they are bleachers.
As the hobby continues to evolve and innovate I wonder if we will lose as much as we seem to have lost from the first generation of gamers. As new generations of gamers join us, less and less of what was taken for granted about our reactions to the mechanics and approaches to running games is being communicated. The OSR is doing a pretty impressive job trying to preserve the written word from that generation, but as their (sometimes widely) differing takes on how to implement those mechanics shows, even those of us with 3 decades of gaming behind us started with enough misconceptions about play that we may not be able to pierce them all before the chance to do so has passed.
The one truly important thing I hope does not get lost is the self-reliant GM who is able to take a core book and run with it; ruling in the absence of rules, creating consistent, compelling societies and situations on their own, and transforming the mundane into the magical. In my time in gaming I have seen the decline of challenge, the decline of simulation, the decline of risk, and the decline of discovery. I firmly believe it is not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game. I am just as comfortable running a game where the characters fail as one where they succeed. It’s an RPG, our stories never need to really end. Where I see us losing is in the rise of games that are games in name only; where the threat of failure is so remote as to have been essentially removed altogether. These so-called games, particularly in the enshrinement of cooperative rather than interactive play and the resultant decline in the role of the GM, have managed to turn the thrill of victory into the requirement of victory. To my point of view that is like settling in for an evening of chess and deciding beforehand who will win. Although an RPG is not the players pitted against the GM, enough people seem to have that impression that it almost seems futile to deny it at this point as the defense of the GM rests on the foundation of having actual skill as a player, and in an environment built on the basic principles of entitlement and self-aggrandizement these arguments fail to register. That it is a poor GM who competes with the players should be obvious to all, and yet… how many games of the last decade enshrine mechanics to protect the players from the whims of the GM?
There’s no school like the Old School…
As I run my Ubiquity and Mechwarrior games now, I run them the same way I used to run D&D. I expect the players to develop characters that act consistently and have vibrant personalities. I expect these personalities to arise from the scores and themes present on the character sheet and discussed in character generation about the setting, the campaign, and our shared intentions. I expect to challenge them with events in the game, and I expect them to act independently within the framework of the campaign we agreed to play. I expect them to motivate themselves through the sandbox world I create for them, and I expect them to run the character as though they were real, not an extension or avatar of their mood that day.
All of this leads me to recognize that while I am not so in love with the games of my youth, I am very much in love with the way they were played. So while I guess I finally need to recognize that I am not a member of the OSR, I am very much of an Old Gamer Rebel… an OGRe.
I know I am not alone in this. I know we can get our experiences out there and into the collective unconscious of the up and coming gamers of the newer generations if we coordinate our attacks with the lauded skill and treachery of the aged…. if we can stir ourselves up and out of our La-z-boys, that is.
Darken others' doors: