Friday, May 20, 2016

Crawling into the 21st Centurty

This blog leans pretty heavy on the nostalgia. I'd call it an "old school" blog, but it's been aggressively pointed out to me that none of the games I dig are "old school," most emphatically Vampire. In any case, it doesn't matter. Most of the games that I'm passionate about are the games from my youth--Vampire, yes, but also AD&D, West End Games version of Star Wars, Call of Cthulhu, etc. Maybe it's just a generic nostalgia for that time in my life, or maybe it's because these are the games that set my standards for what gaming SHOULD be.

In order to draw even more ire from the "storytelling games suck" crowd, in Forge terms, I'm a Simulationist. I like my rules and mechanics to do a decent job reflecting the reality of the genre they're trying to emulate (fantasy adventurer, horror, etc.), and they get the heck out of the way. The "story" for me is what happens when the troupe (players and GM) interact with each other, the setting, and the mechanics--not something imposed by the GM on the game. Most of the more contemporary games I've seen and played have leaned more towards the Narrativist spectrum, and I've never found that style of gaming to be particularly interesting or enjoyable. Really, no modern games have really inspired me.

Well, now two have. The first is Savage Rifts--the Kickstarter just ended, and I went in big. Rifts is one of my all time favorite games, but the system was making it increasingly difficult to get games going. When rumors first began floating around of Savage Worlds version of Rifts, I was intrigued--if only because it might spare me the need to do my own D6 or D100 version of the game. Now, I wasn't a huge fan of the Savage Worlds system, but that was based on what I little I had heard of it. I ended up picking up a copy of the base rules and, to my surprise, I kind of dig it. It has some quirks that I'm generally not a big fan of, but it seems cool enough that I want to give it a whirl. There are a few things that, having not played it, do bug me though.

  1. Playing cards for initiative. First off, and this is nothing specifically about Savage Worlds, but I generally hate complicated or quirky initiative rules. They just make combat more annoying and longer to resolve--but I'm also the freak who still uses group initiative when I run D&D, which, like even Grognards don't do. Anyway, the cards make sense for Dead Lands, but seem...odd for other genres. Ah well, it gives me an excuse to buy some cool, trippy decks of cards, so at least that will be fun.
  2. Wild Cards and Extras. I don't know why, but I really can't stand dividing the world between "PC's" and "Others." A lot of games have these rules these days--special mechanics for "minions" or "extras" or "whatever name for the meaningless canon fodder the PC's get to mow down to feel important." I don't like it. First, I don't understand how these people survived to be "thugs" or "soldiers of the Dark Lord" or whatever if the are taken out by any hit, no matter how slight. Secondly, I just don't like the math of the world to apply to different people. Now, in my beloved AD&D, the majority of the world is "0 level"--which seems like the same, but it's not. Because the math and physics of that world are based on that 0 level commoner--his 1d6 HP and AC of 10 is the baseline for the entire combat system. Extras are an add-on, that make little sense. 
  3. The name of the core book--Savage Worlds Deluxe Explorers Edition.  I've had friends praise Savage Worlds for a while, and I was curious enough to want to check it out, but I never knew WHICH book to buy. I only figured it out with the Kickstarter for Savage Rifts, and even then it took me working with the clerk at the store (yes, I still buy book in a gaming store--like I said, I'm  Old School. Er, Old School adjacent?) to figure out WHICH Savage World book was the "base" or "core." 
  4. Finally, "bennies." Bennies in Savage Worlds are points you can spend to influence the game--get a re-roll, heal, etc. A number of games have them, and I dislike the concept. I've seen them as "hero points" or "fate points," and they never seem terribly interesting or fun. Except, oddly, in Star Wars. They fit really well into that universe, because I can point to an exact moment in the first movie where a "PC" uses a "Force Point." (That would be the end of A New Hope when Luke uses the Force to target the torpedo.)  See, I like games that do a really solid job not of emulating a movie or a book, but those that emulate the world those stories take place in. So, Star Wars should have "Force Points," because that's a mechanical representation of a real, active element in that world. Indiana Jones, as cool of a hero as he is, shouldn't have "Hero Points"--but a good Indiana Jones RPG should emulate his work of rock 'em/sock 'em high adventure relic hunting/"archaeology."
I know all these are minor gripes, but they're things that have kept me away from Savage Worlds in the past. Having actually read the base book and the various supplements on their web page and the like, I am starting to get excited about it, and maybe I'll be able to overlook or even embrace some of the elements that irk me. The "Extras" thing though, I fear, will always bug me a little bit.

Another one that I thought I'd hate that I'm getting into is Torchbearer. I have no idea why, but for the longest time I thought this was a joke game. Like, somewhere in my head, I assumed it was a "parody OSR game, where you play Nodwick and try to survive wacky high jinks."

I have NO idea why I thought that.

Torchbearer is nasty, and ugly, and brutal. And takes one of my favorite elements of old school gaming--inventory management--and makes it WORK. In theory, encumbrance and what you can carry and bring with you should be a key part of exploration and combat, but the way most games handled it made it just too math intensive to be fun or easy to use on the fly. So, most of us ended up ignoring it. Or, they hated shopping and buying gear, so the GM's just hand waved it, which took away a lot of the hard decisions. But Torchbearer makes those decisions the root of the game, and...ok, honestly, I haven't even finished reading the core book yet. I only have the PDF, and I read PDF's very slowly. My dead tree version is on its way (again, Old School, I like physical books as my base, with PDFs as an add-on), and I can't wait for it. 

I'm excited and hopeful about Savage Rifts. I think I'm in love with Torchbearer. 

Look at me, talking about games published this millennium. 

Creating a Random Vampire

Now that we have the basics for creating a random vampire in place, let's see what we can come up with. Oh, quick note, I did some li...