Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Hard Part

So in case you couldn't tell, I'm checking out Dungeons & Dragons Next. I'm also seriously considering GURPS, especially GURPS Fantasy. And I finally broke down and bought my Hackmaster Players Handbook--awesome btw.

Friends if you're anything like me, finding a gaming home can be a bit difficult to say the least. I'm sure there are those who just call me wishy--washy. And I suppose that adjective fits me to a degree. In this day's world of countless game systems, gamers have tons of options to choose from. There is just about a gaming flavor for every imaginable taste. So I suppose I could be cut a little slack for not being able to make up my mind. Except I make it lots more difficult than it needs to be by dint of my personality. Hyperanalysis is one of my more pedantic weaknesses.

But now with the summer here, school out and time to actually think, I might make some actual headway. It was yesterday that I realized as I pondered this fact that the analysis isn't even the hard part. I can choose a game, as I did last summer. It was a compromise with myself, but I felt pretty good about it. I had decided to go with Castles & Crusades, and bought several C&C PHBs for my gaming club's use.

But that wasn't the hard part. When the gaming club met for the first time, and I looked 24 eager new gamers in the face I simply couldn't impose my will on them. There I was ready to declare C&C the club's official game; but as I welcomed them to the club the first time I found myself telling them we would be voting on which game to play this year. And then when we had voted I even changed again as popular pressure swayed the newcomers into playing their game of choice--Pathfinder.

And friends there is nothing wrong with Pathfinder. I've played 3.5 and there was nothing really wrong with that game either. I personally find Pathfinder a streamlined 3.5. Which is nice, because I can't even keep up with all the rules in PF, let alone the proliferation in 3.5. But both games play quite well. They weren't games I would have chosen however, but I didn't feel it was my place to force my personal gaming preferences on 24 different gamers.

Back when I had been the one to introduce my friends to gaming there was only one game I knew about. The choice was simple and clear. There was only one game to play--AD&D, and the only other option I was aware of was B/X and it was clearly an "inferior" game in my estimation--only partially complete. AD&D was the real game. This wasn't even an issue back then. Now things are a bit different. A lot different.

For all the noise I make about my gaming style being adversarial, about being tough on players and the like--it's just a bit of an affectation. I want my players to have fun, I want them to live and be victorious and see their PCs become heroes; and most of all I want them to be okay with whatever we play. Yes, I put in more time than any one of them to get the game ready week to week, but add up all my players together and their time matters to a tune at least equal as mine. I don't want them to have to sit at a table not wanting to play the choice of game we've made.

And that my friends is the hard part.

If I had a gaming group of likeminded old schoolers, friends maybe my own age or at least adults, I could probably play an old school game. Even then though, I would likely go with what they would want to play--it would just be closer to my liking. But the bulk of my gaming is with my gaming club, filled with adolescents about the same age I was when I began gaming. It is an exciting time for them, one I envy them in some regard. The time in their lives when they are just discovering gaming. Many great adventures await them, and I want their first experiences to be as good as mine were if not even better. So far, for most of them I think they are. But they are kids, and they love the new stuff, shiny full color books and eye catching gaming. So I usually end up giving them what they want.

So, here I am enjoying reading my Hackmaster PHB. It is closer to any gaming book I've read to my style and my liking. Not quite 100%, but I still love it. Its old school ethos and hardcore attitude fit well with many of my own preferences. The HMPHB book reads more like the old 1e PHB than any other book I've yet read on the market. I could so find myself playing a long term HM game, even exclusively HM. If there were others willing to do so.

And GURPS Fantasy, a recent discovery for me, has me very intrigued. Partly it's because of the steadiness of Steve Jackson Games. Back in the day, for me there were two central gaming companies, TSR and SJG. TSR has long gone the way of the ghost, yet SJG remains, much the same as it was when I was growing up. There's a special feel about the company, and I'm actually coming to really appreciate some of the gaming decisions they made. And Fantasy is a good read so far. One of my childhood gaming friends plays GURPS exclusively with two different groups. I can see myself doing the same--if others would join me.

Then of course there's D&D Next. I know the common consensus on the old school web is that WoTC is going to screw it up. That it will only be around 5 years or so before 6e comes out. I even heard speculation that Hasbro will shut down the line, shelve it for a time. Gad that makes me shudder. Because you see, it is still a portion of my desire that D&D become the game of the gaming public once again. I have high hopes for 5e, and should be more trusting than I am of Wizard's attempt to rebuild a game more in D&D's image. And truthfully I can see 5e shaping up to be promising. Thus far the rule set is hewing close to it's promise of a rules light core, and handing the reigns of power back to the DM. As Gary said long ago the DM should be the master of the game, and 5e is reaching for that once again. If they don't screw it up WoTC might end up with a game I could see myself playing--if anyone else I play with agreed with me.

For you see friends that's the hard part. Getting the fellow gamers, no matter their age, sitting around the table with you to agree to play the game that you think is cool. I recall back when I was a passionate teen gamer and AD&D was our game. I would come across a new game I thought looked cool and wanted to try--Gamma World or Star Frontiers and noone really wanted to give it a go. Certainly not long term,. Same thing back then--they had their game of choice. Anything else was a diversion only be endured for a session or two.

I've found myself bowing to this pressure of common consent again and again. I'll get everyone to agree to play Labyrinth Lord, or Hackmaster or whatever, but quickly bow to their pressure to return to what they all like better. Ultimately I'm victim to the implicit democratic agenda of  game choice. Near the end of my last gaming season, personally frustrated with the game we had been playing (altho' I'll now admit it was more of a frustration with my players) I determined to only play what I wanted to play. I was going to open it up so that groups could play whatever they wanted, but I would only GM games I wanted to play. But I know that in the end I'll probably end up caving to the common pressure of playing what most everyone wants. Otherwise I may not get a group to agree to play with me. And in the end playing a game you may not like too much is so much better than not playing at all.


Drance said...

Hey Chris. Yeah, I believe you should stand your ground on what you want to play, when you first start a campaign. Once that campaign is over, then put things up to a vote for what system to play next. Don't be afraid to speak your mind. yes, you have to please the players, but you need to have fun as well.

And I totally agree with wanting D&D to live on and succeed! I don't understand why some OSR folks seem totally ok with D&D dying as a brand. I know, I know, they'll say that it isn't dead because plenty of OSR people are playing the old versions. I understand that. BUT for the masses out there beyond the OSR, what about them? Educate them on the old versions? Sure, I'm trying to do that through running Labyrinth Lord games at my FLGS. But thinking of D&D no longer being an in-print product? Yeah, that makes me really sad to think about that. Again, I'm really baffled at the vitriol toward 5E/Next. Do people really hate WotC so much that they would wish death on D&D?!

Chris said...

I think they may seee 5e as a threat. Especially since 5e is attempting to bring in the old school crowd. But there's really nothing to be afraid of. 5e has some old school elements, but it's still a very different game from what has gone before. This dissapoints me kind of, since we don't need another game we need need the old games revived, but 5e is also trying to keep the 3.5/4e gamers happy as well so the game will naturally have elements of both.

D&D gamers have become really divided, and I don't know if anything can really bring them together again. But like you, I would hate to see D&D die altogether.

Anonymous said...

I look at the situation as a businessman. Hasbro demands results (profits) from WotC and has given this sunset company yet another chance at ressurrecting its fame one last time. WotC, of course, wants to survive -- at least their employees want it to -- so the game developers (Mearls, Perkins, et al) are highly motivated to make the as appealing to as broad a spectrum of gamers as possible. This is a great motivator for at least two reasons: one, the largest number of gamers SHOULD get a game they want to play (assuming individuals will organize themselves with like-minded gamers) and second, WotC increases its market share, which subsequently allows WotC employees keep their jobs.

But even if D&DN designs a perfectly modular game, as promised, Chris' problem isn't solved. His players are still going to want to create and play a PC that grows from hero to superhero and they're still going to make predominitely bone-headed decisions (splitting the party, touching the poisonous spore-spewing 'shrooms, etc).

And that's why I feel for you, Chris. This particular saga will continue until your PCs develop a love for gritty campaigns played by commoners-turned-adventurers or you discover a hidden love for a super-powered game where the PCs destiny is to dethrone the gods. I really feel for you man, because that's one heck of a gap to bridge; it's a lot of compromise to reach a mutual agreement.

So, never one to point out a problem without a solution, my suggestion is to focus on story. If the story is rehearsed and comes alive with excitement and pleasure, includes the PCs at the krux of the game (loved or hated), you'll have success. Will you feel like a 4e whore, like I did, when you give in and allow your first deva warden to game? Probably. But I've found that demi-human races (anyting in PH1-3) and esoteric class options became window-dressing when the storyline was central. Because it's so hard to organize a group of like-minded gamers, create a world so irresistable and a campaign so enjoyable, that you and the players don't even notice the overwhelming power of the players, deific races and ridiculous class options.

Chris said...

You know anon, I think you're right and it has given me some food for thought for tomorrow's post (6.1.12). Stay tuned.

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