Friday, July 10, 2015

Tenkar Rules! The One True Edition

Over at Tenkar's Tavern he brought up a drunken gem, or drunkenly brought up a gem, that we gamers always love, or in many cases hate, to endlessly debate ...

The One Ring!

Or rather ...

The One Game!

Any way you debate it, the comparison is quite apt, as the prophecy says ...

Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.

Could just as easily be transformed to read ...

Three Games for New Wave-Gamers under the hobby shop lights,
Seven for the Strategy-Gamers before tables of minis,
Nine for Old School Grognards doomed to roll the die,
One for the Melancholy Nostalgist on his lonely throne
In the Land of the Past where the Memories lie.
One Game to rule them all, One Game to find them,
One Game to bring them all and in the FLGS bind them
In the Land of the Past where the Memories lie.

I am not foolish enough to think that there is one game for all the gamers out there these days. The very reason so many games dot the market today is because there are so many types of gamers. Talented gamers with a vision to share. Some out of necessity, some out of artistic desire, some out of nostalgia, some out of various what if scenarios and they are all marvels to behold. But it can make it harder than ever for a group to decide on what they want to play. If there is any one game, it would be for the gamer herself. What game do you prefer to play above all others. What is your go-to game?

As I consider the matter for myself, I would offer a brief retrospective of my own gaming life:

April 1981 -- I start with AD&D 1e and feel like it is the only and definitive game; but I never play the game as written--a very streamlined version with minimal attention paid to rules.

December 1981 -- I get the Basic & Expert Set for completion sake, thinking I should have read them before beginning AD&D. Only, I realize that they are very different, seem limited and I never actually play by these rules. I do use Basic and Expert modules however, with my AD&D games.

1982 -- In the Jr. High gaming club I realize there are different ways of playing the game. Neat, I think, but somehow wrong.

1983 -- Mt first Dragon Magazine subscription shows me a lot of the "weird" alternatives out there are actually alternatively sanctioned rules! I hesitantly allow some of it in my games.

1983 to 1985 or so -- It is clear there are lots other games out there. I play some Gamma World, Some Call of Cthulhu, Star Frontiers but by and large stick with AD&D. I also realize there are lots of AD&D supplements--Arduin's Grimoire, Judges Guild and the like. I use some of their stuff, but always in the context of my version of AD&D.

1987 -- I enter the Army and realize there are vastly different ways to play the game. Wow, maybe I was near sighted in my gaming.

1990 -- 1994 or so I see the first second edition stuff. At first I rebel. Then (in secret) I realize that some of it is pretty cool, even if THAC0 sucks. I pick up up some 2e stuff, but never run a strict "2e" game as it were--still playing my own streamlined version of 1e. My only "other" game is Call of Cthulhu at this point, but I play it rarely.

Here I would like to point out that I find it humorous I was such a purist about AD&D, but really I was playing a very "light" and "rules free" version of the game. We resorted to the books only when we were stumped on how to resolve a technicality.

1995 -- I drop out of the gaming scene, miss the rise of 3e and then 3.5. I travel, serve a mission for my church, get married, start my teaching career etc.

2004 to 2006 -- I am begged and ultimately, convinced to start the gaming club at the school where I teach. The kids are all playing 3.5. I buy all the 3.5 books, well not all, but lots. We play 3.5 at the start of the game club, reluctantly so for me, but I am convinced by others that this is the "better" game. I am convinced of the d20 concept as an improvement, though reluctant to admit it. 

2006 to 2007 -- I find out they are releasing 4e. Argh! I just bought all the 3.5e books! But I am psyched up by the WoTC adverts and also convinced that it has "fixed" all the problems. Problems I really didn't even comprehend. I mean 3.5 was different from AD&D, so maybge 4e would "fix" that?

2007 to 2008 -- I convince everyone to make the switch to 4e. We play an enthusiastic game for about a year. I start the blog! And I also discover the OSR movement online, which influences the title of my blog "Classic" RPG Realms--even though we are playing 4e.

2008 to 2009 -- I become seduced by the OSR. But not necessarily unwillingly. It is still hard for me to parse out how much the OSR caused my dissatisfaction with 4e, and how much was legitimate on my part. We were having lots of fun playing the Keep on the Shadowfell and though I kind of disliked the heavy use of minis, I was cruising along.  Then over time, but 2010 for sure I am dissatisfied with 4e. The focus on my blog shows this as well. I rediscover KODT and am excited about maybe playing Hackmaster 4e. Only to discover they are reinventing the game in 2009. I also hear about DCC RPG and think it might be my savior. 

2010 to 2012 -- We switch to OSRIC and play a two year OSRIC campaign. I become somewhat disillusioned with the differences between OSRIC and AD&D and fool myself that maybe I ever played AD&D by the book. We run into some angst over demi-human level limits. I am reading tons of other rules systems trying to decide what to play. There is no way for everyone to really play 1e without buying all the books used. I find out that 

2012 to 2013 -- I buy Castles & Crusades books for the club and we try that for a short time. I like the idea of the Siege mechanic, but it feels different in play. A group of Pathfinder players convinces us to play Pathfinder. It is successful for about a year or so, but I become disillusioned with the endless character options and optimization. I also am playing several one offs and short campaigns outside of the gaming club. I try various systems in these, but often default to C&C.

2014 plus -- By now I have read and bought most clones and retro variants on the market. They are all good in their way, but I see problems with all of them in one way or another. I had actually played:
  • AD&D 1e
  • AD&D 2e (mixed with 1e)
  • 3.5
  • 4e
  • Pathfinder
  • Labyrinth Lord + AEC
  • Castles & Crusades
2014 plus continued -- 5e comes out. I played it twice during the play test. I was not overwhelmed with awesomeness, but it plays relatively quick and light. Classes seem a bit overpowered. The actual release of the rules confirm that classes are more powerful at baseline than I am comfortable with, but the rules look okay.

Now, as I have mentioned recently, the fact is I never played AD&D with the "rules" so to speak. It was great, but I think I might be in love more with the memory of the time--with the nostalgia I feel about it--than the actual game. The game has become a symbol for me, a metaphor for something bigger than the rules contained in its pages.

The problem is that I am judging all other games by that standard. Only the standard I have before me is not the rules contained in AD&D, which have little to do with what I experienced back then. The other portion of that standard is the nostalgia I feel, that contains enough saudade within it that it will never actually be regained. Saudade, for those of you who don;t know, is a Portuguese word which means something like a deep inner longing for something that you know can never be regained. No game can ever give me that, because it can;t work as a time machine. However, a game can give me the light, fast, flexible old school sensibility to allow me to play like I prefer and to build new memories. 

That would be my One Ring. And I'm not sure it would even be one game, but maybe several that play like that. I have several ideas already that I'll write about next.