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Do you need modern games for the modern gamer?


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#1 BigJackBrass

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Posted 13 July 2014 - 02:06 PM

D&D is reinventing itself, apparently with a promising degree of success. The usual sites, this one included, are starting to buzz with discussions of the revised rules and how they play, what that means for the way we game. I've actually found myself casting an interested eye over the game; and as I largely gave up on it with second edition AD&D that's saying something.

 

Of course, it's far from the only game in town, or even the only style. From detailed tactical simulation to broad-strokes story creation, it seems that there should be a game out there for everyone these days even if D&D is taken out of the equation. Something it certainly is, rather weirdly and certainly more so than any other game, is exceptionally self-referential. When RPGs - and fantasy RPGs particularly - first appeared their influences were quite clear: Tolkien, Howard, Lieber, the Norse sagas and Le Morte d'Arthur. The paperback fantasy boom of the 1960s reintroduced a slew of heroes like Conan to the public and gamers mixed those exotic elements into the historical settings they knew well. A few oddities such as Empire of the Petal Throne appeared, but even that owed a great deal to the swords and sorcery tales from the pulps. By the time you get around to AD&D 2nd edition TSR was publishing a huge range of books and something started to shift. Lots of gamers have now grown up in a world where the main influences on D&D would appear to be previous D&D publications.

 

This struck me particularly clearly earlier this evening as I was reading Black Colossus again, a typically vigorous and muscular outing for everyone's favourite barbarian. Often I'll be thinking about running a certain game, then I'll read a book for inspiration and find that it seems to point me to a different system. In this case, rugged sword and sorcery inevitably sends me back to Tunnels and Trolls. There's something in the DNA of those early games that ties them to that sort of fiction in my head, even though plenty of modern games could run those settings at least as well. The more recent games, though, aren't written for people who grew up reading the sort of pulp reprints and fantasy anthologies that were such a staple of my own youth; nor should they be, really. Someone getting into gaming now is clearly going to have a different understanding of what constitutes fantasy, a different set of precedents and reference points.

 

So I'm wondering, in my rambling and unfocussed fashion: is it simply an historical association in my mind? or do those older systems do a better job of dealing with the sparse, rugged stories of Kane and Conan and Kull? Will modern gamers always find a degree of disatisfaction with old games because they assume a different core background?

 

knight3-smiley.gif


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#2 Pencil-Monkey

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Posted 14 July 2014 - 10:29 AM

Sounds like you and Thing have a lot to talk about. ;)

In this case, rugged sword and sorcery inevitably sends me back to Tunnels and Trolls.


"Tunnels & Trolls! Where even the wizards end up looking Arnold Schwarzenegger by the time they reach 8th level."
- J. Hancock :)
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#3 PrestoJeff

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Posted 14 July 2014 - 12:41 PM

I think that the writing style and plots of the time/genre were "simpler" and thus didn't require a complicated game system.
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#4 JCormier

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Posted 17 July 2014 - 11:05 AM

I think player's have become coddled on video game easy mode where success is almost guarantee if you put the time in. 3.5 and Pathfinder were very player empowering. 4e was almost god mode and encouraged players to play stupidly. I linked to a Polygon article in my blog that talked about how he kind of lost interest a little in playing because of that kind of play, but when he played for a DM who was running 1e mostly by the book, and enforced the attribute requirements for races and classes. Said something along the lines of "playing with these restrictions and the real threat of death was the most fun he's had in D&D". I'm vastly paraphrasing here.

 

I think that there's some clunkiness of the older systems that are hard for new players to get into (I'm one of them), but if you can house rule around those things, or present them in an interesting way, I think an older system is perfectly fine for newer gamers. As far as playing in those worlds that are more sword and sorcery, I think 3e/Pathfinder/5e could play them just fine, BUT you would have to limit what was available to the players. Just because it's in the player's handbook, doesn't mean it needs to be in your world. You could also remove some of the spells that don't really fit in the genre of story you want to tell.

 

My two cents. Hopefully I at least gave a partial answer. :) 


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#5 Hal

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Posted 17 July 2014 - 02:38 PM

I agree with that - I think players are looking for the win rather than the challenge.

 

Time for some more Rolemaster I think... make them really understand their own mortality :P

 

Hal :hal:


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#6 Pencil-Monkey

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Posted 18 July 2014 - 02:24 AM


I think player's have become coddled on video game easy mode where success is almost guarantee if you put the time in.


There seems to be a counter-reaction to that in the video game industry, as well, if you look at the recent resurgence in popularity of roguelike games.

I linked to a Polygon article in my blog that talked about how he kind of lost interest a little in playing because of that kind of play, but when he played for a DM who was running 1e mostly by the book, and enforced the attribute requirements for races and classes.


That's the same article @Thing has started a thread about. :)

I think that there's some clunkiness of the older systems that are hard for new players to get into (I'm one of them), but if you can house rule around those things, or present them in an interesting way, I think an older system is perfectly fine for newer gamers.


True. There are several people who've posted anecdotes about how they've had great success with using old-school RPGs to lure their kids into the hobby, both with small children, teenagers, and even students from a Korean private school's English classes. :)
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#7 Lucky_Strike

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Posted 05 August 2014 - 07:35 PM

I think you are on to something. The old games assumed a literary introduction. I feel that ever since the Conan movies there has been a growing cinematic assumption.

I'm a Howard fan from way back and getting the table to feel the vibe of his prose over the action cuts of Peter Jackson is where a lot of my attention goes.
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#8 Hal

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Posted 06 August 2014 - 10:17 AM

Its an attention span problem as well I think. We are being trained to not stick with something for very long so we can move onto another thing so they can advertise at us some more.

 

Over the years I have found that plays are looking to beat the adventure much more than they are looking to experience the story. Which kind of makes me sad as I like story over rules most days.

 

I think computer gaming and seasonal TV has a lot to do with it as well. Everything is in bite-sized sections that is easily managed and if you miss something there isn't too much of a consequence and the game is always fair and balanced.

 

I am quite liking the new D&D because it seems to be wanting me to throw a dragon at a 3rd level party and see what happens. It is one of the reasons I like Rolemaster so much. At any point a faceless peasant with a pointy stick on a lucky day can defeat anything and it is that uncertainty that is missing from modern games and it that uncertainty that makes the games really exciting.

 

I can count on one finger the number of times I have been playing or running Pathfinder of DnD 3/3.5/4 and there has been a massive cheer go up around the table (pretty much when Feylin kills the dragon in WLD). It would a much much higher number for something like Rolemaster where the chance of spectacular success is balanced against the chance of absolute and total humiliating failure.

 

Hal :hal:


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#9 BigJackBrass

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Posted 06 August 2014 - 12:19 PM

At Martin's suggestion (he tends to play far more videogames than I do) a few of us downloaded the free-to-play Neverwinter MMO recently. I've been playing it for a day or two and, unsurprisingly, it's very much like D&D. Unfortunately, it's exactly like all the things I like least about D&D: the fiddly upgrades; the ubiquitous magic items; the silly abilities that make everyone seem like a magic-user; Hobbits wearing boots; and so on. The convergence of MMO and D&D makes a lot of sense when viewed as an exercise in mechanics, but it makes for crappy roleplaying; or at least, it's not what I enjoy about RPGs. Looting treasure chests in Neverwinter swiftly became depressing, because instead of the feeling that I was bravely venturing forth and battling for ancient valuables I realised that I was collecting raw materials to be used in crafting upgrades... like every other MMO. I don't want to do that, I want to get out and explore the world, regardless of whether I run into something too big for me to handle or not.

 

RPGs are certainly more refined than ever and I don't want to become all "get off my lawn!" about it, but I really do believe that a few gaps in the rules, some lightly-sketched parts of the background and hinting rather than exhaustively defining works better for RPGs because it forces you to engage the best part of them: the creativity of players and GM.


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#10 ScottS

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Posted 06 August 2014 - 01:29 PM

>>>I think player's have become coddled on video game easy mode where success is almost guarantee if you put the time in. 3.5 and Pathfinder were very player empowering. 4e was almost god mode and encouraged players to play stupidly (...) "playing with these restrictions and the real threat of death was the most fun he's had in D&D"

The given examples kind of water down the point here:  3e/PF can tear PCs up (and I'm using hero points in my current PF game for just that reason).  4e was actually "hard" at low levels/Heroic (i.e. the tier of the game that most people actually play), in that it's the only point where characters can actually die if played as written.

For a combat game, I'd generally agree that there has to be "pressure"/reasonable chance of defeat in order to avoid turning the game into a boring tai-chi exercise.

>>>
I agree with that - I think players are looking for the win rather than the challenge.

>>>Over the years I have found that plays are looking to beat the adventure much more than they are looking to experience the story. Which kind of makes me sad as I like story over rules most days.

If a game is presenting itself as "here are some obstacles (e.g. fighting monsters); here is a toolbox for overcoming those obstacles (e.g. char-gen rules, involved tactical system)", then I don't think it's unreasonable at all for people to focus on that.  It's what the "game" is...

The saucy retort to "people trying to 'win the game' makes me sad" is:  if you want "story", then why don't you just read a novel (or write one)?
The somewhat less saucy retort is:  if you think "story" (i.e. not focusing on the actual play of the game, details of the rules system, etc.), is the most important part of the experience, then you should ask yourself what exactly you're getting by continuing to use dice and RPGs in general.  Why not just go full "group storytelling" and throw away the crutches?

>>>
I really do believe that a few gaps in the rules, some lightly-sketched parts of the background and hinting rather than exhaustively defining works better for RPGs because it forces you to engage the best part of them: the creativity of players and GM

"Creativity in RPGs" can mean different things.

The version I prefer involves having a defined problem within a certain system, and "combo-ing" elements of that system and/or using them in unexpected ways to resolve the problem.

The version I hate involves coming up with "solutions" that don't involve any rigor (because they don't reference anything except the solver's internal sense of realism and/or dramatic appropriateness), and that work or don't work based on whether you can finagle the DM into accepting your idea.


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