Thursday, May 1, 2014

So Many Games, So Many Goals, So Little Time.

Hey there all two of you who read this blog and the other folks that accidentally navigate here!  Welcome back. Man, it's been mooooonths! Entire months since I wrote a blog.  To be honest I took a bit of a break because I found it exhausting attempting to make each post so full of meaning and love, and especially exhausting when I was trying not to, and I only recently remembered this was here.

But, I have kept up with tabletop gaming, and it's been interesting.  Instead of pulling everyone into one group to play one game, there are now three groups.  It's odd, I was always afraid of the consequences of splitting folks up, but this has really worked out.  Let me touch base on a little that has gone on in each game and why I split the groups.

So initially I split my entire gaming group into two teams based mainly on what I perceived to be their goal in table top games.  Having played games with all of these people for a number of years, I think I have a good sense of what these folks enjoy the most about table-top role-playing (thank you trial and error!), and I split groups based on that.  This came (somewhat predictably) to two groups, "The Old Guard" and "The New Guard" .

That's what I call a One-Two Punch.
"The New Guard", my largest group (and growing) chose Dungeons and Dragons 4th edition.  There is much I can say about 4th edition, so much that I started another post about it, based on what I just removed from this post.   It's little wonder that many of "The New Guard" are sports fans.  Of all the systems I've played, 4th edition is by far the most team oriented.  In short it's a game that thrives on the group approach, enforcing group roles at character creation (Defender, Leader, Controller, Striker) and rewarding tactical play styles.  In previous iterations of Dungeons and Dragons, emphasis in character development has been on amassing the means of survival and power individually.  Fourth Edition recognizes that each adventurer is, foremost, a member of the team and one part of a whole, even at the launch of the system, touting the motto "Never Split the Party".  It also happens that 4th edition is the system that many of "The New Guard" cut their teeth on when it comes to table top RPGs.  In this place of comfort, "The New Guard" thrives.

"The Old Guard" is composed mainly of the people I learned to play RPGs with, and for them I run Numenera, a far future Science Fantasy RPG with a minimalist rules system to allow emphasis on story and description of the strange (and boy do I mean "Strange") and exciting "Ninth World".  Perhaps in time I will write a post solely about the Cypher System, and it's merits.  As mentioned "The Old Guard" introduced me to table top gaming, and as such our experience with different systems has been vast.  Three and a half versions of D&D, two versions of Star Wars, Shadowrun, Two versions of Mutants and Masterminds, (Multiple) Old and New World of Darkness, Robotech, Heroes Unlimited, and on and on.  So I knew that introducing them to a new system wouldn't be an issue.  

Both in system and setting, Numenera has been a challenge, and a very welcome one at that.  Again, more about Numenera and the Cypher System in a later Post (the majority of which will be poached from what I just removed here.)

Welcome to Earth. Partying like it's 1,000,002,014.
Aside from the fantastic fantasy and "weird future" elements, Numenera is a game about discovery and rediscovery, with emphasis on "thinking outside the box".  More so then any other system I've played, there is no right or wrong way to solve a problem, but there are many, MANY ways to achieve a goal.  Players are rewarded for ingenuity and (re)discovery.  "The Old Guard" is a mix of players somewhere on the scale of "cautious beyond paranoia" and "too curious for their own good", a perfect mix of future explorers.  In a departure from time honored "Slay Monsters, Acquire Loot", players have been solving puzzles, uncovering mysteries, and exploring facilities, while ancient are also highly advanced, appearing more like a dilapidated Star Wars set, or the structure early on in "Portal 2".  4th Edition forces players to work together (The price of an individual's ego is the suffering of the party).  Numenera does not force players to work together, but the "The Old Guard" does, and to great effect, with little issue.  Maybe because they're seasoned veterans and know the price of hubris in a dangerous fictional world, maybe because they've been friends for decades and know they can trust each other implicitly, possibly because they're literally family whether by blood or marriage.

Much like this wonderful piece by Fredrik Eriksson,
A good vampire game blends a world with which you're
familiar, with something...darker. Check out his Stuff
Then there's the smaller group, who plays intermittently during the week.  They play Vampire: The Requiem.  You see, the point of this post has been to frame what I've learned from playing multiple different games, and none has illustrated this point to me more, then my week night game of Vampire.  I've been playing table top RPGs since I was eighteen or nineteen years old, and everyone had combat, action, and adventure, especially the ones I've run.  Not only did I want Action and Adventure, I wanted intrigue, and horror, and exploration, etc., etc.  Worst is I always tried to squeeze it out of one game (Usually D&D 4th Edition), whether the game's system supported that style of play or not.  

Now that's not to say you can't splash a bit other genres in your games, but at their core, Dungeons and Dragons (D20 system) was made for high adventure, Numenera (Cypher System) made for discovery and exploration, and World of Darkness (Storyteller System) for brutal Gothic horror.  And while it's good to work a little of adventure into Vampire at times, and discovery into Dungeons and Dragons, letting these games play to their strengths is where they truly shine.  And though my current players are in no way relegated to these games specifically, I found a lot of luck in "playing to the audience" not only in picking their brains at the end of a game ("What was your favorite part? What do you want to see more of?"), but choosing systems that support the play styles they enjoy the most.

There's a lot of systems out there, and it's easy to look at table top gaming from the outside and call all of it "D&D" because of the game's iconic status.  But remember, there's a reason that not everyone refers to Science Fiction Movies as "Star Wars", not everyone refers to famous painters as "Picasso", not everyone refers to books as "Harry Potter".  There's a wealth of creativity and systems knowledge in the world of table top, all you need do is find the one that fits you best...

...though of course, you could always make your own, that's what Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax did.
The two men at the bottom right, only responsible for a large part of
Contemporary Gaming History, that's all.