Old Sometimes Is Just Old

I’ve been looking around at old RPG products I have for reasons I’m not entirely clear on.  I guess it’s the usual looking for ideas for how to do something I won’t ever do.

I started looking at Best of Dragon compilations.  Yes, the first ones.  It’s pretty funny reading about Gygax’s view of how D&D should be played.  Some things are easy to agree with – a game is not fiction.  You can’t simulate a fantasy novel well by playing a game.  Players should have control over what happens and, sometimes, what happens doesn’t make for the expected story.  Creating lots of classes is dumb – okay.  But, the fierce interest in the “videogame” role-playing style just indicates to me a shortcoming with D&D style RPGs, not something to be proud of.

On a more general level, I’ve increasingly wanted to mine my own RPG book collection for material.  I’ve mentioned this in the past, and I’ve also mentioned my typical finding.  Very little material is actually useful.  It’s not just D&D/AD&D modules that are incredibly mechanics focused.  Adventures for Stormbringer/Elric, adventures really for everything are so concerned with treasure and combat statistics.  At the time I bought many books, I was like many a D&D style player, jumping to the back to see what new monsters, magic items, and whatnot were included.

But, I never got tied into the hack and slash play style.  Now, when I look through an adventure, all I see are descriptions of treasure and stats for … does it even matter what the stats are for?  Just some random stat block that could be zombies, demons, wolves, fimirs, or whatever.  Here, have 8 gems, two are worth 50gp, 2x 75gp, 2x 200gp, 1x 500gp, 1x 1500gp … oh, and if you break open the handle of the hammer, there’s a magic ring.  Room descriptions are frequently sparse, with maybe a line or so with what you see.

But, even other products, which have more value, still leave me wanting.  I was looking at Dark Champions recently and, sure, it had stuff on the justice system and talks about criminal organizations, which are utterly frightening.  But, it’s one style of superhero play where I feel like there’s a gap.  I’m just not into street supers.  Dealing with mundane crime doesn’t float my boat.

What interests me is dark supernatural which has some of the same feel but is completely different in what you actually deal with.  Mystic Masters covers supernatural but more of the Dr. Strange rather than the Strange style.  While it could have been a lot better, I loved the Midnight Sons concept.  Dark Champions sounds like a book that would cover street supernatural, but it doesn’t.

Anyway, and so it goes.  A topic is appealing, and the execution is narrow and mechanical.  There’s very little sense of how to feel the world.  I know that I keep saying that GURPS supplements do a much better job with this, as they provide more mundane details, but it’s true.  I don’t know if it’s a matter of when they were written or in reaction to the other products of the day.  The reason for the title of this post is because it’s so often older materials where you can go through the entire product and have no more sense of the flavor than by reading the title.

Now, there is something that the old products can offer – maps.  As much as I’m not into using figures and don’t need to have a scene clearly defined, I do find that maps are quite helpful when dealing with things like buildings and similar (ship layouts).

Speaking of old, I own Chainmail.  You totally see the influence of it on D&D.  D&D is a wargame.  It has always been pitched as a wargame.  It’s not that I have a problem with adventures being built with that in mind, it’s that it’s so interesting how much variety was added to a game that has no real impact on play.  Desert adventures, frozen lands, jungle, other dimensions, rigid societies, underwater – answer to the variety is pretty much just memorize different spells.

There are products (besides GURPS) that give me that feel of the world.  Kingdom of Champions gives a lot of info on the UK.  The Canada supplement has a harder time differentiating Canada from the US, but it tries.  I just wonder how much of this I can actually find looking through what I own.

Meanwhile, when I flip through new products, the one thing I’m always looking for is flavor.  What’s the world actually about?  What are the mundane details that make the world distinct?  So many products are lacking, but, then, it seems like mechanics have always driven sales.

Not that other people’s interests are necessarily my own, but I’d be happy to look into suggestions for RPG supplements that do a good job of capturing the feel of a world rather than just its numbers.

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2 Responses to Old Sometimes Is Just Old

  1. Brandon says:

    The Hunters Hunted 2nd edition VtM supplement remains my favorite RPG supplement to this day, for what that’s worth. I could see it being adapted to SK or maybe something like D&D. I have a copy you can borrow if you want.

  2. Azel says:

    This is what I mean when I say I buy RPGs for their setting, not their mechanics. For example, as fun as CoC can be, it could have done a lot more work to flesh out what it means to run in the 1920s world. Stat lines for gear and their prices sorta don’t cut it.

    However, when talking with many of my other RPG-playing friends, books are only as valuable as their mechanics. Setting detail (also known as “fluff”) is mostly extraneous. I have a difficult time understanding because for me the questions of context (why, how) is more important than questions of definition (who, what, where, when).

    I personally would an English copy of Le Annee Follies (French 1920s Paris/France Call of Cthulhu), because it sounds like that product is closer to what I want from a supplement. And then there’s apparently Tekumel and Talislanta and Harn for all that setting and atmosphere detail goodness I so crave. Unfortunately those games are rather on the collector/rarity market (except for Talislanta which has its entire library available free online now).

    I still recommend You Are Here and Liber Servitorum from In Nomine (another SJG product) because even amid stat lines the prime motivations and modes of operation are covered. Thankfully they are open ended for the toolkit nature of the game, but there is more context to work with than what I usually get from supplements. I will also say that Birthright from TSR D&D 2e does a better than usually expected effort to answer similar questions. The stat lines effect is still there, but thankfully there’s more text about regionalism, motivation, and interaction.

    I will say I’ve yet to be anything but disappointed by adventure modules, though. The search continues…

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