Monday, December 8, 2008

The Tao of RPGs

"Have little and be fulfilled. Have much and be confused."

I've always been fond of these words from the Tao Te Ching. They have always seemed very applicable to my daily life and even more so to my RPG life. Way back in the mists of time (the late 70s early 80s) , we gamed a lot. We played at Boy Scout meetings, on camping trips, in study halls and around my parent's dining room table on Friday nights. I was almost always the GM (or Dungeon Master back then) and we almost always played Dungeons & Dragons. Sure, even back in those days there were other games available, but we were somewhat geographically isolated and didn't have ready access to much beyond D&D. We tried other games like Rolemaster (too many charts), Top Secret (fun, but better for one-shots than a long term game), and Powers & Perils (utterly incomprehensible), but D&D was our standby. I could run a game at a moment's notice. All that was required for hours of fun was some graph paper and a handful of dice.

Fast-forward to today. I've found myself almost completely unable to run a game lately. What is the problem? Not enough time? Sure, my time is more limited than it was back in Ye Olde Days, but I have plenty of time to screw around playing World of Warcraft or staring at the walls, so that's not it. No players? Nope that's not it either, I have players. No, it's not what I don't have but rather what I DO have. To many games. Yes, the dream that I have as a kid of having tons of games to play has finally come true and it is a nightmare. I seem to have developed some bizarre form of gaming ADD which leaves my unable to decide on a game system to use. I just can't pick one!

Now I have made some small efforts to overcome this malady, but the results have been mixed. A week or so ago, I went through what I can only call "The Library" and tried to come up with a list of games that I would run and why I would run them. So here I what I've com up with:

Savage Worlds: This is a solid choice. Lots of flexibility and the ability to do multiple genres. Probably not the best choice fo dungeon crawls, but a good all around game for GMs with limited time.

Castles & Crusades: Hail to the Ye Olde Tymes! Not a bad system and I really like the company (Troll Lord Games). I have run this before and enjoyed it, but something about it keeps holding me back.

Labyrinth Lord: Now these are Ye Olde Tymes. A direct update of Moldvay & Cook which I've always had a soft spot for. Into the dungeons and pass the pizza! It's also available as a free PDF, but to quote my wife, "...and yet you found a way to pay for it."

Swords & Wizardry: An OD&D (the three little brown books) clone. Kickin' it way Olde School. Great for cold nights in Wisconsin (or Pennsylvania). A cool retro homage to Erol Otus cover too. It's available as a free PDF just like LL and just like LL, I found a way to pay for it.

Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay: A wonderfully atmospheric game if you're into death in the dark ages. Lots of source materials, but tied to a particular world (albeit a very cool world IMHO), and I prefer to roll my own. Overall a nice game with a lot to recommend it, including the Rat Catcher. It does however remain slightly unclear how much support this game will get now that Fantasy Flight Games owns the license.

So there we have it, my "List of Acceptable RPGS" (as of today). Two small press games, two free games and one big company offering.

Now I like dungeons. I love them in fact. I love the idea of the megadungeon where the dungeon as the campaign. I love killing time and goblins while killing a case of beer and a pizza. I love springing death traps on my players and watching them cleverly avoid them. Of these games, Swords & Wizardry and Labyrinth Lord are probably the most directly geared toward that sort of thing. Castles & Crusades leans toward the dungeon, while Savage Worlds and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay lean a bit away. Of course dungeons are a matter of taste, and game style needs to be agreed upon by at least a majority of players and in turn certain game styles fit better with certain systems.

By now, anyone unlucky enough to have read this is probably asking "Is there a point to all of this?" The short answer would be, "No." It's really nothing more than an effort to set down my ideas about what games I like and to push me to at least pick a game to run if I feel so inclined.

So am I any closer to picking a system and running a game? No, not really, but at least I have achieved a bit of perspective on what is holding my back and I have a starting list of games to work with.
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