In my gradual shift from huge roleplaying game tomes to short-and-sweet mechanics I’ve come across a few very basic systems that appeal to me. They might not have the depth of complexity many other games offer – both simple and comprehensive – but they provide a core task resolution system with potential for expansion and an ease of adapting to various settings.
Since the dawn of roleplaying games in the 1970s gamers have
tended to take existing systems and modify them to reflect their
personal play style and expectations from the mechanics. Initially
this came from deficiencies gamers found in the earliest versions of
Dungeons & Dragons, classes, monsters, and other rules
they felt the original rulebooks lacked (as Jon Peterson documents in Playing at the World). Wargamers had already been “modding”
rules for years, creating new scenarios and variants for their
favorite titles. The trend continued throughout roleplaying games’
further development. Some variations remained “house rules” among
small groups, while others found momentum and support to become
original games for publication. While I enjoy playing and
house-ruling games to reflect my own expectations for established
games, I find intuitive, basic core mechanics engage my urges toward
more simplified systems to adapt to appealing settings.
Although the game systems that caught my eye recently have their
merits (as outlined below), this trend toward basic mechanics with
further adaptability isn’t new. S. John Ross accomplished this in
Risus: The Anything RPG way back in the 1990s with its system
of die pools assigned to broad (and often humorous) clichés; it
remains one of the most elegantly intuitive roleplaying game systems
with the potential to expand the core mechanic and ability to adapt
to any setting. The system works well in both group and solitaire
play, with the free solo adventure Ring of Thieves masterfully
demonstrating the solo potential. The basic Fighting Fantasy
system from the eponymous solitaire game books also provided a basic
framework with its Skill, Stamina, and Luck stats, each working in
their own way to determine attacks, absorb damage, and modify rolls.
(The Sorcery! series also factored in a basic,
memorization-based spell system). The mechanics worked well for the
solitaire adventures, though the self-regulated combat often devolved
into back-and-forth die-rolling contests between the hero and
monsters. An ambitious gamer could easily adapt either system from
its original form and modify it for a deeper complexity and specific
setting (though Risus remains solid on its own without much
system modification and encourages adaptability to any genre).
Tuesday, February 23, 2016
Tuesday, February 16, 2016
“A game is a form of play with goals and structure.”
As a gamer parent I encourage my son to join in my games. I’ll freely admit my enthusiasm sometimes gets the better of me, that I don’t always have realistic expectations, and that – like some parents do with sports, careers, or other interests – I gently force my own expectations on my son against his childlike wishes. Kevin Maroney’s basic definition of a game outlines a balancing act gamer parents face. Kids naturally want to play freely, but are they ready for the structure of a game, especially the more daunting structure of a game their parents enjoy?
I introduced my son, the now-six year-old Little Guy, to games at an early age. He’s always been interested in Daddy’s toys despite the heaps of his own toys spread in the living room and his bedroom. Like most kids his age he enjoys going beyond the bounds with his toys, not simply playing with them as intended but crossing genres and making up his own entertainment unhindered by rules or restrictions. He’s exhibited very imaginative play tendencies, both on his own as an only child and with his parents and friends. He plays out adventures (“movies” or “episodes”) with his Godzilla, Doctor Who, and Star Wars toys, often mixing them up and substituting other toys for missing characters. With his introduction to more formalized games we started small and worked our way up from kid-level fare like Dino Hunt Dice to more sophisticated fare. We’ve rarely turned to children’s board games like Candyland that rely on random mechanics and severely limit player choice (though the completely random Destroy Death Star game proved – and continues to prove – a delightful diversion despite its total lack of player choices). He’s grown over time as we’ve explored new games, particularly ones that merge mechanics he can grasp with themes he loves.
Tuesday, February 9, 2016
“There is nothing like looking, if you want to find something (or so Thorin said to the young dwarves). You certainly usually find something, if you look, but it is not always quite the something you were after.”
– The Hobbit
Browsing informed my earliest exploration in the realm of fantasy and science-fiction literature. The summer before my senior year in high school I immersed myself in novels and short stories thanks to the independent bookstore in my hometown (Books on the Common, about which I’ve reminisced before) and a keen bookseller who always made sure he stocked all the titles in any series engaging my interest. In the cozy corner near the single bookshelf unit devoted to such fantastical fare I could browse paperbacks, marvel at cover illustrations, and take my time perusing beguiling back-cover copy before deciding which book to purchase for my week’s reading. In the days before the internet enabled access to a worldwide network of fans, online bookstores, reviews, and author bibliographies I browsed that small sci-fi/fantasy section and exposed myself to the wonderful writings of Niven, Eddings, Moorcock, and others I’d never have found otherwise.
Merriam-Webster.com and looking up words in the search field. As I was paging through “M” I noticed an interesting guide word. Remember guide words, those words in the upper corners of the dictionary pages that indicated the range of alphabetical listings on each page to aid reference? “Memnon.” I’d never noticed the name before despite a great interest in myths, science fiction, fantasy, and other fantastical literature. “Memnon: 1. an ethiopian king killed by Achilles in the Trojan War and made immortal by Zeus. 2. a gigantic statue of an Egyptian king at Thebes, said to have emitted a musical sound at sunrise.” That definition – encountered by sheer chance browsing through the dictionary – fired my imagination and spurred me to investigate more about the singing statue, inspired me to wonder about an archaeologist who might have found the artifact and what he might have learned from it. My initial explorations formed the basis of a historical short story for my creative writing fiction class and later, in an altered form, my first professional short story sale, “Memnon Revived.” The experience started my long immersion in both ancient and Victorian Egypt.
Tuesday, February 2, 2016
In my forays into solitaire B/X D&D gaming I find the classic character sheet lacking in its organization and presentation of stats and rules I find most essential for solitaire play. But everyone customizes mechanics to their personal game style – one of the hallmarks of the Old School Renaissance movement (OSR) – and the character sheet should reflect that. The more complete the information on a character sheet the less one needs to constantly add modifiers or reference the rulebook.