Friday, December 24, 2010

The Perfect Game

As our current campaign draws to a close, we find ourselves undecided on what to play next. There's been a lot of debate. Some of the group wants to ditch D&D and try something different for a while, while others don't want the hassle of learning a new system.

There's probably only four or five sessions left in the campaign, so we need to make up our minds soon. Last session we decided to compromise: Once the campaign ends (probably early February), we're going to do a series of one-shots, playing something completely different each week. Some of the games/settings we've discussed so far include Gamma World, All Flesh Must Be Eaten, Mutants & Masterminds, Traveler, Savage Worlds, Ravenloft, and Dark Sun.

I'm open to new things, and look forward to trying out these games. Now, I don't want to insult anyone's choice of RPG here. Everybody's different, and there's something for everyone. I'm just brainstorming; trying to sort out what I do and don't like in the hopes of learning what RPGs would suit me best.

I don't have a lot of experience to draw on here, so I could be making a few incorrect assumptions about what I would and wouldn't like. But overall I think I've tried enough games to have some informed opinions. Nothing on this list is a must-have or a deal-breaker, just some guidelines.

Things I like:

Twenty-sided dice - I liked them even before I liked RPGs, I don't know why. Some people just have symbols and objects they like. If an RPG doesn't use d20s, I'll still try it, but I don't think I'll enjoy it quite as much.

- In an earlier blog I explained why I prefer to play with miniatures (or at least tokens or something to show where we're standing). I will try RPGs that don't use them, but I'll probably have a harder time following the action.

Surviving - I like getting into my character, deciding what their personality is like, and seeing how they develop over time. Therefore, I don't want my hard work going down the drain when I die three sessions into the campaign. At the very least I'd like resurrection options to be readily available. Don't get me wrong - I'm not looking for some risk-free, totally easy game with no way to die. However, I'm not a very good combat strategist, and I would like to see one of my characters make it to high levels someday. There are other ways to punish players besides death, and losing a battle can lead to some very interesting sidequests to get things back on track.

Simple Rules - My mind isn't what it used to be. I have a hard time learning new games. I don't want to have to spend too much time studying the rules, especially if it's for a one-time game. I like it when I can learn a game while playing it, instead of having to read the entire book beforehand. I like being able to easily teach games to my friends, and as a DM I like having the freedom to make things up on the fly, rather than slowing down the session to look up an obscure rule.

Leveling up - One of the first things that attracted me to RPGs was the primal urge to get stuff. Learning new abilities, finding new equipment, and earning lots of gold is addictive. It's awesome being able to do new stuff this week that you couldn't do last week. It's great knowing you can now face monsters that would have creamed you a few sessions ago.

Character Builders - While I may not like the new version, overall I applaud WOTC for making the D&D Character Builder. There are similar programs out there for other RPGs, often made by third parties (like Hero Lab), but these invaluable programs just aren't common enough. They turn character creation from a chore to a joy. It's faster, it's fun, and it can help you build a more optimized character. In this day and age, every RPG company should make a character builder one of their first priorities.

Things I don't like:

Card games
- I've tried Magic and a few other CCGs, and I don't like them. I'm not even particularly fond of dice-based RPGs that use cards to supplement the rules, but I will try them. It really depends on how it is implemented.

- Armor class should always be "the higher, the better". Actually, that goes for all numbers (unless you're playing golf). Stats should go up, not down. Accomplishing something should always be rolling a die, adding a number, and hoping for a high result.

Diceless systems
- Okay, I've not actually tried one. But I really like dice, it's one of the reasons I play. Plus, there has to be some element of chance to determine success or failure, and I already mentioned I don't like cards.

Hardcore Campaigns - Again, I'll try anything for a one-shot. I'll be perfectly happy to be driven mad by the cult of Cthulhu in a special Halloween game. I'll be delighted to go through a ream of character sheets stumbling my way through the Tomb of Horrors. But as I said in "Surviving" above, in a long-term campaign, I want to hang on to the same character for a while. I want to see how they grow as a person. I want the party to be personally invested in the quest, and it loses something if each member is gradually replaced over time. It's like watching a TV show that should have been canceled years ago, after most of the original cast has left the series.

Hardcore DMs - While arena one-shots can be fun, a full campaign should never be Player Vs DM. Instead, the DM and players should be working together to make an interesting story. One of the funniest things about the "Knights of the Dinner Table" comic strip is how the DM is constantly trying to screw his players, and the players are constantly besting him. But in a properly-run game, there are no losers as long as everyone is having fun.

Random Character Generation - For a one-shot module, I'll play any race/class combination handed to me. But if it's going to be a long-term campaign, I want to play what I want to play. I don't get to play as often as some people, and it's not worth driving all the way to a game to run a character I don't love. I want to choose my character's race, class, sex, appearance, build, and hopefully stats.

Westerns - I've not played one, but I just don't like the era. Not in movies, not on TV, and probably not in games. Boring. I might be interested in something with Western elements (think Firefly), but don't hold your breath. Generally I find the genre to be too testosterone-filled, and I'm just not into manliness.

Politics & Mass Warfare - I don't like Risk, and I don't like controlling entire armies. I prefer acting through a single character and knowing them inside and out. I'm also not very good at political intrigue. I don't care who's in charge of the kingdom, and I find power plays boring. If the town mayor is evil, I'll gladly take the quest to kill him, but I'd rather not campaign to run against him.

Realistic Historical or Modern Settings - History was one of my worst subjects in high school; I'm sorry to say it's just never really interested me. I'm not a big stickler for realism. I play RPGs to get away from reality. I'm not saying games should be surreal or cartoonish, but I do prefer to avoid real-life settings, past or present.

Sports - No Fantasy Football for me, sorry. I don't like sports in real life, so I'm not interested in simulating them in an RPG.

On the Fence:

Roleplay vs Rollplay
- Seriously, I like both. And I'm not very good at either. I don't have a chess player's mind, but I still enjoy combat-heavy games. I'm usually too shy to speak in-character, but I still like roleplaying my character. My first 4e campaign was 90% roleplay, and some of the more recent games have been 90% combat. I have a blast either way.

Things I want to try:

Gamma World
- This might happen soon. I haven't gotten to try a sci-fi non-computer RPG yet, and GW is similar enough to 4e that it shouldn't take too long to learn.

Star Wars Saga
- I'm a huge SW fan, and from what I've read, Saga is a pretty good system. I have a large collection of Star Wars miniatures, and I hope I get a chance to use them sometime.

Any Sci-Fi Setting - Either of the two above would be great, but I'm open to others as well.

Any Superhero Game - I don't know whether or not I'd like them, but I think it would be fun to try one.

A Classless System - I'm so used to classes, that I don't know what I'd even do without a clearly defined combat role. But that's exactly why I'd like to try one sometime, just to see what I'm missing.

Looking back at all my preferences above, I do think D&D 4e is a pretty good fit for me. But rather than cut straight to that conclusion, I'd much rather take the roundabout route, and try lots of different systems first. If and when I finally settle back into D&D, I'll know I'm doing it for the right reasons.

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