Monday, July 8, 2013

Opinion Peace

On The Western Front...

Taking a break from my discussion of the various uses of and approaches to Japanese Anime and Manga pop culture entertainment in role playing games, I wanted to share my take on another blogger's recent thoughts.

Inspiring and intriguing as ever, Noisms of Monsters and Manuals, has put up an interesting post that discusses, quite simply, the games he likes and the games he doesn't and the why and what for of his preferences.

While I won't go so far as to say our choices are diametrically opposed, there are a few key differences that really jumped out at me. It makes you think about how two people can see/read the exact same game and get two very different takes on it.

Games I Like

All things being equal I could really go for a game of Toon. Or Traveller.

Faery's Tale Deluxe
Mekton (Especially Mekton II)
Mutants & Masterminds (Especially 3rd Edition)
Star Trek (FASA)
Star Trek (Last Unicorn Games ICON)
Star Wars (West End Games D6)
Teenagers From Outer Space
Traveller (Original/Classic)

Games I Don't Like

7th Sea
Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (1st Edition - Only partially familiar with 2nd)
Dungeons & Dragons (4 Edition)
Marvel Super Heroes
Metal, Magic & Lore
Palladium (Especially RIFTS)
Rolemaster (and MERP)

Special Cases

Ars Magica

Now obviously these aren't all the games I like nor all the games I don't. Interestingly (to me at least), the games I like came to me instantly and the ones I don't I had to think about a little. I'm not sure why but I see that as a positive.

About the Games I Like

I notice right off the bat that a good number of the games I like share a number of things in common.

First, most of them are relatively rules/crunch-lite. While some of them buck this philosophy (like M&M, Traveller and the Star Treks), none of them are games one would identify as crunch heavy.* Most are very rules-lite. One of the reasons for this preference (beyond despising Math in all its forms) is that I've always found it easier to add ingredients to spice up a recipe than take them out once the food's been made. I love modifying and tweaking simple games but I really don't enjoy having to throw out fifty pages worth of rules here and there to make a game playable.

Second, few of them use charts during play. To me, charts stink. I do not like charts. Charts slow the game down. I will deal with a game that has one chart, am annoyed if there are two charts and any game with three or more...well don't let the door hit you on your way out (wouldn't want to scratch the door). Again, there are exceptions but not many. One of my 'Rules For A Good Game' is you should never need to look at anything other than your character sheet and the dice during play.

Third, the games have character. They are often very specific to a genre or a style of play. I am not enamoured by the idea of generic systems (again with rare exception) and feel a game that does everything does nothing especially well. That said, many of these games are pretty darn flexible and can be used for multiple campaign concepts beyond the ones for which they were developed (I've modded TFOS for many things, Star Wars D6 is essentially the same system as Ghostbusters and MIB, InSpectres has InSpace and is a perfect match to crossbreed with Ghostbusters, MIB or many other ideas).

About the Games I Don't Like

The game for people who really, really like charts.**

Any game with a high degree of crunch, charts, math and/or seemingly** arbitrary rules that don't reflect the setting or the nature of the game is likely to end up on this list.

You may notice there are no medieval fantasy games in the first category and its mostly medieval fantasy in the second. This is partially because I'm not a big fan of the medieval fantasy genre but also because most of the major (and some of the minor) fantasy RPGs suffer from one or more of the above mentioned issues.

For me at least, most medieval fantasy games, especially older ones or those evocative of their style or era, are overworked mechanically, chart heavy and don't really feel fantastic or magical in their mechanics.

The odd men out on this list are Marvel Super Heroes, the original TSR classic by the brilliant Jeff Grubb and ICONS, a far more modern game by Mutants & Masterminds designer Steve Kenson. Both games are very similar in feel and design and sadly, I feel both fail to give me what I want in a Superhero game. The problem of course is that there are a lot of ways of looking at Supers and these days the idea of emulating comics is winning out over simulating a world of superpowered beings (as Champions' default mode seems to do. More on Champions in a bit). That's fine in and of itself, but I find it doesn't really work for my players and I.

Why? Not exactly sure. It may be the immersion level weakens when we look at our comic book characters as comic book characters, narrative constructs and not as actual people. It may be that as gamers, we like a certain level of detail depending upon the genre and over simplifying Supers makes them seem two-dimensional and cartoonish (indeed the irony is palpable).

Special Cases

Champions. I've said it before and I'll say it again, there is no good reason for me to like Champions. It is complex, math intensive, can be chart heavy in older editions and certain situations. Why than do I like it? Scratch that, love it. I love that game. Why?!

I'm sure a big part of it is that I get it. I get the genre and I get the idea of creating not just any character but the exact character I picture in my head. My old group in High School totally grokked Champions and had fun with it like nobody's business. I went to the High School of Art and Design in New York City and many of the cartooning and illustration students were comic book fans who had created entire superhero universes of their own long before they ever saw Champions or any RPG. Like myself, many of my friends were used to creating characters. With Champions, you didn't roll randomly and then figure out what to do with your PC. You took the rules in hand and said to yourself, "I am going to build this super hero I've been drawing and writing stories about since I was 10. Let's see, how can I do that...".

As for Ars Magica, I mentioned in a previous post that I probably don't play that game quite the way it was intended to be played. I did recently, that is, run a campaign of it in the style it is likely designed for and I got bored of it pretty quickly. I would much rather have run a more folklore, mythical campaign but I don't really have the players for that right now.


Another thing I just noticed that I didn't notice when I first started writing this post...I don't like a lot of games that use multiple die types.

I seem to prefer to use 6-sided dice to anything else and often several of them. Next up I think would be D10s and indeed I have converted some D6 games to D10 to give them a wider scale (Teenagers from Outer Space for example). I can deal with D20 but largely, only when there are no other dice involved.



So there you have it. My preferences and I in a nutshell. More accurately a pile of nutshells as I think I ran on for a bit here and there.

Oh well, it was fun looking at the similarities and differences in the these games and coming to terms with what I enjoy and what leaves me sort of flat.

I feel I am now at opinion peace.

Barking Alien

*Noisms, Zak Smith and a few others I have spoken to recently find Mutants & Masterminds to be crunch heavy. I don't feel that way, although it certain isn't crunch-lite. I feel it is crunch-middle ground and really, what more could you ask for. Noisms points out a logical bias on my part. Since I love Superheroes and know the genre especially well, what may seem second nature to me may not be quite so user friendly to others.

**Only in my humble opinion. You do not have to agree with me and indeed can seriously disagree and I won't hate you and think of you as a bad or unintelligent person. Likewise, have a sense of humor and forgive me for my snarky jests, even if you don't agree with them or think them funny.


  1. I feel both fail to give me what I want in a Superhero game. The problem of course is that there are a lot of ways of looking at Supers and these days the idea of emulating comics is winning out over simulating a world of superpowered beings.

    As a fellow supers-nut, can you elaborate further?

    And assuming I'm reading you right, how does MSH and/or Icons just do "the trappings" instead of "the full supers experience"? Isn't that more how the GM runs it?

    1. Not to jump in on BA's comment, but I'm running MHR right now and get exactly where he's coming from.
      As written, MHR's rules have a lot to do with story elements such as scene descriptors and character motivations. It's also, if you use the game's own sample adventures as intent, heavily scripted when it comes to player agency. In many ways it doesn't matter when the players do, they are just wiggling about in the story the Watcher has created.

      But the big thing (especially when compared to Champions, which both of us love) is that superpowers, which in theory are the bread-and-butter of the genre, are highly abstracted and minimalistic. There's 16 pages on powers (keep in mind it's illustration-heavy with gigantic margins) out of 125 pages of rules. And all powers basically work entirely the same way: they add a die to your dice pool that is then rolled against your opponent's dice pool. If you win, the next turn you get another or a higher die in your pool. That's it.

      My frustration with this "one mechanic to handle everything" is elaborated in tremendous detail on my own blog:

  2. From the post above, he name-checks TSR's Marvel game from the '80s, not the newest incarnation you reference. Hence me not getting his talk about "the trappings".

    Your reply makes complete sense if he's actually talking about MHR.

    Guess it's up to him to clarify!

  3. I thought it fairly clear. The game Marvel Super Heroes' was produced by TSR and designed by Jeff Grubb. All these details are noted in the post.

    The newest game was 'Marvel Heroic', produced by Margaret Weis Productions and designed by Cam Banks.

  4. That said, I think what Robb is referring to is my mention of the differences in style and atmosphere between a traditional RPG approach to superheroes and a modern 'comic book logic' emulating game like Marvel Heroic.

    I apologize if my first response sounded like I was clarifying 'at you' guys. I meant to simply make sure we were all on the same page.

  5. I hope this isn't coming across as pedantic or confrontational. I swear I'm legitimately confuzzled.

    You say that the classic Marvel didn't give you what you want in a supers game, and imply because it's too emulate-y. You also say it's similar to Icons, which actually boggles, given how "crunchy" and "fleshed-out" the Advanced edition got.

    Feel free to ignore or delete me. Maybe my Brawndo hasn't kicked in.

    And once we've got that settled, I'd love you to spell it out, maybe in another post: what DO you want / expect / need from a "proper" supers game?

  6. The wording and definitions here are getting mismatched.

    I will explain it better tonight in a follow up post.

    What it boils down to is that while I do want the troupes of the genre, I don't want it to feel like the PCs are not living in a breathing, moving world. I don't want them to think of their characters as drawings in a storybook. I want to feel like these are people, struggling against evil, who could die.

    I never get that feeling playing or running ICONS, Marvel Super Heroes or Marvel Heroic.

  7. There we go. That's what I'm looking for.


  8. I've read your stuff long enough that there weren't many surprises here and I agree on M&M - On a range from "Champions" to "ICONS" it's definitely a medium complexity game.

    Plus, if you're running a campaign using one of the more popular systems out with any complexity at all get a character builder! Hero Lab makes M&M character-tweaking a snap! DDI for 4E makes monster tweaking as simple as a few clicks. As a player, you might not need one but as a DM it's a huge boost for almost any game.

    One last poke - as far as never having to look at anything in play beyond your character sheet and the dice - 4E D&D does exactly that! I'm sure you'd love it if you would just give it a chance ...