Monday, October 4, 2010

Encounter Nominal

I recently had the rare opportunity to run a one shot game for a good friend and his group, the majority of whom I knew but never really gamed with before. I was filling in for their regular GM who was unable to make their scheduled game day. As the group favors action oriented, multi-genre craziness such as superheroes, RIFTS and the like, I thought I would go old school-that-never-was and run a session of the Encounter Critical, my first ever stab as this game. Be prepared...I'm gonna open up a big o'can of Old School Renaissance blasphemy...

Now if you are not familiar with this rpg, please take a moment to
read up on it before continuing on with my little tale of fail as I do not wish to cloud your judgement or opinion. Furthermore I want to go on record by saying that the game's creator, the amazing S. John Ross, is a genius of the highest order (and a darn nice guy).

If you're finished with your travels, please continue...

OK, so it goes without saying that I'm always up for trying something new and different, even if that new and different thing is an old school game styled similarly to the RPGs of yore. I have found memories of Gamma World, Metamorphosis Alpha and Space Opera, three games that combined together would make a gumbo that would somewhat resemble Encounter Critical. Sorta. Kinda sorta. Wait...I can't quite, with 100% certainty, picture Encounter Critical. That is, I can't see Vanth. Hmm...this could present a problem. I know its kind of got a Masters of the Universe/Thundarr the Barbarian vibe but...I never liked Masters of the Universe.

Oh crap...what am I getting myself into?

The rules have some awesome concepts (every other game with a Ranger or Scout class should look at EC's Pioneer class and tremble. D&D should just flat out beg forgiveness for calling their Ranger a Ranger). I like how each class can't raise a level until they achieve something significant to the class (Pioneer's must discover a new locale, Warlock's must transcribe a new spell into their grimoires, etc.). Largely though, for a one shot, only some of that matters. To the players it was just an old school D&D Basic era game with percentage skills. Unfortunately, it didn't wow anyone with innovation mechanically (I know, its not exactly meant on).

So I had a world I couldn't get a lock on, rules that didn't really jazz us and I went in the completely wrong direction and played down the wonkiness in favor of trying to make the game 'make sense', at least to me. While the players had fun and laughs were shared by all, I was left feeling that horrible despair of a rare miss. I ran a game that was only...ok. What went wrong?

I spoke with the group afterward and they took a look at some of the materials (print outs of the PDF). All agreed that this was the wrong game for this group and this GM (me). What many see as a wild and wonky super-science meets magic world, these guys saw as hokey. Its strange but they had trouble taking the world of Vanth as something that could actually be. It was too weird and humorous for their "suspension of disbelief" but not humorous enough to be an actually comedy rpg. The group's average age didn't help either. These guys were in their 20's and 30's. They never played the old school games very much and grew up on modern comics, Manga/Anime and video games. Gamers my age may look upon EC with nostalgia and humor but these guys missed the in joke or simply didn't find it funny.

A major mistake I made was that I tried to create an understandable frame of reference so I opened with the group crashing their Traveller-esque Scout Ship on Vanth. After a while they felt like, "Dang. How soon can we fix the ship and get off this crazy planet and back to the Traveller universe?"

In the end, I like reading through Encounter Critical but I don't think I'll be running it again anytime soon. Some of the ideas in it are awesome but its just not my cup of joe. I'm going back to projects my players can take more Galaxy Quest.

Barking Alien


  1. Dang. Sorry it didn't work out for you. As a fan of Galaxy Quest I full expected EC to be something you could work with. But not every game suits everyone's palette.

  2. I'm sorry too. It's odd but my players and I love comedy settings. The thing is we like them where humorous situations happen but the setting itself is taken seriously.

    Take Galaxy Quest as an example. Super funny movie but the ship isn't funny or silly, its awesome! The weapons don't turn you blue with pokka dots, they kill you (An enemy alien shot a Thermian and he died. Taggart/Nesmith/Allen's Ion Nebulizer vaporized the alien leader.).

    Their is nothing at all wrong with Encounter Critical. Its a fantastic source for crazy ideas. It's simply hard to take seriously as a game. My players felt Galaxy Quest was funny. They felt EC was silly. They love smart comedy don't really like silly.

  3. Yeah, I had the same feeling when I saw Encounter Critical at first. Lots of zany ideas, but a bit too silly to play...

    Are you saying you actually play a game based on Galaxy Quest? I have a few players in the Netherlands who would love that setting. Or at least they'd think so... ;-)