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Messages - Wandering Monster

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I just finished up a Deadlands:Reloaded game that ended quite well, tying up all the loose ends in one nice, neat package.  

Now I'm two sessions into what's being referred to as a "bar code fantasy" game, with elves, dwarves, and orcs (but no damn halflings) in a somewhat standard European medieval setting.  It's a far cry from my previous fantasy campaign that borrowed heavily from Maori, Mayan, and Chinese cultures where three out of four of the nonhuman races had scales (the fourth had an exoskeleton).

I play and run nothing but Savage Worlds, not because I think it's a superior system, but because it's one that I know and my players know, and it requires very little game prep, allowing me to spend my time working on settings and stories, and not statting NPCs.  If I wasn't so lazy and my players weren't so drunk, I'd probably be more willing to try out other systems.

Borrow liberally from Cormack McCarthy's Blood Meridian.  It would make the game darker, but marauding bands of 'Mericans hunting down Apache and cashing in scalps for government bounties would fit.

From the point of view of cultural theory (esp. in anthropology), Orientalism has its place, just as Marxism does.  However, it must be remembered that these theoretical perspectives are analytic tools lending a certain perspective to understanding other cultures and writings about other cultures, and not totalizing perspectives that can explain every aspect of a culture or the relationships between cultures.  However, any theoretical perspective can be taken to the point of absurdity, leading to the philosophical dead end of extreme postmodern philosophy, where any culture is incomprehensible.

In a more restricted mode, the deconstructionist argument becomes that a culture other than one's own can be understood, but not in the same way that a native of that culture understands it.  And that the author of any work describing another culture is not transparent.  The author's preconceptions must be taken into account, and descriptions of any culture must be read with an awareness of how the author may be misunderstanding it.

Back to the topic of RPGs, however.  Anybody who thinks Orientalism should be applied to an RPG is taking the game too fucking seriously.  No rpg is ever going to be an accurate representation of a culture.  Every rpg representation of any culture will be a sweeping generalization that obscures details.  I won't even go into the conceptual morass that goes into even defining a specific culture, or drawing boundaries around what belongs to one culture and what belongs to another.

An RPG representation will never have the depth of a real culture (especially while the world-building knobs continue to chant their mantras that fantasy religions and cultures need to be internally consistent), nor should it.  If I'm running a game which includes even a fictionalized version of an Australian Aboriginal culture, I may borrow certain ideas or concepts, but I wouldn't dream of trying to run the entire game without using any verb tenses so that I could more accurately represent Dreamtime.  

The representations in an RPG can be blatantly offensive (KKK: the Gathering), but invoking the fact that the representation is not accurate is missing the point of playing an RPG, and makes about as much sense as complaining that Monopoly does not accurately represent SEC regulations.

We use generalizations and stereotypes and cliches in RPGs not because they pretend to illuminate or are gateways to the Truth of how other people live or think, but because they're enjoyable to play.  Thinking of them otherwise is, quite frankly, fucking retarded.

On RPGpundit's side-topic of the use of self-romanticised sources, try reading James Clavell's Shogun and Eiji Yoshikawa's Musashi back to back.  Both novels are romanticized views of the same period in Japanese history, but the focus is drastically different.  Shogun romanticizes the culture as the exotic mystery of the Other, while Yoshikawa's romanticizes the period as a defining time of Japanese identity and culture.  Which version is a more accurate representation really only matters in how the representation will be used.  For an academic dissertation, the representation matters.  For an RPG, it doesn't.

Pen and Paper Roleplaying Games (RPGs) Discussion / Credo
« on: October 13, 2006, 06:54:05 pm »
I only play RPGs with people I like, or at least whose play-style I enjoy. Why the hell would I spend my precious personal time embarrassing myself in the company of a stranger, or watching him embarrass himself?

That one bears repeating.  Over and over and over...

1) A small, coherent set of strong "kewl-powerz" is more interesting than pages of unrelated, tiny powers and bonuses.

2) Magical or fantastic elements are only interesting in a setting when used in moderation.  

3) There's nothing wrong with playing a human.

4) Wandering monster tables are a stupid idea.

I prefer to retain the element of surprise by delivering a swift kick to the groin if I feel things are starting to lag...

I haven't used one in years.  I tried a few times, but I'm a very animated GM with a tendency to jump around and gesticulate wildly, which more often than not led to my launching the screen across the table...  Plus, I found that it obstructed my view of the battle mat (side note:  I often knock over the battle mat too, but my players won't let me get rid of it... pesky players).

For me, it depends more on the particular game than on the game system.  For one-shot games, or those that will only last two or three sessions, I prefer random chargen.  However, for any extended campaign I will only play with non-randomly-generated characters.  

My bad luck with dice is nearly legendary, and playing a character nearly crippled by a single bad die roll (e.g. playing a 3e fighter who rolls under "2" for hit points for levels 2-5) for months and months on end is no fun at all.

Theme:  Evil rarely, if ever, identifies itself as such.  Those who are considered Evil often think that they are doing "the right thing in the situation."

Co-theme:  There is no such thing as a malefic religion (I find it too hard to willingly suspend disbelief in that regard... a legacy of far too many years studying religion).  Insane cultists, on the other hand, are always a good addition to any genre.

Element:  Cinematic battles with an obscene number of "innocents" running around, screaming, and generally getting in the way whenever possible.

Pen and Paper Roleplaying Games (RPGs) Discussion / Savaged Star Frontiers
« on: September 20, 2006, 05:04:31 pm »
I played a dralasite engineer in a savaged Star Frontiers game a short while back.  Additional limbs aren't all that cool in Savage Worlds since you still only get two actions.  Sure, you can hold an extra tool, but you can't do anything with it if you're already doing something with the other two "hands."

In our savaging, we gave dralasites "make your own appendages" for free because the ability didn't really need a game mechanic behind it.  Then we gave them the Stretching ability up to 5' (I think stretching is in the Sci Fi Toolkit).

I've downloaded copies of books that I already own so I can print out specific charts and whatnot as a reference to be used in-game, but I don't download copies of RPG books I do not already own not because of any personal moral code, but rather because I'm not particularly fond of PDFs.  I like doing my game prep on the couch, surrounded by books with post-its marking all of the pages.  I can't stand having to use references that only exist in a digital format.  Incidentally, I don't buy gaming pdfs either.  It's either paper or nothing for me.

I don't know if I hate D&D, but I certainly don't love it anymore...  Well, heck:

A "Dear D&D" letter:

Oh baby, I'm so sorry. It's not you, really. It's me. We're just not compatible.

I know you changed a lot over these past few decades, and I know you've tried your hardest to make me like you, but you just haven't changed the right things. You did a great job, Baby, when you switched to Third Edition, and I thought the changes you made would help our relationship. But Baby, it just wasn't enough. I love that you accepted a unified mechanic, even if you didn't feel the need to apply it to turning undead, but you still kept ablative hit points, and armor that makes you harder to hit, and classes.

And Baby, oh Baby, why couldn't you change fire-and-forget spellcasting? The sorcerer was a good try at fixing the magic system, but then you had to punish it by making it less flexible compared to your true love, the wizard.

I know you can change more. I know you've got modular parts, and new magic systems like psionics and Incarnum, but it just ain't enough. Fire-and-forget magic will always be your favorite, and it shows in how you treated those half-assed magic systems.

Baby, I'm so sorry. I know you have alternate rules for almost everything, and I loved that Unearthed Arcana gift you gave me a few years ago, but when I play a game, I shouldn't have to rewrite the whole game system.

There's just too much to change, Baby. And all you do is keep churning out more supplements, with more rules and feats and prestige classes. It just ain't enough.

No, baby. changing to 3.6 won't do it either, nor will changing to 4th Edition, not unless you make bigger changes than you're willing to make.

I need a simpler and faster system. I need something that doesn't require so many books. I need a system that handles multiple genres without feeling like medieval fantasy carelessly tossed into a different environment. And I need to play a game where all medieval fantasy doesn't feel the same. Sure, you got your pretty Faerun and Eberron books, but they're still nothing new, baby.

Yeah. I still love you. I can't forget all those years we spent together, and all those inside jokes like the Umber Hulk and the Beholder and AC and THAC0. And we had a lot of great times together, Baby. We really did. I swear to God.

But really, I want a game where competent characters can still be threatened by a bunch of zombies. I want a game where experienced characters aren't loaded down with tons and tons of magic items. Baby, I need a game where combat doesn't take three hours.

Please don't cry, Baby. I'll come back every now and then to visit. I just can't stay with you any more.

I'm not going to go so far down the China Mieville path to suggest that Tolkein is a "wen on the arse of fantasy literature," but it's definitely the blatant Tolkein-ism of the halfling that bothers me.  Of course, I feel the same way about Elves and Dwarves as well.

Come to think of it, I hate gnomes more than halflings...  Maybe I just hate short races.  

No, that couldn't be it, I adore kobolds.

I prefer fantasy that diverges from the standard D&D tropes.  It's not that the tropes are necessarily bad, but after playing fantasy RPGs for almost thirty years, I'm tired of retreading pilfered hunks of Middle Earth whenever I play or run a game.  Give me something different in my fantasy.  Give me something other than tree-hugging elves, dour dwarves, and pickpocket halflings.  Give me something other than orcs and half-orcs and goblins.  But, by all means, keep the races playable.

I think the existence of D&D 3.5 is a direct result of the Internet.  That, and scads and scads of errata...

The constant feedback on game mechanics produces a rush for companies to patch the rules that are easily exploitable, or sometimes just plain stupid, as nearly every player with an Internet presence becomes a playtester.  This is a double-edged sword, as while we often get much-needed rules changes (e.g. Harm), we also get loads and loads of crap that didn't need to be changed, and certainly doesn't justify purchasing a whole new set of books.

New revisions were released in "the old days," but those revisions didn't appear at quite the frenetic pace they do now (*cough* Mutants & Masterminds, I'm looking at you...).

Each session generally has one minor combat for the PCs to try out their new abilities without the imminent danger of getting their asses handed to them if the abilities look a lot cooler on paper than they are in a combat situation, and one significant combat.

Deadlands:Reloaded, which I should be running next week.

Plus three bags of plastic cowboys and two bags of miscellaneous plastic animals from the local Dollar Store.  When combined with the four hundred plastic zombies from my Zombies in Space game (a.k.a. Hot Zombie on Colonist Action), I should have enough mooks to make even the most hardened player wet himself...

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