This week's installment of ODB - have my tastes in game systems begun to swing completely the opposite direction?
I cut my teeth on Mentzer D&D back in 1985. This was followed in rapid succession by Marverl Superheroes, Gamma World, Star Frontiers, Palladium Fantasy, TMNT and Robotech, Traveller... Coupla years down the road we added Call of Cthulhy, the original Cyberpunk boxed set, 2300 AD, Top Secret/S.I...
Traditionally, I like a nice, crunchy system. I had a geek-gasm when I first laid eyes on Millennium's End. MERP and Rolemaster/Spacemaster were things of beauty. BRP Runequest was aweseome because it tracked armor by hit location and had fatigue points. Aftermath! The Morrow Project... crunch. Systems that were complex, and to my younger mind 'realistic'. I loved the much-maligned system Leading Edge used in their RPGs, which was basically a streamlined version of the overcomplicated Phoenix Command rules set. It was just crunch enough to do something like Aliens, and it scratched that itch that made gun combat relentlessly deadly.
Here we are twentyish years later. I've found myself playing games like Remember Tomorrow and 3:16. I've found myself looking over the spreadsheets I use to keep XP and character info for my 17-player MechWarrior campaign, and I start to wonder to myself "Why didn't you use a simpler system?" I find myself more and more concerned for the story and the plot than I am for encumbrance totals and strict XP expendatures. Now, one might think this was a sign that I'm going soft in my old age, losing my love for overly crunchy systems. Well, if only it were that simple.
At the same time I'm having all these thoughts about the plot-smithing bliss of system-light storygames, I still have the urge to play games like a Star Wars campaign using Star Warriors for ship combat, or Legionnaire with Interceptor/Centurion. I want to play a game that tracks fatigue points so my players have a fuel gauge to tell when and how much their PC is tiring, because so many of them have the action hero mentality that their PCs are the Energizer Bunny and require no food, sleep or rest of any kind. I like the complex endeavor of playing a Shadowrun decker and designing my own Cyberdeck. I like the adventure spelled out by the need to get a chip burner, the proc, the other raw materials and artifice my deck from the components up. Maybe one of our runs will be specifically to steal this drek-hot chip that I need to build my deck!
So here I am, completely at odds with myself. I've begun to stop worrying and love storygaming, but I still have a yearning for some of those overly-fiddly subsystems that help pull a player into a game. One of the things I have been told is that these sorts of things pull players OUT of the game by making them think about game mechanics. I guess it depends on the kind of player. I've seen players who would love to use Star Warriors in a Star Wars game, because choosing the bank, roll and jink options before rolling their pilot dice helps them visualize what's going on with the battle. Alternately, I've had players who just want to roll their dice pool and see who came out on top. I have D&D players who love the mini-centric 3e and 4e games, and feel that being able to see the location of the monsters is a good thing, and feel satisfied when their burst-2 attack pushes a throng of minis away from their caster. Alternately, I have players who feel that using minis and counting squares robs them of the cinema of the mind, because their imaginations paint the battles so much better than maps and minis ever could.
It will be interesting to see which direction I go when I get my next campaign organized. Crunchy, or storygame. Is Retrogaming a mixture of both? Just enough crunchy rules for combat, but make up the rest as you go? Hmmm...