Saturday, 24 July 2010

Journeys through RPG land

I've been on a round about journey through RPG land the last few years. After drifting away from the hobby in my twenties, when the urge to re-enter the world of roleplaying hit me, I (perhaps?) inevitably picked up where I'd left off - AD&D 2nd edition. I still had all the books, so I gathered a few friends and ran a couple of adventures. We had a great time - especially as it was early winter and the house I was living in at that point had a log fire which we had burning away in the background during the games - the perfect atmosphere! But soon after reading through the 2e rules and playing the game again, I found a lot of things that I actually wasn't very keen on in the system. The biggest being the class system. In those couple of adventures I ran there were 2 Ranger PCs, and I remember finding it both frustrating and weird that they both had exactly the same "cookie-cutter" abilities.

Now I don't recall if I also found the class / archetype system problematic in my "first time around" with D&D, as a teenager. Probably not. But as an adult I found that I was none too keen on it. So I embarked on an epic and (in retrospect) futile attempt to house-rule AD&D 2e into something that was closer to my ideal, at least in terms of how character creation and growth could work. What a waste of time... I sort of semi enjoyed most of it, but I spent so many hours on activities like: working out the relative XP costs of the various abilities of all the standard classes, cross-referencing them with each other, trying to unify the non-weapon proficiencies system with the thief skills and other class abilities, re-organising the schools of magic, etc etc. Basically I think I was trying to recreate D&D 3rd edition, which I'd never played or even heard anything about. I gave up before my task was finished.

At that point I started making a few friends in a local RPG club, some of whom were playing D&D 3e and 4e. So I had a whirlwind tour of the later editions of Dungeons & Dragons, even including the Pathfinder beta. While I found the "cleaned up" and rationalised rules set of 3e satisfying on one level, I also found that the feeling - mainly the style of books, i think - had changed a lot since AD&D, and this newer style or tone didn't speak to me in the same way as the earlier AD&D books did. And the character creation system, while a lot more flexible, still persistently centred around those pesky cookie-cutter classes. Enter True 20. Since my aborted attempt to modify AD&D 2e, I'd been looking for a game which suited my tastes, and which I wouldn't "have to" spend months house ruling. True 20 seemed to fit. The concept of classes has been all but removed; everything that had formerly been a class ability works within the d20 skills & feats system; and a lot of the complexity of D&D 3e has been simplified once more. So I dived head first into True 20. I bought and read the books, and started creating a campaign world.

There was just one thing though... One niggling thorn in my side - the True 20 powers system. I can't even really remember now what my problem with it was, but I just couldn't resist embarking on another epic rules re-working. This time was worse, since I was actually running an on-going game using this constantly morphing rules set. The players were confused. In the end I was confused. The campaign kind of fizzled out.

At this point someone mentioned, completely tangentially, Savage Worlds. I'd heard of it before, and had actually been put off by some of the weird things I'd heard about it - using playing cards, lots of miniatures, "Bennies"!? But this time I thought I'd look into it. The €10 cover price of SWEX certainly helped there. Reading that book, I was soon a convert. A system designed from the ground up to be fast to prep and play. A truly classless system, but one in which it's actually very easy to play archetypal characters if you want to (due to the nicely packaged professional Edges - Knight, Wizard, Thief, Holy Warrior, Woodsman, etc). An effects-based and highly flexible powers system. A game which is built around and has systems to facilitate the idea of improvised rulings, rather than attempting to list extensive rules for every possible situation. Many things appealed to me about Savage Worlds. At last a system which I was (and still am) committed to not messing with.

So I started again... A new campaign, in the form of an old-school fantasy sandbox! It's funny, all through this journey of my re-entry into roleplaying, I feel like I've basically been trying to get back to where I started, in some way. I guess this is probably a fairly common experience. We played these games as kids, so there's always going to be some degree of nostalgia / yearning involved. And that nostalgia still burns hot inside me. I love Savage Worlds, it really feels to me like the most solid and simultaneously the most flexible RPG rules system I've ever played (which admittedly isn't saying a huge deal, as I've not played that many systems). BUT... part of me misses magic missile and charm person and tenser's floating disk and polymorph other and death spell and limited wish and and and... Part of me misses the Monster Manuals. Part of me misses all the weird random tables for all manner of obscure things.

It's odd, but I'm not nostalgic for D&D BE(CMI), which I played as a kid, and I'm not nostalgic for AD&D 2e which I played as a teenager. What I'm nostalgic for is AD&D 1st edition. Which I've never played. I have all the books (well, the Player's Handbook, the DM's guide and MM 1 & 2), but I've never played it. "The spirit of Gygax"? I guess so. There's something so wondrous about those books, so fascinatingly fresh and weird and arcane. I really want to play that game. I really want to play D&D like it's the 1970s, somehow!!

Perhaps that same feeling can be evoked in a Savage Worlds campaign? We'll see. It's early days yet, and I've really enjoyed the games so far. But despite my love of the Savage Worlds system, I still have this kind of yearning for 1st level Magic-users and Xorns and Assassins and XP for gold. Maybe I will run AD&D 1e at some point... I've just bought the books on ebay (my original copies are in an attic somewhere in another country!), so I'll get the chance to at least read them again and feed that flame of nostalgia!

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