May 10th, 2008

Neuromancer

Recent RPG Purchases

This is what I've ordered:

Dread: This one arrived a few days ago. Some parts of it are really, really cool; in other areas, it screams "Didn't need to be its own RPG!" It was amusing to read Ron Edwards praising something that he would say gives gamers cancer if it had featured a paw print on it.

Dread's sparseness is one of those areas where design trends have taken a flaw in the community and attempted to turn it into a feature . . . without succeeding. The idea of wanting to make games with "focused" settings seems to often be code for "I don't want to spend all this time on a setting" -- but settings display how flexible a game's framework can be, and provide avenues for creativity by both supporting *and finding tension with* other rules and design goals. That's why wacky splats succeed so well. Pure archetype and toolkit approaches are cardboard.

Dread has some cardboard elements. You're some guys who fight demons. There are some powers, and some demons. There are maybe two factoids that constitute a setting. Once you integrate this with the very rigid structure designed for game play, you'll end up with pretty repetitive games. This may go unnoticed in the indie circuit, where single sessions at conventions and meetups are where a lot of play happens, but I can see it being grating over time.

That said, it has some clean rules, and the bits that are described are evocative. For an experienced group this is more than enough to get started with, so I'm glad I got it.

D&D4th: I think it'll be a good game. I also think there are aspects I won't like. We'll see. My main concern is that the game will demand more subordination of narrative concepts to the rules structure -- that you want X to be in the game, but the system will demand Y. This was a problem in our 3.5 game that eventually forced me to change my character's concept even after we instituted some serious house rules. This *did* give me some creative alternatives in the end, but it took some work to get there. Classes read as being more conceptually rigid (they're play functions first, narrative backbones second). On the other hand I'm looking forward to better ways to generate challenges and the new magic system.

Houses of the Blooded: The purported "anti-D&D" will no doubt contain some ideas I disagree with too, but I don't mind strong opinions. I've gotten quite fond of the idea of flexible descriptors and want to see the full treatment of what I've read about. A lot of the commentary I've read so far seems geared toward groups I would say have "issues." I don't believe it's really a good idea for a game to try and support these groups, since these are aspects of things that are more important than gaming.

Lately, I've been thinking about games that aren't generational, but support multiple groups crossing paths and participating in the same setting -- a kind of The Thin Red Line play style. I ran Mage for years this way very successfully.