My gaming habit, part 1

I’m going to switch gears a little bit this time, and focus on rambling about tabletop gaming, mostly the noble RPG.

I won’t be diving into mechanics or resources. This is a 1000 ft overview (about 305 m for the rest of the world) of how the games make me feel. If you want to discuss mechanics or the like, leave a comment! I do enjoy getting into that kind of thing too.

Though I’ve had some dry spells, I’ve been gaming for a couple of decades now. I started with the second edition of AD&D. Looking back on it, it’s got a number of different die rolling mechanics all mixed together. Sometimes you want to roll high, some you want to roll low. Sometimes you roll a d6, a d10, a d20, or d%. Balance is done by making some classes advance more slowly or by limiting what some fantasy races can become. No dwarven mages or half-orc paladins in this game.

It’s weird, it’s not as streamlined as I remember, it can be a little punishing. …but I love it. It’s still one of my favorite games, because I didn’t know it all when I ran. I just ran it and made up rules on the fly.

Castles & Crusades is close to how that game played, but a little more streamlined. You want to roll high most of (all of? I can’t remember initiative rules) the time. They tried to unify how things work. Any fantasy race can be any class, but classes still advance at different speeds. Wizards require more experience to level up than rogues (or is it thieves?). It still has the old school feel, from what I understand anyway. I’ve never been able to get a group together to play.

I want to remedy that. I’d love to play, but I’d be happy to run.

We’ve been playing a lot more 5th edition D&D lately. It…. is okay. I like how simple it is to make up rulings as we go, and there are some interesting character options for classes and races. But it doesn’t excite me as much as older editions. I got to really dislike the complexity of 3.5 D&D. There was too much focus on character builds (even bringing up the world “build” in 5e gives me the shivers) and mastery of system mechanics in 3.5. I personally prefer characters to form more organically than worrying about what I can or will do 3, 4, 5 levels down the road.

It’s a fine game, it runs well, and it’s fun. It just doesn’t feel quite right to me. It’s probably my second favorite edition, but considering I’ve only played three different editions…

I’d like to give 4th edition D&D a shot. I listened to a lot of the complaints gamers had when it came out and worried it “wasn’t D&D” enough. I started to get into it more after reading 13th Age. I like the strategy involved with combat (I’ve considered getting into war gaming), I like the changes to lore, and I like the ease of building balanced encounters. I just haven’t tried it yet. Again, most folk aren’t super enthusiastic about it. Still, I collect some of the books. I love the artistic choices in the books I have.

Speaking of 13th Age, I love what they’re trying to do with the game. It’s made by former D&D designers (from both 3rd and 4th editions of D&D) and it’s the game that they play, using mechanics from their creations. But they made it into something lighter than either version of D&D and focus more on story.

Damage and hit points do get amazingly high, but they increased damage as well, to balance things. Characters only go up to 10th level in the core book, but the players have much more say in the setting, with the One Unique Thing that makes their character different and the creation of backgrounds instead of skills.

There is a free System Reference Document if you’re interested. The core book is one of the easiest reads I’ve ever had with an RPG product. It’s more conversational tone with the creators even bouncing ideas back and forth and at the readers.

GURPS holds a special place in my cold, black heart. We even named our dog Gurps. I have a slight preference for the 3rd edition over the newer 4th edition, but that’s partly because I have a LOT of books for the older edition. They’re nearly the same, with a few tweaks for playability sake in the 4e book.

GURPS lets you design characters at a much more granular level than D&D. You spent points on attributes instead of rolling for them (by default! I know there are other ways of making characters in D&D). There are no classes (though you can add templates!), so you can pick and choose skills as you want (with GM oversight into what is an isn’t allowed in that particular game). You can get a good feel for who you are playing with Advantages (which cost points) and Disadvantages (which give you points), though a clever player can attempt to game the system. There is one primary mechanic for the game, which is nice.

GURPS is, however, more of a toolkit for making your own game than a complete game. This means that there is no defined world, lore, or the like. The Game Master (that GM again) is expected to decide what extra books they’re using (if any), which skills are relevant, which Ads and Disads are okay, etc. It’s work on the front end, but easier on the back end.

Character creation can be more complex, but once you’re done, the character sheet has most of the info you need. Combat can be complex or simple, depending on what rules the GM is allowing and which they’re ignoring.

It definitely isn’t a game for everyone, but it does try to be any game for those who enjoy it. It also lets you organically grow your characters. The books are dense and read more like a textbook, but the splat books (extra books with additional material) are great for just about any game, if you ignore the GURPS-specific material. They’re well researched.

That leaves White Wolf and their catalog of games. My personal favorite is Vampire: the Masquerade. I love the lore. I’ve been reading the books for fun, because they’re written more like fiction with some mechanics hidden inside. Like GURPS, it’s a point buy system with an easy (though different) mechanic.

There are less options than in GURPS (which can be a good thing). It doesn’t try to model everything (like GURPS does). I think I prefer the tone of earlier editions of the book, where you focus on taking a human, turning them into a monster, then watching them try to deal with the downward spiral as they fight their nature (with nature almost ALWAYS winning in the end!) than the world-spanning plots in later editions. Not that those can’t be fun!

I find myself reading White Wolf game books more frequently because they’re meant to be read, not necessarily studied. All of the games use the same basic mechanics, though the themes, powers, abilities, etc. can vary from game-to-game.

I’m pushing over 1,200 words already and there are other games I’d like to talk about (I’m looking at you, West End’s D6 system!). I’ll save those for later.

If you’ve gotten this far and aren’t completely board off your chair, you’re a personal hero of mine!