First off, I want to warn some of you that half of this rambling will be extremely boring, in fact you will likely be rolling your eyes thinking, “yes, yes, I know all this already, get on with it”. But most of you won’t so your friendly neighborhood Geek is going to push forward. Today I speak of Gods and Monsters…Sorry, listening to the Bride of Frankenstein. Although the previous statement is a little true as I am going to turn my attention to role playing games again.
For the first time in this Geek’s life I’ve been given the chance to review an item that I DIDN’T have to buy first. I’m keeping the title a secret for now, as I want to finish the book and complete the review. However, my initial pass completed, the book has stirred up some thoughts on the current trend in RPG’s. But, to get to this trend I need to give a little history on the RPG industry (as much as my limited industry knowledge will allow at least). No need to go back to the early days of Chainmail and Gary Gygax, but we do need to go back about ten years…
The RPG industry was dominated by a few key companies, the king being TSR (makers of Dungeons and Dragons, and DOES NOT, no matter how many parents and pastors tell you, mean To Satan’s Realm). After TSR there was White Wolf Publishing (the home to all good Goths and Anne Rice fans), West End Games (kept alive by Star Wars, but soon to be killed by shoes), Steve Jackson Games (who cares, GURPS sucks), Palladium (whose games were owned by everyone, and played by no one), and finally a tiny little company in Seattle named Wizards of the Coast (who had rolled craps and won big with the granddaddy of Collectable Card Games, Magic: The Gathering). Most gamers felt that Magic: The Gathering (and all CCG’s) were simply flukes and would be gone in a few years, take a look at any game/comic/hobby store and you’ll see how wrong we were.
The traditional table top gamer was getting (relatively) old, the youngsters had no desire to sit at a table and eat pizza while rolling funky dice. Card games were fun and fast, while computer RPG’s were just starting to come into their own. Traditional gamers couldn’t support the big companies anymore, and so the larger game companies attempted to follow in Wizard’s footsteps, most with horrible results. (Only Jihad from White Wolf made any real waves. Anyone remember TSR’s Blood War? Heh, neither do most folks). The gaming industry had grown stagnant and could not hope to keep up with card games and the budding computer RPG. The the unthinkable happened: TSR, the company behind Dungeons and Dragons, the game that really did start it all was folding, and to make matters worse they were being bought by the company whom most gamers blamed for the whole friggen mess: Wizards of the Coast!
To their credit, Wizards didn’t dump the hole game and channel trademarked characters into their card game. Wizards honored what books were still up for press, and then shut D&D down for a year and some change. Then they released version 3.0 of Dungeons and Dragons, claiming that they were putting the teeth back into the game that frightened middle America so many years ago. The demons and devils were back as the big bad guys. And, in an attempt to cater to the now aging computer gaming group, the new D&D was very tactical and numbers based. The system was (and is) fairly elegant and simple. Then Wizards pulled another stunt to shock the gaming world. They announced the Open Game License. As long as you gave credit to Wizards, you could use their rules to base YOUR OWN game world on. Finally, the multitude of gamers who wanted to create a world, but weren’t very number savvy had a set a rules ready to go. Dozens, even hundreds of small companies began rising up and creating games based on the Wizards game system. They put out world after world, filled with stats, and numbers, and rules variations… They just didn’t have any heart and soul.
That brings us to now. Games are still being made under the D20 Wizards rules (now simply known as D20, or D&D 3.5). Most, unfortunately, are simple rules. While the game designers behind these various books have their hearts in the right place, they are forgetting the key ingredient of any good role playing game. The person reading the book needs to feel like they are taking a trip into this fantasy world. The reader needs to imagine themselves creating the stories that take place in the world. The author has the great responsibility of fully and completely drawing the reader into their world. Most modern game designers have forgotten this.
If you do nothing but create a game using pre-made rules you are selling your audience short. Sure, the game may work well in terms of numbers and the concept may be interesting, but who cares of your reader can’t imagine the world he just purchased. Granted, the task of creating a great story and a stimulating world falls in the hands of the DM, but even Michaelangelo needed some inspiration now and then. A well crafted gaming book does just that. A game designer who writes as if the world he or she is writing about exists utterly then the players and DM will have an amazing time. Not only that, but they will want to spend more of their hard earned money to buy more of your books.
Is the book I’m reviewing right now such a book? Well, you’ll have to wait and see…
Till then, may all you rolls be natural 20’s!