This one’s really just for me. While it’s true that all of my posting is primarily, for me, in that I post as a way of getting ideas out of my head and into words that I can then go back to, think about, and get feedback from others on – this one is really for me. I’m writing today (a Monday, a new week, and my first day really on my new job – so lot’s of beginning) as a way of just clearing out a lot of the STUFF that’s been building up in my gamer system for a while. You might find something in this for you, but it’s going to be a bumpy ride and really – it’s mostly for me.
First, I want to apologize to all of my gamer friends for the last year or so. I’ve been grumpy. I’ve managed to run a campaign in Pathfinder up to 11th level, but then became so frustrated that I bailed. We started a new one that had some promise but I was so “bad taste in my mouth right now” that I bailed. You guys were nice enough to come with me to Barbarians of Lemuria (great game) but we tried to bring in some old friends via the internet and technology was not on our side – and I just called it. I bailed. And the thing is, somewhere along the way in the last few years I think my lens got too narrow and well, things got weird.
It’s like this. Sometimes I actually think blogging is bad for my gaming. Not just writing but reading. I abandoned all the forums out there a long time ago because they are horrible places filled with spite. But blogging is great – and I read a lot of great blogs. But sometimes it seems too easy to get caught up in whatever “thing there is to yell about” at any given time and being someone who reads a lot of those blogs I find that it fills me with the urge to yell and be bitter about my gaming life… which is the exact opposite of good. I also find that there is a tension in my blog writing that comes from a desire to actually be read, be interesting, and be relevant that often has little to nothing to do with what I actually want to say. I’d say more but someone already did it for me.
And you know the old saying, when all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. Well, you know, I’ve been running (and my little bit of playing) D&D4E and Pathfinder almost exclusively for the last three years or so. I scammed a few sessions of other stuff in there but really, it’s been all D&D (or D&D-like) for that time and the fact is, it’s easy to start to think of everything in terms of D&D. There are other games out there. There are a LOT of other games out there and you know what? Most of those other games don’t give two flying mumbles about action economy, DPR, tactical combat grids, magic item rarity, encounter balance or party make-up. And thank all that’s holy for that. I’m weary to my bones of those things. If I ever have to have another conversation in my lifetime about optimal combat tactics in an RPG I’ll probably claw out my own eyes and stuff them in my ears so that I can’t hear anymore. And of course, the horror of watching me do that will hopefully drive the person talking to me to run away… but considering how fervent some character optimization/play optimization folks are – I doubt they’d even notice me do it… they’d just go on talking.
It’s still sorta D&D but I played some Castles and Crusades recently and can I just say how refreshing it was to play a game where your attributes didn’t have to be hyperinflated? Since the bonuses are smaller and less tied to your class abilities, it doesn’t really matter if you are a fighter with a STR of “only 14.” That’s just fine. I didn’t realize how much I’d missed that until I had it again. It was like a breath of fresh air. And that’s just one example.
And let’s talk for a minute about party make-up. Who are we, the Fantastic Four? Does every group need a brain, a beauty, a blaster and a brick? I’m almost sure they don’t. This may come as a surprise to some but it can actually be fun to play a game where not everyone is forced to take on a different role for “niche protection.” Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying everyone has to be the exact same – nobody wants that – but you know, it’s actually fun to run a game where everyone might play the same class or have the same background. Some of the best stories are about characters who are fundamentally all the same but just have some targeted differences which make them people, not just a collection of class powers. Think about the musketeers, for example. Yes, a range of skills is still important for dealing with a variety of situations but realistically, it can be fun to play a game where the situations are actually suited to your skills.
I won’t say much about balance because I’ll probably explode if I start writing about it… the idea that roleplaying games should be “balanced” is probably one of the worst things to happen to our little corner of entertainment since the satanic panic. Ugh, with a double helping of ew thrown on top. I’ve mentioned before (probably too often) that my favorite game of all time is Amber Diceless. And you know, in Amber, everyone (every. single. encounter.) could be someone who is so much more powerful than you that your character (demigod that he or she is) might as well be an ant beneath the boot of the “other.” By the same token, many of your encounters will be with beings so beneath you it’s hard to even really consider them “real.” And parties are not balanced either. Just being a little careful in the auction and choosing powers wisely can give you an edge that the other players might never catch up to… And the simple truth (for me) is that it actually makes the game better. Players have to actually think – not just roll dice. That may seem harsh – hell, it’s probably overly critical because I do know players of games like 4E who are deeply thoughtful people who love to roleplay and be involved – but 4E does a damn good job of telling players that they don’t have to be – just let the rules take care of you… My point, classes and races and powers and characters don’t need to be balanced… and I’m sure some of you will claim that having your character feel “balanced” against other characters will improve your play experience. To you, I say, great, enjoy that, I’m not going to agree but I’m not going to tell you how to play. Just leave me out of it, thanks. Balance is a blight on gaming. Like all things, some level of balance, some modicum of similarity is important to just make the rules work – but that, for me, is as far as it goes. The extent to which some gamers talk about balance and party roles, and all that “STUFF” gives me the heebie-jeebies. Ugh.
I could ramble on. I’ve got a lot more to say about this but I think I’ve gotten it out of my system. These feelings have been infecting my work and my life a lot for the last year or so. It’s been a wild year. I changed jobs, started a PhD program, lost one of my best friends (not dead, just gone), and felt generally unsatisfied with just about everything I’ve been doing. I couldn’t write, got cranky with all my gaming, and totally lost focus on my projects. And before my little hiatus I realized that it had been affecting my posting here on the blog as well. Well I’m done with that now. This is my last post about “stuff that is wrong.”
I’m ready to start writing again. I’m ready for the good stuff. I hope you’ll forgive me these last few months and come along.
As always, Thanks for reading.