So, Saturday was Free RPG Day, a noble endeavour in which game development firms of all shapes and sizes release one-shot nuggets of new material to the salivating masses in an attempt to tease and seduce them into new gaming practices. Being prone to salivation and fond of new gaming practices, I set forth to Wayland’s Forge to bag me some swag. Not masses of stuff on offer – I confess to being all World of Darknessed out after close to a decade of intermittently running and playing various iterations of the setting and I’m not especially interested in All Flesh Must Be Eaten – but I did pick up a few freebies.
While I don’t feel any particular interest in D&D.4 as a system, I’m vaguely interested in what’s going on in this one plot-wise; abandoned villages, mysterious occultism and a tragic villain, unable to die but able to be thwarted in a variety of ways, both narrative and tactical are all very much My Bag. I’m more likely to rip the crunch out of this one and bolt it onto something I’m genuinely interested in, maybe use it as a location and storyline for testing out one of the retroclones I’ve come into possession of (by running a pre-plotted piece, I can focus my attention on the system and the responses of players to it, rather than on making up more stuff to happen to/because of them like I normally would).
Pathfinder, meanwhile, I am more interested in, because it seems marginally easier to get a handle on than regular 3.5 and also has the courtesy to provide more simple, archetypal mechanics for class features (like the energy-channeling thing that clerics do) which can be ripped from the unnecessary cruft of skills and feats and still provide something distinctive and cool. I also quite like the Sorcerer legacies and things like that, which account for differences in a character’s background quite tidily without cluttering up the system with too many prestige classes. Plus it’s the variant of choice for at least two of my players, who are proving quite hard to tease off the cloud of familiarity.
Plus, y’know, goblins. Goblins are inherently hilarious, especially if most of the players have seen Labyrinth, but goblins can also be inherently tragic (The Silmarillion) or scary (just look at their shark-like mouths and vicious features – consider that all the player characters are deformed in some unsettling yet potentially comical fashion via a system of traits). The goblins thing is actually quite hard for me to get out of my head – I spent the bike ride home from Birmingham alternately cursing the weather and contriving a setting where the huge final war between good and evil has been fought, an industrialised fantasy world has been brought crashing down by grand, pernicious weapons and terrible magic, and goblins, like cockroaches, are the survivors and rulers of a harsh new world: in essence, the Weak have inherited the Earth.
This is starting to hold my attention more than the IKRPG thing, not least because it feels more progressive and future-oriented than dwelling on the faux-Industrial-Revolution, the birthing pang of modernity – or even modernism. It’s… post-modern, but not in the sense that that word is usually used. Modernism was preoccupied with the fear that humanity – the qualities and inclinations of a good human being rather than the species – was increasingly eroded and threatened by the industrialised world, filled with a sense of paralysed superficiality and/or horror at that. When the world does not in fact end, and that state of affairs goes on, what you have is the post-modern as we know it. When the world does end, when Things Change in a huge catastrophic kind of way that shakes people out of that state of paralysis… that’s a world I’d like to explore. That exploration would still be dwelling on a development in real culture that’s been and gone, but it feels somewhat closer to home and more in line with what science fiction does, as opposed to what fantasy does, than steampunk with trolls, as cool as steampunk with trolls is.
Or maybe it could just bolt into the IKRPG, given that I’m setting that in a swamp and there’s a town full of goblins to be had. I dunno. Anyway, definitely a lot of potential here.
And… yeah. There’s been a lot of Fuss about this, I gather. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that, were I a more serious sort of person than I am, I’d be offended by the assertion that this game is NOT FOR YOU if you don’t have an extensive grounding in the industry history of RPGs in general and D&D in particular. As it is, I’m the sort of person who sniggers at Page Five in Warmachine books and then moves on, so sod that.
The notion of having every player build two or three characters on the grounds that most of them will not make it out of the first adventure is an interesting one, which I’d consider as an alternative kick-starter to a more conventional ‘campaign’ – the chaff is winnowed, the wood is whittled, and what emerges from the first adventure is An Adventurer who’s proven their capacity to survive and warrants some further investment and development. It could also – cue cynicism – afford players the chance to experiment with tactical roles beyond their usual choice (like someone who normally plays a fighter and drops off between combats wanting to try a spellcasting class) without being tied to it for the length of time that one is conventionally tied to a new school character. Put it this way – if it turns out that you’re not the sort of person who can keep a wizard alive, handle the spellcasting rules, and play that role in a combat situation, better to find that out in a context where character death is accepted and commonplace than one where it’s going to be a Thing.
That said, I still think the Zocchi dice – the d30 and the like – are somewhat unnecessary. There are other ways to extend the range of available probabilities than adding new polyhedra to the collection, and if I understood the mathematics a little better, I might even write a post on why I think expanding sideways by rolling more dice is more sensible than expanding upwards by adding more types of die.