Thursday, February 09, 2012

In Which The Warlock Has a Love-Hate Relationship...

It's been a while since I've done one of these, but I figured that it's about high time that I return to the RPG Blog Carnival.  This month's topic, hosted over at Nevermet Press, is "Things to Love, Things to Hate"--essentially, what do you (as a GM or as a player) look for in an RPG, an adventure, a system, etc.

So, take a gander at my personal perks and gripes when looking at games:

Perks:

  • I love a game system that attempts to echo the genre being played. 
    • My favorite part about Deadlands is the fact that the cards-based initiative, the use of poker-chips, and the dueling/gambling mechanics push the idea of the Wild West, "gamblin' man" action.  Similarly, with WEGS, the use of poker chips enforces the idea of an adventurer "gambling with their fate".  ICONS uses the FATE mechanics to emphasize in-character actions and Determination points to encourage over-the-top action and power stunting.  All of these mechanics are built to better emulate the genre of game being played, and do so admirably, filling holes that a generic system simply can't do.
  • I love a game that facilitates ease (and speed) of play.
    • While I can give or take "fiddly-bits," I run far too many convention games to rely on them regularly.  Maps, dungeon tiles, miniatures and the like take up far too much room for my taste, and often slow down the pace of a game.  This takes away from investigation and fast-paced action, as people fiddle with movement rules or cover mechanics. 
  • I love an adventure with awesome set-piece locations.
  • The Warlock's favorite adventure!
    • My favorite adventure of all time is the wacky, fun-house dungeon crawl known as "White Plume Mountain".  It's not a particularly well-written adventure, but my goodness, the locations!  A fight above a boiling mud pit, with swinging platforms suspended by chains from the ceiling?!  A semi-permeable bubble of water?!  An enchanted-freaking-water-slide?!  Sheer unadulterated awesome!  Without locations like this, the adventure would be nothing more than a fetch quest, but these put it way over the top.
  • I love an adventure with multiple, conditional endings.
    • One of the things I was happiest about when writing "Westbound on the San Juan Express" was the multiple scenarios that could unfold.  Depending on whom the posse supports, the PCs could end up in any of 6 potential end-game scenarios, none of which resulted in a TPK or any sort of "loss".  That's a rarity to find, but it makes for sheer, unadulterated awesome! 
  • I love it my players have too many PCs they want to play.
    • You know how I know when I've picked the right game to run?  When my Friday night group starts planning out characters over and over again, and have trouble deciding what they actually want to play.  Too much inspiration is never a bad thing!
Gripes:

  • I hate when a game tries to do too much. 
    • This was my biggest issue while reading through Lost Colony, the Deadlands sequel game.  While the system mechanics for Deadlands worked for the base game and for Hell on Earth, Lost Colony seemed to drop much of the horror of its predecessors in favor of introducing sci-fi colonial action.  Already a packed setting, it just did...well, too much.  Lack of support certainly didn't help it, but Lost Colony definitely felt like a game stretched too thin.
  • I hate it when a game tries to reinvent the wheel...and gets run over by said wheel.
    • Wild Talents was my biggest offender here.  I picked it up at Half Price Books, while doing research for Cold Steel Wardens.  The "width vs. height" mechanic used in the game was particularly innovative...but the game (and the NPCs within it) became so wrapped up in numerics and modifiers that the core game--a dystopian superheroes game--became utterly lost in a sea of numbers.  That's anti-fun in a nutshell.
  • I hate it when an adventure stacks the deck.
    • Ever have this happen to you in an adventure:  your heroes are fighting bandits in their own lair, which is full of nasty traps--caltrops, deadfalls, etc., none of which ever seem to affect them, even when you deliberately try to turn the tables?  That's a sure sign of poor adventure writing and inflexible gamemastery.  While occasionally such things make sense--fire elementals being immune to environmental hazards in a lava realm, for example--but under normal circumstances, there's no excuse for this poor design.
  • I hate it when adventures "settle".
  • Warning!  King in Yellow ahead!
    • There's a fine line between providing an adventure "suitable" to a genre's idiom and becoming utterly predictable.  Start hearing word about a strange play and a "yellow sign"?  Yeah, it's Hastur again.  While there might be investigation and conflict, it's simply a matter of going through the motions.  The drama, the challenge...it's gone.  Why bother?
  •    I hate it when players don't give me anything to work with...then complain about it.
    • GMing is hard work.  It's a lot of prep, and it's a lot of writing.  If I'm asking you, as a player, for a background, that means that I need your help in contributing to the world and to have an active investment in it.  It means that I want to engage you as both a player and a character.  And, when you reject that?  Yeah...that sends a pretty strong message that you don't really care about playing.
How about you guys?  Other thoughts?  Am I off-base?

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