Wednesday, September 26, 2012

In Which The Warlock Picks Nits...

Having a "real job" does have its perks.  While I'm still up to my eyeballs, between grading, planning, writing papers for online classes, and the struggles to finish out Cold Steel Wardens, the best perk of having a real job is undoubtedly the cash...which, in gaming terms, means gaming swag!

Since graduating and entering the workforce, there's hardly a doubt that my gaming library has increased.  It's overflowing our game room shelves, to the point where we swiftly need to rearrange our collection!  That said, I do try to be judicious in my spending--after all, there's only so much that one can spend on gaming!  I check out reviews on, and try to read sample chapters or previews before I actually make a purchase.

But, even among the best of gamebooks out there, there are certain nitpicks that just drive me up a wall:

No Index!

Oh, man!  This one's an unforgivable sin.  You see, a game manual--particularly a core-rulebook--is, in essence, a reference book.  While full of flavor text, fiction, and setting material, a well-written game manual should make it easy to find information quickly and easily.  Indexes make character creation easier, rules referencing swifter, and overall organization more...well, organized!  With this age of print-on-demand and numerous print utilities, it's easier than ever to include an index any work.

Heroes Unlimited, the old warhorse that brought me into the gaming in the first place, is the biggest offender on my shelf in this regard.  While the Palladium rules set overall is messy enough, the lack of an index makes the rules almost impossible to navigate swiftly during a game session.  Situational rules become hard to find, which slows down the pace of a game.  A simple index could easily solve the problem, but such isn't the case.

Bad Font Choices!

Cursive!  Curse you!
As I'm learning, fonts are an incredibly powerful thing.  In choosing fonts for Cold Steel Wardens, I've been trying to find ones that exude a gritty, urban feel but are still legible and easy to read.  Fonts have a tendency to inspire irrational rage in certain people--just see the crusade against Comic Sans!

In this case, All For One: Regime Diabolique was the biggest offender for me.  While fancy cursive calligraphy perfectly fits the Musketeer-milieu, the cursive font chosen for chapter sub-headings came out gritty and grainy, making those sub-headings difficult to read, and impossible to discern at a glance.  I can't imagine how these headings look in PDF format--it certainly can't be legible!


NPCs are important.  We all know this.  I have a massive chapter in CSW devoted solely to populating the world and giving unique hooks and elements to base campaign sessions around.  That said, NPCs are there to provide opportunities for PC interaction.  They may be major players, yes, but they should never be the most major.

As much as I love it, Deadlands is a big offender here.  While significantly toned down in the Reloaded version, the Classic Deadlands rules made major NPCs into invincible killing machines with literally every power and skill in the book.  Worst of all was the time-jumping Jackie Wells, whom The Journeyman GM railed against in his sessions of the "Heart of Darkness" trilogy.  On the plus side, though, the current rules at let you destroy those NPCs in the Plot Point campaigns!

Kitchen Sink Gaming!

Great system.  Great setting.
Can't say that I cared for them together...
I'm a big believer in mechanics supporting a specific method of play.  While generic systems are neat and viable for some things, I find that they tend to leave the flavor of the game in the hands of the GM, rather than bringing it to the table through mechanics.  For example, Savage Worlds makes for great pulp games and, with its gambling and poker elements, fits the Weird West of Deadlands.  But, after reading through both Realms of Cthulhu and the Horror Companion, I'm more and more convinced that I never want to run a true horror game with Savage Worlds--the game simply isn't built around that concept, especially when games like Dread or Call of Cthulhu are available.  You can surely hammer a nail with a wrench, but wouldn't a hammer be easier?

The d20 glut was a huge offender here, but it's Mutants and Masterminds that gets my goat the most.  While I respect the game greatly--and, for Justice League or Avengers-style adventures, it can work very well--every time I've played M&M, I find that the rules just add nothing to the experience.  That, in my eyes, is a problem, but it's one I intend to fix...

Okay, so this post was a touch negative.  Next time out, let's take a look at some of my favorite schemes in game design!


  1. Ah, but Palladium does have an index (at least for Rifts). You just have to buy the index book to get it (and while you're at it, you can buy the second one too)!

    Know what you mean by bad font choices. Outbreak Undead is a great system and the book is laid out like a survivor's handbook on the zombies. It may seem like a good idea initially, but it's hard to read two hundred pages of rules written in a handwriting font (not to mention the larger text size probably upped the page count by about fifty pages).

    And I think I would label your last nitpick "Using Overly General Mechanics" because Kitchen Sink Gaming to me means that you are throwing in all sorts of setting elements, a la Torg, Rifts, and even Deadlands (which in many cases winds up being awesome!). But yeah, doing a simple d20 roll to represent killing an Orc, using heat vision, and doing a Law and Order style courtroom debate is a bit bland. It's simple and consistent, but consequently lacks variety.


  2. Yeah, no one should have to pay for a separate index book. Ever. And bad font choices...yargh. There should be punishment for that.