Thursday, October 16, 2014

Everyone seems to be talking about John Wick these days. If it's not his big blockbuster movie, it's his latest rant on RPGs.(Not the same guy, but it makes for a good joke) And since it is a rant, it's easy to agree with the broad strokes while still finding the devil in his details.

His core premise seems to be that RPGs are designed to tell stories. And while gamers may use that phrase as an excuse to complain about railroading or excessive focus on drama instead of action, I have little problem with it. Because the "story" in an RPG is about what comes out of play rather than necessarily what the Narrator had in mind when they wrote their notes.

But I do find problems with a number of the things he cites to support his point. His first problematic point is that weapon lists are stupid. Going so far as to include a few film clips, he argues that weapons don't matter if the character is bad-ass enough. Therefore, detailed variations between weapons are stupid because there's no way that your stats for a teacup are going to match what we saw Riddick do with it in the movie.

This argument is flawed for two reasons. Firstly, he's comparing films and games. Since the movie is called Chronicles of Riddick, Vin Diesel's character has an infinite amount of plot protection and access to plot devices. The scene was not intended to challenge the character in any way, but simply to give him a chance to show off.

Secondly, he claims that weapon lists do not help you tell stories. I will admit that there's little dramatic flair to poring over lists of numbers, whether or not those numbers are useful depends on the kind of story you're trying to tell. And if you decide to dismiss weapon lists or other details out of hand, you're actually limiting the kinds of stories you can tell.

Old School D&D, for example, is actually very concerned with logistics. I've once heard it said that if any film genre best approximates the D&D experience, it is the heist film. So knowing precisely what you are carrying and its potential usefulness on your current or next venture is very valuable. You can take a heavier weapon or armor down in to the dungeon with you, but there's the chance that it will slow you down and make it easier for monsters to catch you as well as the possibility that you'll be able to carry less treasure back to the surface with you.

I did not include weapon lists in Adventures in Oz: Fantasy Roleplaying Beyond the Yellow Brick Road because weapons were not a big part of the stories I was trying to tell with the game. But to say that such details are not useful in any story is simply false.

Then he trots out the tired old "D&D is not an RPG" argument. Which is both an easy and a hard case to make. It's an easy case because D&D started out as a miniatures wargame and retains many of those features. But it's also a hard case to make since D&D is pretty much the father of the RPG hobby and industry as a whole.

(I'm feeling a desire to go into depth regarding the differences between "dramatic" roleplaying and "practical" roleplaying, but I think I'll save it for another blog post.)

His comments on game balance take a little parsing, but I am largely in agreement. He makes his initial point here clumsily, claiming that balance between players is important in a board game, and then claims that balance between the players is stupid in an RPG. As he goes on, his point does become clearer and this is the part that I agree with.

I'm not as allergic to the term "game balance" as he is, but I think his opinions about spotlight time are spot on. A properly balanced RPG is one that manages spotlight time effectively, giving each character and player time to shine.

I typically don't go as far as John does on removing mechanics that don't appeal to me. When I play a game, I prefer to get the full experience. Only once a rule has proven itself unworkable do I remove it. If the game has a mechanic I don't like, I will typically not run or play that game.

And I do tend to have a problem with people who remove social mechanics in order to "encourage roleplay." Because that sort of thing just creates roadblocks for players who are not smooth talkers, even if they want their character to be one. Social traits also make for an interesting trap for people who think their roleplay skills are all that.

There's a story out there, from John Wick amusingly enough, regarding the playtests for Legend of the Five Rings. One player had such faith in his roleplaying skills that he built his character for combat and got a few extra points for his combat traits by taking social flaws. The opening scene of the adventure required the characters to make a pitch for why they should represent their Clan on this mission of vital importance. Between a lack of investment in social skills and all of his negative social traits, this player failed to roll well enough and his character was not invited along on the adventure.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...