Tuesday, December 18, 2012

7RPGs as a Player

I started as a player, so here are #7rpgsplayed
  1. D&D 2nd edition
  2. Vampire the Masquerade
  3. Star Wars
  4. World of Darkness mashups
  5. Traveller
  6. Lowell's fantasy hack
  7. Freeport

For those that have never gamed with me, I will start by stating that I prefer to run games, not play in them. I cannot speak to as why. Perhaps, it is due to playing in bad games. Perhaps, it is due to playing in games with bad players. There are games not in this list that I have played and enjoyed moments therein, but they did not provide me with the level of experience that I gained with those within this list.

I discussed my experience with D&D 2nd edition
here. Playing in a game set in the Empire of the Petal Throne was my first real foray into a campaign. It was a very good experience. I was playing with seasoned veterans and a good GM. I was unfamiliar with the setting, but had read my share of fantasy novels and as many D&D books that I could get my hands on. This game connected many of the dots I did not grasp or did not know existed in the D&D rules. I would later play in other D&D games I did not enjoy with players and GMs I did not enjoy. I played in an 1st edition Oriental Adventures game while living in Memphis that I enjoyed. I also ran a 3rd edition game years later that was fun. I even played in a few 3rd edition games with a group of friends, all older than I, that was enjoyable. Still, there was something about D&D and my experiences between EotPT and my 3rd edition game that turned me off of fantasy and D&D, in general.

The next campaign I remember experiencing was Chicago: by Night for Vampire: the Masquerade. From rolling d20s to the concept of dice pools was a change that I enjoyed. We played in a friend's basement, we started after nightfall, and made it a rule to end before sunrise – we were gother than thou. This was in the early 1990s and we were all in college. We compared all vampire movies to the game, we eschewed non-vampire horror films, and White Wolf had yet to expand its game line out to Werewolf, let alone Mage, Wraith, and Changeling. It was a good time to be alive and we spent Friday nights participating in skullduggery and Clan warfare.

When we were not playing White Wolf products, we were busy playing West End Games' Star Wars. Sometimes, there were plots, sometimes, there were not. Many of the games I first ran were pickup games that were barely more than cause mayhem, shoot it out with storm troopers, get to the ship, fight tie fighters in space, blast into hyperspace, and then do it all over again on the next planet. After I moved to Memphis, I played in a game that was built around many of the characters and situations from the old Marvel Comics Star Wars comicbook series. At one time, I had owned the first 90 or so of those comics. I loved the series and where it went. I gave it away to a friend, but have since gone back and picked up a few of the collected graphic novels. This game taught me that there could be much more to a Star Wars game than simply run and gun. I would further experience that through conversations with a friend that I made after moving back north. He ran a Star Wars campaign that culminated with the players running the Battle for Endor, following the movie's characters had been caught and executed on Hoth.

I have played and run several World of Darkness mashups. I ran one for several years we referred to as the “Creature Feature.” The game was set in the area in which we lived and the players portrayed fictionalized roles of themselves. I would later discover that many other groups had run through similar campaigns. Other WoD mashups would be run and played. I played in several of MrFenris' and one of Lowell's. For the most part, we all had fun with them. They allowed us to create our own settings or play in others' settings. Something like the Matrix wasn't far off from several of our games – especially those that involved sci-fi elements. Lowell's game would even involve elements from Highlander.

Traveller: The New Era was a game I purchased while I still lived up north, but would not get a chance to experience until I moved to Memphis. It would be a year or two until I discovered the history of the game with the Little Black Books and the controversy of the virus. One of the first games I played in Memphis was a Travellergame. The GM gave everyone a secret that no one else knew, but would be drawn into the game. The game was gritty, nasty, and used completely unfamiliar rules. Psychics mimicked those in movies and books, at the time. The entire game was unfamiliar territory and it allowed me to try new things as a player, to go in directions that I had yet to experience, and I think much of that was due to the make up for the group. These players were much more experienced than I and brought a great range of diversity to the table.

After moving back to the north, I would play in a fantasy hack that Lowell put together. For rules, it combined elements of GURPs, Rolemaster, and Unknown Armies. There were seven or eight players and this was a high fantasy game – something I was not overly familiar in playing. This campaign lasted seven years and would earn the moniker of “The Freakish Band of Adventurers.” Elves, half-elves, a former demoness, assassins, cat people, dog people, and a lone human made up this group. The campaign moved from location to location as the players tried to put together what happened during a lapse of amnesia, the recovery of land that fell from the sky, a murder of elves, a battle on the moon with Ratkin, and a return of ancient evils. The rules felt wonky at first, but I think over the course of the first year, we figured them out, and did not have any problems with them over the course of the next two years. Lowell's notes on the game several posts in his blog.

Lowell puts together good mashups. I did not realize this at the time. At that time, percentile systems and high fantasy were not something I was comfortable with – I liked the idea of the former, but didn't realize quite why I did not care for the latter. Lowell has gone on to mash up several different games, both for settings and for rules. Everything from L5R to WoD to Changeling:  the Lost to Fate and Fudge to making up his own rules using cards. I do not have images from the old Freakish Band of Adventurers game, so I'm using an image from his profile from this entry.

Steve over at Kaijuville put together a group to take on Green Ronin's Freeport using the True20 rules. All of the players had played various forms of D&D and wanted something better than that. We agreed the True20 rules set would give us the freedom to play pirates appropriate to the setting, while still allowing the GM the freedom to pull from as many sources as he wanted. Steve did a great job of keeping the group together. The players in this group were as divergent as the characters from The Freakish Band of Adventurers. We would lose two players over time, but the core stayed in the game until the monstrous end. Steve's notes on his game can be found on his blog. Steve combined Pirates of the Caribbean and the Cthulhu Mythos to make this a bang up game. I do not know how much of the material we experienced was his own work and how much he pulled from Freeport, but I also do not care. I had fun and found that I could enjoy a game that used a d20 and was fantasy. It was not high fantasy, but it was fantasy and Steve did include some standard fantasy tropes.

I have not played in a game since Freeport and if I can find one that really interests me, I may play one next year...


Lowell Francis said...

Interesting post. One thing that strikes me as I look back at both those games I ran for you is how much I was still in the everything-and-the-kitchen-sink mode for game and campaign development. That Vampire/WW game grabbed nearly everything I could get my hands on all of the monster types, Leviathan, Gnosticism, Highlanders, Kult, and probably more I've forgotten. But it ended up haivng some tremendously spooky moments- at least in my recollection. And the group waiting for the End Times on the roof of a Chicago skyscraper remains one of my favorite end scenes. I've used some of those concepts in later games. But I've also scaled back significantly- trying to focus on one "group" to really explore that.

As for the Freakish Band, you're very politic in your comments there. The system itself was a mess- my attempt to hodge-podge BRP and GURPS. I still didn't know what I wanted out of a game. I didn't figure that out until much later. That was a glorious "heartbreaker" fantasy game and I'm glad I got it out of my system.

of course the other thing being that I know you didn't enjoy the game itself. I think you're exact words to me were "I hated that f*cking game. That was the worst game I ever played in." You were generous enough to stick it out when it really wasn't your cup of tea. I know Sherri, Barry, Scott, Dave, and even John (at times) dug it, but it was much more in their wheelhouse. As for Sharon, who knows on that score, you could never tell.

I think I have a better handle on what you want from a fantasy game now and I'd probably do a better job with that. At the very least I'd be aware enough to give you a heads up if I thought a game might not fit for you tonally. On the other hand, your tastes may also have shifted in the 14+ (wtf?) years since then.

Derek Stoelting said...

I have to break this in to two responses. I have typed too much...

Freakish Band - It is not that I'm being political. I simply see no reason to rehash what you and I have already discussed. I said something similar to that, maybe even exactly that. However, I also said I was in a horrible place in my life at the time and that affected my dis/like for it. To be certain, there were moments in the game I did enjoy. The expedition to the moon and a few of the combats, for example. My opinion of the game is also that, my opinion. The others clearly had fun during the game, so you were successful with it. One person does not make a quorum.

I thought on that game today while driving to/from work (twice, none the less), and tried to come up with ways I might have liked it, given life not being a bitch. It is easy to play armchair quarterback, but the thought process is interesting and thought to share it.

I think two things might have made it more interesting for me, without changing the setting. The first would have been a smaller group of people. The second would have been to make it more gonzo or weird than it already was – and we're talking about a group referenced as The Freakish Band of Adventurers, here.

Let's compare the two games of yours I have played in that we are discussing here. First, the classic World of Darkness mash up. We had a vampire assassin from a lesser Clan, an outcast Werewolf, an uncontrollable Mage, and an Immortal (I don't remember what Dave started as, only that at one point he became an Immortal). That is a widely divergent group of character types, as well as, a smaller group. The fantasy game had two elves (another assassin by the same player and a royal perhaps?), an ex-demoness, a summoner, an Aperkitus, a Rakasta, and my technology clad human. I think that is everyone. The fact that we had two large tables to play on, large chairs to sit on, and large room in which to play contributed to the feeling that it was a large group, as well. The WoD game had a small room and one table.

Of the characters in the fantasy game, the characters that felt the most divergent were the ex-demoness and the summoner. I think that is due to the players, not the rules or the setting. This is not a bad thing. The rest of the characters, in my mind today, had specific touch points to make them feel “familiar” to me. Perhaps, even generic. Generic is not the right word, but I hope you understand where I'm trying to go with the description. So, despite the name of the group, they really weren't gonzo. We simply appeared “freakish” to the NPCs due to our varied races. How could we make the group more gonzo? I think it would have taken more outlandish actions by players or more mundane setting pieces.

More outlandish actions would not have worked. A larger group of players has to work harder to play nice at the table. Everyone has to learn to put their special interests on the back burner. That is a harder pill to swallow for some players than other players. By “more outlandish actions” I mean going for the shock factor in social situations with NPCs. We capitalized on the race part, but I think we held back on habits or rationalized them too quickly to NPCs.

Perhaps, more odd quirks or appearances would have worked? I seem to recall we were pretty straight forward looking, in regards to gear. We traveled the continent, so there was always someone who appeared out of place, but a chest plate for armor carries over in concept throughout the land. A fanciful dressed elf is a fanciful dressed elf no matter where you go and how fancy the elf appears to be.

And maybe, we did have all of those things and it never clicked for me.

Derek Stoelting said...

The World of Darkness game worked for me, at least until the uncontrollable Mage player became...well, more uncontrollable. However, WoD was my schtick at the time. The last 6 months or so of the game felt too long. I'm not sure why. Maybe, it was you figuring out things with the game or it could just be one of the players was becoming more and more unruly. Who knows?

I can think of two other games of yours I have played in and enjoyed. The Mutants & Masterminds game was a fun experience. I think the only way to have ramped up the fun would have been to have the game go longer (at most twice as long) or re-do the character creation process in order to build a superhero group. We were individuals coming together in an almost “year one” type of situation. By default, it's hard to have characters gel that quickly. We tried and I think it worked for the most part. Out of the four games in this post, this would be my third favorite.

The Exalted game worked out for me better than I thought. I think having Brandy to play off of helped me. Sherri and I did pretty well assisting each other in that game, but I do not recall us really teaming up for too many actions. I think I avoided Shari's character in a manner similar to the Freakish Band of Adventurers game for the same reasons. It has been too long and I do not recall that part too well. Chris and I played okay together, but our characters really did not have much in common. I seem to recall he and Sherri having more in common. Sadly, I had to bow out of that game for work. A necessary action, but not a happy one. Although, with how that game ended, maybe I am glad I had to bow out. I would rate this as probably my second favorite of your campaigns in which I played. If I had stayed in the game and the group dynamic not gone stupid, it may have become my favorite game. I can't say why – I will have to ponder it.

I think those are all of your campaigns in which I have played. Has it really been 14 years? It does not feel like it, but when I think on it, I can see the changes of time on play style for both of us.