Saturday, April 25, 2009

Kobold Quarterly, interviewing Dave Arneson

When I heard that Kobold Quarterly was coming out with a new issue, and that there would be an interview with Dave Arneson in it, I decided to finally pay up and take a look at this new gaming magazine. I have heard a lof of positive things about it so even if I don't need more general OGL d20 stuff (this is Dragon Magazine, resurrected, folks!), I guessed it worth checking out if the last ever Arneson interview was in there.

Today my copy arrived, and it was noticable that even though I live in Canada, the shipping was free! Nice. I even got a handwritten note of thanks for checking out the magazine, and would I consider subscribing? No, I wont, but thanks for asking. So how was it, and did Dave say anything memorable?

So, the magazine had some new powers for Bards, an article about bat god, familiars, some monsters fleshed, reviews and some columns. The latter included a new one by Monte Cook, which might evolve into something interesting and some of the new creatures was dinosaurs, and they are kind of fun, right? All in all, it was a mixed bag and it felt quite unfocused. It felt a little bit like Dragon when it was at its most journymanlike.

What I really cared about though, was the interview. The answers to the questions sometimes felt very short and terse to the point of banality. Considering the bad health Dave was suffering from I'm not that surprised. Interestingly enough, he does expand a bit on the answers when they're about some early experiences of Blackmoor. Some of the questions probably would have been more fruitful as starting points for longer conversations, since they are so general that it's hard to give a very meaningful feedback. One example of that kind of question is “What makes for a balanced game”? Who says it's even something desirable?! It can be argued about, quite a lot. Still some nuggets of wisdom appear in the answers to this interview.

One thing I have read about before, and which got me thinking as I read about it again, is the question about the players involvment in the game. It's fairly clear cut that the old school way of doing things is to involve the players by making the encounters in the game challenge not only the characters, but also the players. Dave had a thing he did, where he physically removed his players from the table to a specific environment and observed how they acted when he yelled in the dark, and things like that. I found that interesting. While I like to put forward information in my game which will tell the players things which will help them steer their characters action, I can see how that way of doing things involved the players in a different way. While I can see some value of the position taken by a player who want the game system to help him figure things out, since his character have a high intelligence, I still like to make the player somehow contribute. While it might not be feasible to do it in all situations, setting the player up and using his or her actions as a starting point, might be a middle ground. That way you could let the game system take over after setting up the situation in a LARP fashion. Now, this is nothing revolutionary, but it still made me think of new ways of exploiting that physical aspect of the game. There is a difference between playing World of Warcraft alone in front of your computer and hanging out with some friends rolling dice. Maybe using that physical difference a bit more isn't such a bad idea?

Well. As I said I'm not exactly revolutionising gaming here, but sometimes it pays off to get reminded of obvious stuff and it can get the brain going. I probably will have to think more about it a bit more and also some things he said about the story being central to the game, since it did trigger some associations in my brain. More about that in a later post.

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