Sunday, October 10, 2010

Games - narrow, broad or both?

I was thinking the other day about something that cropped up in the comments on Grognardia. James said he prefer broader games, which made me think. I'm not sure my thinking any longer have anything to do with what James wrote, so don't blame him for what follows.

Many new school games post-forge, are very narrow. The are designed to do one thing, and just that. Compare that to T&T, which back in 1975 contain the masterpiece called Saving Rolls. With them you can on the fly whip up game mechanics to cover any situation. If your game is about killing stuff, they can help you do that, and if your game is about dealing in the dust of the blue lotus it can do that. Today if someone made a game about dealing dope, it would have rules for that and not much else. Take Dogs in the Vineyard for example. It has rules for fighting and arguing and so on, but it is a game about belief, power and consequences.

Personally I like the narrow games. Some very tight gaming can be had, but it might feel a lot less like hanging out with your buddies and rolling them bones. Different games for different feel, eh?

I know that some people, the most visible example is probably Vicent Baker and his Storming the Wizard's Tower, have tried to do a new school narrow game with an old school feel. We play tested it a bit in our group in Ontario, but I never really liked it. the mechanics felt far less dynamic than they read. It was unfinished by them, but it still made me think.

Looking at it from the other end is the narrow old school game. Is there such a beast? Is it feasible?

I know some people like to claim that D&D is such a game, since it is about defeating monsters and taking their stuff, and that's all that's in the rules. Naturally, it's not that simple. Reading the original rules from 1974 there's a lot more going on, and there are rules for a lot more. You could claim it's a game about sneaking around finding traps, killing things, leading troops in battle, establish a fief and so on and so forth. Just like T&T it is a game which can cover more than is obvious.

Now we have the last item on the list, a modern new school game of broader scope. Is there a game of the new style which focus on shared narrative or narrative control or game mechanic for internal mental and social interactions that at the same time try to be useful for any game situation?

I'm not sure what I'd do with either of all these, and if I'd like them all. Now I am just throwing those questions marks out in the wild.


  1. Artesia.

    I cannot stress enough how modern this rule system is, but it leaves plenty of scope for creating a narrative in a fully realised, engaging and downright breathtaking setting. Yet the rules can easily be adapted to cover any late medieval setting.

    The game is set up in such a way that you can play the retainerrs of a noble, the noble himself or even just your typical scummy adventurers. pirates, and mercenaries. There are even plot hooks that allow you to play a group of university students or lecturers, feuding with other colleges.

    I strongly suggest you take a look at this system as the very "epitome" of the system your looking for.

    Frankly, I`m old school through and through, but this is the one modern system/setting I have been desperate to play more of. Get a hold of a copy and you'll see why.

  2. P.S I even came up with a workable medieval "spy" campaign at one stage. And one acquintance of mine from the Artesia rpg forums was working on a campaign where all the players were members of a medieval banking house.

  3. Hmm. I actually held this game once, but put it back on the shelf. I think it was kind of costly then. Fuzion is not exactly my favourite, but maybe it can be put to good use.

    Time to see if there's a freebie or quickstart out there.

  4. I think Burning Wheel is supposed to be pretty broad in its focus, but I've never played it, so I'm speaking only from a brief readthrough.

  5. Yeah, I guess you are right. Burning Wheel is tightly focused. But is a very generic, or broad, game.

  6. I think that so-called Otherkind dice are useful for this purpose.
    To wit,
    Take 3d6. Choose one die and call it "my goal". Choose another, and call it "one risk I'm taking." This risk must be present whether the goal is achieved or not.
    The last die is "another risk I'm taking". Same condition applies.

    Sample situation: You've finally caught up to the man you saw standing over the cooling corpse of your blood-brother. You're going to kill him, and end your grief!

    First die: the hero sets his goal, "Slay him, putting your grief to rest."
    Second die: the hero runs a risk, "You had the wrong man."
    Third die: the hero runs another risk, "Someone sees you who shouldn't."

    Now we roll. Each result of 1-3 means "This thing doesn't happen." Each result of 4-6 means "This thing happens." Remember - each thing that happens has to be able to occur regardless of whether any of the others do.
    Let's roll some dice!
    I got 2, 1, 6 - this actually works out in pretty interesting fashion. I *don't* kill my mark, he IS the right guy, and someone DEFINITELY sees us. Will he get the better of you? Will the onlooker call the guard, or interfere? Will you ever avenge your fallen brother?
    Clearly, this mechanic can be used for pretty much any sort of situation, but it still requires some thought to provide contextually interesting results. Also, note that the situation changes, by nature of the mechanic, every time you roll the dice. Now that you've lobbed your Frankish ax at his head, he has to react. Now that someone's seen you do it, *they* have to react. And so on.

  7. Darn, one thing I forgot to mention: the player rolls, and then assigns the dice to goal and risks as he sees fit, based on his priorities in the moment.

  8. Paranoia is about as old school as you can get in your Narrow Category. It's system focused, it's goal focused, Heck, it's setting focused as well. You can't go wandering wide with Paranoia, so that would get my vote for Old School Narrow.

    That said, I find there is a joy in both kinds of design. I tend to prefer systems that are loose enough to let me define my world and let my players help define it, also. However, that said, there is some nice games that are very specific in their approach and world, and that is fine also. As long as the game isn't promising to be one, and then becoming another (I point fingers at 4E and Deadlands at this). Not that it isn't a bad thing, it's just not my thing.

  9. Artesia looks kind of interesting, but it seem to be a tad bit expensive or very much out of print. Someone get a quickstart out there and I'd be tempted to start the hunt.

  10. Hmmm. Otherkind dice, you say.

    Sounds kind of interesting, but it makes me think mostly of way to implement player skill based combat. Hmm, again.

  11. Paranoia! Damn, how could I overlook Paranoia.

    Very good example. Thanks!

  12. Andreas, I would add that, when using Otherkind dice, the point is to explore what kind of strange and interesting directions in which you can push the narrative together. And because of the explicit procedurals, to avoid the dice is to avoid conflict altogether.
    If players are that dead set against the risks of the dice (which are really only as deadly as the group, together, agrees to), then that just wouldn't be the system for them. It's all about taking *narrative* risks - talk to that girl! Punch Biff right in his mug! 88 MILES PER HOUUUUUUUR... anyway.

    Narrative risks, as opposed to tactical ones. Otherkind could be adapted to a more tactical/strategic game, presumably, but at its heart it's intended to be used for games that are about emotional resonance and stuff, so-called "story games", and are a completely different breed from the whole D&D family and extended family and neighbors and so on. Different priorities for playing, and different priorities at the table.

    Also, thanks for the excuse to quote a Zemeckis film ^_^

  13. Let me have a look at what I've got. Sadly, Mark Smylie, the creator, is a bit too much of a perfectionist. He damn near re-wrote the Fuzion rules from scratch, developed the game world and even created the artwork for the whole thing himself. At the same time, he'd just started a new comic publishing company and was also inking, writing and painting the Artesia comic all by himself.

    He had too much on his plate, and as a result, a great game (it one a 2005 origins award for best game) that should have been huge' instead became just another failed product line.

    I got my pdf copy from Drive Thru RPG. Let me have a look around the Artesia stuff on the web. If I come across anything along the lines of a "quick start" I'll find a way to get it to you.

    If I can't, then I'll happily send along some web enchancements and free downloads that Mark (and a few other folks) created for the official website.

  14. That's very generous of you, Brian! Thanks.

    I like the sound of "rewriting Fuzion", since it didn't look that hot when I last looked at it. It might need to be paired to a good setting to work, maybe.

  15. Zac,

    I expected nothing less from Vincent Baker. Some pretentiousness and some part good gaming. ;)


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