29 June 2010

Survey of Roleplaying Games

Ok, let's get this thing started again. We'll start with an idea inspired by this article on inkwellideas.com. The idea was this: if you had to teach somewhere between five and ten roleplaying game systems with the goal of giving your 'students' an idea of the basic ideas involved in gaming, what systems would be best suited for this 'class?'

I started thinking about this, and here's what I've come up with. I think the best way for what I have in mind is to have three groups of three: the first to cover different rules systems, the next to cover rules/setting integration, and the last to cover artwork/production. There will be some overlap.

With that in mind, we start with group one: rules systems. The three games I've chosen for this set are Dungeons and Dragons, GURPS, and the original Storyteller System.
  • Dungeons and Dragons: An example of level-based systems. Really, any edition would work equally well for this, although I think 3.5 is probably the easiest for new players to learn. Alternately, you could use almost any d20 system game, like the Farscape RPG or the d20 Star Wars. Another advantage of 3.5 is that it is a good example of the 'attribute+dice' style of game system.
  • GURPS: An example of points-based system. It also demonstrates the possibility of creating a 'realistic' game system, rather than the epic style represented by D&D. Also, of course, a perfect example of a universal system. A perfect example of the 'attribute vs. dice' style of game system.
  • Original Storyteller System: An example of a non-points skill-based system. Also an example of how rules can encourage players to focus on character and plot, rather than combat. Good demonstration of how a core system can be modified slightly to accomodate different settings without requiring a universal system, but still allowing crossover between different games. Finally, an example of the 'attributes=dice' style of game system.
Set 2: Rules/setting integration. The Storyteller System would be revisited for this one, with examples such as the Humanity rating and the Virtues. Then we'd add Blue Planet, 7th Sea, and Call of Cthulhu.
  • Blue Planet: The damage system in this game is a great example of using scientific knowledge to influence gaming. This meshes excellently with the great levels of hard science evident in the design of the game world, from plausible slower-than-light space travel to a believable alien planet.
  • 7th Sea: This game sets out to enable players to experience epic swashbuckling adventure, likening the stories told with this system to the greatest adventure films. To this end, they use an innovative mechanic: there are varieties of antagonists. It's been years since I've played, and I don't remember the system very well, but I do remember that most of the enemies you fight only had one 'hit point.' If you do them any damage at all, they fall unconscious. This emulated the ridiculous ease with which cinematic heroes would easily defeat hordes of foes.
  • Call of Cthulhu: This game was based on H. P. Lovecraft's tales of things man was not meant to know. As such, it introduced the Sanity Points. Certain events, including casting magic spells, caused you to lose Sanity Points. An early example of creating a rules system to replicate an important part of the setting.
This leads us finally to the artwork/production category. For this, we can look at GURPS again, especially in comparing the third edition rulebook to the fourth edition. A special mention must be made here of the original Vampire: The Masquerade, as this was basically the rulebook that started the 'gaming books must be visually appealing' trend. But then we add Toon, Hol, and Exalted. By looking at these various production levels, we analyse the question: Does the visual format affect the quality of the game itself?
  • Toon: A low-budget, not-very-high-production scale game. The layout is simple, the artwork bland and sparse, done in black-and-white line drawings.
  • Hol: Moderate budget. The drawings are still black-and-white line, but they're a much higher quality. Also, the text is completely handwritten, and changes style depending on what the authors are saying (at one point, for example, the authors get angry, and the text becomes large and irregular).
  • Exalted: Very high budget. Lavish colour illustrations, high-quality paper, hardback covers, the works.
Anyway, that's what I'd include in this 'class.' What do you think? If it was your course to design, what would you use? Let me know in the comments below, and until next time,

Game on!

1 comment:

  1. Well, I don't have quite as broad an experience as you have, so I would have to stick with what I know.

    I think I'd start with a simple LARP actually, using the Quest rules (because I know them and they're awesome). I'd start with LARP, because it has to have very simple rules and also because it's a step closer to the "playing pretend" that everyone did as kids. I would also hope that starting with LARP would encourage dramatic role-playing right at the get-go before introducing systems that can be more rules-focused.

    I'd follow that with BESM, because it's very simple to learn, very flexible, and requires only the use of a small number of d6s that can be scrounged from other board games. This would allow more time for my "students" to get together the materials they'll need for more advanced.

    From there, I'd teach them a World of Darkness system, which one doesn't really matter so much. I adore Changeling, but it might be better to introduce the archetypal Vampire or even Mage. I might also consider teaching Scion instead, but I do feel on a level that one of the more classic games would be better.

    Dungeons and Dragons is pretty much inevitable as one of the choices. I'd probably stick to 3.5 or 3.0. I've played them the most and they balance easy to learn with a good degree of complexity. Not ideal for a lot of players, but any class in gaming would have to cover it.

    I'd finish off with any one of several options, something to demonstrate the sheer variety of ideas that gaming includes: Call of Cthulu, TORG (now that I've played it, there's a lot to love), Amber Diceless (I'd have to learn that one first though, but I've heard amazing things).

    I'd also feel the need to do a little coursework on the variety of ways to carry out roleplay on-line. It's a pretty major subject and increasingly so in my opinion.


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