09 December 2014

Games To Which I Have Cooled Over Time

Over at the RPGsite, there is a thread that asks posters to discuss “Games You Have Soured On.”  Below are three games to which I have ‘cooled’ (‘soured’ seems too strong) over the years. 

Dungeons & Dragons – 3rd/3.5th editions

When I first read through the 3rd edition D&D rules, I thought: “At last – most of the problems with AD&D have been fixed!”  Everything seemed more coherent and consistent within the ‘d20’ version of the game.  Many of the old, seemingly arbitrary restrictions (e.g., racial restrictions on classes, level limits on non-human characters, certain alignment restrictions on classes, etc.) had been jettisoned.  The fact that the rules seem to have ripped off many of its core elements from ICE’s old Middle-earth Role-playing game (e.g., rolling 'high' is always good; a skill system that was integrated with a class system by having different skills cost different amounts of 'points' for different classes; a unified, consistent system for ability score modifiers; a unified experience chart for all classes; etc.) was fine with me, as I had been a huge fan of MERP back in the day.

However, after running two separate campaigns (each slightly less than a year long) I realized that the game just was not for me.  Acting as the Dungeon Master was a chore, both in terms of the prep work, and actually running the game. Combats seemed invariably to drag on and on, especially at higher levels.  The constant checking of modifiers, feats, spell effects, attacks of bloody opportunity, and the like, became soul-crushingly tedious. And all these annoyances accumulated even though I had introduced house rules in both campaigns to slow down the characters' rate of leveling.  I can't imagine what a headache regular leveling would have generated!

In retrospect, I'm amazed that I stuck with 3/3.5 for so long. And I'm amazed that it was so popular – and still is, with Pathfinder.  I guess that I just don't share the same tastes as many (most?) post-2000 role-playing gamers.  One great thing about the ‘Old School Renaissance,’ for me at least, was that it helped me realize that there were many other people out there who felt the same way.

Castles and Crusades

After souring on 3.5 D&D, I turned to Castles & Crusades as an alternative.  Initially I was quite enthusiastic about the game. (I even wrote a very positive review of it.)  C&C seemed to be exactly what I wanted: an 'old school' game that retained some d20 elements that I liked (ascending AC, a 'unified' system for resolving saving throws and tasks, etc.). And I still like the game's versions of the bard and ranger classes.

Over time, though, I realized that the SIEGE system (C&C's 'unified resolution mechanic') did not really work that well in practice. It came with certain costs, and the difference between 'primes' (tasks that concerned the characters' 'favoured' ability scores, with respect to which they had a target number of '12') and 'non-primes' (tasks that concerned all the other ability scores, with respect to which characters had a target number of '18') was rather too great. In practice, it lead to some weird outcomes. For instance, clerics proved to be the best scouts in the game. And, rules aside, the consistently awful editing of C&C products invariably rubbed me the wrong way.

In time, I decided that I was better off simply modifying earlier versions of D&D (Basic/Expert, AD&D, or original) to my tastes. With the availability of free retro-clones like Swords and Wizardry and OSRIC, I saw no need to continue with C&C. (Eventually I even contributed to a ‘quasi-clone myself,’ Crypts and Things.)  I’m still ‘okay’ with C&C.  I would play in a C&C campaign if a good GM were running it. But I have no interest in the game myself these days.


I got into Rolemaster through MERP (which I still like, warts and all, though I wouldn't run it today).  I enjoyed RM in the 1980s and early 1990s, until I quit role-playing games altogether for a stretch around 1992.  At that point, I was suffering ‘burn out’ from all the RM Companions that ICE had been pumping out. There was just too much material for the game – I found it overwhelming.  (Of course, this material was all 'optional,' but since I was an obsessive completist back in those days, I had to own and read all the Companions.)

A few years later I picked up the new version of RM, the (oddly named) ‘Standard System,’ and while it had integrated many of the better ideas from the Companions into a coherent package, it was just … too much.  I tried to run a RMSS campaign around 1999, and it was a disaster.  The system was not the only problem, as our group had a singularly horrible player (a power-gaming ‘optimizer’ – my first and last encounter with this loathsome species).  But RMSS proved to be way too rules-heavy for my tastes.  I've never been tempted to run Rolemaster again, except for the ill-fated and short-lived Rolemaster Express, which seemed to recapture some of MERP's simplicity and charm.

Supposedly there is a new version of Rolemaster in the works.  I will check it out once it becomes available.  Perhaps it will reignite the old flame?  I’m sceptical about that, but will try to keep an open mind.

Despite having cooled on Rolemaster, I still adore Angus McBride’s covers…

(My next post will be a positive one.  I promise!)


  1. Hah. I never dug 3/3.5 too much but I did resign myself to playing it when it came out ... it was a bit better than the mess they made with the "options" books. My brother is still really sold on C&C but I never cared much for it in practice. Too much rides on primes, and the system has the same issue as all d20 systems for me -- you are tempted to roll for everything, because you can. I did like RM back in the day and agree that MERP was even better. I'd still like to see something like MERP but with the classes more Middle-Earthy. MERP never really seemed right for the setting with so much magic.

    1. Instead of developing HARP, I think ICE would've been better served producing a "de-Tolkien-ized" version of MERP. Ah well...

  2. Have you ever looked at HARP, the "lighter" version of RM.http://ironcrown.com/harp/

    HARP base with Arm/Claw law (individual weapon tables and crit charts are one of favorite parts of RM) seems pretty sweet spot. But, still, probably wound never run it. Still too much rules/work.

    1. I owned a copy of HARP several years ago, and played in a single session around 2007 (I was not the GM). I thought that it was fine, but it did not engage me enough to become committed to it. I would be happy to be a player in a HARP campaign.

      What always puzzled me about HARP is that it is not compatible with RM/MERP. Why ICE would decide to create an entirely new system (albeit one with many 'family resemblances' to RM and MERP) is incomprehensible to me.

  3. Let's see what I have lost interest in.

    Savage Worlds & Cortex. I seem to have an innate distaste for "dice step" systems these days. Also Savage worlds wasn't as rules-lite as it seemed to be at first.

    H.A.R.P. & Rolemaster. I was glad to return to the fold when H.A.R.P. came out but in the end it too was too much system for me and had some weird quirks. I still have all of my Rolemaster and H.A.R.P. books but I doubt I will ever run them again. I still have a lot of nostalgia for Rolemaster though (mostly for the spell lists, combat charts).

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  5. I would have to agree with your assessment of D&D 3.x and Pathfinder. I stopped running Pathfinder as I found preparing for it to be too much of chore and I found running the combats at high levels to be tedious. I have been giving 5th Edition a try and I like it so far. It fairly rules light. It is certainly not as bloated as Pathfinder is.
    Honestly, if I had my wish, I would be running my heavily house ruled version of Castles and Crusades or I would be running Crypts and Things. I did run a very successful Crypts and Things game but the group feel apart. It is just hard to find people willing to try anything other than Pathfinder.

  6. I think D&D3 would have been so much better by just ditching the Attacks of Opportunity. I still like and agree with most of it's design decisions otherwise. Cutting out the amount of weird special powers at higher levels is probably a good idea as well, but AoO is the biggest flaw of that system, I think.

  7. The editorial lapses in Troll Lord products are some of the worst I've ever seen. Glad I'm not the only one that can't get past it.

  8. I've fallen off the Pathfinder train ...possibly for the last time... in the wake of D&D 5E arriving, which really hit the sweet spot for me. Other systems I've soured on included 4E, which I kept a love/hate relationship even as I ran it weekly for 2 and 1/2 years before I finally snapped and gave up on it. I used to be a huge fan of GURPS, and technically still am, but can't motivate myself to find the extra effort necessary to indoctrinate players into the system when I can get the same effect with less effort out of BRP.

  9. I've soured on the Cyclopedia, 1st, 2nd, 3.5, Pathfinder and 5th editions of D&D. Swords and Wizardry is only edition I haven't learned to dislike. I'll play OD&D cause it's locally popular and I guess Labyrinth Lord is ok too, but I definitely don't prefer it.


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I'm a Canadian political philosopher who divides his time between Milwaukee and Toronto.