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!)
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