Morbid Nostalgia: What I Learned from Traditional Games

edited June 2012 in The Sandbox
I've been playing RPGs for most of my life. I like 'em a lot, that goes without saying. But my tastes have changed over the years.
Maybe yours did, too.

I started in grade school in the 80s, playing the Red Box edition of D&D. I learned it was more fun to play pretend when you didn't argue about who died and who missed.
Then I moved on to Marvel Superheroes and Paranoia. Paranoia taught me that it was okay to make things up outside the module and to "fudge" rolls. Marvel taught me that, even though I'd rather choose who I am in a game, it's sometimes fun to have other people make changes or accept their suggestions.
Then along came Call of Cthulhu... where I learned that it was more fun to just give players the clues they needed so we could all enjoy the mystery.
After that I played West End Games Star Wars, Cyberpunk, Teenagers from Outer Space and Ghostbusters, all of which taught me that it's cool to give players points with which to influence events. They also taught me that my imagination isn't always the most important one in the room.
By then I'd got into college (1989) and played just a whole bunch of stuff. TORG, Nightlife, Ars Magica and, God Help Me, WoD (although we defaulted to Hunter's Hunted stuff.) These games all taught me that style over substance sells (but not forever.) Players like what they like. Also, I learned that people don't cooperate just because the rules say they should. They cooperate in exchange for a reward.
The 90s brought In Nomine, which taught me that interesting dice conventions need to be focused in order to work. I also played Feng Shui, which taught me that what you need to do something ought to be available when you think it ought to be done.
They also brought Castle Falkenstein which taught me that having more control over what happens to your character, or being able to better anticipate the choices you're going to make is a lot of fun and makes you feel more confident. I thought cards were the only way to do that for a long time.
Near the end of that decade I got into Unknown Armies, which taught me that watching my character change emotionally (primarily with its Stress/Rage/Fear/Noble/Obsession) system was satisfying and that people will do insane things for a bonus to their rolls. Oh, and FUDGE. How could I forget FUDGE, which taught me how to divorce system from genre and then recombine them in ways that made more sense.
And about that time I got into story games. I'd heard about them here and there, read some of Lumpley's essays, but PrimeTime Adventures was my first one and I thought, "hey, some of these guys have learned the same things I did... but they took it a step further!"

What kind of learning process made other people think getting on this site was a good idea?

Comments

  • Well, for me it's just another skill set under my hat. I play "Traditional" games just as much as I do more indy/story driven ones. In fact some of the tricks I learn from new ones I can reapply to the classics. And sometimes the classics actually were protype ideas of what we consider new.

    Like Plotpaths. They've been around for AGES.
  • Getting banned from other sites for absolutely no reason whatsoever helps.

    :)
  • I guess because ideas are cool and although I'm not huge on free form narrative games, I see why people would like them. I didn't like any diceless games that I ran across but I liked the idea so I stewed on it for 3-5 years and eventually came up with a solution I liked. Maybe one day I'll have a narrative game epiphany.
  • Like Plotpaths. They've been around for AGES.
    I'm curious: what are Plotpaths and what games do they come from?

  • TORG, Nightlife, Ars Magica and, God Help Me, WoD (although we defaulted to Hunter's Hunted stuff.) These games all taught me that style over substance sells
    That's fascinating. Ars Magica and WoD are obvious kissing cousins. And I owned but maybe never played Nightlife so I ought not comment. But to see TORG in that list seems weird. It's not the point of your note, I know, but what's the connection? Style over substance in this case means what?
  • Yeah, the title seems odd, since I don't see anything morbid. I guess important things I learned...

    From D&D I learned about role-playing (and especially that my early RPGs were just pretend play with the name D&D).

    From a lot of Champions play, I learned about players defining what their issues would be (PsychLims), who their opponents would be (Hunted), and who their contacts would be (Dependent NPCs). I also learned about having empowered PCs who could go anywhere and do lots of things. I also learned a lot of math. :-)

    From Ars Magica, I learned about rotating GMing and Whimsy Cards. Ars Magica for me was completely unlike World of Darkness. (We later used troupe style in Theatrix, but that's not a traditional game though it predates the Forge.)

    From CORPS, I learned about the value of low randomness.
  • Like Plotpaths. They've been around for AGES.
    I'm curious: what are Plotpaths and what games do they come from?

    Think of a mad-libs background, event generator that uses random rolls and picks to develop a backstory and possible 'events' for a character. It's basically a backstory generation system.

    Cyberpunk 2020 was one of the more noted to use it.
  • They're normally called lifepaths. I think Plotpaths was what GDW called it in Traveller: TNE, maybe?
  • edited July 2012
    I think the plotpath cards everyone is talking about are these lists of cliches on... well, playing cards. I bought some at the Orc's Nest when I visited England in... crap, was it 93? Yeah. I think it was. I'd seen the place advertised and when I went to London I just had to stick my head in. Anyway, White Wolf put out these poorly-perforated 8x11 sheets with cards like "The Path of Intrigue" which had vaguely-defined tropes on them.

    Like all other style-over-substance play, not much thought had gone into how you might use these items. They were just some cards with events that a GM could attempt to work into a storyline or a player could play - but there were no circumstances in which the player was empowered to do so (the GM could always override.)

    Which brings me to TORG: it was very much about the gloss. Although it had some interesting ideas, like the drama deck, they were tacked on to chase prevailing trends. TORG has some great terms "Storm Knights," "Eternity Shard," and, my favorite "The Gaunt Man" - but it's basically just someone else's story with an exploding-results d20. (The Gaunt Man is even written off as the main villain before play really begins.) It also does its damndest to make sure that player input means nothing, even with such a great opening as the Drama Deck. Like a lot of games in that period, the look of the thing was great but it didn't really do what it promised. I know there's a lot of die-hard TORG fans out there, but that's how I felt. Also, in that time period, the media was pretty much harping on the "style over substance" philosophy as being a good one.

    (Nightlife was actually less style-over-substance than White Wolf, but it was still a system from an older game with another genre painted on top of it. What Nightlife COULD have been was Hip Urban Hammer-Horror-Film Monsters Fight Cthulhu-Like Beings from The Subway Dimensions under NYC. What it ended up being was a little bit less fun than It Came From the Late, Late, Late Show - put out by the same publisher, as I recall.)

    Oh, and ALL nostalgia is morbid. It's an attempt to hold on to the past as you hurtle toward the future which - last I checked in lieu of adequate cloning technology or even mind-taping techniques - includes death. Or heat death, depending on your long-term view.
  • I think that style over substance ( which I associate as a phrase with the Cyberpunk rpg) has a bit to do with what John Kim is talking about in this quote, above :

    "From D&D I learned about role-playing (and especially that my early RPGs were just pretend play with the name D&D). "
    (bolding mine, obviously).

    I know lots of folks here are pretty serious about system, whether mechanics or the greater overall system ( as per Lumpley).

    After a whole lot of reading on rpg sites like this, I've realized that for me anyway, I'm kinda okay with the bolded bit.

    Looking at a whole slew of threads over the past decade, i suspect there are really qute a lot of people, especially those playing very traditional games in very traditional ways, and doing so successfully, who are also okay with that. They'd also probably rather eat their own RPG book collection than admit that. After all, admitting you're here for the Play Pretend first and foremost would be seen as admittting that this thing we take so much joy in really is, at it's core, childhood style fun and not Serious Business.

    (And yes, I have seen work by folks who are trying for something a bit more serious, and personally enlightening, or artistic with their work and methods. )

    Instead of pooh-poohing Play Pretend and the associated joy, I think there might be something worth exploring in going for exactly that.

    I suspect that my long term interest that developed in rules light approaches was really an unrealized urge to simply shoot for that Play Pretend joy. After all, if the goal was play pretend joy, why have a bunch of stuff that either interefered with it or that necessitated terribly serious study and reading?

    It also made me consider things like those Paths of Intrigue cards and mechanics more generally, and even what "game" means. Things like that could be great tools for Play Pretend Joy activities. Where they don't seem to work is when you try to tack them onto something that is closer to game.

    (And yes, I do realize that's bordering on a rather silly argument over the dividing line between Game and Organized Play Pretend Joy Activity. Preemptive apologies all around from me).
  • edited July 2012
    . . .i suspect there are really qute a lot of people, especially those playing very traditional games in very traditional ways, and doing so successfully, who are also okay with that. They'd also probably rather eat their own RPG book collection than admit that. After all, admitting you're here for the Play Pretend first and foremost would be seen as admittting that this thing we take so much joy in really is, at it's core, childhood style fun and not Serious Business.
    . . .
    Instead of pooh-poohing Play Pretend and the associated joy, I think there might be something worth exploring in going for exactly that. . .
    Um, I don't think I ever thought of it as anything other than Play Pretend. I'm not trying to take on grand scale social issues, well not in any scholarly way. I'm probably as close to art or science or sociology as Transformers the cartoon is to accurately representing how war between highly advanced sentient alien robots would be waged. At least I try not to fool myself that way.
  • I think that starting from the position of "This stuff is based on play-pretend" opens some huge possibilities for design and presentation and mechanics, and even attitude.

    Like, for example, if you start from the position that this is based first on play-pretend, you can start asking yourself stuff like: Hey, what was a really great time I had with play-pretend as a kid? What made it so great? What surrounded that play-pretend?

    And then, you can start working with that as a basis.
  • I think what you're talking about is what psychologists refer to as "Worlds of Play" - the idea that you mental designate a safe, free area to operate and imagine by establishing initial game parameters - not necessarily rules.
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