Over the past week or so, I’ve been struggling to resolve a few tensions in my head regarding roleplaying in my realm of Mystamyr. This post is an attempt to work through those thoughts and share the process. Generally, I find writing out and sharing my ideas helps to process them. It also, occasionally, resonates with someone in the community.
There are multiple and conflicting goals that I have in gaming. The raw desire to win can be easily expressed by switching on my Xbox and blasting away at some digital opponents in a first-person shooter. In contrast, I find that the deeply immersive creative urge is best expressed through my preparation of a World for a roleplaying game.
When I returned to the roots of my hobby, back in 2016, I dug out my old red Basic Dungeons & Dragons box set and visited the “First Adventure”. This takes place in a ruined castle which, as an homage in my home games, became Castle Mystamyr. Thus was born the realm of the same name.
It began, innocently enough, with a hexed map and some games played with that original set nowadays referred to as the ‘B’ in ‘BECMI’, for ‘Basic’. We managed only a session or two before I switched to Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition… because that was what my friends wanted to play. Before long, however, another change of rules system was made.
We arrived at Mythras Classic Fantasy because, as I wrote in my Apologia:
‘Mythras Classic Fantasy certainly seems to be the closest I have ever come to finding the “ideal” fantasy roleplaying experience for me.’An Apologia for Mythras Classic Fantasy, September 3rd 2016
I rather suspect that this might still be true. While I feel very much at home with GURPS, the particular prescription for a ‘classic’ (read: D&D-like) fantasy experience is very pleasing.
But here’s the rub: I have come to believe that my gaming friends will not approve of this, nor be interested in playing this set of game rules. Sitting here today, I recognise that this is possibly untrue yet I cannot help but feel that it probably is. In case you are not aware, this would be an example of my social anxiety affecting my thinking.
What Kind Of Game?
The question I have been wrestling with is simple: what kind of game do I want to play?
I have been playing GURPS Dungeon Fantasy – a treatment of the core GURPS rules that provides a D&D-like experience. What I already feel, after a handful of sessions, is that it’s too high-powered for my tastes. I want a grittier experience, more akin to early D&D than the current trends post-3rd Edition.
Surely, I could just dial down the power level in my GURPS game and play the grittier version of Dungeon Fantasy? Yes, I could… but I feel like that has two barriers for me:
- I know that I will need to invest time and effort into calibrating the system to my tastes;
- I will be constantly plagued with doubt about whether or not I got it “right”.
You see, the benefit of a prescription is that it reduces my anxiety. If I know that someone with more experience than me has recommended an approach then I feel safer implementing that at my gaming table. As SJ Games haven’t provided an official gritty-edged version of Dungeon Fantasy, I am left to dig around the community… and, frankly, that’s a piecemeal affair.
What I appreciate as a gamer, and especially as an anxious gamer, is a manual of rules bursting with monsters, treasures, tricks and traps… in short, stuff that I can use at the table quickly and easily.
And so I am torn: I know that GURPS is a great game but I can’t bring myself to prepare everything I need before I even begin to prepare the game for Saturday night. I am left pulling stuff from existing published works for the five remaining sessions I have committed to run. After that, I fear that I will not have the steam to go where I really want to go.
Put another way, I want to invest my time and effort in creating the World, not the stats for absolutely every thing I want to present in that World.
Many elements in a ‘classic’ fantasy game are already there in other rule systems. The answer appears to lie in a prescription, another set of game rules.
Classic Fantasy Prescriptions
Several prescriptions appeal to me as a gamer, but each offers a different experience:
Modern Dungeons & Dragons is certainly too high-fantasy (for me) out of the book. But I could do the obvious and go play the older version – BECMI or even B/X (best expressed nowadays as Old School Essentials) would do the trick. This would offer a gritty and simple game with loads of classic stuff ready to go. It also means I have to suck up the particularly “gamey” experience wherein the system throws out verisimilitude in the name of abstraction and ease.
I’ve been drawn towards Pathfinder in recent days, by which I mean the current second edition of the game. This is also a pretty high-fantasy game but much more rooted in the tried-and-tested ‘3rd Edition’ d20-system that I came to know and trust back in the early 2000’s. Honestly, the high-fantasy elements and feel are fine because this is ‘classic fantasy’. What it probably lacks, however, is the gritty vulnerability that I seek in my game. Not being sure of that, however, I am planning to play the game in a one-shot next week.
I thought about playing with the Cypher System but I also feel that this aligns play too closely with high-powered exploits wherein characters are not particularly challenged with the fear of failure.
And so… playing RuneQuest Glorantha (which is now also too high-powered for my tastes) offered me the clue: there is an alternative which uses the d100 engine and rules I know and trust but which also offers the lower-powered fantasy I am seeking – that is, of course, Mythras. Given that I want to play in a ‘classic’ fantasy realm… well, here we are back with Mythras Classic Fantasy.
So why not go play that? Because of the belief that I expressed earlier: my gaming friends will not approve of this, nor be interested in playing this set of game rules. I wish to play with my friends. They probably won’t play Mythras with me… at least, not for long.
So I stay silent. I hide it in my heart and say nothing. Until now. Because I need to be honest with myself.
There are many games I enjoy playing but I am seeking to create and explore a specific flavour of fantasy gaming right now. The truth is that the rules we choose season the taste of the game we play: the core assumptions of a set of rules affects the experience.
I don’t really want super-heroes in Mystamyr. Nor do I want feeble 1-hit point Magic-users. I want a reliable World with grounded rules. I am seeking a manual of elements I can prep with ease but also offering the option to design my own stuff when I choose.
I don’t have time to build everything… so it seems to me that a prescription with flexible dosage works fine. If only I had the players to come help me bring it to life. What’s a conflicted GM to do, eh?