Happy (Western) Christmas to everyone! Thank you for supporting the blog and/or podcast this year – I really do appreciate every person who generously takes the time to read and/or listen to my witterings. Like many of you, I will be taking a few days away from the blog and podcast to enjoy the season with my wife. I wish you all well!
Today, in an act of pure self-indulgence, I played a game of Panzer while my wife was away at work. This game has been part of my life since I was 8 or 9 years old, so it was pure joy to dig out the revised edition and run myself through a scenario using the Basic Rules.
I was amazed – as a returning wargamer – at how well written and designed the game is for the beginner. The rules are divided into three categories – Basic, Advanced, and Optional – and you are encouraged to master the Basic Rules before adding more complexity.
What is particularly helpful is the clear message that all of the Advanced rules are viewed as a toolkit to be sprinkled in at the player’s pace. The Optional Rules add further detailed rules but are optional not in the sense of “you don’t have to use these” – because the Advanced Rules can be treated that way – rather more in the sense of “these really are the kind of fiddley extra rules that can easily be left out”.
For example, the Basic Rules introduce only armoured vehicles and the fundamentals of how to spot, give orders, shoot, and move tanks. The Advanced Rules add more details to those core rules but also add Infantry, Towed units, and Aircraft.
You don’t get the full World War II simulation experience if you don’t use the Advanced Rules on those types of units, but the idea is that you learn these rules by degrees – each can be added, one at at time rather than all at once. The Optional Rules are purely for those who want Morale, Hidden Units, Turret positioning, and the like.
My thought was that I wish more roleplaying games were written in this fashion.
One of my favourite games, GURPS, presents itself as the “Basic Set” but is really a two-tome all-of-the-core-rules toolkit. In principle, it’s a similar approach to the set up in Panzer. How much more approachable would it be to present the genuinely Basic Rules – which take up about 4 pages, really – and then guide people through how to add in other option?
To be fair, other books exist in the GURPS range to do that but it’s not explicit within the Basic Set itself. I could make the same criticism of Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, Savage Worlds, Numenera, and a host of other books.
I always loved the old D&D Red Box because it served this role of introducing the fundamental concepts of roleplaying very clearly. Beginner boxes which recognise the beginner have returned to the hobby in many systems – the best are arguably from The Chaosium – but I feel we need to do more in this area. We assume too much knowledge of the neophyte which, from looking at this wargame with fresh eyes, the progenitor of RPGs has learned to overcome.
Reflection aside, it was a very enjoyable few hours playing Panzer. I was doing other things, wandering away from the table to answer the door or go to my therapy session on Zoom, but it was an ongoing joy to run through a simple scenario.
The Soviets got their butts handed to them and I can’t wait to re-run the scenario with added infantry units using some of the Advanced Rules.
If you want a beginner’s kit for GURPS you start with GURPS Lite and slowly add in elements from Basic as you go. And best of all, GURPS Lite is a free download from SJGames.
Maybe… except, I think “Lite” and “Beginning” are different products. My experience of GURPS Lite was very much “yes, there is less here… but what do I do with it?” Most “lite” games assume a level of knowledge about RPGs that beginners don’t have. GURPS desperately needs a beginner’s box! And, no, DFRPG isn’t a beginner’s box.