Revisiting Old Flames

As I move my methodology away from the mainstream regular kind of game, towards the rules being behind the screen, I’ve discovered that many of my favourite game systems don’t favour this approach. In other words, as you change the designed-for experience you become aware of the ways in which current tools don’t provide a good route towards that experience. The practical upshot is that I’ve decided I need to construct a design specifically meeting my gaming needs.

Over the forty or more years of my gaming life, I’ve played with and fallen deeply in love with many roleplaying games. Sometimes the qualities that attracted me to a given game were about the World (aka setting) while at other times it was more about the rules. Although it’s much rarer to find methodological guidance in most RPGs post-1983, some of my old gaming flames were endearing because of those specific ideas.

In beginning to draw together my own design, I’ve found it highly instructive to look back over my gaming history and pick out the highlights from my favourite games.

Methodology being king, I have been drawing on the key strength of the original Dungeons & Dragons designs – especially the Basic/Expert sets – for the solid procedural basis I am seeking in running location-based and exploration adventures in the fantasy wilderness. While refinements can be made, the core methods taught in those games are a solid starting point.

From there, I have been exploring some of the exciting worlds of adventure that inspired me through the years: Glorantha; Palladium Fantasy; Ars Magica; World of Darkness; Ptolus; Arduin; the entire range of the Third Imperium Traveller Universe stand out. Looking at commonalities as well as how those worlds were presented has been instructive.

Finally, I have been looking back towards favourite rules engines. Most of these are toolkits and appeal because of their modular nature. The systems that are not built that way have individual subsystems or ways of adjudicating that have stuck with me. An example of the former toolkit games was Fudge (from 1995); of the latter, I have been enjoying the Palladium “Alignment” system as an alternative.

What’s interesting to note is the types of games that appeal to you. I am very much a traditional ex-wargaming fantasy roleplayer with tastes that run towards exploration, challenge seeking, and enjoying the creative act of fantasising. I like dice and paper character sheets. I find value in random tables and similar creative prompts during prep. Overall, I value process and procedure as scaffold within which I can run an exciting action adventure game.

Overall, I am aware of a transition away from familiar ways of playing towards new and deeper methods designed to increase the player’s sense of Otherworld-immersion and connection to their character. Within this transition is my own shift away from simplistic and relatively static scenario design towards more dynamic open worlds.

What’s curious is that the tools I need existed all along. It’s not that what I am trying to do is particularly innovative in itself but rather that until now I couldn’t see the possibilities implied by the tools in my collection. It seems that old loves really do provide new inspiration.

Game on!

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