SO…my apologies to, well, everyone. The last week and more has been spent obsessing over World Cup action. Many of my American and Canadian readers aren’t going to understand this, I realize…heck, ten years ago I didn’t get it either. But like sushi or steak tartar…or really ANY spectator sport…soccer is an acquired taste, and a frigging addictive one once you do “get” it.
Funny thing is, the U.S. used to be big into soccer back before the sport went professional. Hell, we went to the semi-finals in the first World Cup (1930) and were retroactively awarded 3rd place in the event by FIFA (at the time, there was no 3rd place award). That places the U.S. ahead of Mexico (whom we have a good history of beating in the tournament) for World Cup achievement, despite the latter country’s long history of passion for the sport.
In fact, it appears the only reason soccer died off in the U.S. is the rise of professional “American” football during the 30s and 40s (see the film Leatherheads for a fairly decent look at the early years of the NFL) at a time when FIFA was on hiatus due to World War II. If not for pro-football (that’s American football, Brits) and Nazi Germany, the U.S. might have become the same kind of powerhouse that Brazil is today. Don’t laugh…we won quite a few Olympic medals in the sport prior to the founding of FIFA. And the U.S. loves to throw money at their world domination of, well, everything.
ANYway…let’s talk about games other than soccer for a minute. I have in front of me, four glossy, soft-covers. They are:
- Deathwatch: Final Sanction
- Under the Rose for Exalted (2nd edition)
- Legacy of Disaster for Legend of Five Rings (4th edition)
- Athlon Sports Pro-Football Magazine
The first three are all things I picked up at Gary’s on Free RPG Day last Saturday. The last is a magazine devoted to scouting the NFL (mostly for the purpose of playing “fantasy football”). I’ve been playing fantasy football for about three years now…I’ve been buying Athlon Sports for more than ten. I find it gives me a nice overview of the teams for the upcoming season, plus compared to other “pre-season” magazines, it’s made with quality paper, has good photography, and excellent lay-out.
Of course, the predictions aren’t always the greatest. For example, this year they’re picking the 49ers to win the NFC West…something they’ve been picking three years in a row. I have to think the publishers are either from San Francisco or just downright retarded; I mean come on! Likewise, they’re picking Seattle to come in #2 which means the defending NFC champ (Arizona) isn’t even going to the play-offs? Bizarre.
But actually, this isn’t really a new trend for Athalon Sports. I can trace the beginning of their wonkiness back to the season following the Seattle's Super Bowl XL loss in which, despite ranking all of the ‘Hawks stats as better than the rest, they predicted we would miss the play-offs due to the “Super Bowl Loser Curse.” Ridiculous. Instead, the Seahawks ended up one game out of the Super Bowl, only losing to the eventual NFC representative Bears in Chicago in over-time.
[meanwhile, it was the “defending Champ” Steelers that completely missed the play-offs in the 2006 season…go figure]
So accuracy of predictions is NOT Athlon Sports’ strong suit. And yet, of the four documents in front of me, I find their publication to be the most accurate, most interesting, and most practically useful.
Let’s start with the one I WANTED to like: Deathwatch.
Of all the various game settings that have been created over the years…for ANY game…the Warhammer 40,000 universe is one of my favorites. Especially back in the days prior to 3rd edition 40K (with the introduction of the Tau and Necrons…jeez, undead in space?), it was sci-fi as dark, grim, and gritty as the Warhammer FRP world. O sure…you can use "magic" (psionics), but you might well be possessed by a bloodthirsty demon! And legions of psychotically loyal killer space marines will hunt you down for being an abomination in the Emperor’s sight…
Deathwatch is the 3rd “40K RPG” Games Workshop appears to be releasing, and this one is the somewhat-long-awaited “space marine RPG” (the first two were for Inquisitors and Rogue Traders, special character types dating all the way back to the original 1st edition of the wargame rules). Of course, space marines were never “special characters” like Rogue Traders and Inquisitors in the original wargame…they were grunts. So now we have an RPG where you play a badass grunt.
Okay, aside from the glaring discrepancies in the rules (I’ll give an example or two in a moment), let’s talk about theme/premise. Um…what? The party is a group of hand-picked marines from a variety of space marine chapters put into a special squad and now gunning for the Emperor’s enemies on “special missions?”
Just because you elaborate on the stat-line of your average 40K marine profile does NOT mean you have an RPG. Just because you add a handful of skills doesn’t make it an RPG. The fact that space marines are default “trouble-shooters” (in the literal sense…they are trained to resolve situations with combat), ultimately sets the game up to be all about blasting people…and there’s no elaborate stat-line needed for such a game.
Check out 3:16: Carnage Amongst the Stars…you can run a Deathwatch game simpler and with more role-playing and pathos using ITS rules than the stuff in this 30 page booklet. Really, honestly.
Of course, 3:16 doesn’t have nifty weapons with “special abilities” (well, abilities other than rolling bunches of dice and blowing xenomorphs all to hell). Take the power fist, for example. It has two abilities that are unique to it (i.e. no other listed weapon has either of these attributes):
- Power field: a field of power wreaths weapons with this quality, increasing their damage and penetration. Such modifiers are already included in the weapon’s profile. When the wielder successfully uses this weapon to parry an attack made with a weapon that lacks this quality, he has a 75% chance of destroying his attacker’s weapon.
- Unwieldy: huge and often top-heavy, Unwieldy weapons are too awkward to be used defensively. Unwieldy weapons cannot be used to parry.
Emphasis added to point out the retarded-ness.
Exalted barely deserves mention…at least, mention bereft of derision. I’ve never played/owned/read ANY edition of Exalted, despite owning half-a-dozen-plus other White Wolf games. I was interested to see what the game was all about.
Apparently it is about elaborate fiction masquerading as an RPG. What the F?
If I wanted to play a game that looked something like Avatar the Last Air Bender, I would probably go with Big Eyes, Small Mouth. This game is just…so…much…dross…ugh! I can’t even wade through all of it just to get to the super-elaborate stat block pre-gens at the end. Apparently, this isn’t an actual Quick-Start offering from White Wolf, but an adventure module for Exalted; you have to own the game to play the adventure (there are no rules printed un Under the Rose). After browsing the adventure, I have no desire to own the game. The over-the-top super-enriched fantasy world is…well, it’s a setting. One that probably deserves an elaborate series of novels or short stories. But NOT one I want to have to study (like taking courses in ancient Mesopotamia) in order to understand how the game is to be played.
There is a huge disconnect going on here, in my opinion. RPGs either provide rules for “adventure creation” (for example: D&D) or provide rules for playing a particular established IP (for example: Star Wars, Firefly). White Wolf is trying to give you the game AND the IP and it’s super-elaborate-as-hell…ugh.
No. No. No. I don’t want it. You can’t make me learn about it. Crap on that.
Finally we have Legend of Five Rings, 4th edition. Like Exalted, L5R is a game I’ve never owned, read, or played. Like Exalted I have heard of it…though I had no idea it was in its 4th edition (they still haven’t gotten all the bugs out yet?! Sheesh!). I know there is a substantial portion of the RPG community that LOVES the whole “samurai-thang.” Personally, I find samurai to have the same level of “interesting role-play potential” as space marines (i.e. not much). Yes, it would be cool to ride around and duel folks with your katana over honor…however, it would seem (to me) to get OLD after awhile. Like that Highlander TV show…how many times do they repeat the formula that ends with someone’s eventual decapitation before you stop watching?
And UN-like Ron Edwards (surprise! My game design hero!) I am NOT interested in exploring the human drama that comes with conflicts of honor mixed with soap opera family conflicts. Sorry, just not all that interested in what RPGs can teach us about the human condition (at least, not when it comes to blade-slinging ronin).
Actually, I found the L5R booklet better than expected. It had good art in a Magic: the Gathering kind of way. The rules provided appeared short and succinct, variations of a couple different games that are escaping my memory right now (perhaps shades of Deadlands). The pre-gen characters had fairly short “stat blocks” than what I anticipated (certainly in comparison to Exalted!). All in all, I was intrigued enough to do a little further research on-line regarding Legend of the Five Rings.
Having said all THAT, I have to say that in the end, I find the game to be kind of dumb. Why not just call it Samurai & Shugenja? After all, that’s all it seems to consist of. Do you want to play a Warrior or a Wizard? A space marine or a psyker? And most any dude between the age of 17 and 30 is going to be laughed out of the table if he belongs to “Clan Unicorn.”
Or perhaps I’m being unnecessarily hard on this game…or all these games for that matter. I admit I’ve been feeling a bit crusty lately, as I’d rather be watching World Cup games than working (and being forced to nip out to the bar across the street to catch scores on the sly).
But really, is THIS what RPGs are coming down to? I mean is this WHERE THE MONEY IS in the RPG industry?
I mean, just look at the common thread. Your "party" is basically a group of ass-kickers (samurai, space marines, “exalted” heroes) with various tweaks to distinguish you from one another (clan, chapter, caste) brought together at the behest of some higher power (daimyo, Emperor, whatever-the-hell-Exalted-has) to perform missions that require ass-kicking.
Lame. I mean really, just…lame.
One commentator either here or on another blog I was reading wrote something about how “if it’s an RPG it should include combat.” Huh? Because playing an RPG is all about playing an ass-kicker of some sort? That’s as stupid as exercising in the gym for the sake of “getting big muscles.” What exactly is it all in aid of?
Again, let me reiterate that, cool and interesting as it might be, I do NOT generally play RPGs for catharsis or therapy or to address the drama of the human condition. But I DO play them and enjoy them for something else…stretching the imagination. And there’s nothing fantastically imaginative about ass-kicking with dice. Go play a fucking video game, chumps.
I mean, really. Have you seen what’s available on the console these days? Plenty of cool games that allow you to adventure through a linear environment, ass-kicking in many graphically enhanced ways, with guns and without, acting in concert with other players or alone. What the hell do you need an RPG for if that’s all you want to do?
All right, I’ve wandered a bit off topic. Just to bring it back for the moment, understand that I hold table-top RPGs in hella’ high esteem, and if the three games I picked up at Free RPG Day are an indication of the general mold of commercial games being issued these days…well, that’s a bloody shame, that's what it is. But, whatever…this blog post is not any kind of attempt at resolving the issue, it’s just me venting my opinions about the nicely printed free booklets I picked up on Saturday.
Well, that and me taking a break from all this soccer watching.