Friday, October 30, 2015

Fantasy Age vs. Pathfinder

I was struck by the simplicity of Fantasy Age versus a more complicated game like Pathfinder. Both are high-fantasy RPGs and they do what they set out to do well enough.

Fantasy Age is a simple game with a simple, unified core mechanic. It plays fast, is super easy to pick up, and does a great job with progression and the sort of lighter adventure and solve the mission job it sets out to do. I have a slight issue with post-roll stunting and still feel Legend does this better, but it is a good mechanic (with tweaking) and I look forward to Blue Rose's release next year using the same system.

But then again, I still get this feeling that Pathfinder just captures my imagination better. It feels like fantasy to me. The worlds and options presented in its books (both first and the excellent third party supplements) open up infinite worlds of adventure. Despite some of the issue I have with how large the game has gotten and the almost too-many choices now availible, I feel there is still a strong core of fun to be had that a more simple game such as Fantasy Age just can't capture.

Complexity vs. Depth

Pathfinder has depth, and loads of it. While yes, some of the depth presented has a great deal of complexity to it, you can use as much as you want (as is the case with every game). But as I drill down into Pathfinder's depth, I find a lot of reward for paying the price and using the complexity in my games. The deeper you go, the moer tedious the game becomes, but also there is another deeper and strategically rewarding game at the highest level of complexity.

You can play Pathfinder two ways, the first being an almost a Pathfinder Beginner Box style of game that plays like an action game. Ignore encumbrance, AoOs, and limit actions to something more simple and straightforward. The game becomes an action game, and you get 75% of the reward of playing. Nothing stops you from house-ruling in PBB as the way you play and keeping things simple, so it's all good.

The second way of playing the game is by drilling down to a level of complexity you enjoy, and playing at that level. For some, that means playing 100% by the rules, using all the tactical combat rules, encumbrance, and playing the game almost as a fantasy combat simulator. It is admittedly a more difficult game, becuase something as simple as what loot you choose to pick up could be a matter of life or death later as you are fleeing an encounter. I like this level of detail, and while it slows things down, it gives players more choices during a play session other than "where do I swing my sword next?" Action-gaming is fun and great, but sometimes I like to see how a group of players gets together and deals with a world hostile to their presence in it, and watching them make decisions and survive in a rules-set that is unforgiving and applied with a firm hand.

It is the same reward you feel when you beat a video-game on its hardest mode. You get this real sense of accomplishment and feeling of mastery that a more simple game just does not provide.

Simple for the Right Reasons

Yes, if I am here for the good times and story, I am more apt to play a simple game such as Fantasy Age with the group. Perhaps this is our first few times together and we need a simpler game to get the ice broken and see how the personalities and play styles mesh.

If this is a game about romance and I purposefully want the rules to get out of the way (such as in Blue Rose's case), I am also more apt to prefer a simple game that gets out of the way so we can focus on the drama and relationships. I perhaps could play romance-style games with Pathfinder, but the urge to drill down into full-simulation and combat mode is there, and I prefer players at the table to not focus on those aspects of the game.

I could bring up D&D 5 here because it relates to the discussion. D&D 5 at its current state just feels like it captures a more basic dungeon-ing experience centered on the brand's core worlds. It feels like a Fantasy Age in a way where the game is streamlined and simplified, and that is a good thing for playing stories focused on the conflicts and characters in those worlds. But again, for me and my groups, it feels like there is something missing, and it feels like the Fantasy Age thing again. I like depth. D&D 5 is early in its run, where Pathfinder is settled in and comfortable.

Sometimes, I want and I crave depth. It's not an all-the-time thing, as I love my pick-up-and-play games too, and also the simple and focused experiences. I like for my games to dive in and give me those complicated character design choices. I like for options to be fiddly and force you to learn. Gaming is never a One Ring thing where one game rules all; as gamers, I feel it is cool to have different games for different moods.

Depth Budgeting

Depth is also a thing you budget, just like complexity. You an put depth in different places, but you need to pick and choose what areas of your game you desire a deeper experience, and which areas should be simplified and kept streamlined. Where and how much complexity and depth is one of those game design choices you can plan out, or stumble into - but you need to plan this out to have a game that feels like it has a balance of simplified areas and complex ones that deliver a great and deep play experience.

So Pathfinder still calls to me in a way as it sits there in all its refined and voluminous glory. I like the game, and I like the world. Is it simple and fast-to-play? No, it is clearly not a fast food sort of game for fast food sorts of moods. But it does have depth and a complexity I can appreciate and embrace for what it does. It is a classic version of a classic game, and it does a good job on a couple of levels, both simple and complex, and it has the weight of both first and third party support that is second to none.

Fantasy Age, by contrast, is also a young game with support to be seen. I look forward to the refinement that may come out in future games, and I love the core 3d6 mechanic. It is a fun ice-breaker game with simple rules and quick options, and it is focused on storytelling - not survival and character building. It does what it sets out to do well, and is an interesting option to the Dragon Age game (or an upgrade of it, if seen another way). It does not have the depth of a more mature game, and I don't feel it needs it for what it sets out to do, so there is that to consider.

But what strikes me here is how depth can be seen two ways, as complexity that should be simplified (as D&D 5's direction went in), or as something to be enjoyed and savored and as a feature of the game that reflects maturity and something more to consider than just story-based action gaming. You worry about more from everything to character design to in-game choices, but you are rewarded more for maing the correct decisions based on the moment in time you make them.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Theorycrafting and Pathfinder: More is Better

I was checking out threads on people's experiences when it comes to just sticking to the main Pathfinder book, and I came across this discussion on the Pathfinder forums:


So if half my group shows up playing summoning druids I am just going to rub my temples in a mock headache and tell them what? Yes, there is a lot to be said for "play what you love," but the thing I dislike about the theory-crafting crowd is...

...they are ultimately and 100% right about a lot of things.

The base game is, in a way, broken, and the later books have done a lot to fix things and make all options viable and balanced. The expansion books have their own sets of problems, but the Pathfinder game was written in a "patch as you go" sort of way and if you are not playing with a full set of books you aren't playing with something that approximates an even playing field between classes.

What I don't like about theory-crafting posts is that they tell me my illusions of a simple game using only one book are nostalgic dreams built upon an assumption that less is better. And these posts are for the most part right.

In this case, Pathfinder is a lot like an MMO in this regard, a lot of people reminisce and love the concept of playing the game by the original rules and before any expansion, but those feelings are typically never really based in reality - they are based on feelings. And with feelings, you get emotions all wrapped up in the mix, and things just become a big mess. It is better to go by facts, and you either accept the original game has its flaws and live with those, or you play with the new stuff and get all the fixes and complicated add-ons.

The old days in most MMOs did suck, and things are for the most part better now. Despite the few changes you probably disagree with and the complexity the MMO has added, the thousands of things that were fixed over the game's lifetime are just such a better experience you forget how clunky things were and how much of a game was to play before all the tweaks were made. There were exploits back then, and most MMOs had huge problems the designers later fixed.

Star Wars Galaxy NGE need not speak up at this time. Please sit down. I said most MMOs, but I will admit before the NGE there was some pretty broken stuff. The problem is afterwards, everything was broken, but that's another story for another day.

It is a tough part of my feelings about Pathfinder, I love the game, but to play the best version - you play with a full set of books. If I want a simple game, I will play something else.

That fact is hard for me to accept.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Occult Adventures, and Huge Sale on Hero Lab

I took the jump and ordered Pathfinder Roleplaying Game: Occult Adventures, and it's also worth noting the Hero Lab module for this has been released as well.

There is also a huge sale going on until November 8 on many of the Pathfinder Modules over on the Hero Lab site, so if you have been waiting (like me) to pick some of these up and complete your collection, it is worth it to do so now!

I didn't want to wait a month to start diving in, the reviews for this one are that good. Perhaps this book will be the base for a limited run game set in the 1920's with a distinctly Pathfinder feel. I am overdue for a redo on my Pathfinder game world, and I can envision a major clean up and some big changes to come in my metaplot and how things are organized for my players. More on this soon, and a Design Room article on what looks to be a major shot in the arm for the Pathfinder system with this book.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Upcoming Pathfinder Books: November 2015

I am really tempted to buy Occult Adventures book for Pathfinder, but I am waiting on two other books before making the plunge. This book is already out and getting great reviews and re-invigorating the Pathfinder player base, so it looks to be a great buy and worth the time to read and play. It also solves the "I want to play an ice/fire/etc mage" problem Pathfinder (and also D&D) have with players coming in from games and MMOs where those options are available. In other words, these sorts of options have been a long time coming, and sorely needed. I am looking forward to them, and I have high hopes for this guide.

The first "must also purchase" is Bestiary 5, and you can never have enough monsters. I am hoping there are some more occult and psionic-themed monsters in this guide that will fit well with the psi-using classes in the above book. What are heroes with new sources of power without creatures who dabble in the same powers? Great heroes deserve great monsters. This is coming the 18th of November, and that is when I will likely dive in.

The second is an odd guide called Occult Realms, which looks to be the Golarion-specific campaign guide for the first book, and it presents additional character options, monsters, setting, and background info. I don't ike the fact this information has been broken off in an additional guide, but if it is purely setting-specific, I could see why. I will need to read some reviews and test the waters before I decide this guide is 'official' for my group. You know how this goes, sometimes an add-on book like this adds a lot, and other times it doesn't justify the addition of another guide to the mix.

And of course, yes, I want Hero Lab support for all of the above as well before I dive in. At this time it is available for the first book in this list, and not for the two unreleased books (obviously). What use is owning these books unless your character creation tool of choice supports them? One bad thing about Hero Lab support is that it lags a little behind the book's final release (and understandably so), so it may push off my purchase of the second two by a couple weeks. It is a thing with me, if I have the books in hand I want to start jumping in and building characters. Having to wait to do that dampens my excitement a little, so I would rather wait a few weeks than to have that gap between reading and using the books.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Star Wars RPG: Spinning Up 100 Characters

DarkgarX and I are spending a couple nights and just spinning up an entire group of characters, around 100 of them in fact. I know you are not supposed to use the PC generation system for NPCs, but it is a fun way to learn the classes and system, and go through all three of the books in order and have fun with different designs and classes.

We are designing from all three books, so our groups are an interesting mix of rebels, criminals, and jedi students. It is a motley crew of a strange mix of personalities and character types, and we love just spinning up characters and playing with character options.

There is a min-maxing thing you can do here, especially in regards to combat skills and your starting scores. However, we play a more balanced game where more skills than just combat are important, and we try to stay true to the character and not worship the combat system. With these dice, it is difficult at times, because the allure of spinning up a character who can toss a fist-full of dice at enemies is so strong.

Resist the urge of the dark-side of min-maxing...

Some of the rules regarding the book-specific stats (obligation, duty, and morality) are weak, and in some cases not explained (how duty changes). We had to hit the forums for answers, and even then it wasn't entirely clear.

Mixed groups with obligation and duty? Sounds fun, and we have some very strange groups that could be hit at all angles for missions and bounty hunters looking for group members. I wish they would have added information on mixed parties, but we managed to figure out a system that works for us with these sorts of groups.

We almost wish jedi had a "external" stat like this, but instead, they have an inwardly-focused morality trait that rates how they act in the world. It is admittedly very jedi, but I like the external book-specific stats and their potential for trouble and complications so much I wish the jedi had something like this as well to force them to get out into the world and put things at risk, be a part of something bigger, or have trouble lurk around every corner. Yes, they are jedi in the Empire and it is not the safest place to be, but I like the mechanics of the other book-specific stats.

The skill system took some getting used to, and we wished there were some character design tutorials to go through. It took us a while to figure out that class skills began at level zero and you had a number of rank-ups to raise 3 or 4 of them to a +1. So there is a difference between an "untrained class skill" and a normal "untrained skill" that threw us. We had to redesign our first couple characters once we grasped this, but having a sample design in the book would have smoothed this out for us greatly.

Once you get a hang of it, character design is fast. I wish the game shipped with "character design sheets" with one side being the class description and skills, and the other having the talent tree. I wish I could print out just these sections to work with, and staple them into a handy booklet. PDF please, I'd buy the game in PDF form a second time just to have this ability. Or I could photocopy. Yes, I could photocopy for personal use, but bleh on the time and mashing the book to get it looking good.

All in all, this is a fun character creation system, and one we will be playing as we run a small campaign this fall with the game. More update on this soon as things get rolling, but until we begin, more character design fun awaits us.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Star Wars RPG: Too Many Books!

With three main books and six add-on character books, our Star Wars RPG experience is feeling a little bloated. I know, these are stand-alone games, but we play in a big universe, and now we are constantly flipping back-and-forth between books to generate characters and reference material.

Yes, this is our fault for buying too many books.

But this is also the game's fault for spreading everything out in so many guides. A lot of the character archetypes in the add-on guides are cool, but I feel they aren't really much different than what you could create from the classes in the main books. There are some cool options, yes, but part of me feels they aren't the 'core experience' classes that we got in the main three books.

Some of them are also very splatbook powerful, by the way. I don't see these as 'oh cool' I see them as a 'oh no why did they escalate character power' sort of thing.

While I love having options, I could see just buying the core three books and sticking with those as a good option. Still, they are nice books with great production quality and tons of info.

Yes, this is starting to feel like Pathfinder. There is a part of me that wants to go back to basics with that game and just play my world with the original two books. There is a point when too much is too much, and I want my simple game back again.

You know, the way things used to be? Part of that feeling is a false 'the old times are better' thing, while another part is a truth that simple was honestly better.

How many more splatbooks can they print? Well, I will admit now I will be buying all of them, but the prospect of sorting through three main books and possibly twelve add-on books has got my head spinning (three books with four add-on class books each).

I guess we will clear another shelf for these and have fun with what we got.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Star Wars RPG: A Slow Session

Our Star Wars campaign is still getting on its feet, and last night's game was a slow session. One of those where "most of the characters get 5 XP for participating and only one or two get a 15 XP reward sort of games.

Yeah, most of the group played salvage bunnies in a junkyard while two of the characters went off and had all the fun.

They need to get a derelict starship up and running, so it is going to take a lot of work. Maybe I will give the entire group a reward after the thing gets space worthy as a story award.

The two characters who had the fun? Card sharks playing a strange version of "Texas Hold-Em Sabacc" that they made up on the spot and conned the rest of the bar into a game of. They actually made up the rules they played, dealt the cards to NPC 'players', and everyone got a good laugh out of all the silly antics these two put on. It made no sense, the rules were setup totally in favor of the house, and my two players kept repeating "everybody wins, everybody plays" so many times it became a running joke - yes, even though any NPC who played got fleeced by this highly silly con job.

It is also a stupid, silly moment uniquely Star Wars. Well, not the Texas hold-em part, but what is Star Wars without something totally stupid and silly happening every once and a while? Players need to be able to laugh and have fun every once and a while, and it brings an occasional break to the seriousness of the game. While I like to run my games really gritty and serious, I know when people need to kick back and laugh, so we take time out to have hilarity like this between the dark and realistic parts.

The larger campaign arc is appearing, and I am starting to see where this game is going! I can't share it here, but it is a fun and very twisted take on the whole Empire and Rebellion thing that will have both sides wondering who to trust, and also be throwing both sides in with each other with shifting loyalties. How is my galaxy setup?

A long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...

We are playing in a post RoTJ galaxy, and this is sort of mixed in with the Star Wars: Aftermath continuity. The Imperials are on the run (and largely holding out in the corporate sector and a large fleet around Courusant as two major factions). The capital fleet holds onto the "Empire as government" view of things, while the corporate sector Imperials have been taken over by a faction seeing the Sith way of life as a religion. This kind of parallels the book, and it is a fun way to split the Empire into two warring yet sometime cooperative factions with a lot of distrust between each other.

It also brings in the more commonplace Jedi and Sith into the game by the RPG's aesthetics. There is a large faction of Sith that see their way of life as a religion, and there is one faction of the Empire holding onto that belief.

The New Republic is what we would call the rebels nowadays, and they are awash in victories and an unstable political atmosphere. What they want is Courusant, and they are blockading the capital system and even resorting to using space pirates to break the will of the Empire. Did I say the good guys are resorting to underhanded tactics? Yes, there is a lot of corruption in the New Republic's halls, and Hutt money is flowing like wine. Any player who deals with the New Republic has come away with a bad taste in their mouth as nobody knows who to trust, and the New Republic's freshman senators back-stab and deal under the table to grab power.

The inmates are running the asylum, and the entire galaxy is worse then when it started off under the Empire. Even Ackbar's fleet has been called back to his homeworld as the bickering raises the possibility of proxy wars between factions inside the New Republic.

The Jedi? Remember, we are in the RPG's world, so the Jedi are a little more common that the official universe. These are the children of those taken down by Order 66, untrained and they are scattered to the wind of the galaxy as they find their own paths. I am keeping the prospect of a new Jedi Academy out of the picture for a while, as this is a bit too EU for this game, and I want Jedi players surviving on their own without a school to run home to. If a player starts a new Jedi order? More power to them, and this could be a force of stability in the galaxy.

If they do.

What is so fun about this setup is there are characters from all sides that can get together and play, plus a clear and defined set of bad guys. Some of the more stability-minded Imperials could team up with the players and work towards a common goal, and the Empire can even play the hero in some situations. The bad guys are clearly the Sith-as-religion types, bloodthirsty Republic power-grabbing types, and the Hutts, and unchecked, they will destroy this galaxy quicker than anything you know. In short, this is a war of stability and civilization against the forces of intolerance and corruption.

Both sides are guilty of corruption and intolerance. And there are heroes on both sides, Empire and Republic, that will stand against that tide.

What am I hoping? That there will be a new faction led by the righteous few who will bring peace and stability to the galaxy. This must be led by the players. If they choose to be profiteers or do otherwise, they will see the galaxy slowly slide into war and madness. It will be a choice I can't force, but one I can subtly present as an option as NPCs from both sides seek their help.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Star Wars RPG: Campaign Start

We are in the middle of running a joint three-book campaign with the Star Wars RPG, and things are going along well. We are building out our characters, running through a sample plot, and the larger plot is just starting to form up.

Despite the voluminous system and the large amount of character archetypes, character customization feels a little soft and many character feel and play like each other. As experience points come in, this is improving, but some of our characters feel a little too samey for our liking.

I am not a real big fan of the character generation system, which puts a premium on getting your starting ability scores as high as possible at the cost of skills and other customization. Your ability scores are very difficult to change, and the difference between starting with a 2 or a 3, or even a 4 is huge. You end up min-maxing in a few key scores and forgoing the cool things that make your character special. I would rather place a rack of preset scores (4, 3, 3, 2, 2, 2) and then be given 20-30 points to customize the character rather than have to make a choice between good scores and a unique character. Yes, this would make starting characters a bit more powerful, but I would rather have that and knock down XP rewards by 5 points than what we have currently (which feels like it is being gamed in favor of ability scores).

Less rolls doing more is the way to play this! I ran into a situation where one character tried to open a storage box with an electronic lock, and I ruled "only one try per skill" on the attempt, and it worked beautifully. We have been so trained by the "then I do something slightly different and re-roll" sort of soft-ruled gaming that we immediately fell into that, trying a rock to bang it open, a prybar, and a this and a that. Nope - all of those attempts were part of the same "force it open" roll, and you failed - try another skill. Mechanical, perhaps? Another character with skulduggery skill was able to save the day, and we avoided having a player buffalo their way through a task by throwing the dice so many times they just succeed.

If this was a d20 player I would expect to hear "I take a Triumph" and then I would begin to rub my temples in a mock headache.

I swear letting players "try something slightly different" and reroll the same task is some sort of dice-rolling tantrum. In Star Wars, it doesn't work that way. I am not going to sit here and adjudicate fifteen borderline horrible rolls of random selections of threats, despairs, and advantages until you get the roll you want. The dramatic situation happened when you tried to bang the lock open, it didn't work, and it is time to move on. There is no "let's do a second take" here. Maybe in Hollywood, but in this world you get one shot and then you need to change your tactics.

That said, things are going well, and we are capturing that Star Wars feeling. We are getting a wonderful low-level game as well with very relatable characters, including the bad guys, so I expect the fights and conflicts coming up to get very gritty and personal. This does not feel as light and flippant as the d6 and d20 versions of the game, there is a lower-level grit and realism here that I love. Things are broken, the galaxy itself is broken, and every item, vehicle, character, and societal structure is coated with a level of dirt and grime. I plan on keeping things that way, and forcing some hard choices on the character's behalf.

There are no heroic and clean decisions in this world, there are just bad choices, and worse. Only sacrifice and heroism can turn the tide.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Thesaurus Classes

Thesaurus Class? Let's define this as a derivative character class from a role-playing game from one of the four base classes that specializes in one function rather than covering a field different from the existing classes in the game. Usually the increase in the specialized field is offset by a reduction in the other abilities of the base class. Examples?


Role: A rogue that kills people. Wait. I thought rogues killed people? No, this one kills them even better, plus they specialize in poison. Wait. I thought rogues could use poison? So now my rogue can't be an assassin-for-hire? Well, no, you still can, no one's going to stop you, it's just now there is this class that does it better. So I have to re-roll an assassin now?


Role: A fighter that uses bows. Now, some games do rangers right and give them combat pets, dual wielding, and specific nature powers, but many games do not do ranger right and we get a sort of fighter sort of rogue that sort of maybe can use magic powers that feels like a mash -up between three classes. Good rangers are a lifestyle choice. Bad rangers are fighters that can't wear plate and are limited to bows.

Cavalier, Knight, Swordsman, Guardian, Battlemaster, etc

Role: See fighter or paladin. Yes, you can use a thesaurus! Good job game designers, and thank you for making the base fighter class so unappealing. Thank you also for making me a buy a splatbook just to get a power-creep fighter class that makes my original book less valuable now. I absolutely do not need a splatbook knight thesaurus class, if you would have done your job in the base book you would have covered a knight option in fighter. If it is even needed. A knight is a fighter that belongs to an order of...fighters. Seriously. Choice? I don't need choice, I need less choices in class selection that matter more. Not more choices that matter less.

Swashbuckler, Pirate, Corsair, etc

Role: Rouges that live on boats. See also, cavalier, dragonrider, or knight in some games, which are basically fighters that fight from mounts. Since dungeon masters typically do not design dungeons for boats or mounts, these vehicle-limited classes do some things related to their home really well, and then everything else on dry land kinda less well.

Investigator, Brawler, Blacksmith, Sage, Guard, Archaeologist, etc

The old job-as-class qualifies as a thesaurus class, because these are either trade skills you should be able to purchase or just some sort of alternate-world "aren't town guards just fighters" thing. This really applies to classes like investigators and archaeologists, because in an ideal game, I should be able to buy a job specialization in those types of jobs and have a mage-investigator or a rogue-archaeologist and be able to combo a job and a class without all of a sudden having to multi-class and be forced to make the choice "do I want to be less of a mage or less of an investigator" every level. When you design a game, there are the important roles in the game that deserve to be primary classes, and then the everything else stuff that should be job specializations. While some jobs should be classes (depending on your world and story), not every job should be.

Thief-Acrobat, Shield-Fighter, Specialist-Mage, etc

Another thesaurus class exists when game designers give you an option to do one thing really well at the expense of everything else. Aka, the specialist class. It is silly, because really, you should make the base class flexible and able to do a variety of things well to keep thing interesting and give a player more choices during combat. Picking a specialist class limits you to doing one thing really well, and that one thing often becomes the only thing your character does. These appeal to min-maxers, make the base classes less appealing to play (because they are not the best at this one thing anymore), and force you to pick them because you know content will be balanced for thge specialist and not the general class. As a game designer, if you know the ultimate defender is the shield-knight, you will balance all of your game's boss monsters against that class and not the generic fighter. In doing this, you have just put everyone who picks generic fighter at a disadvantage and forced all fighters into the specialty class. A base fighter should be able to pick up a shield and be the best defender in the game.

"Other Games Have Them" Classes

Druid, ranger, paladin, warlock (witch), bard, and a bunch of other classes tend to creep into fantasy gaming because other games have them. This is okay if you put the design effort and time in to make these classes unique, special, and fun classes to play. If you are going to just make a warlock a variant mage and give them a special spell list of spells that wizards can use also I am going to be one pissed-off warlock and say you cut game-design corners and cheated me of a unique and exclusive spell list. You shouldn't add classes that don't belong in your world either, if your world doesn't have paladins, don't feel pressured to put them into your game.

Sword-mage, Holy-fighter, Spell-blade, Divine-mage, etc

Hybrid classes! In games with multi-classing, you don't need classes that  have multi-classing built in. If you can already make the choice of playing a level 5 fighter and a level 5 mage, why do you need a hybrid sword-mage class that is part fighter, part mage? This is not technically a thesaurus class, but you will often see a thesaurus name slapped on these to make them more palatable. Either multi-classing is going to work and be the way you do multi-classing, or you need to ship a complete set of hybrids to fill the roles you have in your game world. It is sad, because you know when the hybrids come out they are usually better than a multi-class kludge solution. Hybrids have some design behind them and typically work better (unless you are exploiting multi-classing because the low level classes have scaling powers and those are really all you need).

The Moral of the Story

Ask anybody involved in MMO design, your base classes matter. Pen-and-paper games typically think they live in a world where they can ship unbalanced designs and multiple classes to chase the holy-grail of 'choice' - but really, less is more. I don't want fifty or sixty classes in the game, I would love eight classes that do what those sixty do equally well. When I go to design a character, I want less choices that matter more. Let me specialize as I level up, but don't make those specializations things that limit me into one role. Good design matters, and doing what everyone did before is not an excuse to abdicate your choices as a game designer.

It is important for referees as well, if all you want to do is play basic Pathfinder or D&D 5 without the splatbooks, say that is what you are doing and don't let the tide of popular opinion force you into playing your game somebody else's way. Realize that splatbook classes are typically power-creep filled affairs to get you to buy a book, but in doing so, you make your original books and classes less desirable. Choice is not always a good thing to chase as a designer, or as a consumer, to reward. It is great if you are trying to sell books, of course, but as a referee or player, it is the inevitable drip-drip-drip of power creep that makes you say, "I hope they clean this all up in the next edition."

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Fantasy Age 1.1 PDF Released

News flash, they just released the version 1.1 of the Fantasy Age PDF. It looks like they just made some minor errata fixes, but I sure do like having PDF update notices delivered to my in-box.

Paizo, take note. This is cool. Unless I messed up some setting somewhere. And oh yeah, Fantasy Flight and that Star Wars RPG, please, please PDFs!

On second thought, now my Fantasy Age printed book is out of date. I give up.

Still, this is cool. Props for entering the digital age, Green Ronin.

Free-to-Play: Wildstar

DarkgarX and I tried the Wildstar free-to-play game recently, and yes, the servers were jammed nearly impossible to log into. A couple thoughts:

The graphics and factions are fun, and impossible not to like if you are a fan of Guardians of the Galaxy, and other similar out-there space opera style depictions of the universe. It is a wacky, pun-filled, silly, serious, and crazy place with a charm all its own. It is a fun place, full of in-jokes and whimsy, and I wish I could buy a pen-and-paper game based on this universe.

Seriously yes, I could play this on the tabletop if the humor was kept intact, kind of like the old Paranoia game with its frequent fits of black humor and outright and random fits of uncontrollable laughter. I wouldn't want black humor for this one, just that free-wheeling space exploration and danger with humorous and uncontrollably silly moments. They did a great job with the world, and it is worthy of a pen-and-paper game that captures the irreverent and silly high drama of this universe.

I liked the classes, and I felt they were imaginative and they broke the boring tab-target standard of the last generation of MMOs. Every ability is AoE or self, and you don't need to fiddle with a target indicator and end up healing the thing your fighting by accident. You just play, things move quickly, and it feels like an action game. They did a nice job here, the combat is fluid and dynamic, and the powers are cool and different.

What were they thinking following the old bang-to-bang quest model? Seriously, it feels like MMOs have got stuck in this Facebook game model where you just search a 3d world for exclamation marks, skip the quest text, and run off blindly chasing the next quest objective. I feel it hurts an otherwise fun and interesting game, and it doesn't really play to the game's strengths. In a game about freewheeling space adventure, putting the chains and cage of a traditional questing system on everybody locks down the fun, tells players "only quest content is important" and sucks the life out of the natural conflict the wonderful world has between these two factions.

It feels like MOBAs are so popular because they took the funnest part of MMOs (PvP) and just made a game around that. Everything else that MMOs traditionally do, from the slow grind to the endless questing, is unfun, and MMO designers feel they need to keep shipping this rote, uninteresting, copy-and-paste between games, honestly lazy content and they keep trying to improve it and wonder why a square wheel doesn't roll.

Wildstar is fun and cool-looking, and I love the world. I do not like the locked-into-it questing content. I hope this is just the introduction, but honestly, I wish it wasn't there and we were free to pursue player-created goals and user-created content. Yes, kind of like EVE, but with people instead of 3d starships. I want to fly a grav-ship around the planet as an explorer and discover new lands, to ply traderoutes with my atmospheric cargo ship, to participate in PvP wars as a soldier, or craft my butt off and discover and build things as a scientist to support the war effort.

I want to be forced to be a part of something bigger driven by the community, not be a mouse in a maze driven by developers. Yes, I know, EVE again, but I love that personal connection and 3d avatar-ness of Wildstar, especially in a sci-fi setting.

We shall see how this breaks out, and I am hoping it does, and my character can be a part of this larger struggle for freedom and independence of this far off world.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Playtest Report: Fantasy Age

Fantasy Age is an interesting game. It is sort of a spiritual successor to True 20, minus the d20 and many of the fiddly d20-ish based rules. We sat down and playtested the game the other night, and these are our first impressions.

3d6 Fantasy is Fun!

It has been a while since we used a 3d6 system for fantasy (since SBRPG 1.0), and it was cool. I loved the break from a d20, and getting a bell-curve back made modifiers meaningful again. There is a big difference between a +1 and a +3 with 3d6 versus 1d20, and it felt good.

v1.0 Skills

Why are separate "search" and "sight" skills needed? Where is the survival skill? We ran into a bunch of problems with skills, and players started attempting actions the skill system was unclear about or did not have the skills to cover.

Also, the regularity with with stunt rolls came up forced us to the stunt tables with a pretty regular frequency, and players started dreading rolls with stunts because nobody wanted to reference the book. We adopted a system where if you rolled doubles "something good happened as determined by the referee" and we ignored the stunt die's magnitude. It was a patch and ignored one of the game's key mechanics, but it sped up play and kept players from searching the tables and trying to invent something cool happening after the fact.

Three Main Classes

We didn't mind having three main classes that could specialize into different areas. It felt like a good balance or fighter, mage, and rogue with mages being able to fill in for a dedicated priest class with a healing specialization. I don't mind this sort of structure in a world where this is the norm, and it worked for us.

We wanted some sort of official world (other than Dragon Age) that supported this three class structure. It is different enough from Dragon Age to support a unique world, though making one wasn't a part of our playtest (nor did we want to check out the worldbook mentioned in the rulebook).

Four Spells per School?

While I like magic to be meaningful and not take over the game, only having three mastery levels and four spells per school felt really thin. Mages get two schools (start with four) and they can get new schools and spells as they level, but four spells under fire and the other various masteries felt like mages couldn't really do too much with spells and magic. We want more spells, deeper schools, and more stuff for mages to do.

It hurts, because this is one of the big things we felt would hurt the long-term interest in the game for us. A game like Pathfinder gives you a reason to stick around and play with spells and magic until you just don't want to read anymore. This is admittedly a more simple game, but we felt the lack of the high end magic options and selection would keep us interested at the lower levels and not the higher ones. yes, the classes have build options and choices at every level ,but there is something to be said for a great spell selection as well.


The game worked well in play, although 3d6 per combatant initiative dragged down the start of combat. There is something to be said for one-die-per-combatant initiative, because before you know it, with just 10 people in the battle, you are rolling 30d6 just to figure out who goes first.

Stunting dragged combat down, but other than that, the system worked. We enjoyed some of the options that classes gave at level one, but we didn't get a chance to level up before the night ended, so we need to keep testing to get a feel for levels and powers as you advance.

We liked the simple combats, but we felt the gravitic and realistic pull of Legend hovering over us. The games are enough alike. Once you experience Legend in its brutal and visceral glory, it is hard to want to play a simple game with stunts like this and not compare the two. This is more lighthearted, fast and easy adventure more aimed at a audience looking for a simple and quick game. We also thought of Savage Worlds when we played, and how that game has the same sort of adventure and simple system feel.

It is faster and easier to learn than D&D 5 or Pathfinder however, and it does get the job done for fantasy roleplaying.

What Would Hurt This?

For us, what would hurt this becoming a go-to game for us is the lack of character options, spells, and magic items. It is a simple-enough system, but the game feels like a really basic fantasy game that doesn't have a really great depth of options for supporting long term play. As a pick-up-and-play game, it is great and good for groups new to roleplaying and fantasy gaming. It does share some of the 'shallow class options' problems that D&D 5 has, but this is a lot more straightforward that D&D 5, so it feels like a better fit for new gamers or those looking to simplify.

This was a game I wanted to like and had higher hopes for, especially since it will be used for the Blue Rose reboot coming next year. I have a slight bit of remorse, but I am hoping to houserule that away and then convince others the changes are needed. With roleplaying, anything can be fixed, the work comes when you try to convince others that these things need fixing. Some games are more difficult than others to houserule, since there is a lot of 'by the book' play and fandom out there in tabletop gaming. Stunting would be one I house-rule, as we shall see.

Stunted Post-Roll Stunting

I like Legend's take on post roll stunting, but Fantasy Age's implementation leaves something to be desired. Let's begin by describing post-roll stunting.

With post-roll stunting, after you roll if you roll good enough, you get to perform a special stunt based on the roll's result. This is something like do extra damage, push an opponent, stun them, or do some other cool extra special effect.

In Fantasy Age, stunting is done through rolling doubles on any of the dice, and the magnitude is determined by the random result of the "stunt die." You don't really announce your cool stunt before you roll, you announce an attack, roll, and then if the dice come up doubles, you then describe your stunt.

With Legend, it works like this, at least for us. With Legend you start with a base percentage to-hit. You describe your stunt to the referee before you roll, and the referee modifies your chance to-hit. You roll the dice, and your opponent may make a defensive roll. The difference in success level of the roll (success vs. success, success vs. failure, crits vs. failure) determines the power of the stunt. Now, if you are being really cool and swing across the pirate ship on a rope to deliver a kick to the Pirate King, the referee will likely reward you with a +10 or +20% chance to-hit, which will raise the chance to stunt and likely the level of stunting success. If you just succeed normally, no stunt happens, but you still connect and do some damage. Otherwise, it is obvious what happens, and the Pirate King goes flying.

In short, what you do before you roll matters. Players push it and try crazy things to get roleplaying bonuses. Those bonuses matter and increase the chance for something cool to happen.

What you put in increases the chances for cool stuff to happen.

Fantasy Age takes the English out of the stunt attempt, and does not really allow a player to pre-declare a stunt. Sure, you could give the rope-swinging player a +3 to-hit in Fantasy Age, but that does not affect the chance for the stunt to happen, nor does it affect the magnitude. When it happens is random, and what happens is point-bought off a Chinese menu of effects, further slowing play down. With Legend, there is still a list of effects to choose from, but they are simple and what you want to do is usually one or two of the picks from the list. It is a simpler system, and it does not force you to the charts every time you stunt.

In short, roleplaying bonuses do not contribute to post-roll stunting. Stunting happens at random. You are not encouraged to do cool stuff before the roll (only to-hits), and the cool stuff happens at random.

What you put in only increases your success chance, and not the cool things.

The Sample Adventure

We didn't enjoy the sample adventure as much as we would have liked. It was a Hunger Games style sort of 'young adults on an isle of mystery' sort of thing, and it made some balance and motivational missteps that we struggled with. There didn't seem to be a great motivation other than 'sit out the night' and when the fun started, the fight was with a magic creature that couldn't be hit by normal weapons. Guess what most starting characters start with? You got it. There was a stunt (costing 3 stunt points) that allowed you to 'hit' this incorporeal shadow creature, but it took a lore roll (thank you, smart players) to figure out. I don't think an average group would have had an easy time with this, so it came off poorly for us.

There was no real motivation to get out and explore the island, so the NPCs went off like lemmings to explore while the PCs built camp for the night. Trouble happened, they handled it, and a ghost appeared with part two of the mission - kill five other spirits. Five is a lot, especially without magic weapons, but a quick temporary enchant by the ghost solved that in sort of a 'make things easy' way. It wasn't rewarding or really cool, so we have a group now with depleted resources and health going down to take out five other ghosts they really are going to have problems with. Three felt like a good number and would have been a great challenge without wearing out its welcome, but we are now stuck with taking out five ghosts by sun-up or it is the end of the world.

The sample adventure also had a lot of fluff text describing things that we would have never encountered, and lots of little irrelevant detail on the valley that we found a bit on the fluff side. Yes, this sort of detail is good to know if you are planning a campaign here, but the 'walled valley' wasn't interesting enough for us to want to, so we would have rather had more adventure and a little less background trivia.

We also wanted a more classic style of adventure, with some rescue the princess, swing from the chandelier, and smash the orcs stuff going on. You know, a basic game needs a good basic adventure with some meat-and-potatoes fun to it. We also compared this to the Star Wars Beginner Sets' adventures, and would have loved for a tutorial to have been written into the encounters.

Character Sheets Needed

We didn't find the printable character sheets all that useful, and we wanted dedicated places for all the different aspects to a character. This kinda got in the way as we designed characters, and we wanted a sample filled-out character sheet in the book to crib from on what goes where.

Immediately we wanted to make our own character sheets.

Other Bits

There are enough monsters to have fun with, and the equipment selection is good and fits the needs of characters. I wanted more in the way of magic and magic items, and we also wanted some great survival rules. A couple more level-up options would have been cool as well.

There are no paladin options, but you can buy an expansion PDF with these and other builds. My feeling? Make it all fit withing the three class system, and put those options in a basic fantasy style game at the start. There was a chance here to break from the traditional Dragon Age style of game, and it did not feel they went far enough to support some of the non-Dragon Age standards, such as paladins, druids, bards, warlocks, and others. These classes would have complicated the basic three classes in options and rules, but I feel they would have provided a great break from Dragon Age's feeling and catered more to the MMO and D&D crowds.

More to Come, I Hope

Fantasy Age is a fun game and we like it, it just has some v1.0 feeling issues and a lack of options to make this a go-to system for us. I am hoping we get to finish the adventure, perhaps I will level up the characters pretty quickly to keep things going and players coming back. The game needs a worldbook and an expansion to provide some better options, and the stunting needs to be rethought to provide more of an incentive to say what you are going to try first, and then roll. Stunting after the roll feels like an afterthought, and it plays like one too.

I want the players to be pushing me for bonuses, trying silly stunts, and taking chances and rolling the dice to see what happens after the dice are thrown. Getting a stunt when you didn't even want it feels very strange and backwards to us, and that forced to stop play and sift through charts asking, "Well, what can he or she do?"

I like the system though, it is 3d6 and simple. It gets play started quickly. It creates interesting characters. It levels up nicely. It is straightforward and focuses on action and story. It is a strong system, but we feel it has a couple issues that a second version needs to work out. Hopefully by the time Blue Rose rolls around, some of the depth and other sticky issues will be worked on and the game shines as much as it deserves to.

A great simple system, it is just a little sticky and underdeveloped in some areas. I have high hopes for this one, but I want to see more. I also want to see an open license so some of the rough spots could be filled in by the community and others. But overall, a great beer-and-pretzels RPG wthat is simple enough to grasp the basic concepts for quickly, and get you adventuring within 10 minutes of prep. Not bad, and a fun one I look forward to seeing more games from.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Preview: Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide

This is an interesting product. Green Ronin is teaming up with Wizards to produce the Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide. This is a book that brings the "adventure area" of Faerun to players with an up-to-date guide, sort of like a soft reset on the Sword Coast area to bring it up to date with the videogame releases of Neverwinter and Sword Coast Legends.

The spellplague, second sundering, time of trials, crisis of the gods, and all the other game rule inflicted disasters are covered, and that has always been a sore point with me and Faerun, all of the world-changing disasters have been inflicted on this world for game-related reasons. It feels very direct and the "we're changing things" disaster 5.0 always feels like it is around the next corner.

Contrast this with Lord of the Rings, or even Pathfinder's Golarion. Those worlds feel stable, and we don't really need huge changes done to them repeatedly to account for another rules change. The settings are what they are, and even in the case of Golarion, I doubt Paizo would feel it necessary to 'change the world' with a disaster if a new version of Pathfinder came out. Even in the Lord of the Rings videogames, if a game's interpretation of the world is slightly different, it is no big deal and not something worthy of a global change to the lore.

Will I be getting this book? It is hard to say because I really don't know what the value is to me. I am a fan of the lore and world, and it would be good to keep up with things, but I haven't played those two videogames yet so my interest is a little dampened.

I don't really want the D&D 5 classes or rules, and "purple dragon knight" sounds a bit silly to me and I have no idea what that is supposed to be. A swashbuckler class, okay, but really, that is a rogue to me. Pathfinder is guilty of this too, taking a thesaurus to the list of classes and coming up with new classes just based on a slightly different version of the base class. What this does is weaken the base class, and complicate character design. And you know any "thesaurus class" will come with extra added power creep to sell the book - it is inevitable with RPG designers to do this. What that does is it destroys the value of the original book's content, and weakens the game overall.

A fighter with a bow is a fighter. Not an archer, non-magic ranger, bow-ist, crossbowman, target shooter, bow-slinger, marksman, field archer, bowman, arrow-slinger, sniper, bow master, fletcher, close-quarters bowman, or any other word meaning the same thing. Rangers? Maybe, but they have to be more than "a slightly weak fighter who can use some low-level magic user spells." Some games do ranger right, and others don't put the effort in.

As for the other content? I will need to wait and see. I have enough background data to run a campaign in this area, but I don't feel the need to go out and gather more background data without a current campaign running. Part of me hopes with is more like a Dragon Age style hintbook thing that gives you great background data on the world and factions.

Of all things, I want a strong world with strong characters and factions. That gets me interested, and that is driving my interest in games and worlds like Dragon Age and others. The book has to answer the question, why not just get videogame hintbooks for Neverwinter and Sword Coast Legends and play with those? If they do the "let's water down important NPCs so the players feel important" thing I am less interested. I like strong characters, and I am not afraid of them.

So I am tossed up about this one, and I will wait for the non-5-star reviews to come in so I can make my decision. I am not buying expansion splatbooks for D&D 5 because I am sticking to the original three. If I am going to buy books to collect, they will be Pathfinder because I am bought in already and following along. With D&D 5, I don't have the interest or shelf-space to start collecting again. This book feels like a D&D 5 splatbook that you buy for new rules and the background and world data feel like add-ons. I would be surprised if they made this highly useful with NPCs, places, maps, plots, and other high-value content.

But this is a different company, Green Ronin, and I like their stuff, so I may be wrong and in for a pleasant surprise. We shall see, and this comes out in early November.

Friday, October 2, 2015

The Michael Bay Effect: Magic

We met sci-fi author Charles E. Gannon at Salt Lake Comic Con 2015 and he used the term "The Michael Bay Effect" during one of the writing action panels we attended. To paraphrase:
It is like a Michael Bay movie where you have explosion, explosion, explosion, and all of a sudden, explosions are the new norm. They aren't special anymore. You now have to do something bigger to wow an audience.
It is a fun statement, and true. If all you show people are explosions, they aren't special anymore. It is a theory of keeping the special events rare and unique, so they continue to have their power and impact over an audience when they do happen.

Mr. Gannon is a cool guy, and he actually got his start writing role-playing game supplements for the old GDW and MegaTraveller. We chatted endlessly about GDW, Traveller, his books, and sci-fi - and nowadays, he writes the most awesome hard sci-fi books you can get your hands on. We left the convention with autographed copies, so we are happy sci-fi readers for the next few months.

More on his books later, I want to get a chance to read them before we share a review. They look cool, and from what I read, they will be cool.

Now, the "Michael Bay Effect" in regards to magic?

Let's think about magic in fantasy role-playing gaming for a moment. With D&D 5 and Pathfinder, you typically get a "high fantasy" experience where magic is commonplace and everywhere. To be fair to D&D 5 and also Pathfinder, they have options for creating low-magic worlds, but to me, that does not feel to be the norm. If you look at the massive lists of magic spells, magical monsters, and magic items in this world and the page count which they cover - magic feels like a large and important part of both Pathfinder and D&D 5's assumed worlds.

You can't devote two-thirds of your page count to magic spells, items, and monsters and then turn around and say "people can run low magic games" - that does not compute, nor will it be what the average player expects. You also can't give magical classes infinite "blaster" spells to use to satisfy damage-per-second concerns of mages, as it is in D&D 5 (and to a lesser extent Pathfinder). If a wizard is walking around in D&D 5 like he is in a Gauntlet videogame blasting magic at everything in sight, you have lost me with the whole "low magic" feeling thing - even if you say "oh no, magic really is rare!" If it was truly rare, it wouldn't be used like that.

As a sidebar, D&D 4 really turns the magic up to 11 for all classes, and this rule is probably more appropriate for that setting as well. With that game, everything and everybody has magic and none of it feels special.

As a strange comparison, the old-school retro-clones actually have a lower-magic feel to me. Basic Fantasy and Labyrinth Lord go back to the rarer magic feeling more than the D&D 3 and beyond games do, in my feeling. I feel you can run a low-magic game in those better than modern games because there isn't that much magic to begin with, the spells are simpler, and the balance between non-magic classes and magic-classes feels better.

Half You, and Half the Game

So the "Michael Bay Effect" does apply evenly to both world design and the game itself, so half of this problem is how you handle magic and the other half is how important magic is to the game. If the game supports dozens of magical classes, monsters are balanced against players equipped with an assortment of magic items, monsters themselves use or are created by magic, and the spell lists are long and cover every possible situation - the game is a high-magic game.

Contrast this with a lower-magic game such as Legend or Runequest, where the game assumes you are a normal person good with weapons and armor, and magic is so rare it is not the norm. In those games, you rely on steel and sword, and magic is something rare - even in a typical adventure you are lucky if a spell or two is cast. Here, magic is rare. It feels special. It is not being used every turn for even the most minor of problems, or a quickie one-shot attack spell. If magic is used, it is used for something big and noteworthy.

What the game expects is key here. If the game expects you to kit yourself out with level appropriate magic items or you can't keep up with the bestiary, like D&D 4, you have a situation where you get a Michel Bay effect with magic. It doesn't feel special. You need it to keep up. It is everywhere and everybody uses it. Magic isn't cool, it is a part of this videogame inspired balance thing to make play exciting and who cares what happens to the feeling and lore of the world?

That Escalation Thing

Now yes, games like Pathfinder and D&D 5 work well, and you can play them while ignoring the Michael Bay Effect and have fun. Magic is supposed to be common. We have fun upgrading our magic items like an MMO and accept the power curve. So what if every class can use magic and feel like they are contributing?

Well, there is typically a problem where the game's designers failed to account for the power of non-magical classes and solutions versus magical ones, and you get the whole thing in D&D where mages turn out to be end-game gods. Spells are king. They can solve every problem any other class could. They can wish away problems and do absolutely everything. Some games re-balance non-magic classes to compensate, but with the D&D lineage games, this has never really worked well.

But, with common magic, all of a sudden you need magics better than magic to create a sense of power and wonder among players. This isn't just ordinary magic, it is ancient creation magic, or metamagic, or somehow godly super magic! It is more magic than magic. You see the same thing in campaigns infested by common and interloping gods, all of a sudden, you need beings more powerful than the gods, like ancient gods, god-gods, or somehow nether-realm beings even more powerful than the supreme rulers of the universe.

You get escalation because what was supposed to be special is commonplace, and you need something to attract the audience's attention once again. And sooner or later...

"How can we top that?"

Is There an Answer?

It is up to you if you want one, of course. You may be happy with how things are, but you need to realize that the way a game is designed sets expectations for every player coming into it. The game's design may limit how far you limit magic because the game is designed around a particular set of assumptions and levels of magic present in a party. Players may come into the game with their favorite "build" based on high-magic assumptions, and saying "low magic" will disappoint them and unfairly limit something which they believe should be allowed since "everyone else plays that way."

I like games that start at a lower-magic base and let you scale up to high-magic, rather than a game that starts at high-magic and suggests you can play with low magic. With magic, it is hard to put the horse back in the barn and pull it back. The game has to be designed with a lower-magic base in mind, and balanced for a party of heroic normal non-magic classes. Then we add magic, and then we balance from there as powers ramp up and become more commonplace. The referee's guidelines then suggest how you balance for a higher-magic game, and the system supports everything equally well.

To be honest, the current and most popular games out there feel like high-magic designs with roots in the world of MMOs and character builds with an emphasis on magic and magic items as a part of the design process. For us and the groups we play with, we like magic (and those who use it) feeling powerful and special. As a referee, I don't want to have to justify more powerful magics just to get people to pay attention to the new threat. It gets tiring after a while, and in a high-magic world with commonplace casters, there is always someone else around to solve the extra-magical problem you face.


I like low magic. I like magic feeling rare and special. I like players who use magic to have that sense of awe and wonder, and also that sense of secret and unlocked power.

I dislike the MMO arms race. I dislike magical powers feeling like blaster powers out of videogames. I dislike games that take away options by printing 1001 spells and magic items and setting player expectations that all of that stuff will be present and used in character builds. I dislike games that do not provide great and balanced options for non-magic characters.

As a referee, I like presenting normal challenges to players, and non-magical solutions work and are good options. I like not having to constantly escalate to get people's attention. I like normal enemies to be seen as threats, and not having to use magic to make something 'more threatening.' I like magic to be the 'wow' answer to a normal problem, not the expected answer.

I am in a mood right now where I am rolling back on magic in my games, and looking for games that provide better options to non-magic characters. This is not because I dislike magic, but because I love magic and I want magic to be special again. Honestly, the current big-name fantasy games are not doing it for me, and I am looking for alternatives.

It sometimes feels like a superhero game could do D&D and Pathfinder better, because that is where all of this is going anyways. Why mess around with the old-school d20 veneer of rules and systems when my archer could use the same rules a Hawkeye character is using, or my tank something more suited for Iron Man? There comes a point in fantasy gaming where you really what you are doing is playing a superhero game and the built-for-dungeons d20 system holds you back - with escalation in play. Without escalation, we are back to the good old realistic dungeon crawl, and d20 works well.

But yes, the Michael Bay Effect is real, and it is something you should think about when creating worlds, playing games, and most importantly, choosing the game you want to play. Game design matters, and how the designers expect magic to be used is something you should consider when playing in order to align your expectations with what the game delivers.