Saturday, March 11, 2017

Some Games are Just More Fun, For Us, Part #1

I was sorting through the boxes of games we put away because of the shelf disaster here, and I came across this:
And left it out on the shelf. This was our first Star Wars game with the Fantasy Flight rules, and this one has stood the test of time with our group. In fact, we had more fun with this book than we did the other two big-book games in the series:

It is an interesting question, and part of me loves the smuggler in us all, but the question felt like it had an answer. Why did the first book work for our group so well, while the other two books kinda fell flat? I mean, there is nothing wrong with the second two books, it is the same rules system, things work well, but something just felt off about the sequels compared to the original. The other two books sit by it on the shelf, but they really don't compare - for us.

It is one of those things you say, "If all I had were dice and this book, we could have some fun." For some pen-and-paper role-playing games, that isn't the case for us, and movies and video-games would be a more attractive proposition than playing a game that doesn't have that instant appeal. I put away a lot of games that didn't "sing" to us and just filled shelves for storage. But, what makes this fun for us? What criteria did I use to sort through the games we have out now versus what got put in the box?

Settings Matter

I have a shelf specifically for world-books and gazetteers, front and center. I love reading about peoples, places, and things and I feel these fantastic places matter. Part of what we didn't like about D&D 5 was the lack of a new setting, or a fun world-book introducing us to a new world that fits the rules and says "you got to play this because..." And this is part of why D&D 5's books are in storage now, along with a bunch of other generic systems we collected over the years. It is still a fun game, it just didn't catch on for us, so I don't feel too bad about putting it away (and I may still rediscover this years from now, who knows).

I just feel Wizards needs to reboot its classic settings and get over with the war on high-level NPCs. Give us all the characters from the books again. Give us Eberron again. Give me classic AD&D era Forgotten Realms. Either that, or come up with something new. Don't make me find campaign source material on EBay (though the D&D Classics PDF store is still nice and appreciated). It is tough for us to "buy in" to a new rules system without a setting to support it.
Pathfinder? All the books are still out on our remaining shelves, just because of the strength of the campaign setting. We don't play it all that much, but damn that game is fun to read about all the cool places and people in the world. The campaign setting matters, and it kept Paizo's creation out of storage, at least for us.

For Star Wars, especially the Edge of the Empire book focused on the seedy underworld and smugglers, the setting is probably one of the best known and engaging universes in fiction. The Empire makes for great bad guys. The music rocks. Everything about the game is iconic and inspires great feelings. But, the other two books in the series cover the same stuff, so while the setting matters, there is something else here.

Alignment Sucks

"Oh, he's a paladin, he has to be lawful good, he isn't going to betray us."

We just, no, okay, alignment systems suck the life out of the game for us. Forget it. We loathe them. I don't care if they are in the rules. They suck. You get a game like Edge of the Empire and you are dealing with 1001 different personalities and who knows what in terms of motivation, no alignment system, and all of a sudden - role-playing matters again.

Who is that guy? What does he want? Where are we? Can we trust them? Has he shafted anyone in the past? Would he? What's in it for him to keep his word? What can we do to make sure? Do we have insurance? What is the worst thing that can happen?

In D&D? Someone cast know alignment. Okay, we kinda know what he is going to do. It is an extreme example, but in games without alignment and systems to detect it we have more fun because nobody can take anything for granted. Someone's word matters. Motivation matters. Trust is a valuable thing. Legwork and social role-playing is needed to know someone.

I think the Jedi-focused book fell flat for us because Jedi have that "must do good" thing where they continually walk the path of light. Sure, they can fall, but if you meet a Jedi you know they are by default a do-gooder and they just have this "lawful/neutral good" feeling to them.

Not so with the characters and motivations of the Star Wars types found in Edge of the Empire. I could have an Imperial officer more interested in lining his own pockets than serving the empire. I could have a Hutt who doesn't want to cause too much trouble and attract attention. I could have a Rebel on the take from Imperial Intelligence just selling out enough information to keep himself rich while trying to keep himself out of the battle.

Greed is a big equalizer.

And most people in this world are in it for themselves.

For Rebels and Jedi, you have these preset sides. We just felt both of these factions were better background organizations than something a player would want to play inside. When you have no clue of who you can trust, the roleplaying gets really good for our group, and we eat that stuff up. I feel alignment puts a "code of conduct" on everybody, and we feel people use that as a crutch. It replaces role-playing and interaction. It replaces having to find out about a character's motivations, judge if you can trust him or her, and then take a chance either way.

Yes, you can play both the Jedi book and Rebel book with "shifting allegiances" but that doesn't feel right for us. Being a smuggler and playing off both sides is really fun, and it takes a lot of great roleplaying to pull stunts like that off. While flying an X-Wing and blasting TIEs is fun, I feel that can be done better by videogames and GeForce cards. Where pen-and-paper games shine are in the human interactions, and for us, the setting needs to support that crazy, shifting alliances, who is this, let's find out more, don't land there, I know someone, trust me, and classic succeeding through the strength of your performance at the table role-playing style of play.

You may like alignment, and I know there are groups that have fun with the concept, but for us, we like playing without the safety net. Sure you can say they are just guidelines, but really, I don't need them and we like the extra fun of having to role-play and make careful mental notes about who people can trust.

Next Time...

More games like this and more about why they stayed out instead of getting put away. There are a number of things about the games that survived the great shelf collapse and storage purge that they all share in common - what we see as fun - and it is just fun to discuss these subjects with you.