Tuesday, April 23, 2013

A Feast of Gaming - Why I like Robust Toolkit Games

This could also be titled, "Why I will continue to put up with Pathfinder even though I have a deep admiration for Magic World and Runequest 6."

One advantage of Dungeons & Dragons and its close cousin, Pathfinder, is that they are fantastic toolkit games. They give you pretty much everything you need, ready to go, and if you want to tweak something they also give you the rules to do it. Those rules can be fast and loose (OSR style) or precise and methodical (3.5 style), but they are still there. Pick your flavor, pick your level of complexity, and go.

While working on a game for Magic World I decided to change focus and drag out one of my old, venerable campaigns that I now feel it is time once more to revisit. Specifically, I'm dragging out my Warlords of Lingusia campaign. My Lingusia setting was born in D&D, and has been the center piece for campaigns set in all editions of D&D to date, as well as in other games, including T&T, Runequest, Dragonquest, Palladium Fantasy and GURPS. But it has always come home to roost in D&D, or more recently in Pathfinder.

Trying to work out setting material for MW using this setting is proving problematic because it has hammered home just why Pathfinder is such a great game. Pathfinder, by virtue of it's D&D DNA, is loaded to the gills with stuff. I want some monstrous aquatic humanoids, a society of vile witches, a red dragon, a realm of catacombs loaded with undead denizens commanded by some sort of death knight (grave knight in the Pathfinder parlance) and a strange connection between a mysterious island and the planar realms.

Now, I could do all of this in Magic World or Runequest, but it's going to require a lot of work. For any non-D&D fantasy game there's going to be a gap, at least partially due to the fact that no other system contains quite so many ready-to-go elements. Thus, the problem with many not-D&D fantasy games is that they have to sell themselves on their system rather than their resources. "Sure, we don't have a bestiary with 500 critters, or 1,000 spells, or an entire tome on planar magic, but we do have {insert game system here} powering everything."

Some of these games would be a lot easier if I could just run them as presented, and ignore the almost visceral need I often feel to include one of my campaign worlds in the mix. Invariably, when I try to break away, to write a new setting specifically for whatever game I am aiming for, it feels a bit hollow. Almost but not quite like I'm "cheating" on my other settings. I mean....sure, this is a great game, and I love the system, but the world I'm setting the scenarios in? It's so not you, baby. It's like I have this deep and meaningful relationship over here, and I'm off for a night on the town flirting with floozies. Yikes!

So....all I need to do tonight is figure out how to reconcile these facts. I was planning on ditching Sarvaelen and running Lingusia, so I could take advantage of the more robust options of a classic fantasy setting with which I have a familiarity so strong I can run it in my sleep, and a history begging to be added to once more. But it's just not a good mesh for MW, and Pathfinder makes more sense. If I use MW I have a lot of stuff I need to build for the game. If I use Pathfinder: it's already there and waiting.

At this point, it's a sort of startling realization for me that I'm not, perhaps, as diverse a gamer as I might think....at least, not anymore. With my narrow window of gaming opportunities, the need to consolidate my focus to what I enjoy most (games set in my long-running campaign settings, my "characters," if you will) maybe should take priority.

From this perspective, running games with Pathfinder or a similar system which provides the most robust and ready-to-use level of support possible only makes sense. Maybe D&D Next, once its out, will show the same level of depth and content that is pretty much a prerequisite for D&D by any modern standard.  I guess I'll have to talk with my group tonight about this, or maybe back up on my interest in running a game for this particular campaign setting for the moment, and stick with the campaign tailor-made for BRP, instead.

TL;DR: I'm realizing I have become a lazy GM, that I like to use stuff I am already prepped for and have strong familiarity with, which pretty much means D&D and/or Pathfinder right now, with my homebrew campaign settings that are loaded with ready-to-go content. This strategy does not mesh well with adopting new (or even modestly different) game systems that come with less "ready to go" content out of the box.

This is causing a problem when it comes to the mindset necessary to run Magic World. I may just grin and bear it, or maybe I'll see if everyone wants to give D&D Next a go tonight. I'll letcha know how it all goes down...

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