Friday, December 6, 2013

In Defense of Magic World

About two weeks back Erik Tenkar posted a comment from an anonymous contributor who didn't particularly like Magic World. I spent a fair amount of time defending the game in the comments section, primarily because while I have no problem with the idea that someone might dislike it, the blog itself phrased the discussion in terms of whether an anonymous poster's vague opinions constitute grounds for asking if that makes the game a critical failure. I've never been a fan of the Glen Beck method of stirring the pot, but that issue aside Erik invited me to post a rebuttal which he would link back, so here I go. I'm doing this because I really don't happen to feel that Magic World is in any way a failure, or even as problematic as the blog post implied (despite an absence of specific examples, unfortunately, which makes some of the assertions hard to rebut). So...take a look at the original post so you have a frame of reference, and here goes. I'll summarize each set of complaints as they come:

1. There are 30 issues of errata in the book.

Good news is I didn't have to search methodically through the book to find these errors. I've found a couple, during the course of play mostly from my MW campaign earlier in the Summer, but thankfully the author himself (known as Zomben at the site) was gracious enough to locate and post errata for us right here.

So, the poster on TT is correct: from looking at Zomben's list I count roughly 28 errors. However, in looking through these I find that Zomben is being overly charitable in what he considers errata. His first two examples were not unclear to me from the rules as written (about possible opposed characteristic roll increases and major wounds) so I'm guessing someone, somewhere somehow got confused but I don't see how.

The third point of errata is more relevant: a missing pioneer profession. Not a gamebreaker. It goes on like this, and there a number of documented minor changes. The list is shorter than I have seen for most RPGs in the last two decades, though longer than I have seen for a very few specific RPGs over those same years which were given a thorough edit by a well-paid professional. YMMV here, but I have errata lists for other very popular current games that are enormous by comparison, often with game-changing bugs.

Now, it's not much consolation I suppose to those 1st print adopters who are also very pedantic about this, but as anyone who buys from Chaosium knows they are generally very good about correcting this stuff in later printings. Take that as you will. But no errata here is sufficiently egregious that I would feel a need to purchase a replacement edition in order to get the game "working." Contrast with two other examples which are clearly egregious: the Monsters of Legend book from Mongoose which was missing half the monster trait descriptions in its first printing; I never did get an answer from Matt Sprange on his forums about whether future reprints would fix this issue, either....and Mongoose, unlike Chaosium, is notorious for not fixing errata, even long, long after its been caught and the product has been repackaged with plenty of opportunity for corrections (i.e. Pirates of Legend; try to find the damn swashbuckler ability, I dare you). And not to keep picking on Mongoose, but let's try to keep it real here and all remember Mongoose's 1st release of Runequest (what would be MRQ, alias RQ 4). That was a game which I ran one campaign for, and ultimately ended the campaign because the rules as written were pissing me off, badly.

Other examples for contrast and consideration: Tome of Horrors Complete's errata is here. Thirteen pages as the forum posts, though I concede that's not bad for 800 pages. Then there is Runequest 6's errata here. It's got more than MW and doesn't discuss typos. I would strongly defend Runequest 6..even more adamantly than MW....that the typos do not break the game.

2. Copy and Paste Issues.

I haven't been bothered by this, nor was I surprised either, because it was well-established that MW was a revival of older products in a new Elric-free format. Given that the lead-up to this book along with interviews and discussion with the author was very clear on the idea that Magic World was going to be a genericized version of the Elric system, retooled for compatibility with BRP, it could be that for me this was essentially a non-issue to begin with because I knew what I was getting long before it was released.

That said, there is a fair amount of copy/paste/revise going on in the book, and a couple of the identified errata issues stem from this, obviously. However I read through the whole tome, my player group (only one of whom was an old pro at the BRP/RQ system like me) read through it as well and no one was confused by any of the rules. We did find a couple spell descriptions that took people by surprise, or left us with some need to make rules calls...but the feeling was not "this is broken" but rather "this is kind of cool, because the spell seems to let us do X exotic things by virtue of not specifically forbidding it." I'm not sure this is something I will call out as a "Magic World's magic system is so cool" sort of thing (though I do like it, having always liked the original it was based off of from Elric/Stormbringer) so much as a "my players are so used toPathfinder's regimented magic system that the openness of a BRP-based system freaked them out." They are used to a ruleset designed to cap them, not the more open-ended style of magic BRP is known for.

3. Art issues.

This is purely subjective, and I like the old art in this book -much of it evokes a fond sense of nostalgia for me- so it's hard for me to relate, but I will provide a defense on behalf of the anonymous critic in this sense: because this is a mix of old, new and recycled art, it lacks a consistency that we tend to see in a lot of current RPG publications. Runequest 6, for example, relies on the art talent of four artists with a very consistent, complimentary style and for that reason it has a more coherent feel to its style and look. I'm not going to argue that Magic World is not the coolest looking book out there, nor that it is better than average, even. But I will argue that it's functional, looks good, is not in the least bit embarrassing to show off (you won't find this locked in the top shelf of the closet with everything Raggi has ever published, half of White Wolf's backstock and of course Cyberpunk 2030) and the practice of recycling art like this is painfully common in the industry, hardly anything unusual for Chaosium.

4. Pixelation and low res issues.

I can see someone getting worked up about this; these things can bug a person on a conscious and unconscious level. The pixelation in some of the art is noticeable to me, but I have to pay close attention or I don't catch it. I will concede this one because it's not honestly a good idea to stick anything in your book that is too low resolution at all, but honestly because of my eyesight issues I think this just doesn't stand out for me like it should.

MW's ancestor

So...that sort of hits the key points in the disgruntled anonymous critic's points of contention. Do these collectively make the book a "critical failure?" For the person who wrote the critique, obviously it did. But the problems with this book are far more subjective than objective: the whole game is here, and it plays very well; I know this from experience, and I am someone who will terminate a campaign midstream if I don't like the way the rules work or are explained. The errata is modest and while issues of errata are pervasive in this hobby that's no good excuse, so the question boils down to what your tolerance level is. My tolerance level is just below "Mongoose Level" but definitely way above "Chaosium first printing" level. I played D&D 4th edition for more than two years...and they had enough errata that I was able to print and bind it all into it's own book. Maybe not a sterling example, but the point I'm getting at is that I was able to read through Magic World and not get confused or tripped up about how to play the game, no single or collective issue of errata or typos causing me to panic in terror that I would be somehow unable to grasp this system or run it properly. And then I went and ran a campaign with it with five players new to BRP and one old pro, and they had a blast...and not one of us got pissed off that the pioneer's skill set was missing, or that elves was misspelled at one point.

Anyway....this reviewer is speaking to people who do find a typo or a missing bit of data or an example where the math is off to be egregious and unforgivable, and he is speaking especially to those who are demanding of the art in their games and feel that the price tag is too much for their entertainment dollars. He's doing a good service for those people, and they know who they are. But he's also objectively holding this game to a higher standard than most RPGs get held up to, period. Perhaps there's a change going on in the industry that may force Chaosium and other older publishers to consider more carefully their approach to art and layout in the future. With the arrival of indie RPGs and the OSR publishing crowd there are many, many examples out there of products carefully nurtured to fruition by those who take the time to make their book as perfect as they can get it before release. If it turns out that Chaosium needs to consider the idea that Magic World actually has to beef up its image to compete with OpenQuest 2 then I can only ever consider that a good thing.

I plan to snag a copy of OQ2 as soon as time and cash permit, and maybe I'll have an opportunity to compare it to MW and RQ6 soon. For me, no matter how much I've enjoyed MW, I'll definitely state that if it turns out there's an equal or better product which gets the job done with that extra little something that makes it that much better than the competition, then that game, whichever it is, should probably win out (or deserve to, anyway). Of course, fans of the BRP/RQ/CoC family of games know the awesome, dirty little secret: it's stupid-easy to utilize material across all of these systems, which all adhere to a fundamental core that does not shift dramatically from one iteration to the next. So an OQ2 powered game which snags the MW magic system and then pits the PCs against monsters from Monsters of Legend II is legitimately do-able with very modest effort on the GM's part. And that is why I like the D100 family of games so much!

I'm looking forward to the next scheduled MW tome...

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for doing this. I bought the .pdf and wrote the errata into my home-printed chapters. It isn't a tremendous amount, and so long as you aren't playing pioneers, and can work out that the weapon categories are off in the table (which is pretty obvious, and easy to correct without anything other than common sense), nothing breaks the game.

    I've got OQ2, RQ6 and MW on my tablet as I flit between them working out which one to use as the core of my next fantasy campaign. RQ6 is by far the prettiest and most polished product, but then I backed the updated, 'deluxe' edition so I have a version with few errata issues. OQ2 has a few typos - far fewer than the 1st edition by my reckoning - but nothing that would in any way hinder play. And MW does look cobbled together, especially when you know the sources of the tables and text, but it is cobbled together from a very neat d100 fantasy game.

    I honestly couldn't understand where the original poster was coming from. I could understand someone being disappointed, given that there was the opportunity to 'upgrade' the old Elric/RQ2-3 rules. And if I wanted MW to have a long, well supported life, I would worry that the presentation and marketing would reduce the possibility of that. But by not upgrading the rules it means that there is no chance that the game *as a game* is a 'critical failure'.