Monday, June 20, 2022

Getting to Observe Gaming from the Other Side of the Table

 Playing a lot more recently has afforded me a chance to think about what it is that I have been enjoying (and not enjoying) out of RPGs recently, with the added advantage of feeling less pressure to prep material for games ongoing. As of right now, I am many sessions in to a Gaslight era Call of Cthulhu 7E campaign, three sessions in to a Pathfinder 2E campaign, and I have just wrapped a D&D 5E campaign (which will eventually return), with tentative plans to start a Pathfinder for Savage Worlds campaign to try it out when I return from summer vacation. Meanwhile Mothership is there, and we play it when all parties can find themselves in the right moment to set the time aside....but that's really tough, it turns out, to do more than once a month.

So here's what I've noticed so far:

First and most important, as a player I can be picky, or at least I used to be, but these days I am just enjoying not having to drive the game forward so am happy to play the role, regardless of the game subject. So while I might have some notions of what I'd like to play (and I will be straight up on this, my player interests are still trapped in the early nineties in terms of what sort of game experience would make me happy) I am at this point just happy to be playing so the scenarios in action are good enough. Likewise, I applaud my cohorts who are currently GMing, as I feel their pain, acutely.

Now, I love Call of Cthulhu as both player and Keeper, so I have no issues there. We did experiment with Pulp Cthulhu for a time (not my fave), but its since been largely redacted as I think the Keeper realized it didn't really mesh so well as one might like. Pulp Cthulhu exists, and there are no doubt strong advocates for it, but I felt like playing with the Pulp rules was putting the game on "cheat" mode a bit and am happy to see it dialed back to more normal Cthulhu rules these days.

Lesson learned: I do like it when the game is tougher and expects you to know that being careful is important.

Now, in three sessions of Pathfinder 2E I have simultaneously come to appreciate that PF2E was most definitely written by game designers who wanted to both make the GM's life easier and put uppity players in their place. They also were obsessed with balance, to some weird degrees. And the action point feels like its a malevolent social experiment designed to tempt players to poke fate and learn the hard way that second and third iterative attacks, at least in PF2E, are borderline traps, quick pathways to failure. 

It's all kind of interesting to see this not from the angle of the GM, for whom I will argue the mechanical aspects of PF2E are actually simpler than the player facing mechanics, but to really feel it hammered home that the game weighs odds against the players every step of the way. We're even using a published Pathfinder adventure path, and the GM is very by the book, so I know he's running the scenarios exactly as presented. It's brutal, and part of my likes it, but another part of me realizes that Pathfinder 2E, from both sides of the screen, has some profound flaws in design. 

I have already decided that while I will continue to play PF2E, no problem, I am done with it as a GM (well, in theory)....I just think there are so many other, better game systems out there that fit my own style and tastes better. I thought PF2E would cut it, but over time my love of it has soured badly, I guess.

With no immediate games that I need to plan for in the future (except for Savage Pathfinder which is in the can and waiting for when I am ready to run it), I have had ample time to think about what I really want to do with the many game books I have purely for my own amusement. So far, there has been one clear, out-of-the-park winner: GURPS. I've been designing stuff for a hypothetical GURPS Space campaign, filling out NPCs and pregens for my planned GURPS Egypt campaign, finally taking a serious look at what I could do with Dungeon Fantasy RPG, and reading through the many, many PDFs of GURPS I have acquired over the years. 

I'm also still intrigued to do more with D&D 3.5 down the road, but when and where I have no idea. Both D&D 3.5 and GURPS appear to be calling back to a sweet spot in gaming for me, a period from roughly 1992-2006* during which I ran mostly one of these two systems, only occasionally breaking out into other territories. My middle agedness is showing, I guess. 

Ultimately, to run GURPS again I need to get buy-in from my players. Some of them I can count on, others I think might see the perceived complexity of GURPS as a nightmare from which they can never escape. GURPS comes from an older era of design that assumed a level of focus and attention which I think is hard for a lot of gamers (anyone, really) to sustain today. If I run it, I am going to need to do all the heavy lifting at first, including providing lots of pregens, or restrict them to GURPS Lite for a while. We'll see.

Still, we may be able to play some games on our lengthy vacation that is about to start, and I am debating dragging GURPS along for personal fun, and Savage Worlds along because it will be easy to teach to the family members (mostly kids along with my son). Savage Worlds has a wonderful simplicity to it, and its inherent physicality with the card decks, bennie chips, dice as stats and so forth make it a fun game to teach kids. But who knows....usually there's never any actual time on these summer vacations to game (its just me deluding myself) so I should really just pack a handful of things I think I might actually find time to read. We shall see.

*For a lot of that time it was still AD&D 2E, but it was the AD&D 2E with tons of bloated splatbooks and the "2.5" rulebooks, all of which desperately made us crave a cleaned up, newer ruleset, which of course WotC eventually graced us with. And for 2000-2003ish it was the 3.0 version of those rules, which I loved dearly even if I can't go back to them after the 3.5 fixed so much.

SECOND NOTE: If you look at my post prior to this, outlining five campaign ideas, notice how while those are all fine ideas for any old campaign, they would be really cool in a GURPS campaign. Just saying.....I'm not kidding when I say I have that GURPS thing on the brain.

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