After a few months of following some diehard OSR bloggers, I’ve come to the conclusion that they’re right: I’ve been doing tabletop roleplaying wrong.
So I’m changing course with the FAR System and FAR Western. From here on out, I follow in the hallowed footsteps of Saint Gygax. No more percentile dice or fancy critical strike tables. It’s back to generalized HP damage, random hit dice, 3d6 character stats rolled straight down the line, and the good old d20 über alles. I’m not sure how to do dungeon crawls in the Old West, but I’ll find a way.
Ha! Haha! It’s joke…
All the things I said that I wanted the FAR System to be, I still want it to be. Percentile based, optimized for firearms combat (which entails not using hit points), flexible and streamlined and modern(ish), and encouraging character-centric play.
But recently I realized that I fell into the trap of building in all the cool things, because I saw other people doing them and they seemed so… well… cool.
It’s an easy trap for me to fall into, because my favorite thing about tabletop roleplaying has always been playing a character, and I love those times in the game when it feels like you’re watching a really fun story happen (while simultaneously making it happen and not knowing what’s going to happen). And a lot of the people who are doing those cool new things with roleplaying systems talk a lot about characters and stories, which are Good Things.
But here’s the thing: tabletop roleplaying isn’t a storytelling circle or a character workshop. It’s a GAME. A game with rules and randomness and strategies and competition (not against other players, but against death and chance). Not only that, but the whole RPG hobby is directly descended from tabletop war games.
And so I remembered that my favorite thing is playing a character…who does dangerous things and gets in fights. The Rolemaster/MERP campaigns I ran back in the old days were always chock-full of fighting. And my Old West scenarios will be, too. Because that’s where the real fun is. It’s where the risk and reward live.
So that’s where I owe the OSR folks some gratitude. They reminded me that the essence of tabletop RPGs is actually pretty simple. Visceral, even (pun intended).
Now I’m asking myself again, do those mechanics and tables and features really need to be there? Truth is, most of them don’t. I’m looking forward to cutting out the fluff and ornamentation and getting back to the nitty-gritty of what makes a roleplaying game actually work.
For all that we hear about storytelling in gaming, storytelling is not what makes RPGs work. Closer to the opposite, in fact; “building a narrative” only ensures that your game won’t work all that well, which means you’ll never get great stories out of it.
You know you’re playing a good game with good people when a story breaks out without anyone even trying to tell one. THAT is what I want my games to do.