Finding a game in there

One trend in role-playing game publications, from the beginning, is to stuff too much into the pages: design discovered and utilized in play, speculated design, padding, features or content provided by other people, consolidated content for IP purposes, content perceived as “needed” or “people want it,” and more. I find many game texts to be unusable unless I take a fire-axe to them and chop away a considerable amount. Here, I’m not talking about altering procedures except insofar as they may take on new meaning from being isolated or exposed for use. In some cases, especally when the text is especially messy from multiple origins, one might fire-axe it in different way, effectively exposing different games.

I originally presented this idea at the Patreon, but this video is a new edit and I’m not including the old comments. They were good, but it was a while ag and I’d like to address this fresh, especially given the coursework a lot of us have gone through for the past year. The topic is not so much about the historical text I’m chopping up, but about resonant content and the concept of playability, or as I prefer to call it, inspiration.

Furthermore, let’s get away from the idea of one person giving the experience of play to several other people. We’ll keep the idea of one person having primary authority over backstories and situations (locations, et cetera), but that is not the same thing at all. Everyone is playing, which means that certain things are no one else’s authority but yours, and that you’ll be heard when you exercise them. In this context, given what I describe in the video, what might you like to do?


8 responses to “Finding a game in there”

  1. IIRC, I accidentally caused a sidetrack during the Patreon discussion. Hopefully it won’t happen again!

    The key point here is the exposure of different games. My ideal approach to fire-axing AD&D would be to favour the stronghold establishment/territory development stuff.

    These are textually prominent elements of high-ish level play which in my experience tend to vanish in actual play.

    The key classes here are the core ones, especially Fighter, Magic-User and Cleric. In addition, racial level limits will kick in, favouring humans.

    Thieves can establish Guilds and hideouts, but these make more sense in existing cities/towns, where there is actual stuff to steal.

    Actual Play Counter-Example: The highest level character I have ever played was a Thief, and with the aid of another character, he set up a string of trading posts along a sparsely populated coastline, in effect, creating a bunch of towns out of existing villages. All, naturally, with their trade monopolized by the local Thieves’ Guild, whose Guild Master was Guess Who.

    Classes other than the basic ones can still find niches within the territorial expansion framework, but they are niches. It’s the Fighters and Clerics who provide most of the local Barons/Warlords/Prince-Bishops/Kings-if-you-can-get-away-with-it.

    Clearly such a set-up tends to imply a certain purpose of play/Creative Agenda. “The Right to Dream” is one name – I’m not sure if it is the current one. “I’m the little king of my little kingdom” describes things adequately enough.

    I hope I have demonstrated the appeal of such a game. The rules for it are in the books. They’re bad, clunky rules in most cases, and could do with a violent rewrite, but they are there. (They also assume high-ish level PCs, but that can be dodged.)

    Finally, they raise the interesting possibility of reintroducing PvP conflict into the game. What happens when the interests of Ronland and Alania clash?

    Half-Orc Cleric/Assassins? That’s a whole other game.

    • Hi Alan, first, my apologies as the site was suspicious and flagged you as spam! I only saw this message a little while ago and rescued it.

      The fortress and holdings concepts for play would be well worth it. I might even like a relatively short phase of play in which we are indeed property-free adventurers, and then skip to the later, main play as you describe. I especially like the necessary features of geography and religion, and obviously whatever aspects of status are most relevant to daily life and the demands of power.

      I’m also reminded of something I’ve mentioned before, about Bushido. Late in the text, there’s a section which dismisses this sort of play, saying, almost exactly, that players wouldn’t want to do it after playing adventurers. I find that bizarre on its face considering that Bushido characters are socially grounded and geographically located from the start of play, then secondarily bizarre that their concept of “players” seems to be rather dim and low-expectation.

      … but you know what’s truly bizarre, then? That the following sections provide extensive and incredibly good rules for doing i! “Oh, no one wants to do that, so forget it …” followed by “Here’s how you do this excellent and well-designed thing!” I wonder whether author A wrote the dismissive text to justify not including anything of the sort, then author B came along and provided the rules for it, and they forgot to delete the first part.

  2. So, as I’ve posted about recently, I’ve had my own experiences with taking a fire axe to a family of overstuffed texts to expose interesting relationships embodied in these little, unobtrusive and interactive rules or statements about the “canon”. But setting aside Glorantha and its family of related games, I have a separate experience as a non-GM player, with DnD4e.

    This game was a “conversion” from a DnD3.5 game, where I had been playing a sorcerer, and I was the only player that had really closely read through the 4e books, it turns out (including the DM) and I resolved to build this character freshly as a leader-role one, since that’s pretty essential to enjoyable 4e play.

    I decided I’d stick with an “arcane magic user”, and selected bard as the class, and went through the handy offline character builder and all its options. What I realized fairly quickly in this process was not only the (to my mind fairly basic) fact that 4e had all kinds of setting assumptions in things like power sources, paragon paths, and epic destinies, but also that in picking out specific powers for building a character to level X (I forget the precise numbers) I was (although consulting a character optimization guide) making decisions by picking particular powers that reshaped the character- by giving him an assortment of forced-movement powers, I was producing a very specific understanding of what this character’s relationship to this thing called a “bard” was in fictional terms, and from this, the general social understanding of “bard” at the table for this particular game had been shifted.

    Which is a fairly micro example and happening in the interstice between two games that were ostensibly the same game on different systems. But an interesting thing to realize, in hindsight.

    • I’ve found 4E to be almost uniquely suited to this concept, in a particular way: by specifying a very few races and classes, as well as permissible methods of combining the latter, one may discover astonishing new fantasy to play. I’ve used it most extremely, so far anyway, with the combination described in Barbaric Psychedelic Cosmic Cataclysmic Fore Ee (the first of several posts regarding this game).

      Your application is nicely personal and localized to the character, in a way that I also find appealing.

  3. Lately, I seem to have posting paralysis – I read, enjoy, and contemplate posts, but while I mentally construct replies, I’m rarely getting ’em mentally polished “enough” to post. So diving in with reactions:

    The druid/ranger/bard thing makes sense. Back in that day, I think I played the Giant/Drow modules somewhat in that lane. Also – I had a Bard built and played with the Strategic Review rules, which were VERY different from the appendix rules. What to do? We had to make up our own solution. That was one of my earliest realizations that expecting TSR (or any company) to make rules that exactly fit what I wanted was … not going to happen. Also, unnecessary and actually undesirable, but those realizations took longer.

    Also back around that day, I had a firm rule, born of two very, VERY bad experiences: don’t play in a group that says “all/most of the characters are evil.” But there was/is something about the assassin class … I built (and got to play just a little) a character and backstory around the idea “Chaotic Neutral should be an appropriate Assassin option”. There was a definite assassin cult vs. assassin cult vibe to his story. So, I guess your ax-carved game structure makes sense to me, given a more adult understanding of “all-evil”.

    But your question was, “what might you like to do?” If you mean within the half-orc assassin cults, as a player I might try a cleric/thief or a cleric/fighter – I’d want “in” to the cult-stuff, but “NOT an actual assassin” creates an interesting (to me) angle. Fighter/thief misses out on too much cult stuff, and by the rules fighter/thief/cleric doesn’t exist. Nor technically could the half-orc thief move on to assassin, but the fire-ax might leave an opening for it and/or fighter/thief/cleric. As a GM, I think I’d be sure to have those openings, and I’d probably build the cults within a setting that is at-best conflicted about the acceptability of assassin activities but where the prevalence of such is on the rise. Half-orcs as such are increasingly important as practitioners of a distasteful-yet-growing-in-importance craft, but of course remain generally disdained.

    If you mean swinging my own fire-ax in AD&D… there’s something to that ranger/bard/druid in the giant/drow modules, but there’s a LOT of traps to avoid (e.g., the need to rewrite the drow into something that doesn’t make my skin crawl). I’d also like to build something not-silly from the starting point “gnome illusionist”, but I’m not sure what else to mix in. Let me try, right here: “caster” classes are tied to AD&D race-types. Gnomes and only gnomes can be Illusionists. Elves and only elves can be Magic-Users. Humans and only humans can be Druids. Only Half-elves and Half-orcs can be Clerics (of some particular set or type of divinities). Fighter and Thief (no Paladin, Ranger or Assassin) available to all, no dwarves or halflings. Hey, somehow, that IS a start on a feel/inspiration that has some appeal!

    • A thought: for bard + ranger + druid, my inclination is not to go anywhere near the giants modules, or indeed near any other published material at all. Instead, looking at the content in those character-based sections of text, the only other relevant material would be specific to that, only from the Monster Manual – in which ecology often figures strongly – and whatever may be appropriate from the DMG, which as far as I can tell would mainly be encounter, travel, and magic items.

      Meaning: all situational content is therefore solely a matter of inspiration, extension, and inclusion on whatever basis you and the other people want or interpret, given the necessary tasks each one has. If you were Dungeon Master, that would include the enjoyable preparation as we discussed for the Chosen of Yeenoghu in the Situation and Story class.

      I think that would be much more fun and much more productive for play than struggling with the purported, but frankly not-actually-actionable content of the modules.

    • Good point – I wouldn’t want to over-rely on vague connections to play literally 40 years ago with the modules. But the ecology angle does bring SOME connections to mind … still, restraining myself from significant use of module-material does seem wise.

      I’m not sure I have a strong chance to really build anything on this, but I do have a next step – re-read Lloyd Alexander.

  4. As I’m now playing a game much like the one I speculated about here, I went through the rules a bit more carefully.

    1. There is no thief-assassin multi-class, as assassin is a subclass of thief.
    2. A half-orc’s Charisma penalty doesn’t apply to half-orcs or orcs, so a half-orc player-character might have a nice high Charisma to use for half-orcish henchmen and hirelings, for example.
    3. Notably, fighter-clerics are not limited to blunt striking weapons, so they are effectively reasonably constructed paladins of any alignment except True Neutral.
    4. Humans cannot be multi-classed, but they are the only race who can be two-classed, which is to say, they stopped being one and started being another. Once the second class exceeds the first in level, then they can draw upon the abilities of both classes as long as they don’t violate restrictions per specific action. [this option does require rather high ability scores, though]

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