My Not So Humble Opinion Presents: Real Men of Genius
♫♪♫ (Real Men of Genius.) ♫♪♫
Today we salute you, Mr. Tabletop Role-Playing Gamer.
♫♪♫ (Mr. Tabletop Role-Playing Gamer!) ♫♪♫
You’re the greatest tactician of your generation, but you still wheeze when you walk more than twenty feet.
♫♪♫ (Give me an endurance check!) ♫♪♫
You can conquer a gargantuan white great wyrm, but you can’t seem to conquer a shower.
♫♪♫ (What IS that smell?) ♫♪♫
The only time you’ve seen a real woman is when that one lady accidentally wandered into your favorite gaming store that night.
♫♪♫ (A hush fell over the room!) ♫♪♫
So crack open an ice cold beverage, Mr. Tabletop Role-Playing Gamer. Because Saturday night’s all right for imaginary fights.
♫♪♫ (Mr. Tabletop Role-Playing Gamer!) ♫♪♫
For those of you who aren’t already aware, I am what is colloquially known as a “geek”. This is differentiated from a “nerd” in that I have all the antisocial hobbies of the stereotypical nerd without any of the technical aptitude. One of those hobbies is tabletop role-playing games, known in the trade as RPGs. (No, I won’t tell you which trade. It’s a trade secret.) The most famous of these is Dungeons & Dragons, which I cut my teeth on about 25 years ago. For those of you in the know, I started on 1st ed AD&D (if that means nothing to you, you have probably seen someone of your preferred gender naked).
Having thus established my table cred, as it were, I feel confident offering the following reviews.
The Dresden Files Role Playing Game: Volume One – Your Story. I wanted to like this game so very much. I truly did. I’ve been a huge fan of the Dresden Files since the very first book, and Jim Butcher has never disappointed me (WARNING: I have not read past Ghost Story. If you ruin Cold Days for me, I WILL find you, and the results will not be pretty.) The idea of being able to actually play in this world was so very appealing I was able to get past the sticker shock of $39.95 (plus shipping! the horror!) for just one book (there are two books, hence the “Volume One” in the title).
Unfortunately I just can’t look past the many flaws I found. Overall I can’t say it’s a bad system, I just can’t say it’s a good system. Considering the vast number of open-source gaming systems available today, that’s a damn shame. I realize they want to leave as much open to gamers’ imagination and flexibility as possible, but what I’ve found over the years is that at the gaming table “flexibility” usually translates as “argument”. Yes, I’ve had to deal with my share of rules lawyers (who among us hasn’t?), but that is often less frustrating than a half hour or more of “okay… um… I have no idea how to handle that.” What’s even worse is that the magic system is both undefined AND cumbersome, in a game that, let’s face it, is going to have magic. After all, everyone is going to want to play a wizard.
All of that having been said, this book is chock full of flavor text. The margin notes from characters within the Dresden universe add a lot to what is normally an exercise akin to reading stereo instructions, and I did get the feeling that experienced gamers who are willing to get past the learning curve could make the system work. Even if you chuck the system, there’s enough to go on here that you should be able to translate it to your favorite game system without too much difficulty. Despite all the flaws, I am encouraged enough that at some point I still plan to pick up a copy of Volume Two: Our World, again if for no other reason than simple flavor and filling in for the Dresden universe.
Rating: 3/5 stars.
Over the Edge: The Role Playing Game of Surreal Danger. You could almost take everything I had to say about The Dresden Files RPG, crank it down a notch and be done with this review. I wanted to like this game, but I wasn’t horribly invested. It sounded cool, but I had no real connection to it going in. The price point was reasonable (under $30 and free shipping from Amazon), and there was only the one book, so why not?
Because the system is a mess, that’s why not. There’s nothing to recommend it. Where there are flaws in the other game, there’s basically no system to speak of here, or at least none I could piece together. Part of the problem is the lack of organization in the game book itself; if there are rules, they are scattered all over the place, and rules grenades seem to abound (for those of you not familiar with the term, this is when a game system drops in a new rule somewhere far apart from what it modifies, thus changing things unexpectedly – “grenade!”).
The only thing this book has going for it, if you’re willing to dig through the poor organization, bad structure, and terrible writing, is flavor. This book is stuffed full of flavor. It has great characters, locations, and plots that can be dropped into almost any contemporary or near future game easily, and with a bit of tweaking could probably work in other settings as well. Once I got through some of the dross, I was seeing opportunities for backgrounds, contacts, and settings for Shadowrun, Cyberpunk, and practically any espionage or near-future sci-fi game you care to mention.
If you’re looking for something unique and unusual to add flavor to your game or character, or you just want to surprise jaded players who have bought every printed supplement under the sun, this could be a good fit. Otherwise I’d look elsewhere.
Rating: 1.5/5 stars
Back in the early 90s, White Wolf games burst onto the scene with “Vampire: the Masquerade”. It was a wildly successful role-playing game, giving players the chance to be the monsters for a change. Vampires in this games were “tragically hip”; dark, brooding, conniving, violent, all the adjectives you could want (except sparkly – that came later). The game was so successful, in fact, that it led to several other games; “Werewolf: the Apocalypse”, “Mage: the Ascension”, and a few others. While none were as popular as Vampire, all had their following (well, maybe not Changeling; they kind of dropped the ball on that one).
The games were so popular in fact that they spawned a veritable library of supplements, including historical versions and live action rules, as well as novels, card games, at least one video game (which I highly recommend), and at one point a TV show (which if I recall correctly my sister loved; NO, I am not kidding). Despite this ridiculous level of success that most companies would ride into the ground, in 2004 White Wolf chose to discontinue the entire setting, ending it all in a spectacular but (in true White Wolf fashion) indeterminate Apocalypse. They then “reset” the entire mythos, releasing a new line of games under the same banner, with a new (tweaked) system.
Here’s the thing: as far as I can tell from the reaction of both myself and every gamer I know White Wolf essentially traded a license to print money for… well… nothing? Artistic integrity? “Gee, I was bored and it seemed like the thing to do at the time?” The new game system never really took off like the old one did, and last year White Wolf decided to revive the original “Vampire: the Masquerade” with a 20th anniversary edition. This was particularly nice for several reasons: they updated the setting, tightened up the original rule set, and included a lot of the extra goodies that had been developed over the years in the aforementioned supplemental materials. Even better, they sell it as “print on demand”, so you can get a PDF, B&W, or full color copy (if you’re feeling especially generous to yourself).
The pricing on the physical books feels a little hefty, but you get a LOT for your money (I’ve seen them, and unless you really love color art the B&W print is just fine and worth the cost). The quality is on par with any game book I’ve seen, and depending on how you treat your books you may want to go the extra $10 for hardcover (I would suggest it). Personally I never got the hang of PDF, but considering it’s half the cost of a hardcover of any kind, you may want to go that route.
What has me even more excited (and has my wallet cringing in fear) is that they have already announced 20th anniversary editions of “Werewolf” and “Mage”. Both of these felt like systems that needed a lot of work to me, even after the revised editions came out. I also didn’t spend as much on the supplemental materials for these games as I did for “Vampire”, so I expect I will see a lot more new-to-me material is these editions when they are published. What’s more, developments in the world over the last twenty years have had vastly more impact on the setting relative to these two groups (which is as it should be I suppose, considering the literary space they occupy) so I hope for great things. I particular I look forward to the “New World Order” sourcebook for “Mage”, the branch of the villainous Technocracy that focuses on world domination through economic control. About that financial crisis and Occupy Wall Street…
While some might see this as simply a desperate attempt to generate money by tapping into gamer nostalgia or sucking more money out of people’s pockets by repackaging old ideas, speaking as one of those gamers, this is a fantastic service. I know plenty of gamers who have shelves of books that are twenty years old, held together with duct tape and wishes, who will embrace these editions. Not just to have new copies to replace the old, but will reconcile conflicting rules and “soft” information, as well as bringing these fantastic (in every sense) settings into the modern world.
UPDATE AND CORRECTION: A friend pointed out that my memory is fault (hey, it’s been twenty years). In “Mage: the Ascension” it was the Syndicate that controlled the money. The New World Order focuses on governments, educational systems, and information. Which, considering there was barely an internet when “Mage” first came out, charter schools were hardly a thing, and people still laughed if you even suggested “someday we could have a black president!” means there’s plenty to look forward to here. But I still want to see that Syndicate book.