Friday, June 07, 2013

I Want to Like You, I Really Do. But....

My gamer ADD isn't solely video game based. I bounce around from RPG system to RPG system, but unlike video games, where I may walk away from a game I enjoyed and never come back, I tend to have my old stand-bys that I keep coming home to. Still, I like to buy and try out a lot of different games. Who knows when I'll find a system that just blows me away? I may be attracted to a game by message board buzz/word of mouth, cool artwork, excellent setting details, or interesting stated design goals. Sometimes I hit paydirt, like when I dediced to pick up Savage Worlds on a whim, but most of the time I have a little fun either reading or (too rarely) playing a game before it's relegated to the shelf or harddrive. Occasionally, there are the games that I'm disgusted that I wasted time and/or money on, but thankfully those are rare.

Today, I'm going to look some systems that I really, really want to like, but the thought of trying to play them makes me cringe. These are games that I find bits of to be brilliant, but the whole package just isn't palpable to me. In most cases, I still buy product for the system just to rob for setting fluff and conversion fodder for "better" systems.

Exalted: This is going to be a common theme for many of these games listed: "I love the setting, but dislike/hate the rules." I love the setting. I really think it's some of White Wolf's best work to date. I'm not even a fan of anime, but I dig the artwork. It just oozes style and really conveys what the setting is all about: high drama in a mythical psuedo-Oriental world where people with lots of power battle. The production values are through the roof. However, the rules leave me feeling cold, and that's both 1st and 2nd edition (though I do have to admit that I haven't played the 2E rules yet, just read them and the breakdown of differences on message boards and such). I don't hate the rules for Exalted, but I dislike them enough that I really won't play Exalted unless the Storyteller knows the system backwards and forwards, otherwise the game moves with a snail's pace. That's just not right for a game who's genre involves people that can leap through trees and combat is a blur of weapon flashes and lightning-fast kicks and punches. To me, Exalted is like a movie where the previews make you think you're going in to see a comedy and it ends up being a melodrama.

Anima: This is another anime-inspired RPG and another game where everything is just gorgeous. The GAIA setting is interesting in the sense that it's feels like a what Tolkien-like setting would look like when looked through the lens of being developed as a Japanese role-playing video game. It looks and feels so reminiscent of Final Fantasy, which (until FF 12) was one of my favorite series of CRPG's. Where Anima falls apart for me is rules. They are very Rolemaster-like (I believe I recall seeing somewhere that Anima is based, at least in part, on the Rolemaster rules) with lots of charts and calculations. The explanations in the rules aren't the best either. Now that might be due to inconsistencies in the translation (Anima was a Spanish RPG originally), but if that's the case (and not me just being dense...which is entirely possible) then that's a failure on whoever did the translation. This may just be the old man in me, but the system is just too complex. I don't want to spend a ton of time and need the help of a spreadsheet to build a character or monsters. So my pretty Anima books sit on the shelf, every now and then being referenced for an idea to carry over to Swords & Wizardry. I've never had a chance to play Anima. Sadly, my group balks at it everytime they try to make a character. It's a fairly long process and it immediately turns off most of the group. Maybe someday I'll get the chance to find out what combat is really like, but if it's anything like Rolemaster like it appears to be, I won't end up being a fan.

HERO: I've played a good bit of HERO system (mostly in the Champions setting) over the years. They've built a great setting and really for all the complaints of needing a slide rule to play the game the mechanics aren't that bad once you get into them. That said, the system is still where HERO fails me. There are much better systems for supers that does what HERO does far simpler. I still pick up setting books for HERO games, though. They are great resources for use with other systems, no matter the genre.

Rifts/Palladium: Out of all of the games on this list, I hate the Palladium system. It's inconsistent, needlessly complex, and sadly will never likely receive the major overhaul that it so desperately needs. That said, I have had a lot of fun playing both Rifts and Palladium Fantasy over the year, though definitely in spite of the system. Rifts, for me, is really the perfect setting being a mix of post apocalyptic, supers, fantasy, and sci-fi. It's a smorgasbord of crazy wahoo insanity that just flat love. For as wacky as the setting is, Kevin Siembeida makes it work. Now, don't look too close as the population figures or how ley lines and such work and are laid out because there's some pretty big holes in the logic wall, but that said KS puts it all together in a way that feels right. Sadly, it's bolted to a system that was a wreck when it was built. The same goes for Palladium Fantasy. The setting is great and is one that I have used for D&D several times over the years. The Palladium system works better for Fantasy than it does for Rifts, in my opinion, but there are still systems that do what it does simpler, faster, and cleaner. In spite of my hatred of the rules, I have a large collection of Palladium material that I continually use to convert to systems that are simply much, much better.

I'm sure there are a few other games that fit my critera of wanting to love, but just can't. These are the main ones mostly due to the amount of time and money I've spent (and in the case of Rifts and HERO, still spend money/time) on them.


Tom said...

I remember playing Rifts and yes, it's a classic case of fun source material and lousy mechanics.

Also, it didn't have power creep, each new sourcebook seemed more like a power sprint.

Giles Kiser said...

Yeah, I remember the talk about power creep in the D&D 3E days and laughing. D&D's power creep was an easy to wrangle lazy stroll compared to the breakneck, head-on dash that each Rifts book brings about!

Barking Alien said...

Your opening paragraph had me thinking we were long lost twin brothers or something. It is uncanny but you took the words right out of my mouth. Words I've literally said before!

I love trying new games because, hey, you never know if the next one will net you that ultimate gaming experience!

As to the games you listed, I am in complete agreement on the 'I-wish-I-thought-these-were-but-damn-they-just-don't-do-it-for-me' front. With one exception but I'll get to that in a moment.

Exalted is a game that can't decide what it is. It sounds like a Wushu/Magical Martial Arts game, reads like a slightly Asian influenced D&D world, looks like a cross between Manga and Vertigo comics and plays like crap. I have also never seen anyone run it where it felt any different from high powered D&D and that's a damn shame.

RIFTS...feh. I hate the system as you do and I've never been a fan of the total kitchen sink approach to its universe. When you mix that many genres and things together the end result, for me anyway, is a over seasoned mess. I simply can't picture the world of RIFTS in my head. I just see noise.

Anima has the look and general influences of anime style/influenced Western Fantasy but never really makes it work. It is over-worked if anything. And yes, the rules are way to complex and unnecessarily tedious.

Now, the one and only place we differ is HERO. I hate complex, crunchy, math heavy systems and I LOVE CHAMPIONS. It does something no other RPG does exactly right, though many come close. It lets you make exactly what you want to make. You can customize and design the idea in your head regardless of what that idea is and it will be mechanically sounds and functional with everyone else's crazy ideas.

Mutants & Masterminds, which I love dearly, just doesn't quite reach the level of Champions. As you noted it isone of the far simpler Supers game. As a result, it just isn't as intense an experience to play IMHO. It just doesn't feel as powerful and visceral.

Now, do I want that when I play Star Trek? No. Do I want it for my medieval fantasy? No. Do I want it for Superheroes? Yes. Yes, I guess I just do.

Good post. Really like your blog.

Giles Kiser said...

The big issue with HERO is I just don't get to play it enough, so even if I could get a group to get past the titanic tome of rules I'll be seriously rusty as well. It's never been one of those systems for me that felt like riding a bike like the way D&D is for me. That said, I've gotten to the point that what I'm looking for in a supers game is really light and flexible. HERO has the flexibility, but not the lightness. MSH hits a sweet spot for in that regard. (M&M come close, but gets bogged down in the d20 conditions minutiae, which makes me choose MSH over it.) Lighter rules that lets the players and GM have a lot of leeway to blend all the various things that can come up in a supers game. Really a RIFTS ruleset that's light and flexible would make me giddy as a schoolgirl!

Rifts can be tough to do right. Really the best games I've played in, the GM tossed most everything out the window and focused on what he wanted to focus on. I like having all the options from magic to mecha to aliens to demons and beyond at my fingertips though, and a reason why even though a lot of the D20-era material is crap, I got to have stats for a gigantic variety of settings all statted out in a system that even though may have been different from one rulebook to another, as similar enough that I wasn't having to create everything wholecloth.

Still HERO aside, it does sound like we share a brain...surely there's a sci-fi plot in there somewhere!

Thanks for the kind words, Barking!

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