Tuesday, 26 August 2014

#RPGaDAY: Day 24 - Most complicated RPG owned

The game which had a skill called 'Do', which
seemed a little broad.
I don't own many mechanically complex games. Easily the worst offender is Dark Heresy, which as I've noted before took five or six rolls to resolve a single combat hit from the psyker's Force staff. If I had 'Lost, in Space' to do over, I'd just have said "Okay; add Psi-Rating to Strength Bonus and Armour Pirecing; have fun with that."

However, I've already talked a lot about Warhammer in various forms, so instead I'm going to look at a game whose complications were metaphysical rather than mechanical (although it's a White Wolf old World of Darkness game, so it has its share of rules complications, from endless lists of secondary skills to a four stage resolution for each and every basic combat roll): Mage: The Ascension.

The central premise and conceit of Mage: the Ascension is that magic is a point of view. All reality is fluid, determined by the consensus beliefs of the mass of humanity. Most humans are unconscious participants in the system, Sleepers; the Awakened are the Mages whose enlightened condition allows them to impose their will on reality and say: "No, you work like this."

Magical ability was determined by Spheres - nine branches of magic, which determined what you could do - and Arete - degree of enlightenment, which determined how well you could do it. Within the dominion of your Spheres, you could basically do anything. There were some sample effects, but basically there was no spell list, no power set; if you could conceive it in terms of your Spheres, and make the Arete roll (the tricky part, as casting pools tended to be the lowest dice pools in the game), you could make it happen. The fundamental simplicity of this system was the source of its complication, because in the absence of a spell list, every casting was up for debate: Can you do this, or are you just blagging it? Nuclear blasts are the preserve of the Forces Sphere, but what if I use the Matter Sphere to create a critical mass of fissile plutonium? (Official ruling was that without Forces, the material would not be fissile, as the inherent instability of plutonium was a function of the consensus reality that you were bypassing to make the plutonium out of thin air in the first place, IIRC.)

The debate was further complicated by Paradox. When a mage tried to bend reality too far, reality could push back through a little-understood force called Paradox. Spells that worked cleverly around consensus reality were coincidental, while those that punched the consensus in the nose and called it chicken were vulgar; vulgar spells generated more Paradox, which built up inside a mage until it was either bled off, exploded, or sent a manifestation around to take you out back and give you the business, so every casting involved a measure of debate over whether something 'could have' happened.

Of course, that was all hunky-dory compared to the Technocracy issue. The Technocracy were the morally ambiguous bad guys... Sort of. They were mages who, rather than harking back to a mythical golden age of wonder, sought to create a perfect world of ordered reality... through SCIENCE! They were so succesful a sympathetic antagonist that later material on them did everything short of slapping swastikas on all their iconography to make them more obviously baddies, before giving up and making them a playable option.

The thing of it was that the Technocracy truly believed in 'enlightened Science'. They didn't see themselves as wizards monkeying with technology; they were scientists and inventors and surgeons and explorers who used Sufficiently Advanced Science (TM) to shape the future scientific paradigm of the consensus reality. And the metaphysic being what it was, they were right. Wrap your head around that, if you please; at least until the 3rd edition showed up and was all: "Nah; they're wizards monkeying with science, but now none of that consensus shit applies and the world is as it is." 3rd ed was weird in its efforts not to be weird.

Next up, in a few minutes really, my favourite RPG that no-one else wants to play. I have literally no clue what to talk about for that.

Check out the hashtag for more overly complicated RPGs.