Tuesday, 4 August 2015

#RPGaDay 2015: Day 4 - Zool motherfucker, Zool!!!

Prompt: Most surprising game

Right; it's a steampunk game set in 19th Century Bavaria with airships and castles and Ludwig II and faeries and magic and Phineas Fogg and Sherlock Holmes and at the same time Conan Doyle and Jules Verne and Wells and all that good shit. Oh hells yeah! Sign me the fuck up!

Castle Falkenstein surprised me; and... not in a good way. It had my name all over it and yet it was just bad.

I think the real killer was the presentation; more than half of the book was fluff fiction about the adventures of some dude who was translated from the real world to the world of Castle Falkenstein and had paradigm-shaping adventures there. Adventures that you can't have, because he's already had them. Sure, you could back hack it, but the assumed setting of the game is that John Carter of Falkenstein has already done loads of cool shit that established the world as it stands and pretty much married the action princess to boot. This also means that the game constantly hangs a lampshade on the fact that authors and their creations exist side-by-side.

To add insult to injury, the game rules are also presented from the perspective of our wanderer in the dimensions, as a pastime he's invented to amuse his friends in between bout of heroism, so in a way the conceit of the game is not that you are playing steampunk adventurers in a magical realm of airships and faeries, but rather a bunch of bored aristocrats in a magical realm of airships and faeries who are in turn playing actual adventurers.

The game itself isn't bad, I just never escaped the image of this smug, imaginary tosser inviting me to pretend I'm as cool as he is.

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So, my broader topic is expectation and disappointment, and how they can completely hammer a game for you. I expected big things of Falkenstein, and of 7th Sea, and it hurt my enjoyment that those expectations weren't met. Falkenstein got so caught up in its unnecessary crossworlds conceit that it completely failed to grip me. If I'm playing a game, I know it's not real, but if said game goes out of its way to add an extra layer of unreality, what's the point? It's as if the World of Warcraft RPG was presented as if simulating a group of gamers playing a MMORPG on their computers.
All of the books have '1668' written at the
bottom, which suggested a historical setting to
me. Mind you, let's take a moment to deal with
that armour. If this were on the core book, I'd
have felt myself forewarned.

In 7th Sea it was the failure of the game to be about the kind of things that interested me in the potential setting. The anachronistic stew of stereotypes (sinister Italians, brutish Irish, stoic Germans etc) wasn't much help, but ultimately it was the existence of a pervasive magic system that really nettled me. Magic feels to me like the antithesis of swashbuckling, which is all about physical refinement and discipline, cunning plans and daring escapes. Magic is more calculating and cerebral. If it is present in swashbuckling it should be in the background, a mysterious force, like fate, against which the heroes struggle to emerge triumphant. It shouldn't be routine, nor a force that the heroes can easily wield.

I don't know if 7th Sea is a good game, because I couldn't get past my initial disappointment. I hear good things, but mostly from people who clearly want something very different from what I want from a swashbuckling game. My ex raved about a campaign in which her PC spent almost all of her time as a cat, which does not feel like swashbuckling to me. A cat can't even carry a buckler (you know, unless you're playing Redwall the RPG.)

And then there was Mage the Awakening. People sometimes talk about games in terms of relationships, well Awakening was my ill-advised rebound game. I could never quite forgive it for not being its predecessor, Mage the Ascension, while still reminding me of it.

In summary: Never expect.