Two Gamers, Looking Back at 09.

What follows is a casual conversation between myself and Mike Fernandez (aka Kaeosdad) as we take a look back at some of our gaming experiences in 2009.

4th Edition in 09:

Rev. Lazaro: So, I’m working on sort of a looking back post at what I thought was some of the highlights, to me, about what happened in 09. One of the things I was going to post was “09 was the year 4E Stopped Sucking.” Seriously, I had the PHB and thought the edition was tripe compared to d20. I was one of the original haters on some forums. Yet, coming into the RPGBN and reading some previews ofPHB2 and other 4E discussions, I had a renewed interest. The beginning of my 4E experiences were using nothing but the PHB’s and the Quickstart box set they put out. The experience 180’d my opinion, and my players who were normally non-D&D were completely sold by it.

  • Kaeosdad: I had a 360 experience with 4e. I remember reading all the rumors and following the almost daily spoilers being posted on enworld. I was very excited to play the game. I even pre-ordered the gift set on the first day it became available online. Then came the ranting negativity of the haters and it really turned me away from it. I’m really cheap when it comes to my hobby having spent so much money in the past and so I canceled my pre order on the off chance that I might hate it. The game came out and I attended the world wide games day and played, it was pretty fun but I was still on the fence to buy a copy.I ended up reading the books off the store shelf a few times and getting super excited to run a game. Being able to run my first game campaign sucessfully was a big plus, the fact that I had a decent collection of minis that matched the stat blocks were a plus(my local store got big into dnd minis a few months before 4e came out), and the quick character creation and play rules helped me hook more than a few gamers completely new to dnd.

Rev. Lazaro: In a way I think 4E in the past year went from “too restrictive” to “too many options.” I own a lot of the books now and it’s borderline overwhelming at times just to look through all the possible character and campaign options. Yet, I must admit I’m worried about how 4E will play out in 2010. After running the game all year, one thing I’ve come to feel about 4E is that the implied setting and the flavor text dictate the mechanics. Keywords and how the class powers operate make it a tremendous feat to re-invision some classes for the game world. The example I fall back on is the Assassin: Its powers are tied to the Shadowfell, and to try to re-imagine the class as anything close to its AD&D or d20 counterparts is almost scheming up a new class entirely, or scheming a build for Rogues.

The core classes in PHB 1 and 2, to me, weren’t too hard to work with. But it seems now that 4E is progressing further and further into its “implied” setting and I’ve already come to the conclusion that the next D&D game I run using these rules will be played as such. It’s not a bad setting, but it’s definitely not my own completely. It also makes me wonder how Darksun and other pre-existing settings they convert into it will feel. Eberron fit like a glove; but Forgotten Realms took a hit in its canon. Makes me wonder what else will slide in fine, and what will get shoehorned?

  • Kaeosdad: It feels pointless to homebrew a world outside of the points of light setting. 4e does support a certain play experience which is fun, but personally world building is one of my favorite aspects of dungeon mastering and the implied setting does hold too many restrictions. The restrictions can be bypassed but there is always some sort of ripple effect. I finally came to a point where I just don’t care to tinker with the rules anymore, if I play D&D it will be the points of light setting. Unfortunately I’m not the biggest fan of the points of light setting and so for me anyways I think it’s time to move on.

Rev. Lazaro: I’m just shocked they haven’t marketed the setting much. I take that back: I guess peeps with a D&D Insider subscription have more details from their published adventure lines every issue. I dunno; part of me is thinking when I do return to 4E for the next campaign, I may run Eberron. I always enjoyed Eberron where most die-hards I knew despised it; but 4E is kind of in that same vein of slaughtering sacred cows as that setting was at the time.

  • Kaeosdad: Dark sun sounds like fun. My cousin ran a campaign when I was a kid but wouldn’t let me play, pretty interesting setting. I think what actually happened is that wotc were trying to build up their intellectual property but they didn’t have the budget to really flesh out the implied setting. Lack of budget led to the points of light implied setting, that’s my conspiracy theory anyway.If wyatt every gets around to putting together a pdf of spirits of eden I’d run a 4e campaign for that. I know a few gamers who would be stoked on it, but they aren’t the types to go read up on it.

Fantasy Craft, Savage Worlds and Toolkit Systems.

Rev. Lazaro: So it seems we’ve both kind of gone in search for systems that are more flexible for the world building we want to do. How has Fantasy Craft been working for you? I took a look at some reviews, their preview material and even listened to the RPG Circus podcast that was pretty much entirely over FC. For some reason, it sounded very cool to me but I wasn’t fully convinced to pick up a copy. But I know a lot of people have praised it for being a wonderful fantasy toolkit. Give me your spill on it.

  • Kaeosdad: The thing about fantasy craft that appeals to me is there is no illusion of balance and no implied setting. The designers even go right out and say the system is unbalanced and can be broken but they offer a lot of good tips and guidelines on how to use the rules, prevent abuse and how to use it to support your game world.

    Combat is fast and fun as hell and there is a big focus on role playing based mechanics. I noticed that the players were not really caring about making the best tactical move in combat and actually playing their characters. Taunts were thrown, threats were made, people were bull rushed, grappled, tripped and pummeled.

    Althought Fantasy Craft is a very meaty system it is still raw and fatty. There are a lot of sub systems to learn and this can be a turn off for some people. Luckily most of these sub systems are not required to game. There are also a lot of new terms to learn and many definitions and rules are left unclear. I ran a game for my bro in law and his friend and we were able to figure out the more mysterious sections of the rules.Ultimately the system has a high learning curve that is best done in steps, start small with the core mechanics and run some test combats against standard goons. Have fun with it and keep adding in new sections of the rules as it appeals to the group and eventually you have a very fast rpg system with a lot of options and depth.

Rev. Lazaro: I ended up picking up Savage Worlds for my interest in a toolkit, mostly because I didn’t want to be limited to just fantasy. It works for me, but I can tell why some peeps wouldn’t enjoy it. On my end, personally, it fits me like a glove. Combat has an element of tactics and crunch, even has decent mini support, but is over pretty quickly and can easily be ran in the abstract. The systems itself has a nice mix of gimmicks that I think are fun (Like the “Bennies” poker chip system, the wild die and the Playing Card initiative system) as well as stats and skills that are broad yet stillmanage to cover almost everything (and if they don’t, it’s real easy to make up new skills on the fly without breaking the game.)

  • Kaeosdad: Nice, I’ve heard real good things about the system and it’s definitely on my list of systems/settings to play.

Rev. Lazaro: The last big draw to convince me was the community and fan support; the game practically invites homebrews and conversions. I’m looking at all my old RPG books from different games and feeling like I can adapt those ideas and concept easily to a simple system.

  • Kaeosdad: WFRP 3e!!! Man, I wish this game was a toolkit system. The system looks super fun but I haven’t been feeling the warhammer setting for awhile now.

Playing Online:

Rev. Lazaro: I know this year you ran a game online via Mythweavers; and I’m getting around to running a small Savage Worlds story via Google Wave. How did you enjoy the online medium? Where do you think online gaming is going? How do you think it works as a platform for the aging gamer who doesn’t have much time anymore, or the displaced gamer who no longer has a community around them?

  • Kaeosdad: It was a lot of fun but requires either zen like patience or a lot of time which I just did not have. The internet I’m sure within the next generation will become not just another tool, but almost as much of a requirement as the pen and paper. It’s a big statement to say but as communications and networking technologies and approaches become more sophisticated it’s inevitable. The internet saves time, connects people and builds communities by giving us constantly evolving tools for collaboration. But with all that said, I think the actual tabletop experience can’t be beat or emulated short of holograms or jacking in with a cyberdeck.

The Year Ahead:

Rev. Lazaro: Alright, to wrap up this convo, what are your gaming goals and hopes for 2010? I just hope I can maintain a regular gaming group, which seems to be an even more epic feat with each passing session due to scheduling and RL issues, and also dive more into online gaming which I’m notorious for flaking out of. I hope I can bring my current D&D campaign to a proper ending in the story line, just because I’m running out of steam with it, and can kick off a nice Deadlands: Reloaded game afterwards for a break. Although, I must admit, my brain is still thinking about some 4E stuff.

  • Kaeosdad: I’ve got a ton of gaming ideas on my mind but I think 2010 will be the year that real life kicks my ass. Gaming wise I’m hoping to start up a big gaming group to get together at the library once a month.

I want to give a big thank you to Kaeosdad for participating in this with me over Google Wave. Make sure to check out his blog, Symptoms of Madness, and you can follow both of us on Twitter (@revlazaro and @kaeosdad).

Feel free to continue the conversation! Comments are open and feedback is appreciated.

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