Saturday, July 13, 2019

'System Mastery' vs. 'World Settings'

The scene of the action(s)

Early last year, an experienced D&D 5e gamer told me I should get out of the campaign that I'd been playing for a while, as I was "holding the party back because I didn't have system mastery on the 5e rules". So, since I agreed with him, I handed my player-character sheets back to the very patient GM, and left the campaign. (And the table, and the game store, but that's a different story.)

It got me thinking. No, I don't 'know the rules'. I'd thought I'd known the world, as we were playing in Dave Arneson's Blackmoor. What I had failed to comprehend was that we were not playing in Dave's Blackmoor, but in the Zeigeist Games version - which is substantially different, with most of what made Dave's Blackmoor so unique and fun simply not being present. (Like Gertie, The Mother of All Dragons, for example.)

Back in the day, we didn't play rules sets; we played worlds, and game scenarios set in those worlds. We did this both for what has become the 'RPG genre' and the 'wargaming genre', as all of us being so young and inexperienced (I have also been called 'unsophisticated', about this now vital and very important difference in genres) we simply did know any better some forty years ago.

I get asked what I play, so here it is:

Tekumel - by M. A. R. Barker

I have always loved Phil's creation, and I enjoy campaigning in it. So, I do, and I use whatever rules set happens to fit that particular game session.

Barsoom - by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Phil introduced me to Barsoom, and I've never looked back. Sword And Planet Romance, in all it's glory. Those Therns continue to be a pain...

Ancient Egypt - by Hollywood and the Pulps

Historical gaming has always been something I've enjoyed, to the despair of Serious Historical Gamers. Real history is full of really wonderfully goofy stuff, like The Tangier Garrison of Charles II, and you can't make it up nearly as well. So, 'classic' Aegyptus as in the time of Lord Meren, and 'Hollywood' Aegyptus as in the time of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.

The Dark Ages - by The Missus, Herself

More historical campaigning, but with lefse and open-faced sandwiches on the sideboard. Herself is Scandinavian, so she wanted to salvage the fifty Shieldmaiden figures I'd bought for an abortive campaign by adventuring in the Viking Age. I happen to have a bunch of old Ral Partha / RAFM 'Royal Armies of the Hyborian Age' figures as well, so we can have some raids to sack and pillage those Northern European buildings I have. And we can visit Novgorod and Constantinople, too, such is the depth of my scenery boxes

The Pyrates - by George Macdonald Frasier.

If you haven't read this book and wanted to break out the ships, dice, eyepatches, pieces-of-eight, and percentile dice, then nothing I can do will help you. Avast, me hearties!!!

Lots of maps are going up on the walls; I have heaps, and we'll be awash in adventure...


  1. You're much too self-deprecating. Your type of game is just as valid as anything more recent, and these people have no respect. That's their transgression, not something you should take on the other cheek.

    I'm reminded of the time I joined a local group because they were running a campaign in Ptolus, a huge fantasy city I'd really wanted to experience. It was written for 3rd Ed D&D, not a rules set I enjoy. But it was worth it to me, so I could experience the setting. Besides, a friend had actually given me those rules in a sad attempt to convert me from 1st edition. So I generated a simple character with an online generator, and showed up. The city description really got me revved up. Then we found a secret evil shrine, and rat men -- I love rat men! I was so excited. I rolled my trusty d20, and asked, "Did I hit?" The silence was deafening. I've been gaming since the 70s. There wasn't a kid there who'd hit 30. And I was scolded, because I hadn't memorized their rewritten version of a game I'd been playing before they were born. When I started playing, only one member of a group knew the rules and owned the game, and that was the guy in charge. The rest of us rolled dice and followed directions.

    As you can guess, I never went back again. Chirine, if these kids can't respect the fact that there are other ways to game, then they're not worth the moisture it takes to spit.

    Meantime, I love your choice of game. I still have to pick up Meren, and now I wonder about your pyrate book. By the way, have you seen Muppet Treasure Island? I'm sure you've seen Penzance!

  2. Lord what fools these mortals be.

    Knowing the latest rules in and out is surely very important indeed, at least until the next edition, but in the greater scheme of things isn't it much ... much ... more interesting to talk to someone who was really there, back then?

    (Same goes for those con organizers. Reserve a space, set up a camera or two and put your game on the flyer. 'This is where it all came from -- here's your chance to play the ultimate old school game'.)

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. And that's precisely why you remain one of my major inspirations when it comes to gaming.

    If those gamers were too blinkered by the idea of their "One True Rules System" then the loss of your knowledge is to their detriment.

    I always enjoy - and get inspiration from - your write-ups of games, not because of some rules mechanic but because of the clear love of the world(s) you're playing in, which is something I always strive to bring to my games.

    Oh, and The Pyrates is hugely entertaining and and very funny.

    1. Chirine, thank you for this post. Your insight and knowledge of early, pre-school rpg means a lot to me. Thank you again.

  5. Wow. "They know not what they do!" Have been watching your videos and reading your post and have written a few "Guidelines" partly inspired by the Dave and MAR stories of their freeform storytelling adventures. I would love to start playing more freeform as the rules have started to get in the way at times. IF you would permit me, I would love to send you some links to some of my freeform games. All written in the old 1970s Zine style because I just love that look.

  6. Chirine, Please post more in times to come about your gaming in "Barsoom - by Edgar Rice Burroughs," "The Dark Ages - by The Missus, Herself," "The Pyrates - by George Macdonald Fraser" and "Ancient Egypt - by Hollywood and the Pulps." It would all be excellent reading I am certain.

    Yes "The Pyrates - by George Macdonald Fraser" is excellent and highly recommended.