Well, visitors have wandered into Strange Vistas 30,000 times, which calls for some sort of recognition. I can remember when I thought 9,000 was a big benchmark. To kick off the celebration, I’m going to do two things. One, ditch “Depo Masthead” as a WordPress theme. Two, write about the state of Strange Vistas, some upcoming projects, and some thoughts about my roleplaying game. If any of that interests you, read on.
First, a quick word about themes. I like Depo Masthead’s vertical entry positioning a lot. It allows the casual viewer to quickly see the last three entries that I’ve made and get a good feel for what the blog is about. On the hand, there’s a “Strange Vistas” in about 300 point font in a lump of white space that takes up half the screen. I wish that it were smaller and allowed pictures. And frankly my dislike for that header is forcing me to finally drop it as a theme in hopes that a better one comes along soon. Until then, it is back to a more traditional blog format.
I have read countless “real life vs. hobby” posts in forums and blogs across the interwebs, and probably have written one or two myself. This entry deserves at least a little bit of one now by way of explanation. November brings the onslaught of the holiday season, an up-tick of work, and the diminished capacity for travel. Despite the fact that I should be spending more time in a warm, enclosed hobby bench, I usually end up spending less. Compounding this is a pretty dire personal situation involving a parent and a health condition that is currently demanding both time and emotional energy. So if it seems like I’ve gone off the rails lately, there’s a good reason.
Finally, onto the hobby stuff (the real reason why you came here). I often said there’s a hobby switch on my back that has three settings: terrain, miniatures, and RPG’s. I rarely ever multi-task my creative mojo, but seem to focus on one thing or the other. And I’m never sure why it is that it is, it is just whatever is giving me the most personal gratification at the time. And it is hard to force myself into one category if I’m in another, even if there is a pressing reason to be working on the other (like a gaming session). It has been on “terrain” which saw me bang out three ruined fieldstone pieces in quick succession. But this morning I woke up distinctly feeling the switch set on “RPG.” This isn’t surprising: “RPG” tends to be the setting that use when I have the least amount of actual sit-down time. Besides, three terrain pieces seems to be plenty if you’re playing a regular “army” wargame, and not a “skirmish” wargame.
About the RPG, which in this case happens to currently be Dungeons & Dragons, Fourth Edition. I’m developing a love/hate relationship with this game the likes I haven’t seen since college and Rifts. I love the ease of putting together combat encounters. I hate when it feels like a board game. It is that simple. I have read the whole “it is like World of Warcraft, only with real people sitting around a table” argument. Well recently I dug out the old Diablo II sourcebook TSR did in the waning days of Second Edition. What did it include? A bazillion magic items that were essentially add-ons to a template. “One Hundred Monsters” that were basically twelve monsters that could be leveled up. And the town of Tristam, full of strictly utilitarian NPC’s (“I sense a soul in search of knowledge.”) It is an eerie foreshadowing of not third edition, but fourth. There is even a section in the RPG sourcebook on how to employ computer-gaming tactics like drawing out multiple opponents into doorways or hallways where they could be dealt with more easily.
And I loved playing Diablo, especially when I wanted some fairly mindless computer gaming fun. It challenged me tactically, but that was about it. And that’s what I’m missing right now in D&D 4E.
I can hear the apologists saying “you can roleplay in 4E–it is your fault as DM, not the games!” Yes, but when you have twenty pages of combat or utilitarian powers per class, we know where the game is supposed to lie. It would be like purchasing a contemporary-era RPG that featured thirty pages of firearms: pistols, rifles, grenades, machine guns, and then saying “we’re going to play a murder mystery campaign.” I guarantee that, in the gaming group, there’s going to be some ex-mercenary whose approach to mystery solving is going to involve cramming a pistol into someone’s chin and telling them to spill it.
Ultimately, it is about game design, which plays a role in gameplay, regardless of intent. I’m sorry, but I sighed openly when I saw the admittedly option rules reducing roleplaying to a challenge level, making it basically the same mechanic as combat.
So I’m faced with essentially importing in roleplaying into the game, not a daunting task for an experienced GM like me, I suppose, but ultimately feeling like I’m working against the grain. When there rules that degrade roleplaying encounters to a skill role, then there’s something amiss.
As I have have writing this essay, I came across a reference to the upcoming illusionist class, and there was a mention of a spell “Illusory Chasm” that makes the target believe they are falling and impedes their movement for X number of turns. Now damnit, that’s is exactly the problem! One, you have the game telling you what illusion you’re casting. Second, you have the game telling you the exact effect. Now I’ve seen weasel power gamers abuse illusions like a government mule, but that kind of hold-your-hand-and-tell-you-what-to-do stuff is what chaps my hide about this game.
More and more, I’m thinking about Pathfinder…