2012/04/08

Thoughts about old-school fantasy rpg's and P&P

I received this long comment by Phineas Cromwell divided in two parts, as a reply to this post of mine.

I thought the best thing is to publish it in its entirety as a separate post, because i deem it quite interesting. It deal about Powers & Perils, complex old-school fantasy rpg's, Gygax, Arneson, Richard Snider. Check it out.
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PART ONE: Powers And Perils, like ALL fantasy roleplaying gaming systems, is directly rooted in the breakthrough development represented by Dungeons And Dragons. The essence of this evolutionary development is basically twofold: the breathing of literal character-life into its precursor form, i.e., the strategic wargame venue, and the enhancement (to potentially infinite degree) of a narrative dimension. Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson (and a few others) are forever memorialized for bringing this evolution to us, and that is as it should be. Now what is fascinating about the history of FRPGs is how, virtually immediately, a sort of friendly 'revisionist rebuttal' began against D&D. When D&D first came out (the '0th' edition), gaming groups were wondering how to handle an ever-expanding potential of new ideas; they needed to develop, in other words, their own mechanics for dealing with the newer aspects and concepts they wanted to add to the game. It was out of this 'tinkering, tweaking and tuning' that eventually gave birth to entire gaming systems. Because we are taliking about Powers And Perils, we are talking about the 'Complex Tangent Line' of FRPG history, as opposed to any 'rules-lite' orientations. The complex line often gets bashed by those of the lite and moderate orientations, mainly because of preferential reasons rooted in the subjective. I happen to be an ardent supporter of the complex 'school-of-thought'. Personally, I appreciate and am fascinated by so-called 'crunchy' systems; I feel they add to the 'art & the craft' in their own way. Chivalry And Sorcery and RuneQuest are two of the first entries in this historical line of development, with C&S being more on the crunchy end and RQ sort of straddling the fence between complex and moderate. As for P&P, its development occured somewhat later in this early era, but its roots tie in directly with those responsible for D&D. P&P's author, Richard Snider, was an extremely enthusiastic player (Arneson's words) in Dave Arneson's developing Blackmoor campaign world (the so-called "First Fantasy Campaign"). Arneson split from Gygax and TSR over creative differences concerning the direction of D&D. Simply put, Arneson had ideas to advance the game in a more sophisticated direction, e.g., lifting it above its 'character-as-gamepiece' feel (something 4E, by the way, has devolved into more than ever). Gygax, in retrospect, suffered from a myopic limited vision concerning the game that was mired down in the traits of D&D's grand-daddy, strategic wargaming. He was resistant to players modifying the rules, because he had a 'tournment rulings' mentality at the time, and felt that he had worked long and hard on the mechanics to finesse them into (his conception of ) playability and game balance. As for myself, despite the fact that I always respected Gygax for his critical part in the creation of something that I loved, I still held his limited views against him (in a friendly kind of way, that is). HOWEVER: this all changed in the early 90s when he came out with a game called Mythus. As I leafed through the corebook of this new game, I experienced an amazing revelation. To sum it up, Gygax had EVOLVED beyond his former self, and had assumed a more advanced, sophisticated orientation regarding FRPG systems, and what i held in my hand was essentially Gygax's version of ... POWERS AND PERILS.

PART TWO: Now, at that point, I had already been deeply acquainted with P&P for quite a few years; it was a game that represented my personal 'philosophy' or 'school-of-thought' as I sometimes like to call it. When I was reading Mythus (which is a masterpiece), I was seeing the same ESSENTIAL principles that P&P was built upon. For me, that is significant, and speaks of the importance of P&P as a system. P&P barely had a published lifespan to be evolved in an 'official' capacity. No extensive playtesting from an official staff publishing their corrections and modifications. No sourcebooks. There was some support, but it was dictated by the era, and budget, and was almost entirely from Snider. But what was ther was very significant, for it was a very strong base, a foundation, that was unusually sound. The core of the systems, the rationale behind them, just make sense. P&P provides a great FOUNDATION to develop on. The whole long-winded point I am trying to make here is basically one of Coming Full Circle. Richard Snider's vision was kind of ahead of its time, I think (back in the early 80s). He and Arneson shared a certain kind of spirit in gaming; Gygax, for the time being, had won out. But Gygax changed after his personal debacle with the TSR experience, and his change was oriented toward what is represented by Powers And Perils. P&P is similar to Chivalry And Sorcery: they are two truly great games that got bad press because the 'majority' were intimidated by their complexity. These kinds of systems, simply put, are not for everyone. But for those they are made for (the 'art & the craft' types), their greatness and importance are understood and cherished. Actually, it is a mark of honor that they get bashed because of this preferential disavowal; but it can be unfortunate when the very existence of the game does not come to the attention of those who would deeply appreciate it.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

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Catacomb librarian said...

thank you.

why not? do you have some posts already in mind that you would like to write? just let me know, we can talk about this.

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