As a rather outspoken and opinioned person, I thought that I could put my ranting to some better use, in the form of editorials that explain the direction that New Dimension Games goes with its products, its principles, and its players.
You can select the rant you want to suffer by clicking on the its link below, or, if you're really brave, you can go through them all by reading this page in its entirety!
Remember To Have Fun
Beware the philosophical game rant of Matt deMille . . .
As Plato said, music, the arts, they are the strongest power we know, and will shape the way government rules and society behaves. Im proud to be an artist. I am aware of its hidden but perilous power. But to be an artist, you have to be something like a mythical god, at the same time powerful but humbled by mortal form, aware of the ways of Olympus but playful in this world it rules. I am indeed a playful person. Art is simply what I use to play with. Ultimately, the way my work shall change the world is to make it a better place, a fun place, where many other mortals than would have otherwise may enter Paradise as gods, feel like them, even become them.
I might seem nothing more than an arrogant fool to all save those who are neither arrogant nor foolish themselves. If I am so wise, so powerful as I attest, why do I write games? Why do I read Plato and philosophy, study history, peel back layers of psychology and art, only to build toys? Is that foolish? Is the toymaker arrogant for believing his trinkets as valuable as the Hall Of Records? It depends on ones viewpoint of what is important in life. I see it as arrogant indeed to believe that endless study for its own sake is the pinnacle of mans nobility. I see it as being comparable to a viking raid, an endless circle of self-perpetuating futility, each raids profit paying for nothing but the next raid. Those who study only for the sake of studying never use their wisdom. Those who save money until they die never get to spend it. Those who do not use what they have acquired in life to actually live are the greatest fools of all. For, as they would certainly argue, they are not gods, but mortals. Indeed, for they aspire to be nothing but mortal, doomed to die and be forgotten. If that is inevitable, why do they even bother to live?
I believe that my lofty studies such as Plato, philosophy, etc. are empowered by their use for fun. Perhaps even made greater than if I were teaching at Oxford. Rather than the viking raid, my intellectual pursuits are comparable to training for the Olympic games or just a good old boxing match. The far more lofty and noble pursuits of exercise, diet and discipline are done mostly if not entirely for a barbaric contest surrounded by a bloodthirsty crowd. Rather than using all that training to empower my personal life, I spend it all in one night for a mere game, albeit a very entertaining one. Thus, rather than selfishly empower my one life, which supposedly better or at least wiser men would deem is doomed to inevitable death and forgotten records anyway, I empowered the lives of many, many people on that one night of the game, who might be inspired or were at least entertained and indeed truly lived, albeit for a short while.
Indeed I read as much as any highly regarded scientist or scholar, and I certainly have the tools to flourish in their careers as well as they do, but what purpose would that serve? The world has enough lawyers, businessmen and buggywhip makers. Perhaps too many. What would I accomplish by just raising the bar for them? Id rather take the gift of my short life, intelligence and spirit to make life better for everyone in ways they can all understand and appreciate. Thus, in the end, no god am I, nor arrogant or foolish. I am a mortal who walks among other mortals, humbled by my own desire, watching other arrogant fools think themselves superior with their contradictory philosophy of bettering themselves so they look beautiful in their coffins. I call them vampires, only they arent waiting to rise from the grave before sucking the lifeblood out of the world. Me, Im quickening that blood, making it stronger. I feel like Rocky flying up the Philadelphia Art Museum stairs.
The games I design are true magic. After all, if I can be so smart that to waste such power on games becomes some sort of sin, then smart I must be, but it was inspired by games to begin with. And who knows what other noble but as yet untrodden paths such entertainment will encourage others to seek within their own souls?
When I write games, I try to keep them fun. The top D&D adventures of all time, as voted on the games thirtieth anniversary, were all very much filled with neat stuff. They were adventures that focused on building fantastic history or character studies. They were funhouses, filled with riddles, puzzles, colorful narratives, memorable enemies and more. They didnt waste half their pages with needlessly drawn out introductions for the party, but rather they just dropped you on the doorstep of the castle and said "Go! Adventure!" and let your character be developed by your actions rather than your rhetoric. Indeed, these adventures encouraged you to truly live, to use your own gifts to live, rather than simply study for no purpose. That is why they remained in our hearts and were considered the best, whether we have forgotten that or not.
Ultimately, what is life about? To live. Have we forgotten that too? Even if your methods for attaining life seem loftier than their ends, remember, we are not gods, we are mortals. Lets be mortals then, and enjoy. Mortals may never go to Olympus, but perhaps the gods so often come down to earth and walk amongst us, sharing our adventures, because Olympus is boring, because mortality is where its at, because the mortal world is . . . fun!
A Bigger World Than You Think
Fantasia is a game for adventurers, not academics. Its products are created by storytellers, not scholars. The world of Fantasia is far more complex and reaches to lands beyond most other game settings, only these worlds are waiting to be discovered rather than being written down in guidebooks to be conveniently and comfortably memorized. There are more characters, monsters, treasures, tales, legends, lore, cultures and creativity than a dozen or more other fantasy worlds combined. However, these treasures of other-worldly fantasy are waiting for the brave and bold, for the adventurous at heart, not those who sit back and watch from a safe distance. The details of this expansive world are revealed through its adventures, not through tomes, handbooks and the like. Therefore, it is a world that is to be explored, not studied, a world whose rewards, like the Grail itself, await at the end of a quest, found only the dangerous way, the fun and the exciting wayadventure!
Anybody can purchase another ten or twenty guidebooks, read them, and have all a worlds surprises spoiled for him, but thats nothing to brag about or even be proud of. He who learns of a world through his actions, who can claim to have overcome ten or twenty Dragons, now thats something to be proud of! Fantasia makes no allowances for those who do not dare to dream, indeed who do not dare at all. The game, even the company itself is a dare, to take the path less traveled, to metaphorically enter the Dragons lair rather than farm a field. Want an obscure race of Dwarves? You got it, but why put it into a handbook so that it becomes so often used that it is no longer obscure? New magical items? Sure, but they wont be found it a book, rather they will be found in a ruined castle or on the shallow bed of a river leading there. Ya know, we can come up with many revolutionary, other-game-bookworthy ideas for every single Adventure. We stock this world with so much imagination that if we were to make handbooks there would be hundreds of them, and thus, a big waste of all those ideas. We dont chronicle themwe use them as they should be, as enhancements to the adventure.
Embrace Fantasia and find a far more glorious game than you ever have before! After all, why would you want to just read about a world when you can go there?
Playing Or Performing?
It comes up again and again, Players demanding role-playing all the while they argue rules. Won't anyone ever get it? You simply cannot do both. If you play a game (like most RPGs) that is rule-heavy, it crowds out performance because there is no subtly. Anything one would want to perform has to 'be approved' by an existing rule. So if you want to perform, play a game (like ours, shameless plug, I know) that is rule-light. In rule-heavy (i.e. most) games, the lack of subtly to the fantasy-reality's details become like a movie's visuals, the performance forced to cater to them at best, if not be obliterated by those visuals, as they draw your attention to them, leaving no room for interpretation. In a rule-light game, it's more like a stage performance, where props and sets merely suggest things to your imagination, thereby encouraging you to see what is not there, and allow your own preferences to build the world you would rather see and enjoy.
Adventures With Basic Plots
The Modules, Quests and other adventures provided for our game lines have sometimes been criticized for not developing greater story arcs or deeply involving the Player Characters. In fact, there have been so many misinterpretations that I believe an editorial is necessary. Not as a defense of our dogma, but as an encouragement for gamers to try a new approach to things, indeed to see a new dimension to gaming.
First and foremost, no packaged adventure can intimately involve the Player Characters, as PCs are so unique to their respective gaming groups, and to lay out 'adventure hooks' would only serve some but further alienate the majority of others. Moreover, even if stories written by a far-off neutral source could in fact somehow psychicly anticipate individual Characters, it would be wrong to. The adventure provides an opportunity, a physical part of the fantasy world, but they are deliberately left generic, without far reaching consequences, in order to allow the Game Master to tailor the adventure and its characters and settings to his Campaign, much the same as he does with the rules themselves. By having 'basic plots', the GM is not forced to have the Campaign go down a path that he or his Players do not want. The purpose of the packaged adventure, just like the rules themselves, is to save the gamers time, by preparing things in advance and balancing them, but only preparing resources, not forcing the author's preferred themes upon someone else's game.
In addition, looking at 'the basic' from a purely marketing standpoint, adventures are also designed to be independent so as not to force anyone to buy things that are simply not necessary. Indeed, we deny ourselves any cross-marketing greed by having every product stand alone. To make sequels, sagas and products that otherwise depend on the purchase of other products is, to us, unethical. Players shouldn't have to spend any more money than they need to in order to enjoy their hobby. Far be it from us at New Dimension Games to follow the lamentable (even if profitable) path that high profile game companies have in the past . . . just before they lost the respect of the fans.
Too Much Role-Playing
Ironically, one great problem role-playing games have these days is that there is too much role-playing being done. Now, New Dimension Games pushes role-playing more than most companies, as our rules are minimized in order to maximize one's room for performance and improvisational additions to the story. However, it seems that with all the hardcover books out there for world building, backstory and other ultimately trivial details, nobody goes on adventures anymore. I really have to wonder why games bother publishing rules for experience points, levels or risk factors at all, or hell, why even bother with publishing rules for combat and even dice rolls? It's not like they're ever really used, and if they are, it's half-hearted and meaningless at best, because the once carefully balanced scores are thrown out the window by the GM's big modifiers based on story whims. You can min-max your scores all you want to squeeze out that +3 it took your character half a lifetime to earn, but when the GM just tosses out a +5 bonus to someone else because he has a 'story detail', well, why bother bringing all those expensive rulebooks to the game table? Why bother even buying them? Seriously, folks, role-playing is what the game is about, but it's an ADVENTURE role-playing game! Can we cut with the tavern talk and get our asses to the dungeon already?
Games With Teeth
I yearn for, I dream of, and I work to create role-playing games on a higher level than they currently are. Prepared adventures are frowned upon by many because most published scenarios are just video games on paper. The rest of the world looks upon our games as silly, sophomoric, or the habitat of hopeless geeks. I almost wish the "old days" were back, when the mainstream readily attacked gaming because it was evil. At least evil was something to be feared. We challenged them. Nowadays they laugh at us. There was also a time when each and every adventure was seen as a challenge by gamers, but now, they frown on them because they cannot be argued or might pose a threat to their fantasy persona's life, indeed for so many it is not adventure gaming any longer, but fashion gaming. It is a sad and pitiful age of gaming, and perhaps the naysayers are right when they say we all have "no life". This is not the confession of a failed gamer. Quite the contrary. I am challenging gamers to challenge themselves, to give their hobby some backbone. Avoid conventional approaches. There are no rules to creativity. Adventure role-playing has untapped potential for being serious literature, involving art, and an activity that is enlightening and advancing on every intellectual and even spiritual level. To those gamers whose lives are enriched by gaming, you will appreciate the words the follow down this page. For those for whom gaming is an entrapping way of life, perhaps the words on this page will set you free. Yes, this is an editorial about the following editorials. Did you see that coming? Welcome to new dimensions of gaming . . .
Why Can't RPGs Generate Role-Playing?
"Role-playing does not and should not invent rulesit should only interpret them."
We've all been therethe dream, the fantasy of our character or a great, involved story, always dreamt outside the game that is supposed to be able to make it a reality. But why? Why is it that when gamers get together, these thousand-page books of carefully thought out rules seem unable to do little more than provide bickering-fodder for friends that quickly become enemies, either with characters that kill each other or as players arguing at the communal table? The best laid plans of players and gamemasters alike are usually made with strong ideals for a great, memorable adventure, though we all know that they seldom turn out that way. So why do we continually pursue a losing proposition? Do we really enjoy the inner pain? Do we truly find fun in expressing our deepest dreams only to have them tossed into the psychological wrestling ring with a bunch of brutish players that are just looking for a way to kill time (and dreams)? I personally love game-satire like 'Knights of the Dinner Table' and the Dead Gentlemen film 'The Gamers'. But as these funnies show us the 'bad' side of gamers, that they are so popular bespeaks that we all have been there and can identify with what they are going through, for nothing strikes a smile or evokes a laughter as much as truth. We almost need such humor in order to cover up the pain of countless failed attempts at living the elusive dream of a 'great role-playing game'. What is our quest? Where lies our grail?'
I believe there is indeed a solution to this, and the proof that it is there is in the undying devotion we all have to these games. No, we do not enjoy laying out our carefully thought-through stories on the table only to have them reduced to hack-fests. Yet we pursue the elusive 'true role-playing experience' because we know it's possible to achieve. Now, it's easy to blame players with whom one has disagreed with (or argued with, or thrown dice at, etc). But it is much easier to overlook the game system itself as being at fault, since we have already accepted it for ourself. And so if players are easily interchanged and humans will always have their preferences, finding good players should be just as easy as stumbling across disagreeable ones. But if games fall apart so often, then perhaps the problem lies somewhere else, indeed not in the players at all. The players are only playing the game. Is it possible then that the role-playing game itself does not provide a suitable opportunity for role-playing? Without realizing it, most of us have already agreed with this idea, as proven by our needing to modify the rules with 'house-rules' at the first opportunity. But the true nature of the beast is the corporate packaging of these products, which are designed for a bottom line, indeed a quarterly report, and not for the art that is necessary to cater to the dreams and fantasies of players.
That is what New Dimension Games is all aboutproviding a system that does not block attempts at being serious about the game, by not favoring hack-and-slash or power-mongering, but by being neutral and balanced as far as player preferences and being too simple to allow rules-lawyers to abuse it. Indeed, it is almost as if, when a game goes bad, we are competing with the rules, when the rules should be there to compliment our fantasies and provide a stage for them. But by the overly complex nature of some mass-produced books, their sheer volume encourages survival by finding loopholes and power attained by conquest alone, leaving little or no incentive to role-play. But what if, just what if, a rule system was simple enough that looking for loopholes was clearly a waste of time because the rules were clear and certain, and power was undeniably achieved through courage rather than luck, thus leaving all players on a level playing field so-to-speak, having to truly sweat out those dice rolls and count those XPs?
I believe that many gamersmost of them for certaindeep down are weary of hollow victories, you know, nobody dying because the GM was fudging rolls for them, or the opposite, with the GM wanting so much to see his planned drama unfold that he'll go out of his way to kill of characters. Either way, it's a testament to game rules statistically favoring player characters or their enemies, rather than favoring the creation of a role-playing environment. Too many games try too hard to be 'realistic', to account for every detail, to in essence create a 'virtual reality' tabletop game, when an RPG is truly a shared story, an interactive dream, whose memories are more precious than its points, or at least they should be. Truly, more gamers can offer up war stories of past character follies, foolish deaths, bad dice rolls and humor at the expense of their friends than they can stories of achieving the dreams that were so strong when they wrote up that ten-page history for their new character. But why must the dramatic memories be based on what bad rolls or the dumb mistakes of distracted players created? Again, can't all that energy spent in conjuring, creating and crafting one's character be justified?
Yes, it can, and the answer lies in simpler rules, where there is less arguing about them and more concern spent on how to sneak past that statue without it coming to life . . .
A common debate amongst gaming circles today is the use of packaged adventures or 'modules' as most people call them. Indeed, for a company such as New Dimension Games that is struggling for a fanbase, why put so much emphasis on something as controversial as Modules and other prepared adventures at all? Well, we are not going to try and duplicate what other companies do, but rather, we are going to provide for those gamers that are as yet unspoken for. Specifically, we want to target old-school gamers as well as those who look beyond today's products, indeed that the industry will change for the better, combining the best of both worlds to create the 'dream game' for those who are more interested in role-playing than roll-playing. Now, one may ask, don't packaged adventures work against that concept? Aren't they restrictive? Isn't it better when a GM tailors an adventure to the specific Characters he is to play with? And, indeed, aren't packaged modules at best a thing of the past, and at worst a crutch for unimaginative GMs?
Since this is one of those questions for which there is no absolute answer, but rather only preferences, I will answer as far as the agenda of New Dimension Games is concerned. The truth is that role-playing games have no solid foundation, and so, like any art, anyone can play them according to their individual tastes, likes and dislikes. I do regret that so many people try to impose their preferences on others like some sort of official canon or religion, and prepared adventures, 'modules' if you wish to call them that, often take the brunt of this negativity. We at NDG simply prefer writing adventures over rules, and for many good reasons. But before we go into those, let's look at what packaged adventures are not. I mean, truly, are packaged adventures any more of a crutch than endless volumes of rules that list details and specifics? Think about it. Who needs a supplement book that lists two hundred different versions of swords? Can't one's imagination come up with runes, bloodgrooves, hilt designs and other details? Players who complain about GMs being uncreative by using modules and then crack open a 400-page sourcebook for expanded character quirks and colours for their boot laces simply make me laugh. Can't they describe dice rolls or ability scores on their own? Home brewed rules are bad, they argue, but home brewed adventures are what they demand, but look at not just the contradiction in that, but also the absurdity, and the risk for Character survival. At least home brewed rules are agreed upon in advance, and if an adventure is packaged and printed, it is solid, and the GM cannot change things to force the Characters one way or another, as if he does, then they can just check the text and call him on it. Truly, what is a home brewed adventure other than a volume of as yet unknown home rules that can alter the game at any time without being answerable to the Players? Traps, puzzles, even battles, all these can have home brewed stipulations that can be of serious trouble to the Players. And aren't all rules, by their very nature, a crutch for unimaginative players? No, they are not, no more than 'modules' are. Home brewed rules and adventures have their place, just as printed and prepared ones do. However, I don't believe that a lot of naysayers truly appreciate what packaged adventures truly are.
Now, I will be the first to agree that packaged adventures, as we have known them for the last ten years or so, leave a lot to be desired. The Corporate Monster that we know as a common enemy saw to the death of quality in the late '80s and pretty much throughout the '90s. But remember, New Dimension Games has a lot of old-school spirit in it, and back in the days of Gygax, modules were always pushing the envelope on what the game could do. No, perhaps they didn't find a perfect balance even back then, but they accomplished a lot more than redundant rules have ever done, and in the last twenty years, we at NDG have been refining packaged adventures to make them better. For instance, we don't have any 'useless' Encounters like corridors in a castle, unless there is a ghost haunting it. No, every Encounter offers danger, reward, interest, or a combination of the three. Also, the storylines are more open and inviting to role-players, thus encouraging Character development rather than hampering or 'plot hammering' it. That sounds easy, I know, but our system has been going for years, and it works just fine. We do not do video game-like dungeons, but rather, something more like the Mines of Moria from Tolkien, where the prepared adventure focuses on those areas where the 'dungeon' offers opportunities for drama, rather than selling a box of graph paper than encloses the party in like rats in a maze.
The good, solid reasons for using packaged adventures are many. First, when an adventure is written down, it is solid and fair, and thus the text makes an undeniable ruling in any argument. It also shows the players the proportions of the game world, as intended by the game's designers, and presents us all with legends to explore; just as we as fans say "Oh, I can't wait to read that book", we can (and used to) say the same thing about packaged adventures, like "Damn, I can't wait to try my hand at beating that maze!" Or maybe the GM is ill and, while loyal and determined to run an adventure, he simply cannot be creative enough to do it on the spot, being drugged up or in pain (this author cannot personally attest to this, for as of this writing, I am a month and counting into a battle with Mono, and I like having an adventure prepared because I'm often too tired to even stand, much less be seven steps ahead of seven Players for seven hours). Furthermore, GMs have lives too. Not only do they not get to play, but they are expected to set aside ten or perhaps even twenty hours preparing an adventure? Truly, what time, outside the game, do the Players contribute? Do they spend even one hour prepping anything for the game? The GM puts in just as much time at the game table as they do, but what extra effort does he get out of it from those who cry foul when they hear 'pre-fab'? Another reason packaged adventures are okay is that the very 'gawdfather of gaming', Gygax himself, wrote tons of adventures, indeed it was pretty much all he did, creating endless opportunities for people to explore his world, and if he made the game we all know and love, then I'd say his opinion, his legacy, weighs heavily in such a debate as this. But most importantly, prepared adventures give all the players, both GMs and PCs alike, something to do with those Characters who seem to need a story so much. For when a GM is forced to go without a prepared adventure (usually by Players who believe that prepared stuff is soooo sacrilegious), storytelling inevitably fades away behind a subtle dance of demands, as the GM and Players bandy rules and reality-details. It is possible, after all, to try too much to tell a story, and with everybody trying to take their story in a different direction, it becomes impossible to satisfy everyone's preferences. Sometimes, it's just more fun and more practical to assault a castle or have a simpler story (i.e. a packaged one) that everybody can adhere to, but whilst in pursuit of the treasure, still develop their Character according to where the book takes them or where the dice happen to fall. Sometimes, when a brand new Character is accompanied by twelve pages of notes, I wonder if his story isn't already told, and that the adventure isn't merely a formality to satisfy his preferences.
So, on to adventure! And adventure is the name of the game. Fantasia may be a 'soft' game as far as rules are concerned (i.e. a lack of them), but it is hardcore indeed when it comes to danger, peril, and taking on the greatest villains and ancient powers the fantasy world has to offer! After all, those Characters built up by endless expansive (and expensive) supplements have to have something to do. It is an adventure game, not a bodybuilding contest. So, as we in an adventure game like to get out there and adventure, we must choose one of a few select roads, with prepared adventures being one of those few. The others, like 'seat of the pants' and 'impromptu' games are fine for more involved storytelling, and if that's what people want, then we wish them all the best. But it's hard to package details about personal Characters we don't know of. Moreover, the 'playing on the fly' approach doesn't allow for as fair a game, nor indeed as truly an imaginative one, in some respects. Consider, fairly, how much of any improvisational adventure has anything to it outside of NPC interaction and battle? Pulling monsters from the roster and throwing them at the party doesn't constitute an Encounter, at least not a good one. There is so much in the fantasy world that simply cannot be created on a moment's notice. How can a GM come up with the complexities of traps on the fly? How can he compose riddles in two seconds? And prepared adventures, while perhaps only able to be played once, always offer guidelines and inspiration for one who designs his own adventures. Perhaps the GM who follows a Module 'by the numbers' and recites boxed text is indeed a uncreative, or perhaps he's just learning and honing his skills, like an actor with his lines. We see prepared text as being like a script, and the GM can perform it in his own ways, adding his own touches. After all, every performance of Hamlet over the last four centuries hasn't been letter-perfect nor performed exactly the same way. And GMs can always add, omit or modify Encounters, subplots, or anything else. And again, if one is quick to say that reading from an adventure is uncreative, show me the Player who comes up with fancy descriptions or involving drama for each one of his actions or dice rolls on that spot. It's tough to do. If one is quick to say that someone should only use home brewed adventures, why stop there? The argument could be made that all rules should be home brewed as well, and people should carve their own dice and miniatures too, for selecting a mini off the shelf that's 'close' to what one's Character looks like and then saying 'good enough' is being 'uncreative', isn't it? Shouldn't such Players, by their own logic, be expected to, while the GM is taking ten hours to write their adventure, take ten hours to carve their Character? In this age of video game-thinking, it's easy to see packaged adventures as being as restrictive as a digital world with those square walls and other barriers, but they're restrictive only to those who would be doomed to create just as boring an adventure as that square world on their own, whether they ever opened up a Module or not. At the least, prepared adventures show other possibilities. At most, however, they are the meat and drink of the adventure role-playing game. A thing of the past? Is adventure a thing of the past?
Inspired by reading the inspiration for the original strip involving Daves cow in 'Knights of the Dinner Table: Bundle of Trouble Vol 6' (essentially, the author remembered a time when he sat out a game but listened to his friends argue endlessly about senseless details), I thought about 'reality' in role-playing games, especially fantasy role-playing games. Many game companies make sales by producing excessive volumes of superfluous rules, somehow convincing gamers that such excessive details of reality make for a better game. The truth is, games are not supposed to recreate reality, and no amount of details can ever do that (Gygax knew what he was talking about when he addressed this very issue in the original AD&D).
A question of realism can be a hard one to solve, as most games are fantasy games, and thus, everyone wants the rules of reality to apply when it is most convenient for them. The GM simply cannot let reality run rough-shod over his game, because when it's most convenient for the players, it is least convenient for the monsters, and he has to be fair. Sometimes, however, players need a sledge hammer to remind them of what reality is. For example, players almost always think they can just down healing potion after healing potion in battle because, well, they're healing potions. Well, potions are good for being used after the battle, but players sitting around a table who prefer fantasy combat because they don't have the knads for real-life fighting don't have a clue what battle is like, and so all their arguments of reality are to laugh. Furthering the potion example, ask the stubborn player if he can down a soda pop in six seconds (the standard length of a 'round' in most games) while the other players are free to wrestle it away from him (or beat on him with whatever impromptu weapons they choose). Even in this 'soft' version of battle, one can easily see just how stupid one's argument of 'hiding around a pillar to guzzle potions while the Orcs coincidentily forget about the one who decapitated their master' is.
Role-playing can be played many ways, such as an incredible game of tactics, or, as we prefer, as interactive storytelling. Reality-details are for tacticals, and if you're playing a tactical game, it's not a storytelling game. Alas, many a gamer wants both, but that's the same as mixing oil and water, and, as always, it only creates a mess. We at New Dimension Games have chosen to focus on the interactive storytelling that an RPG can be. In this dance between GM and Players, details of reality (as we know it) are one of many tools, but they are not the rules. Indeed, reality-details are A tool, not THE rule. We play these games for excitement and drama, not number crunching. Drama and excitement are due to clearly ubnderstood cause and effect, not long lapses of play-time due to squabbles about the size of snowflakes. The simpler the rules, the more readily the drama comes into the gamethings are clear-cut, leaving no room for cowards to try and weasel out of their peril by flipping through the pages for some piddy rule to save their sorry ass. Simple, clear-cut, cause-and-effect brings all the excitement right up to your game table. Those who try to create some psuedo-reality with rules and more rules and more rules are not role-playingthey are rule-playing. Keep the rules simple. Let the dice fall where they may. Take the bad with the good. Have an adventure!
Problems And Solutions
The following is a list that began as a serious game aid, but, well, as we all know how gamers can be . . . ahhh, you know. Enjoy it. And, um, use it, but just don't take us seriously on all our advice . . .
1-1) Consider a dice to always be cocked or fudged unless it is perfectly flat. This way there are no arguments or gray areas about what is off and what is fair.
1-2) A players dice rolling method, be it on my book to be legal, red dice first in a percentile or anything else, remains consistent with the guidelines he set down last time, continuing until he declares them otherwisebefore a roll to which the new guidelines are to be applied.
1-3) All rolls have to be visible on the game table. This goes for Game Masters and Character creation as well. The only exception is a GMs secretive rolls such as Searching Checks, though these can be inspected by the Players if they wish to destroy the suspense of the story. And, in the case of Searching Checks in particular, if someone questions the roll and wishes to see it, he cannot benefit from whatever may be hidden there when it actually is found (probably by those industrious Players who are spending more time considering where to look rather than complaining).
1-4) When someone rolls out of turn the roll is void. It is better to agree upon this or at least mention it before the game begins, and to reiterate it once in a while.
2-1) A good, working style to follow for Order Of Play is mapping first, then prepared narratives, and then Player actions.
2-2) Establish a regular game day and time. This way everyone knows when to show up and where. No games should be played outside this establishment unless agreed upon by everyone. This way, if someone doesnt show up, the others cannot be held accountable for any Character losses, fair or foul.
2-3) Players who dont show up to an agreed time and place for the game have their Characters run as NPCs. Who rolls for them shouldnt be a problem, as dice will do what dice will do after all. What should be the important point is that they receive a share of Experience and treasure on a ratio agreed upon in advance, such as a half-share (if they are daring to have a date or otherwise get a life) or a full share (if they are doing something excusable like catching a theatrical showing of Hawk the Slayer).
2-4) The first game session of a group or Campaign involves everybody rolling up their Characters. When, during the game, someone's Character dies, the game continues while that Player rolls up a new Character, working with the GM when he is not busy (i.e. waiting for the party to make a decision). This way the unfortunate Player does not sit around bored while he waits for an appropriate Introduction Encounter, nor do the surviving party members have to stop their continuing game and wait, either. The Introduction Encounters (in NDG adventures) are particularly helpful here, for they settle all arguments about when and where new Player Characters can be introduced into the game. This raises the stakes of survival, equates fair play for everybody, and also gives everybody something to do whether they are alive, dead, or GM.
2-5) Disallow cell phones, pagers and other such devices in the gameroom. If someone has a legitimate need for having a phone nearby, such as a sick friend, military status, etc. turn the ringer to vibrate. In the future, tell others to take care of business before coming to the gameif someone can tell an employer, their parents or girlfriend that they cannot be contacted at a ball game or that they didnt answer because they were watching their favorite TV show or simply fell asleep, they sure as hell can ignore the phone for a group of people who drove from all over Hell to come together for a common team effort.
3-1) If the party is obsessively searching in every desk drawer, sconce and toilet, either restrict them to single Searching Rolls for an entire area (each boxed description), or just ignore them and respond only to non-search related comments by the (other) Players.
3-2) Paranoid Players who waste time drawing up needless battle plans for every campsite, marketplace visit and inn room can be encouraged to calm down by simply making those plans worthlessuse the maps and plans yourself, by way of sending enemies chosen by their virtue of being able to avoid all the things the party sets out. Indeed, the more reality-details they come up with, use those against them, until they're encouraged to simply go back to taking a chance as established by the dice and rules, indeed, to have fun and not be so competitive.
3-3) If a Player and the GM hit the 'mapping language barrier', perhaps the GM can hold up prepared flashcards showing the rooms dimensions and doors.
4-1) Do not award bonus Experience Points for role-playing! Offer other incentivesthe kind that dont encourage more rule-playing, but rather encourage Players to think about things besides numbers.
4-2) Award a real-life prize to the greatest hero of the party, like a holy grail at the end of the adventure. It could be a cup filled with quarters contributed by all the players, like ante in poker. This will give them something to strive for.
4-3) Reduce Health permanently until the Player performs, for the delight of all at the table, something as silly to the game group as his Character's actions were in the adventure, such as singing or standing on his head. Dont force anything that would require an illegal action, however. Of course, the silly one is likely to refuse to do these things, and so thats when you refuse to give him any Experience Points, healing or spells, until he pays his penance to the god of humor, or simply realizes what how he's dragged down the game for others and decides to mature, let it go, and play the shared fantasy that everyone else is striving to create.
5-1) Describe the results of rolls with simple combinations of easily memorable words. For example, the results of Searching Checks can be described with combinations of "Your efforts . . ." "Your search . . ." with "yield" "discover" with "nothing" "dirty hands", etc. Find your own favorite phrases that come easily to your mind, and rework them time and time again.
5-2) When the party is taking forever to make some critical decision, such as solving a puzzle, planning an assault or dividing treasure (or even deciding what color underwear to put on), start rolling senselessly behind the screen. Not for any particular reason, other than that pressure tends to make the Players move. And, even if this does move the party into trouble, well, that may not be wholly fair, but it wasn't all that fair to sit there debating for hours while you as GM got to count the ceiling tiles, either.
6-1) When you make an error in judgment that results in something tragic happening to your Character, do not throw dice, question the GMs authority or any other such cowardly actsimply take it like a man. In this case, a good, very audible Homer-like "Doh!" can help the pain immensely.
6-2) Despite the expectations of Players, a GM does not know everythinghe knows what is important to the story he has to tell. When Players ask for details he has not prepared, he can make them up on the fly if he feels like it, but he does not have to. The GM can always steer an adventure back in the way he intended it to go simply by saying "Its of no importance" to any needless requests. Players should expect that.
6-3) If your Players question your fairness as a GM, they can see your GMs notes to verify your veracity, but if what you said is true according to what is written, then they must suffer a pre-agreed increase to the unfortunate result, such as double-damage.
7-1) The Game Master might want to keep a copy of each Players Character sheet so scores and treasures dont mysteriously swell like the wounds they dont receive to gain them.
7-2) Characters can indeed be made away from the game, so long as the rolls are made in front of the GM, and then the Player can take days to apply those rolls and decide the non-dice statistics. The GM should keep a copy of those rolls, however, so the Player cannot claim they were otherwise.
7-3) Not necessarily cheating, at least not all the time, but Players should leave their Character sheet in the GMs possession after the game. This way they cannot take it home and lose it only to remember exactly what they had . . .
7-4) If any Player disputes their GM's interpretation of the Game Reality, the essay provided earlier on this page entitled 'Arguing Reality' may come in handy.
What's Wrong With Wrestling
I submit to you, anyone who cares about the WWE, be you a fan or Vince himself, this editorial outlining very clearly what the hell is wrong with pro-wrestling. If you have been asking yourself this question, here are your answers. They are neither complicated nor difficult to solve. So, if you are on the end of the spectrum with the power to correct these things, get up off your ass and DO IT!!! If you are a powerless fan like me, use them to weigh whether you really still want to watch the shitfest that WWE has become.
1) The name. Losing the initials WWF really stripped away any sense of identity. From the 80s with Hogan and superhero wrestlers to the 90s with Austin and attitude, every highpoint in WWEs history had at its axis a strong sense of identity. What the hell is WWE? Nobody knows, apparently WWE themselves, because they change their mind and promotional direction every week. By God (and I dont mean Triple-H), Vince, people flocked to the WWF in the 80s and stayed for decades because they respected you. You were brave, daring. Where are the grapefruits now? Every TV edit, every hatchet-job DVD, every dumb skitthese are clear signs not of bravery, but of desperation at best, and at worst some deluded sense of gratification to tell yourself you are cutting edge. Courage is timeless, Vince. Have the balls to choose one vision and go with it. Heres a recommendation: Go back to the beginning. The 80s. Make wrestling fun again. Forget making a live-action-adventure-TV show. Make it a sport, with rankings, championships, and CHARACTERS rather than caricatures. Abandon WWE. Keep the namelaw says you have tobut give us the flavor of the Federation, the WWF. Bring back the red, white and blue ropes, the big logo above the entrance, the referees having shirts colored to match the show (red shirts for RAW), the wrestlers being competitors, etc. What we have now is thematic chaos.
2) Triple-H. Need I say more? Heres a guy who is married to the boss daughter and head writer. Conflict of interests, anyone? His politics have destroyed countless talents, most namely Kurt Angle, who could have easily carried the torch back into mainstream popularity AND respect. Either put Triple-H firmly in the writing team and OFF the roster, or get rid of him and Stephanie entirely. WWE has an obligation to the stockholders to produce the best product they can, and Paul (Triple-H) has proven for over half a decade that he only chases talent away and adds nothing to the show on his own.
3) The Championship. They need to mean something. First, you actually need a championshipA championship. There needs to be ONE world belt, the traditional WWE title, which can be challenged by all three brands, like it was originally with Brock. This will make THE champion special, god-like, and therefore getting a short at him would draw huge interest and create tremendous excitement. In other words, happy fans and happy stockholders.
4) Lesser championships. Yes, you need to have some lesser belts to tell stories and flesh out cards, but there are just too damn many. Title belts are gold, right? Lets run with that metaphor. What happens where there is too much gold on the market? The price drops. There needs to be one single belt for each brand, say the IC belt for RAW, the US belt for SmackDown, and the ECW/hardcore belt for ECW. After that, move ALL the divas to one brand and keep the womens title there, for the opposite problem of too many belts is not enough challengers for ita thin division depowers a title. The womens title on RAW so you can be edge on cable TV with T&A, and the tag belts on SmackDown for its emphasis on wrestling action. Finally, have tag-team matches anywhere, sure, but have only one set of tag-team titles, and keep them on a specific brand. Finally, just lose the damn lightweight belts. There are no weight divisions in wrestling and everybody knows it, so cut the shit.
5) PPV. This one comes from the championships. PPVs need to be worth buying. I dont mean in terms of in-ring action, but in what is marketed. THE championship should only be allowed to be contested at PPVs. Furthermore, specialty or gimmick matches should be reserved for PPVs or used sparingly on TV. Finally, results from PPVs should not be undone the next night on RAW, and rematches should simply not happen (at least until the next PPV). I mean, why pay $40 for a match when not only will its result be meaningless, but you can see it for free the next night? The forced wait between PPVs would build excitement and give a sense of consequences or victory, so those high-priced shows would become MUST-see shows, making us feel we got our moneys worth.
6) Returning stars. This one trails off of PPVs. If you have a BIG returning star, save him for a PPV. When the Rock came back in 2001, he had a match on TV a week before SummerSlam. Same with Triple-H in early 2002 before the Rumble. What a waste. Make the return special by saving it for the special events.
7) Surprises. As Biscoff points out in the "Monday Night Wars" DVD, Turner Broadcasting did good researchwrestling fans like surprises, namely spontaneous situations and fights. Given the current format of WWE TV shows, it is clear that everything happens around the framework of the commercials. There is no sense of realism, and thus, no reason to care. When wrestlers go outside the ring, it always goes to a commercial. Why? And instead of the cameramen conveniently capturing things as they happen, it should be done as "earlier today" or "during the break", like in a real sport. If the mad situations inherent in wrestling did not conveniently weave around the commercials and quarter-hours, they would be far more exciting, and because of this new-fangled thing called "recording", they could still be shown all the same, so fans would miss nothing.
8) The Fourth Wall. In regards to the cameramen, has anyone else wanted to hunt down Kevin Dunn and Vince for their 1st-grade storytelling ability? The fact that the cameras are always EVERYWHERE, as if being toted around by invisible flying midgets, makes me want to puke. Good storytelling often relies on suggestion rather than things being in your face, plus theres the believability issue. WWE programming reminds me of the end of "The Naked Gun", when Leslie Nielson is on the Angeltronthe big TV for the baseball stadiumtelling Priscilla how "I wanted to wait until we were alone" to give her the ring. Except WWE tries to make this same situation anything other than a joke. Think of the movie "Jaws", that NOT seeing the shark made for much greater suspense. The WWE should have cameras TRYING to get interviews, or trying go behind closed doors, and having to wait to see whom comes storming out of them and with what news. This is both believable and also just better storytelling in any medium.
9) Writers. Fire them. The wrestlers should tell their own stories in the ring through the medium they know. Writers just straight-jacket talent. Its the same problem throughout the world: In the military, you have college-made officers trying to tell the grunts how to fight when those R.O.T.C. (college) guys have never spent a day in real combat. Or, as is more commonly said, "People should live in the buildings they design". The writers, not being wrestlers, forget that this is an impromptu performance, which needs to remain fluid and feel natural (like a fight), rather than connecting-the-dots of a script. Maybe have a writer or two on hand to offer story possibilities and ideas to the wrestlers, but there should be no structure towards carrying them out. While writers are mostly a modern problem, a demonchild of the Russo era, WWEs love affair with a straightjacket-script does back much longer, and has ALWAYS been a problem. For example, in 1992, at the Royal Rumble, Sid threw out Hogan . . . and the crowd loved it!!! I know, I watched it live, and kept the tape for later review. However, when this highlight was shown on WWF TV, the audio was (badly) dubbed, specifically Gorillas commentary about it, to make Sid the heel and Hogan the hero. Why? Because they were going to carry on with their story no matter what the fans liked. Enter Russo a few years later, and he tells everyone its okay to cripple EVERYTHING in this manner. And so it continues today worse than ever before.
10) Characters. Cant stress this one enough. This is mostly the problem of SmackDown. Why do we watch wrestling? As in, why watch it instead of any other athletic show or sport? Because we like fantasy. Because of the CHARACTERS that make it a fantasy. SmackDown is populated by bland guys in bland tights which appear, for all intents and purposes, to be real sportsmen. Now, Im all for making the WWE more believable as I have repeatedly said, but since we know its fantasy, the characters should still have their appealing gimmicks. And Im not talking cartoon gimmicks like Doink, but simply that they have CHARACTER. If someones gimmick IS to be a real wrestler, such as Bret Hart and Steve Austin, fine. But when everyone in every match looks the same, it just gets boring as hell. Edge, Undertaker, Melina, Hoganall different extremes of gimmicks, but all equally enjoyable. Um, Mr. Kennedy? Paul London? Where is the ENTERTAINMENT in the WWE? Again, I stress not to bring back cartoon crap like Mantaur or Max Moon, but every wrestler should have CHARACTER beyond simply wanting to compete, something we in dramatic storytelling call MOTIVE, which is NOT an angle, however long an angle may last, but a constant driving force. In Austins case, it was his his rebellion against the system that held in down for 7 years prior to breaking through the glass ceiling. In Undertakers case, his motive is WHAT HE IS, whether psycho or mind-game-player, its still a CHARACTER. Think, if every superhero wore the same tights, would we care? How much do we really enjoy movie sequels by the time they get to part 4 and 5? The Hurricane was great! Heres a gimmick thats still believablea comic book fan wants so much to be a superhero he dresses like one. Beautiful! BUT, as soon as he became "Shane Helms", vanished off the planet as far as we were concerned. Hmmm . . .
11) Wrestling. Sounds simple, doesnt it? Yet, where is it? WWE is wrestling in name, but not in practice. I dont mean we need pure mat-wrestling here. Hell, I love my dropkicks, backflips, piledrivers and the like. But what seems strangely missing about everything in the ring is that, like the broadcast itself, it is worked around certain spots rather than actually CREATING them. The action does not feel real or natural, but overly choreographed. This used to be covered up by an emphasis on this being a sport. For example, touching the ropes did not magically break a hold, it broke a hold because it was considered to be outside the ring, where pins and holds must be broken. Now, someone can touch the ropes in a cage match where its physically impossible to be outside the ring and theres no countout or DQ anyway. What the hell is going on? An emphasis on the action being a sport or competition, with rules, would serve to make more sense to our suspended disbelief as well as add to the excitement, because wed know when people were straying from the rules and taking risks, rather than simply waiting for the 18th swerve of the night at its carefully position-around-the-commercial spot.
12) Hierarchy. Furthering the problem with action, there appears to be no sense of structure to the WWE. Steve Austin made it huge by fighting Vince for reasons totally forgotten today: Steve WAS held back (by wCw), and Vince had held others back for years to favor Hogan. Steve became a sort of champion for us against the corporate politics which held back our enjoyment over the years. Austins success was not simply because he was fighting the boss, but his personal reason for doing so. These days, having the evil boss is so overdone it hurts business rather than helps it. I mean, who would sign contracts to work for WWE if Biscoff or Coach were really running things? It defies the logic of the fantasy-world we want to believe. Vince and Austin had a great run, but furthering the evil boss scenario is as shallow as trying to make Lex Luger an All-American-Hero simply because he went through the same motions as Hogan had. An evil boss is no substitute for a strong heel in the ring. The WWE fantasy-hierarchy needs to return a neutral state, with enforced rules but a used-sparingly boss, and to let the wrestlers themselves be the villains (and the heroes).
13) Respect. WWE needs to respect people. Currently, all it does is show favoritism to people currently under contract. There is no credit or respect what-so-ever given to those who were there before. Consider Warrior. Regardless of what you think about him personally, he made huge amounts of cash for Vince for years. Now, Vinces ego is entirely the problem here. He wants things both ways. He wants to say people owe him loyalty forever, but hes not willing to PAY them forever. Why should Warrior kiss Vinces ass? Why should he care about WWE at all? Does he own stock in it? Vince is the first person to fire people and cut them off, and yet then complain about how they dont respect HIM and HIS company legacy. Well, its either money or respect, Vince. If you want to use money to justify things, then you live by the sword and die by the sword (or the checkbook). And if money is not your highest priority, prove it by being cool with people you have no financial leverage over. WWE would do very well to be selfless, showing how they care more about the legacy than dollars, by respecting those they do not contractually have to. A nice tribute DVD to Warrior, for example, instead of the "Self-Destruction" one they put out. What did that DVD accomplish, anyway? Did they need the money? Were fans clamoring for Vince to bury the Warrior? Who did it make happy? One person: Vinces Ego. And why? Warrior was willing to make the DVD, and thus it probably would have been favorable, but Vince said the promoting of it would have benefited Warrior more, so he wouldnt agree to the equal-advertising Warrior suggested. So, it came down to money, and yet Vince then bitches about people not being loyal. The WWE needs to be cool again, and since most fans have been completely turned off by WWEs transparent, Washington DC-level empty promises and all around bullshit, WWE needs to EARN respect. A good place to start is by respecting others, by making others seem important than themselves at times.
14) Old farts. I was watching a wCw PPV match for free (I wouldnt pay for it) in 1994. 1994!!! Ric Flair was tossed out of the ring, and a rowdy fan (bless her) shouted out too loud to be censored "Flair! Youre too old! Get out of wrestling!!!" Thats a quote. I remember it 13 years later. Yeah, 13 years, and Flairs saggy tits are STILL stinking up the ring every week. If you simply cant wrestle well anymore, get out of the ring. I dont see what the big deal is about Flairs legacy, since he himself seems willing to tarnish and trash it more and more each week. If someone can still wrestle, such as Shawn Michaels, fine, tear up the ring and enjoy giving a good show while we enjoy watching a good show. But for the love of God (not Triple-H), have the decency to hang it up when its name, and make way for younger stars.
15) John Cena. Hes the champ (how could I forget? He tells us every week), so he deserves a special section. Now, I respect Cena and think hes a good guy personally. However, his gimmick sucks dead moose balls. He is not Austin because he hasnt the motivation of being held down, so he should stop pretending to be. He is not the Rock because he doesnt have a personality we love to hate, he should stop pretending to be. He is not a Marine, either. What is he then? Um, how about John Cena? Ask Cornette or any other genius in wrestling, and they always tell you that the best characters are the persons real self with the volume turned way up. Now, sure, Cena likes his hip-hop, but does the audience? No. Besides, there is a much, MUCH deeper Cena that is not being allowed to surface, and that is his love for what the WWE used to bethe WWF. He modeled his logo after the classic 80s logo. He talks with great respect for the guys of the era before him. What Cena should do is drop the wigger gimmickjust as the Rock dropped his dumb "Rocky" persona and became the Rock, and Austin dropped the "Ringmaster" and became "Stone Cold"Cena should be THE guy, the guy who will bring wrestling back to its roots, to the WWF flavor, to being fun, starting by respecting guys both in and out of good graces with Vince, by bringing back the traditional WWF/E title belt (from 1988-1998), from being the symbol of what the audience seems to know and love. What a little proof-of-concept? Why does Hogan get such a reaction whenever he comes back? Why do people still pay top dollar for Warrior merchandise? Why are names like Sgt. Slaughter and Bret Hart a part of pop culture? Why are names like Triple-H and Randy Orton NOT part of pop-culture? There was an identity to that not-too-bygone era that Cena could easilyand genuinelyincarnate into perhaps the biggest draw for a decade, the center of our collective soul as wrestling fans. Ahh, well, that probably wont happen now, because I thought of it and Vince didnt.
16) Hypocrisy. This seems to cover everything, but Ill focus on one case in particular. Rob Van Dam is stripped of THE belt and suspended for having a popcorn farts worth of weed, but the Incredibly Untalented Dipshit Duo of Orton and Masters are caughtmultiple timeswith drugs far worse (or just shitting in someones food) and are pushed to the moon. The fans respect good workers, and they value that above ANY storyline. Vince, forget your oiled-up, musclebound favorites. Give the fans what they want and who THEY like, indeed who they respect. Put the WWE title back on RVD and make him THE Champion. Oh, and fire Orton and Masters, until they learn how to wrestle AND talk.
17) Style. Working in the ring invites a variety of different styles. Its incredibly hypocritical of Vince to preach (sometimes even on TV) about how people need to be diverse and adapt to survive in business. Hell, he even said this was the reason for ECWs demise (other than, say, talent-raids and Vince buying their slot on TNN). Yet Vince constantly refuses to allow different styles of in-ring action, condemning such talents as RVD and Eddie because they cant "work WWE style". More diverse styles would add a lot more excitement to the product, and possibly even teach Vince how to do business better. I guess therein lies the problemVince doesnt like to be told what to do, even if its for his own good, or the good of the paying audience, or the good of the stockholders . . .
So, is Vince, or anyone, going to take this rather lengthy rant to heart?
Im not buying the Rumble and maybe not even WrestleMania for the first time in 17 years (since I learned of wrestling). Why? Well, Ill just see all the rematches for free the next night on RAW anyway, and the Rumble winner will be switched to someone else in a week, and WrestleMania will be billed as "the greatest event of all time" despite having matches nobody cares about or matches people have already seen numerous times or outcomes weve seen COUNTLESS times (if not for that steroid injury, you KNOW Triple-H was walking out with the belt). In addition, Mick Foley will lose another few years of his life trying to give the fans a reason to care (and we will) but Vince wont give a shit. Well get 5 months of "death defying" videos of Triple-Hs surgery to get us to feel sorry for all those steroids he took that caused his injury (twice) while guys who work without the juice (and without Stephanie batting her eyelashes at daddie) are pushed off of TV to make room for said videos at the loss of the stockholders and while the depushed wrestlers themselves have to find some way to feed their families. Yep, Im excited about the WWE! Bring it on, Vince, you ego-driven dip-shit!
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