Totally clickbait, kids. Don’t freak out. I’m just gonna talk about my problems. They’re not your problems.
So anyway a friend posted yesterday about feeling the pull to play a big sprawling trad game (but only with the “right crowd,” because he’s judgy discerning). Boy do I have sympathy for this feeling.
The past few weeks I’ve been feeling maybe burned out on RPGs. Maybe. I thought, at first, that (like my friend) I was maybe just feeling burned out on small press games. And man do I have a lot of them. Between my own collecting and the huge airdrop Andi Carrison did last year, I have a lot of titles. And none of them are really calling out to me. Either I’ve played them, chewed through and found the tasty marrow, or I’ve read them and I can’t build enthusiasm for what I’m reading.
But then I realized, more recently, that there’s another vector at play. I get a lot of energy from the enthusiasm of my players. And I feel like my players’ enthusiasm for small-press games can be either fleeting (fun first session followed by less-fun second, as we figure stuff out) or highly conditional (very specific preferences for how their behaviors are shaped). They just don’t have the same deep hunger for novelty and exploration that I do — we have different agendas of play. At a different level than ye olde capital-A Agendas.
So I stand in front of my shelves, longing for something to read that will excite me. Or that I think will excite my players. Obviously it’s synergistic, or maybe codependent: I bring excitement to the table, they get jazzed up, which jazzes me up. But I stare and I stare and I just can’t bring myself to pull down one of my beloved small-press games and really dig into it (again).
But you know what I love to read? I mean really, really love? Trad game books. By which I mean stuff produced by supplement treadmills at a very high gloss. Stuff packed with dreams.
I love the illustrations and the text, but not the probably-broken rules. I love that they’re glossy and colorful. They excite me in a visceral way that small-press stuff just doesn’t (at least after that first read and internalization). Maybe I’m shallow. I’m okay with that.
Probably the next thing I’ll run for a few sessions starting in January is a FFG Star Wars game. Depending on what gift certificates come my way this holiday season, I’ll be getting Age of Rebellion and Force and Destiny and putting together a kitchen-sink Star Wars thing that’ll run 5 or 6 sessions. Hopefully it’ll cohere around a few very tight hooks. My players are cautiously optimistic, but we’ve had two failed Edge of the Empire games already so I can’t blame them for being a little gunshy.
So my problem with trad games is that they’re so great to read. I love pulling pretty much any title off the shelf and thumbing through it. Just letting the images and tables and names wash over me. And then knowing that they probably don’t work without a lot of heavy lifting, i.e. running them “like a roleplaying game.” Fixing rules. Building up legal precedence. Keenly feeling rules that should be there but just aren’t. Hacking out solutions on the fly all the damn time.
My dream is that somehow, someday small-press games will somehow produce exciting supplemental materials. Don’t know that that’s ever going to happen, for a variety of branding and practical reasons. I refuse to believe it’s impossible for rules reasons, but god damn it I have yet to see a game that provides procedurally tight play with minimal GM prep/lifting and is fun to just thumb through and dream. All the bandwidth gets used up on those tight procedures and nothing is left for the other senses.