Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Don't Lose The Plot

I watched the last "Games Britannia" last night. It covered the computer game boom from the ZX Spectrum (wonder where mine is now), through Lara Croft up to the Grand Theft Auto family of games.

Looking at that last sentence, the word "of" between "family" and "games" is really rather important.

Any how, the basic thesis was that modern computer game design with character interaction and linked plot but with the capacity to roam free is a development from D&D style RPGs. It's a persuasive argument as most computer games bear little resemblance in style and game intention to any traditional boardgame. Previously it was remarked that RPGs grew out of table top wargaming.

I think that point is not as well made as it could be. I don't think RPGs are descended from the traditional competition structured game. It is more the case that RPGs grew out of wargame campaigns or more free-style games. You can see the direct antecedents in Tony Bath's legendary Hyborian Campaign which seems to have taken on its own life and direction.

There are similar imaginative strands in an odd set of rules published by the Society of Ancients. Slim Mumford's "Medieval Warfare Rules" were originally written in the 1960's and were republished in 1984. Clearly the print run was optimistic as you can still buy them 25 years later.

The interesting thing about these rules is that they seem to have developed organically in response to what the players were doing in the medieval world being created. There are boat rules and siege rules, all brought about I suspect because it happened to come up in a game Slim's friends needed to play from the campaign they were in.

It is this harnessing of imagination that is one of the things that attracts me to wargaming as opposed to having a model train set. I do the modelling and terrain building, which I accept is therapeutic, but if that was all I wanted I'd just build the railway layout. And whilst I admire a good game design and play commercially available games they tend to force me into a straight jacket I don't want to be in. I have a fair amount of admiration for what the guys that wrote FoG have done, - it is quite an achievement and is a beautifully balanced game. I just don't want to play it as it doesn't let me go where I want, - which in skiing parlance is mostly off piste.

So I write my own rules (which alternately amuse and irritate the Monday Night Group), and I enjoy matrix games, simply because they require imagination and drive a narrative for the game that would otherwise not exist. And what is more, the players between them develop the story line which can, and does, run away from the umpire.


(BTW If you don't know what a matrix game is, let me know and I'll do a blog on it).

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