Monday, 25 May 2009

You Big Hairy Smelly

Another weekend of debauchery and gaming has led to further ruminations on the nature of game--playing (it's also led to more than one hangover, but what else is there to do in Ramsbottom but drink?)

It's a pretty obvious point that one of the major attractions to roleplay is the same as the major attraction to video games; they allow you to pretend you can do things that you actually never could. Videogames are (arguably) mainly about the visual experience, and roleplaying the mindset, but in both cases fun can be had with, for example, disemboweling an orc, or punching a Genestealer, or having a shoot-out with a demonically possessed Abraham Lincoln (that one made for a weird afternoon).

There are plenty of people who judge a roleplay game on the quality of the rules system, which is entirely fine and dandy, but to me the only real yardstick is: what will it allow me to (pretend to) do?

Take A Song Of Ice And Fire, for example. Sure, I'm a big fan of the novels themselves, but roleplaying in the Seven Kingdoms essentially boils down to whether or not you're going to hit someone with a sword. The setting is essentially a historical one, and I don't give a shit about history. If I'm going into battle, I'd fucking well better have something more fun to kill people with a sharp bit of metal. The rules could be considered and intricate and yet still easy to use, but I can't get past the fact that you're just pretending to be normal people, only without cars or showers or Leibniz biscuits.

Considering all this, you would think I'd dislike Og. For the uninitiated (and I'm guessing that's quite a few of you), Og is a system for roleplaying as cavemen. In terms of doing interesting things, it's a failure on almost every level. In Cthulhu you might find yourself battling a sanity-blasting horror from beyond time and space. In Og you might find yourself trying to kill a mammoth to delay starvation. And, since you're trying to do it with a bent bit of wood at best, what you're really doing is failing to kill a mammoth, and I've failed to kill a mammoth every day since I was born; I've gotten jaded. It took us thirty minutes to kill a cat, for God's sake. Think of the number of gibbering cultists I could have gotten through in that time.

The other issue with Og is that the characters have a vocabulary of all of seventeen words. Tactics become difficult and sudden inspiration almost impossible to share. We discovered at the end of the adventure that at least two players had completely failed to understand the initial mission briefing (it's hard to explain a previous party of cavemen have disappeared when you don't have a word for party, disappeared, or cavemen, and the only way to refer to the passing of time is by the phrase "sun sun sun sun sun"). Not only have you been robbed of all the comforts of modern life (without something fun to replace it, like magic powers or a cybernetic scrotum), you don't even get to use language. I couldn't even call people fuck monkeys, we eventually had to settle on "you bang small hairy smelly cave". And even when you get used to all that, there's still the risk of forgetting how to hunt, or where you live, or why you're on the mission you barely understood in the first place.

For some reason, though, it works brilliantly. There's a real sense of satisfaction in managing to explain (comparatively) complex ideas with your tiny vocabulary. Once you get the hang of it, you can hold entire conversations in cave-speak, and string together ever more inventive forms of abuse. Essentially, you're combining elementary puzzle solving with searching through a foreign dictionary for all the curse words, with an occasional time-out to massacre bunch of cavemen from a different tribe (without any of the pesky moral considerations of whether it's OK to kill a bunch of pygmies). There's also some pride to be taken in engineering breakthroughs in caveman technology; by the end of our session we had invented both the wheel and the scarf, and possibly scrambled eggs. Every roleplay scenario should end with a communal omelette.

Thus, I pronounce Og to be well worth a go. Cave thing go bang. You go cave thing, you go bang. Bang.

Also, in other gaming news, Arkham Horror appears to be impossible with all current supplements bolted on, and the Galactica has a much better chance of reaching Kobol if the only initial Cylon player spends his time drinking whilst locked in the brig. One wonders whether BSG will be gifted with expansions of it's own at some point. Given that the basic game is based on Season 1, one wonders if the expansions will each be based on a subsequent season. One expansion could add the Pegasus, the next could let you play for four turns on New Caprica and then do nothing interesting for the rest of the game, and the final one could include the "God" loyalty card, allowing you to move everyone else's people for them and then act as though people should be impressed with you.

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