Monday, October 27, 2008

Mutant Future Podcast Review

The guys over at Midnight's Lair put together a very nice review of Mutant Future, based on a game they ran at Draconis, a game convention in Canada. I just want to shout out a thanks to those guys, and I'm very glad they had a good time!

This review is very interesting to me because from some of their comments I take them to be more "modern gamers," or part of the "new school" instead of "old school" to some extent. What I mean by that is gamers who are more accustomed to sort of streamlined game systems and games that spend a lot more time talking about "story" and role playing.

One of the things I think is very cool about this review is that we get a window into seeing how modern gamers who are "old-school curious" react to older games. But in truth I don't know the gaming background of the reviewers, and how much they played older games, but I *think* this is a fair assessment of their leanings based in the comments.

One of the things that came up was that they felt some of the rules were not well thought out or considered, like saving throws and how to find traps. I think this feeling comes for a couple of reasons. First, Mutant Future is designed to be compatible with Labyrinth Lord. So there are constraints, but mainly rules like these are designed to be simple. This isn't a skills-base system. It assumes that everyone can pretty much attempt anything, so what you have are guidelines that can be used as written or adapted on the fly to other situations.

But, I don't want to spend a lot of time commenting on those sorts of observations. I think it's fair for people who are used to more "unified" and "story driven" games to find elements of Mutant Future confusing. Also I think the reviewers recognize where these design choices come from. What I do want to say something about is how the reviewers seemed a bit baffled about how to take the wacky randomness of Mutant Future and run a story-driven game session.

Part of this bafflement is due to the fact that older games, and I mean specifically D&D and their variants prior to AD&D 2e, are not "story driven" in the same way a lot of modern games are. If you go back to the older modules, whether for AD&D or Gamma World, what you have are skeletons of a story. You have a situation that is described only as much as the referee needs to throw the characters into it. The actual story emerges in play, as the characters interact with the environment and each other. There is no compulsion that the characters actually "finish" the module in the way it was "intended," or that they follow a specific path and have interactions A, B, and C required to take place in any order.

This is in contrast to games that emphasis the story and have more rules surrounding how to create a story. In old-school games this is taken for granted because they assume you know how to tell a story, that you don't need any rules about how to play your character. It is up to the characters to help tell the story, based on the situation and how the dice fall. That is one difference between some story driven games, that randomness is seen as bad to the story. I disagree, but I recognize that these are two different approaches.

One thing I think that can sum up some of the difference between old-school and "new-school" story driven games is that old-school embraces the fact that it is a game, and everything that goes with it. Randomness, character death, these are all opportunities, not limitations. It's true that old-school typically means that the dice decide when randomness is a factor...but not always. Referees have always fudged die rolls. What do people think the GM screen is for, anyway? It isn't entirely to hide the GM's notes. Brutal interpretation of the dice is definitely, at least to me, an old-school characteristic but it doesn't have to always take place.

So, certainly adventures are possible but they need to be designed in a way that makes them flexible. They have to be able to adapt no matter what the players decide or how the dice fall. The story can't necessarily be geared toward everything culminating into a particular encounter or situation.

Anyway, what a great review! I'm very happy to be seeing people enjoy Mutant Future!


Olman Feelyus said...

Hey, I just followed the post on Grognardia to here and saw your response to the Mutant Future podcast (We didn't really consider it a review, more a general discussion). Though Doc and I would consider ourselves to have old school roots (both started with basic D&D way back in the '70s), I think you are right that our mature gaming perspectives have been much more formed in the new school.

Your response makes me think that that new school, story-based thinking maybe deeper in me than I thought! That it's taken so long for me to realize that you can just play and let the story happen says something, maybe about me (who was always a control-freak railroading GM back in the days) or maybe about the current gaming zeitgeist.

Interesting stuff, thanks a lot for your feedback!


Doc said...

Yeah, what he said. This is Doc and I started gaming around 1977. (Basic D&D, then AD&D, then Call of Cthulhu ...) Despite that, I am guilty now of having a pretty "new school" perspective. Most of my recent gaming is rooted in story games, indie games, or whatever you want to call them ("that new hippy shit" is fine). I don't think one school is necessarily better than the other, though the latter fits my lifestyle better right now. My opportunity to game comes in short intense spurts. For that reason, it is problematic to make evaluative statements about someone else's games, because I should always append "for me" to the end.

Thanks for Mutant Future!

Dan of Earth said...

Hey guys, thanks for taking the time to drop in and I'm really glad you enjoy Mutant Future!

K.R. Proctor said...

I thought the podcast was rather interesting. I think what is interesting about it is there appears to be a co-evolution in the development of both games and the gamers playing them.

In the podcast there was mention of "narratives" and it is interesting that these "new school" games are being symbolically linked literature and evaluated along similar lines.

I think part of this development is within the players themselves overtime. I remember when I first began playing the sandbox aspects of D&D were exciting, but role-playing was just that: role-playing. We didn't get into the deep psychological aspects of our characters. Instead, we had an idea of a fighter, wizard, or thief and thought it would be cool to be somebody who had that role. Characters were individualized by a paragraph background statement, a physical description, and a set of attributes, but most of these things were superficial and were merely instruments to play the kind of roles we wanted to play in a game.

After a while I think we began to get bored with the typical roles. You can only play so many fighters, clerics, etc, before you start to become satiated. I think this is where many players start to get interested in no longer simply playing a role, but rather they seek to explore a character's personality. But this is not as easily done in a sandbox environment where the focus is on interacting with things external to the character. I think the added structure of newer games creates more external rigidity as a way of getting players to focus more inwards in how they play the character - but there maybe some unintended consequences of this.

Some of the discussion in the podcast mentioned how the rules omitted noncombat aspects of gaming and how newer games have rules that address these residual areas. In someways the more appropriate metaphor is between role playing and art is with acting, not literature. Old school gaming was much more like improv where the loose structure allows for regulated innovation, but the characters being played tend to be superficial and are not explored in terms of deeper motivations. New games are more akin to film acting where various skills are like a director in that they constrain action or specify how one should act. This, I think, has the effect of driving players toward a greater exploration of their characters in a manner "role-playing" in old school gaming does not. On the other hand it also constrains what characters may do in relationship to the gaming world.

I think the sandbox elements, for me, were important early in my gaming life because they afforded me the opportunity to explore and develop in ways a highly structured gaming system could not. Later on, as I gained a greater understanding of the difference between role-playing (old-School) and role-taking (new-school), role-taking was more appealing as the character was being explored as much as the world where the game was taking place.

I think half the fun of originally playing old school games was the escapism component, but this was more related to taking particular roles rather than a desire to explore what it means to be "Ulric Axewielder." The areas not covered by the rules contributed to this because unlike real life, certain skills or an absence of skills did not affect play. In real life you knew you had a low seduction score, you didn't need your face rubbed in it (Not me of course, mine was quite high:). But on the other hand, should you need to seduce an NPC you could play the role of the seducer and practice in a rather safe environment (though of course the rest of your party may mock you to no end). A simple role would not tell you whether you succeeded and overtime you could actually get better at it*.

I think that is the nostalgic appeal of old school gaming. We remember what it was like to be set free; for many of us who played when we were very young, this was one of the few opportunities to be free from parents or schools. For me, newer games became more interesting once I had already developed to a certain degree is both an individual and a gamer. The appeal of newer games is that they set you free to be someone else.

*Unfortunately the link between in-game seduction success and real-world seduction success is unclear:)

S'mon said...

NB for the podcasters - an old school 'scenario' is very much not the same as a 'story' or 'story arc'. It's usually a sketched out starting situation, a keyed map to explore, and some wandering monster tables.

S'mon said...

"GM fiat" - Anyone starts talking about "GM fiat", you need to pack your GM bags and walk away. Or boot them off your table.

S'mon said...

Sorry for being churlish. But I was a bit shocked by that podcast. It came over like a bunch of bright-but-slackery college kids with very limited RPG experience discovering traditional RPGs, but some of you guys have apparently been playing for decades?! Did you forget everything you played prior to Vampire: The Masquerade? The 20-year-olds at my local D&D club seem to have much more affinity with old school game concepts than this.

Olman Feelyus said...

I don't know. You speak as if there is a concrete definition for old school gaming. I've only been paying attention to it as a concept for about a year now and it seems like there are various schools of thought.

I played back in the day, but I was 13 years old and we played for the most part in a vacuum. I think this is the same for a lot of groups and it is difficult to say what is old school gaming.

So this podcast is part of the process of us going back and looking at (and trying to remember) what we were doing, trying to do it again with some of the cool new old school releases coming out and then thinking about it in terms of who we are as gamers today.

So if you've got some knowledge to drop on us, go for it! But don't be surprised that we aren't totally up to date on the strict definition of old school gaming.

S'mon said...

Hi - sorry if I wasn't clear, I'm not claiming a strict definition of 'old school' (although the Grognardia blof offers some pointers). When I said "The 20-year-olds at my local D&D club seem to have much more affinity with old school game concepts than this" what I meant was that they have no problem with scenarios that are not 'stories' or story-based. Most modern D&D adventures are not stories - what I call the 'old school' type of adventure is still the default mode of 3e and (to an extent) 4e D&D play, as far as I can tell. Since D&D is by far the most common RPG I'm surprised you didn't seem familiar with the concept.

Site-based adventure is the standard approach of Mutant Future (inherited from LL > Moldvay D&D) and I've found it works very well for this game.

S'mon said...

NB There's a sample adventure in the MF rule book which demonstrates the site-based approach. You'll note it's neithe a random jumble, nor a 'story' sequence of events. It's a site - a 'dungeon'.

Olman Feelyus said...

Hey, I posted scans of some of the PCs that got made in the game, if you are interested. Some cool little sketches there.

Dan of Earth said...

Those character sheets are awesome!!

Olman Feelyus said...

I love and am at the same time so envious of players who can draw!

I also printed them two to a page, so they were a bit smaller. We had a stack of them in anticipation of character death. Somehow that small size made them even cooler.

donna said...