Saturday, September 11, 2010

The trickiness inherent in Powers/Advantages

Hi, I'd like to post my thoughts on this subject: more specifically, the trickiness I've seen in balancing Magic or Supernatural Powers with Technology or Psionics in one system. Here's the rundown as far as I've seen, in both tabletop RPGs and video games. Either the game is purely centered in one genre and thus has only one half of the equation, or it's a hybrid but favors one half heavily. Examples of the first category are easy: Fantasy games such as Dungeons & Dragons, or video games like Dragon Age, are purely medieval fantasy, and thus have massive magics/powers available, no psionics and no technology beyond blacksmithing. Scifi games like Mass Effect or Bioshock arguably have purely psionics and high tech gadgets, with no magical wizardry or "racial powers" to speak of. Now, to illustrate the second category, take RIFTS the RPG for example. Supposedly, a setting of future earth with an even power balance between Magic/Supernatural Creatures and Psionics/Tech, all vying for control of earth. Except, beyond the innate lack of power balance in the system everywhere, Magic is gimped and underdeveloped, and only godlike supernatural creatures like hatchling dragons have a chance against the might tech and psionics can bring to bear. This is a trend I see increasingly nowadays, and in some ways it makes sense. It makes me think that because we are such a technologically advancing society, it becomes easier to just pawn off magic on a "D&D-style spell list", have a few staple fantasy races, and then focus on the much more true-to-life Psionics and Tech, as we have that going on in the real world(at least the tech, anyway). And it frustrates me. I like playing both, but it never seems like any game has a real, useful power balance to have both equal in any given setting where they're combined.

This brings me to a side topic, the difference between magic and psionics. I've delineated it before to friends, but I'd like to state it here as well. To me, most systems fail at distinguishing between magic and psionics as clearly different animals, other than establishing that magic has most of the physical powers and psionics most of the mental. So, a few key things that distinguish magic from psionics:
1) Magic is from without, often draws on the land or other natural powers, and is often a boon from a higher realm/power. Psionics is from within, draws on inner strength or mental willpower, and is often an evolution of human mental capacity.
2)Magic is inherently chaotic, and can have drawbacks or unexpected consequences regularly, can basically do everything but not as skilled at doing a single thing. Psionics is inherently structured, and usually has no drawbacks other than fatigue(unless you're battling another psionic), and is highly limited to specific things but does them amazingly well.
3)Magic warps reality itself to the whims of the caster, changing things like natural laws to create any kind of effect imaginable. (See Mage or Ars Magica for what I consider the only "high magic" systems.) Psionics are clearly delineated effects, useable in specific areas of effect, but very high-powered in those areas.
4)Tech is used with both sides fairly regularly, but seems to be more conducive to psionics than magic, see Shadowrun 4e for examples of this and how it balances play.
5)Supernatural powers are mechanically indistinguishable from psionics, with the difference being different fuels for said powers, and the powers being based on something fantastic, like a fictional race's inherent powers or a freak accident that creates a superhero somehow.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Why Tabletop is now my favorite hobby

This is the most opinion-based you can get, throwing out there why your hobby x is better than y, but there it is. I used to be much more into video games, and I still consider them an amazingly dynamic, evolving form of entertainment that for me, outstrips television and even movies every time. But in the end, you're still playing in a box the creator envisioned.  Tabletop sets the world, events, and npcs at the whim of your own imagination, whereas even the most immersive and in-depth, in-character mmorpg has not yet even sucked me in enough to develop a backstory, although I have some hopes of World of Darkness online remedying this. This is why I think tabletop as a hobby needs to spread and continue and not fade away. I know that it isn't fading away yet, but I also know that every year, the list of players gets shorter as real life pulls people away, at least in my experience, and also that every year, more gaming stores that carry roleplay books fade away. And I really dislike having to buy a reader and use pdfs for all my tabletop needs, so on a side note, I really hope Print on Demand takes off as a viable alternative to the dying breed that is the game store.

History of a Gamer

So, a quick rundown of my gaming years, to further preface this running opinion piece that is a blog. I started gaming with video games on the nes in about 1989ish. I have since played stuff on almost every system, and consider myself a "hardcore" gamer if that label is still useable without derision. I played mostly Nintendo back in the day, but they lost my interest around the time of the N64, and since no one hardware company has been able to retain it to the exclusion of the others. I mostly play pc games these days, as PCs(well, macs really since that's what I use) have so many more uses in addition to games. I started tabletop roleplaying in 2001 or so, on the system known as RIFTS. Subsequently, got burned out on what basically amounted to "roll-playing" and dropped off from the hobby for awhile. Only to come back to the town I started in and pick it up on the systems of GURPS and World of Darkness. My friends and I came to be more interested in the storytelling aspect of roleplaying, and have been positing theorycraft on the nature of this fascinating hobby ever since.

Video Games I still play, even though not cutting edge:
Call of Duty
Team Fortress 2
Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines
Warcraft III
Starcraft I and II
Ninja Gaiden Black
Marvel vs Capcom
Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem
Metroid Prime series

Tabletops I play:
Fudge/Fate/Diaspora(still to try Diaspora)
World of Darkness
GURPS 4th ed
Shadowrun 4th ed(still to try)

Welcome Welcome....if you see a strange blog, follow it.

Lo all, hopefully some of those reading this are people from Shadownessence or WoD official forums, or heck! even GSF(I'm looking at you here, snidely pookums), and thus are already familiar with my handle and posting style. If not, think of someone as verbosely broad-spoken as say, Tycho from PA(but maybe not as informed, I'll leave that up to you. In this blog, I'd like to discuss gaming as a whole, and specifically Tabletop RPGs and Video Games, my two main hobbies. So, without further ado, here's my blog.