Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Game vs Metagame

Tam's recent post about solved games really crystallized something for me with regards to why I do and don't like certain games.  In particular why I will sometimes really like the concept of a game and yet end up absolutely loathing it in practice.  In a word, metagame.

I've come to realize that the existence of a codified metagame for something is a pretty good sign that I won't want anything to do with it. If there's a way of doing things that is the way, the truth, and the light, then I get to choose between following the crowd or trying to go my own way knowing that I'm actively not playing optimally. The former tends to lead to me getting bored quickly, particularly since the one right way rarely ever syncs up with the way I want to play, and often relies on degenerate strategies. The latter puts me in a spot where I don't get to take joy in improving, since I'm aware that I'm actively not playing 'the best way'.

Beyond that, I'm being forced to spend time figuring out how to play the game 'properly' rather than actually playing the game.  Part of the problem with metagame for me is that it is, by definition, external to the game.  So I end up having to look for FAQs, wikis, or even *shudder* official forums to even begin to figure out what I'm 'supposed' to be doing.  And then, without fail, I learn that I chose the wrong class, hero, skill set, or whatever and I can either start over completely or bull on with the knowledge that I'm 'doing it wrong'.  At least if it's a single-player game I can take comfort in playing the character I want to play even if it isn't optimal.  In a multi-player game there's the added joy of other players more than happy to tell you that you're stupid and wrong if you dare to step outside of the accepted orthodoxy.

My roots in tabletop role-playing, where metagaming has long been viewed negatively, may also enter into this. For me playing a game is about working within the bounds of the assumptions that are made by the system. Avoiding use of out-of-game knowledge as much as possible is part of this. If a game is well designed and things are messaged properly, I should be able to figure out everything I need to know to play well without having to resort to outside information.

Ultimately, the more time I'm having to spend playing the metagame instead of the actual game, the less I tend to enjoy myself. I want to do my learning as a part of playing, rather than as a prerequisite to even getting started.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Return of the Flumph

It was recently decided that the 4th edition Dungeons & Dragons campaign I've been playing in will be switching to 5th edition for our next session.  On the whole, I'm excited since 5e feels much more like Dungeons & Dragons should, in my opinion.  My stance on 4e has always been that it's a perfectly good system for strategic combat, but it's not D&D.  I am , however, disappointed that I won't get to debut my rebuilt warlock who never lets his opponent stand up, ever.

With a 5th edition session in the near future and needing to port my character over, I went ahead and picked up the core books as well as the two adventures that have been published so far.  I had leafed through a friend's Player's Handbook and determined that I liked the system, so I figure there's a reasonable chance I'll want to run some games in the future.  I also figure the adventures will be useful in getting an idea of how the creators of this edition think the game should play.

So anyway, I've been reading through those books and in the Monster Manual I found something amazing.  The flumph is back.

The original flying spaghetti monster

For those not in the know, the flumph is a perennial entry on lists of weird, crazy, or useless D&D monsters (along with such luminaries as the flail snail and the wolf-in-sheep's-clothing).  The flumph is one of the rarest of D&D monsters, a lawful good aberration.  It's also basically a floating telepathic jellyfish that is helpless when knocked on it's back.  Flumphs are awesome.

The fact that the flumph is, for the first time, among the initial set of monsters published for an edition of D&D says a lot about the design team's willingness to try and recapture the feel of older editions and marry it with a cleaner ruleset.  The Dungeon Master's guide is full of the sorts of random tables that made the first AD&D books so much fun.  Example artifacts have DM chosen (or randomly generated) minor benefits and flaws, just like AD&D.  One of the example traps is the classic Tomb of Horrors sphere of annihilation trap.

Ultimately, D&D is a game about creating stories.  A little weirdness and a little randomness can go a long way towards making a story memorable.  5e seems to have been created by folks that realize that, and that brings me great joy.  I'm sure the flumphs are happy too.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Farewell Uncle Pterry

Terry Pratchett has died, and the world is a little darker for his passing.

It would be hard to overstate the impact that Sir Terry had on me over the years; his writing has been a near constant in my life since I really began reading fantasy.  It would have been around 1990 or so that a friend of mine loaned me a copy of Guards! Guards! and from there I was hooked.  Not that Discworld novels were easy to find in America at the time.  For a few years they were out of print here with only used copies and the like available.  Most of my copies of the books before Small Gods! are book club editions I picked up used.

There's one last Discworld novel to be published, the 41st in the series.  I have that last bit of Pratchett to look forward to, and then it's over.  I'll reread the series, have no doubt of that, but for the first time in 20 years I won't be avidly anticipating the next book.  I'll miss that.