I’m sorry to say Jeff Rients is Right
I’m sorry because it means I am wrong. And because even though I know that, I still don’t want to change my ways.
So. One; Jeff’s recent post about magic confirms my sense that the reason he’s so often right is because he is always first and most importantly concerned with just one thing: how he can awesome up his players in this game session right now.
In thinking how to modify DnD magic he does not ask how could this make more sense? or how could this empower PC MUs? or how could I make an elegant scalable system? or even how could this make people more inclined to play MUs or how could it fix the things players and bloggers gripe about? Instead he says: I’d love to see PC wizards collapse from exhaustion because they pushed themselves past the limits of their powers. Which is, at heart, I want MUs to have a chance to prove they’re pulling their weight. I want the MU player to feel awesome and their co-players to feel that they took an exceptional risk.
Two:, I just finally got around to reading Encounter Critical! cover to very slim cover. And it’s hilarious and oddly thought-provoking, and I’m already thinking about what it would mean to mash it up with Carcosa, and what the important differences are between the two (tone, obviously, but actually that’s not really hard-wired into either setting). But. It’s got problems as a game (all perfectly understandable, given that it’s also a satire): although it’s easy to think of gonzo gags to pull with it, it’s not obvious what the PCs would do with it, or who they are or how they would be awesome in their own right. Because in EC! the setting is the star. It’s all brightly coloured like
a Josh Kirby painting. And consequently it has no compositional focus – it’s not clear what the main activity is because everything’s in the spotlight. It would be most easy to make the PCs into tourists in its extraordinary radium-mining spaceship halls.
And that’s kinda true of most of the worldbuilding I do: I get excited about an idea, rather than about what’s going to make the players awesome at the moment that idea hits the play surface. And that got me thinking about Wessex again, and what Jeff said about how in a flailsnails game, you are the star – not the party, not the campaign, not the villain – and you have to be starring right now, because really that’s all there is: you have to bring the payoff right now this session every time.
And Wessex achieves this mostly by getting out of the way, by not being up its own worldbuilding. By not trying to overshadow anyone. By being, frankly, just a bit drab – familiar, easy enough to understand that you don’t have to think about it, and boiled down to its essential elements for supporting the action-in-the-dungeon: a place to meet, rest, and spend that loot. Which is all the more remarkable because secretly Wessex is an EC! game – it has gold spiders and rayguns and so on, but these bright elements are allowed to stand out against a relatively dour background, where their weirdness can be recognised and celebrated for what it is.
And, critically, all those bright elements are only brought into play by the PCs. Every drop of glory is there for a PC to take and bask in, because they braved the dungeon and brought it to grass. The players actively brighten up Jeff’s world. It’s like the philosophy of LEGO, which is supposed to only be made complete by the addition of a player.
That’s a trick I’m still in the process of learning.
Joesky tax: Burning Jabbar (first level spell). The caster must maintain line of sight and a distance not greater than 50′ from the target, which must be an individual. Any break in concentration breaks the spell. Inflicts 1 damage on the first round of casting, 2 on the second, 4 on the third and so on, doubling each round. The spell only works on conscious opponents, who are immediately aware that they are subject to some sort of attack.