Sunday, May 27, 2007

Why I Love/Hate SotC!

One week on from CottageCon and my gaming group is picking the bones out of the various experiences we had there. For me, there were two direct revelations. The first was that Duty and Honour worked as a system and is worth pursuing into further development. Thats the minor one. The second however, is more wide-ranging and that was the experience of playing Spirit of the Century.

In Ian's Blog he's been talking about the game and the various things that it revealed at the table, as well as the coming of fruition of one of his gaming journeys. In some ways, I feel that it was the same for me too, in a less stated fashion, because SotC pulled together a lot of the styles, theories and practices that I have been reading about, talking about and blogging about over the last year. In my reply to Ian's post today, I said that it acted as an ink and paper lens that focused some of the things we have done as a group since we formed in 2001. It was a great game.

Since then however, I have got my hands on the pdf version of the SRD and printed and bound myself a copy. In a plain format without the 'flavour' I actually find the system far easier to absorb and appreciate. It was during this appreciation that I realised the most damnable thing - this game is echoing so much of my own desires about games, it's actually annoying. For example, it's long been a source of curiosity that I like to use the system of chargen to form the character that I play rather than the other way around. I see a STR 16 on my Pendragon character sheet and I think 'OK, I wanted him strong, but what else does that strength say about the knight? What about his attitude? What about his relationships etc.' Oh look at SotC and it's wholly character developing character generation system, all sat there, on paper, in front of me! Its great and yet it's distressing. And the ability to form that strength into an Aspect and then impose that strength on the game in a special manner, unique to your character is just so correct in my eyes. I could go on, but that SRD is really quite an inspirational read for me.

So why the hate? Well, three things. Firstly, I can think of about a dozen games I could run NOW based on those rules (or a very quick and easy mod) but I know we just don't have the time in the gaming schedule to do it nor are we likely to soon. The freeflowing combat and open minded character generation system just scream 'fantasy' game to me - pulpy fantasy heroes and dastardly sorcerous villains. Ah, happy days.

The second thing is that I spent the afternoon dissecting Pirates of the Caribeean III through the bloody lens of Aspects, Invokes, Compels and 'Escalate! Escalate! Escalate!'. Pleasant but distracting fun.

Sadly the final thing is that I am rapidly coming to an unfortunate conclusion regarding my own Omniverse system. I think it might be superfluous and in some ways rather accidentally derivative. This came up when we first did SotC chargen and Aspects came up. My system uses virtually the same thing, albeit in a slightly more abstract manner. And my Flux is a less elegant version of Fate points (especially seeing some of the more mundane uses for Fate points from the SRD). Barring the stress track and the inbuilt 'progression' my game uses, the two are pretty damned close. Moreover - and I take some cold comfort in being big enough to admit it - that game is written really well, in a way that I wish I could actually put the words down on the paper. It's become apparent to me that there is a great difference between being able to think up a system, writing the crunch and actually transcribing that crunch onto paper in a way that is understandable by someone who isn't called Neil and doesn't have Neil at the table!

I hate being a fanboy and I know that in some circles SotC is seen as the newest fad, the next so-called big thing and something that is just having it's time in the spotlight. However I am genuinely entranced by the bloody thing and thats not something that I have been used to from game systems. How can I put it? Where some games are great despite the system and some are great and the system facilitates this by not being crap, SotC is the second game I have ever found that really powers a great game through the system itself. Pendragon is the other one but I am a self-confessed Pendragon fanatic, so thats a given.

Hey, and I'm playing Pendragon and SotC at the moment. Woot!

So yes, love SotC because it has pushed all of my buttons. Hate it for coming at an unfortunate time and possibly deep sixing my own game. Well, one of them. Duty and Honour ftw!



Anonymous said...

I wouldn't be so tough on Omniverse. The writing's fine, it works as a system and if it shares similarities with SotC, a system I believe you were totally unfamiliar with when you developed Omniverse, that just shows its an idea whose time has come.


René López Villamar said...

It's great hearing you changed the way you think about SotC. It seems the replay value could increase, after all :)

rdonoghue said...

There are fewer praises higher than a comparison to Pendragon. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Rob Donaghue? Well don't you get all the big names posting here Neil ;-)

SoTC does indeed seem to fit in well with the style of RP we've moved to now Neil, but certainly I think that your Omniverse games in playtest are something distinctly different in terms of what they provide.

Yes, SoTC has the distinct advantage of being very polished, and indeed, I like it very much, but in much the same way as an independent sports car producer like Morgan doesn't take one look at a Porsche and give up, you shouldn't give up on your game just because something else is out there which does something similar.

Omniverse has it's own mechanics, it's own fun, and brings something distinct to the table which you should have a bit more pride in.

Getting back to SoTC though, indeed, having flipped though both Ians copy and the SRD I can see how it is very easily adaptable to a wide range of settings and does a number of distinct things which we like in a very different way. Most notably the system is completely character orientated in a way you don't see much outside of PTA, but the scene setting is much more traditional in approach allowing a GM to power through a good underlying story (like Ian is doing). The invokes/compels thing being something so simple in idea, and hard to cenceptualise, that it's actually a revelation when you get going with it (Is that a tank I see..) Our first game we didn't quite get it, our 2nd game we got it more and it formed a fantasic edge to the game. I'm betting on the 3rd game it'll be the beating heart of the game as we'll all have a good idea of what can be used to compel each other... Escalate! Escalate!Escalate! in true Pulpy fashion :-)

In short, I think it'd be a true loss to deep six your own projects. Lets get it past alpha playtest and into beta at the very least. Lets run a proper story with it and see how it goes.


Anonymous said...

There are a number of systems which do what SotC, which is to take nothing a way from SotC, obviously (as I really like it).

The Burning Wheel, HeroQuest, Primetime Adventures as you say. These all flag characters mechanically and make character-based stuff count. They also use a currency to keep things flowing. You then have games which half do it, such as Mutants and Masterminds, and to an extent the Buffy system - both advocate characters generating their own problems earning hero/drama points.

There is probably a whole host of Indie games as well I'm forgetting, have a couple on the tip of my tongue, that also use general, chaarcter defining traits/aspects and allow them to have mechanical uses in the game.

What I think is unique is the merger of this sort of approach into games following a traditional model either full on like SotC and The Burning Wheel, or a halfway house like Mutants and Masterminds and the Buffy system. Previously systems using these tools have dropped the traditional GM/player role to a big extent, and/or moved to conflict rather than task resolution (such as in HeroQuest).

That was the clincher for me - and the abstract way SotC works in other areas.


Anonymous said...

Bah, stop with the self pity Neil.

Omniverse definately has it play vale and plus side. It is well worth the effort you have put into it so far. Get on an finish it. I expect to be able to play an MI666 game at Gencon US.