Friday, 22 February 2013

Less than a week to throw cash at James Wallis! Hurry!

The blessed James Wallis is at it again! He's Kickstarting a new roleplaying game called Alas Vegas, which certainly looks interesting. I have a small collection of thoughts on the matter:

Alas Vegas Kickstarter


1. I've never supported a Kickstarter thing before. I'm not sure I have the money to now. But maybe you do, and would like to. If so, the deadline is the end of this February.

2. I know nothing about the rules system behind this game. It's dice free, which always makes me uncomfortable. I realise a random deck draw is just as good a random effect generator as a random die roll, but dice are a mark of station for roleplayers, a symbol of glory and honour, and they make nice clattering noises. There's tradition and superstition galore attached to those little polyhedrons, and I don't like the idea of arbitrarily giving them up. Plus, cards almost make it seem like *shudder* Magic the Gathering. (But I always just ignore the dice and make shit up when I'm GMing a game anyway, so it probably makes little practical difference. Shh, don't tell my players.)

3. The idea of a single-use roleplaying setting is, commercially, quite unusually. I've played in games that were either intentionally created to play for short runs only, or improvised on short notice and never re-used. But these were all amateur efforts. The professional RPG writers normally like to leave plenty of room for expansions and sequels, both for their own commercial benefit, and to give players room to take their unique gaming experiences as far and wide as they like. For most games companies, it does make sense to leave things as open-ended as possible. But James Wallis is nothing if not a skilled craftsman, an artist of a game writer, and it also makes complete sense to me that he'd prefer to create a single perfect story and then move on, rather than invest in a vast and endless setting. His unpleasant experiences with the final years of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 1st Edition may have something to do with that too.

But, compare this with the movie industry. Hollywood currently loves to re-boot, re-use, re-make, re-hash the hell out of anything that was even vaguely successful (explained very nicely by Mr Plinkett as part of his Abrams Trek review), when we'd probably be getting better and more interesting (or at least more varied) movies if plots were allowed to end conclusively and brand new ideas got a chance to bloom in their place. Perhaps roleplaying games have at times also gotten a little too trapped in re-hash mode too? I wouldn't have said so as a general rule, except D&D 4th Ed. and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 3rd Ed. both seem to fit that description, released more for the sake of having a new release and not because they offered improved new rules or setting content. My earlier complaint about Fantasy Flight's abuse of the Enemy Within campaign name is as stark an example as I can think of.

4. Freaky things happening to confused people in Vegas. Sounds like fun. The flashbacks mechanism is an interesting idea; I hope it works.

5. There's a video on the Kickstarter page, which may be the first time I've ever seen James Wallis's face. He's lumpier than expected, more cube-shaped. Almost Polishly cubic. I'll also be clear that I haven't actually had any direct exposure to any of his so-called Indie games. I only know him from Critical Miss veneration, and from the old Warhammer books, but that stuff's all fantastic, though hard to describe without including spoilers. My Warhammer group has just played its 61st session of the Enemy Within campaign (also including Dying of the Light), nearing the end of Power Behind the Throne, and it's the longest, most successful game many of us have ever played in. That's roughly 300 hours of gameplay so far, and James Wallis takes a fair bit of credit for it. (Note to my Warhammer group: This is the man who burned and sank your barge we're talking about here.)

6. I really like what I'm seeing of the book's artist, John Coulthart.

7. For more balanced views on the matter, here are the perfectly unbiased and objective opinions of Jonny Nexus, of Critical Miss fame, and Kleromancer, formerly the Herald of Spatula, who I know from the Critical Miss Forums.