Weirdly, however, some thoughts and reflection have opened up some fresh ideas that I wanted to share with you... and it's mostly inspired by a woman I've never met...
Meet Sarah Newton
Having read a preview article or two on the website, I was tempted enough to download the .PDF of the game. I am hugely glad that I did... not least because it has inspired a whole raft of thoughts that I hope will be inspiring improvements in my fantasy and SF roleplaying experience.
Monsters & Magic
Sarah's game takes the OSR material from classic D&D and makes it possible to adapt any addition (whether past or present) to a more modern style of play. She describes it as, "combining the atmosphere of classic fantasy games with modern RPG mechanics."
Last weekend, having begun to read Monsters & Magic, I was inspired! What struck me so keenly has been the encouragement to take Sarah's game engine and customise it to suit my own fantasy worlds... nay, even my SF ones!
What's so inspiring?
In truth, everything and nothing.
There are three things that I like about Monsters & Magic:
- Replacement of the d20 with 3d6... but retaining the same old familiar stat values.
- Addition of her innovative new "Effect Engine", in which new RPG mechanics meet old.
- Encouragement to customise and personalise your fantasy experience without breaking the game.
On top of those, I really like the fact that she wrote the game with only about four experience levels of play in mind. Right there, on page 4, lay the things that really set my mind to wondering:
"While Monsters & Magic is a standalone game, we anticipate you’ll use it with your favourite classic fantasy RPG books — bestiaries, spell books, equipment, magic items, and adventures. So, we’ve provided enough spells, monsters, equipment, and magic to take you to roughly the 4th level of play — but assume you’ll also incorporate material from your favourite classic fantasy resources to support your game."
"Monsters & Magic is a modular ruleset. You don’t have to use all the rules: if you have a favourite old school rule you want to use instead (say, different experience levels, or rules for treasure), then go ahead and use it — you won’t break the game."
The game actively encourages that which most RPG publishers avoid: take stuff from wherever you like, fit it into this game system, and make it your own.
That's the thing that set me to thinking...
Most D&D derivatives (including Monsters & Magic) are generic: they present a framework for playing exciting fantasy roleplaying games in a broadly medieval style setting. The assumption is that the GM will make the game their own and colour the world in their own shades. In my experience, however, this is usually done in the most cursory manner.
When we began playing Castles & Crusades, the system we decided to use for our current fantasy game, the appeal was simplicity and ease. Having just run a playtest of the new Rolemaster, my guys were hankering for an easy-play Friday night escape game. Realising that you have to run the game the players want to play, I opted to keep it simple.
Things had been going well: four or five sessions under the belt, the birth of a new homebrew fantasy setting, and highly engaged players. The combination of the advice from Brian Jamison's "Gamemastering" and the simple rules from C&C were a great starting point.
What has gone wrong, however, is that I've been labouring to run another D&D derivative generic setting. Having limited time, I've not really begun to really tailor our game to my own tastes as well as those of the players. Gloomy and bored, I approached Friday feeling that something was missing... and it was noticable.
Sarah's game reminded me that, no matter what I play, I need to be able to customise it. Monsters & Magic is the game that, although built to support whichever generic fantasy you want to play, actively encourages (nay, requires) you to customise. Thanks, Sarah - because otherwise, it's fair to say, I think our campaign would wither and die.
Here are three things that Sarah has inspired:
- Customised Sub-classes: Ian plays an "Assassin". I want to give him a buzz and offer him rules for the "Witchfinder" that he is actually playing, designed just for our game.
- Customised Traits: Mark plays a Cleric. I want to give him some specific abilities that reflect his role as a "Priest of Helles, the Lightbringer".
- Customised Setting: We're playing in our world. I want to import ideas from several other OSR games, blending in materials that will make this our own.
All of this is possible with Monsters & Magic. Heck, all of it is possible with Castles & Crusades... but I don't really know how much that'll affect the balance of things.
With Sarah's game, well... "you won't break the game."
If you've not yet had a look at it, I recommend it... right now, it's a $10 download.