Friday, August 06, 2004

Worlds & Dragons?

(In case anyone cares I sworded the last blog post after a technical glitch. Blogger.com was giving me some error messages and published a draft while I was still writing the dang thing. This is the first major snafu I've had with blogger.com/blogspot.com. That one glitch compares rather favorably to the error messages I waded through every day with the old blog. Anyhoo, I'll retype the rest of the entry and republish it in the next few days. EDITED TO ADD: Yesterday's post is corrected/completed and back up.)

Pat and I managed to get together yesterday. He looked over the game I'm supposed to be playtesting and provided some useful comments. Although he had some things he didn't like about it, I think he will at least help me playtest it. It's got goblins what need killin' and loot what needs pillagin', so it can't be all bad, right?

Pat also pointed me to a nifty Savage Worlds fansite called Savageheroes.com. In particular the Dungeons & Savages rules in the conversions section are tripping his trigger. Although I didn't immediately recognize them (I should have, with a name that cool), I had encountered these rules before over on Dragonsfoot in their Savage Worlds section. Incidentally, I think it speaks very well of Savage Worlds and its reception in the old school community to see a section devoted to it at a place like Dragonsfoot.

(Pat also pointed out that Savageheroes has a set of Superhero "Test" Rules available for download. Could these be the playtest rules for the forthcoming Necessary Evil plot point book? I dunno.)

Anyway, back to this Dungeons & Savages stuff. Basically, we're talking about a set of guidelines for converting from 1st edition AD&D to Savage Worlds. Not a terrible idea in theory. Heck, I wouldn't mind sitting down and converting the Caves of Chaos dungeon from module B2 The Keep on the Borderlands. That ought to make for some fast, furious fun. Having read D&S, I feel kinda reluctant to go down that path. D&S is what I would call a "hard" conversion, as opposed to a softer conversion. Conversion rules always occupy a place on a continuum between abiding by the new rules and making the PC fit, or tinkering with the new rules so that the PC fits but the game itself is changed. For my tastes Dungeons & Savages strays a little too far towards changing the game to fit the PCs being converted. Any conversion begs the question "If we like our old PCs and were having a good time playing, why are we converting to some other system?" A hard conversion adds a second difficult question, "If we are bending the new game to fit the PCs, what about this new system makes it so suitable for this conversion?" I don't think the Dungeon & Savages rules make any attempt, explicit or implicit, to answer either of those questions. If I had to guess, the thinking behind D&S went something like this "Hey, these new Savage Worlds rules are great! Let's dust off our favorite PCs and convert 'em!" In and of itself, this is not a bad thing. I tend to see this behavior most often among the trendy type gamers, but I still don't knock the impulse to convert from Beloved Old Game to Flavor-Of-The-Month. You have to be careful when proceeding with such a project. Converting everything under the sun to new game mechanics can quickly degenerate into writing an unplanned hybrid of the two systems, rather than a conversion. In my admittedly limited experience few such bastard systems have anything to offer to the gaming community at large, as they represent a local, idiosyncratic interpretation of the two systems as well as an individual judgment as too which parts of each of the two parent systems should be retained and which parts should be rejected.

Again, I'm not against conversions, but the approach used in Dungeons & Savages just doesn't suit me. The main bugaboo for me is the class rules. D&S basically re-invents the AD&D character class system as a series of elaborate Edge trees, lame Hindrances, and miscellaneous mumbo-jumbo. Why? It seems to me to be a simple truth that if you like class systems stick to games like Dungeon & Dragons! Don't try to marry them to perfectly decent classless systems. D&D is nifty keano. Savage Worlds is the bee's knees. But mixing the two this way kinda gives me indigestion. A better approach, IMHO, would be to build Edges and Powers that emulate or at least suggest some of the class powers in D&D, leave the rest of the system alone, and let the players mix-n-match like in a regular SW game. Those players who want to play a straight up class emulation will do so, while others will take advantage of the inherent flexiblility of SW's char gen to make something new and unique.

Dungeons & Savages may not be exactly my cup o' tea, but its still a well-done little PDF. If you want to impose D&D-like class structure on a fantasy-based SW game, it might be right up your alley. Pat certainly likes it. He mentioned possibly converting G1-2-3 Against the Giants over to D&S standards. I can't sneeze at an opportunity to play Gleep Wurp the Eyebiter, so I've made some preliminary notes for converting the pregenerated PCs to D&S. Turns out that some of these guys have high stats that totally nerfs any prospect of a clean-cut point-by-point conversion. Ah well, if converting PCs were easy, we wouldn't need documents like Dungeons & Savages at all!