Monday, January 08, 2007

Run Club: a mixed beginning

Yesterday was the first run of our local Run Club, where everyone takes turns GMing a system of their choice. It was the first time this particular collection of players had been at the same table and I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly it felt like we were all part of a coherent gaming group. I suppose it helped that everyone present had game more than once with at least two other participants.

The selected game was a bit of a bust. Dave Hoover kindly volunteered to take the first turn GMing and he settled on Iron Gauntlets. I trust Dave. He's a veteran GM who has ran a bunch of great games for 3 decades. But Iron Gauntlets did not seem to be helping him at all. Eventually he requested that we abandon the adventure early.

I was really looking forward to IG. All sorts of cool people seem to have taken a shine to it besides Dave, such as Don McKinney (chairman of Winter War and my own personal Traveller guru), Doc Rotwang, and a buncha other folks at theRPGsite. The good Doctor has recently changed his mind about IG, and maybe now I know why. Keep in mind that what I'm about to tell you is based upon playing half a session and never seeing the inside of the rulebook. If someone wants to tell me I'm wrong about the mechanical details, I will gladly concede the point. I can only report my impressions of a couple hours of actual play.

IG's core mechanic for task resolution is rock solid. You figure out what stat and skill apply to the task. Stat and skill are uncoupled, so Fitness and Stealth might be approapriate for one task while Awareness and Stealth might work for another. Roll a number of ten-siders equal to the stat. You're trying to get your skill rating or lower on each die. Count successes. It's easy to grok and one of the few dice pool mechanics that look fun to me.

Combat is an intriguing resource management system where your stats are resources you spend from round-to-round on multiple thingies. You spend Fitness and Awareness and sometimes other stats to buy mechanical goodies: a better chance at going first in the round, extra actions, movement, and attacks. I really like the concept.

The main problems we encountered weren't mechanical so much as organizational. To make that combat system work I would really want some sort of control sheet where I can pile dice and move then around. I think I'd maybe even use a couple different colors of dice. The other main organizational issue was the rulebook itself. Dave did a lot of flipping around trying to find stuff, both rules-wise and in the intro adventure. At one point he growled "Argh! Why is this crucial clue hidden in the text?" And when we fought a monster the statblock seemed tough for Dave to interpret.

Do any of these issues mean Iron Gauntlets is a bad game? No, not at all. IG may be a very good game. But a fantasy adventure minnow swimming in D&D's sharktank has to be darn near perfect for me to bother investing my time and money. Unless the game is solid gold I don't want to spend a dozen sessions working through the combat system or leanring the layout of the book when I could be doing the exact same kinds of adventures with D&D.

Despite issues with the selected game, we still had a rockin' good time yesterday. The laughs were fast and frequent, we swapped some old game stories, chitchatted about the upcoming convention, and generally enjoyed the company of the people at the table. I look forward to our February meeting, where Doug will use the d20 Modern/d20 Future rules to power an old fashioned Star Frontiers outing. I think I'll be playing a vrusk. What's not to love about that?