Once upon a time, I took role-playing games very seriously. I looked down my nose on anyone who failed to dedicate themselves to creating a level of realism in our shared world, be it through the use of stupid or silly character names (“Boba Fett”) or the desire to play a ninja in a strictly Western European-type culture. How dare they sully the artistic creation that serious role-players like myself were attempting to forge?!
Strangely, as I’ve grown older, I’ve adopted a less tyrannical approach to gaming. Instead of outright snobbery, I now meet such desires with a live-and-let-live attitude—provided the player himself isn’t a complete affront to common courtesy and can play and share well with others. I’m not above such occaisonal flights of fancy myself nowadays. I did create the Octopus character class after all.
This growing acceptance for the semi-serious or “unrealistic” elements of the game has led me down some paths I’d previously be loathed to tread. Without this attitude, I would have never come to accept my mantra of “Stop worrying and love the dungeon,” resulting in a slightly less enjoyable Stonehell and a more staid Dungeon Alphabet. I continue to encourage this open-mindedness in myself at every turn.
It’s a tough fight, though. I keep oscillating between the desire to completely accept the absurd and my previous well-intentioned but straight-laced mindset. I’ve strapped myself to the bungee and made it to edge of the bridge, but I just can’t quite jump.
Some may not see this as a problem. Others might even interpret the desire to open my mind to the outré as the first step toward game degeneracy, convinced that such a path leads only to Arduin-like levels of madness—TIE Fighters strafing wizard’s towers and the like. I can’t fault these folks, for I was once like them.
Now, however, I find myself reading some of the accounts of older games and thinking that we’ve definitely lost a part of this hobby’s rich heritage to the expectations of realism and common sense. One has to look no further than Men & Magic (“There is no reason that players cannot be allowed to play as virtually anything, provided they begin relatively weak and work up to the top”) or “Excerpt from an Interview with a Rust Monster” (The Dragon #14) to realize there once was a very cavalier attitude to role-playing which has nothing to do with armored guys on horseback.
One of the reasons I’ve found solace in the OSR is because that “Devil may care” outlook isn’t completely lost here. As the trend of science-fantasy campaigns demonstrates, the OSR is a lot more accepting of weird ideas tied together with nothing more than some house rules and good intentions. Unfortunately, we’re not completely without prejudice.
I remember reading a thread on one of the boards some months back regarding character classes to be included in a new version of one of the retro-clones. The usual suspects were suggested: illusionist, ranger, paladin, monk. I was disappointed in the lack of vision these suggestions represented. Granted, these are the expected choices and the book wasn’t looking to expand any minds.
Regardless, it seems that we’ve allowed ourselves to dig a pretty deep rut over the last thirty-six years when we can’t easily think beyond the usual handful of classes. As much as I’ve determined that 3rd edition isn’t for me, I’ll give it a nod of respect for attempting to address this issue with prestige classes, despite their flawed (for me) execution.
Some may argue—rightly perhaps—that the game doesn’t need any classes beyond those already in the common parlance. This was 2nd edition’s stance after all: every profession can be portrayed adequately by role-playing one of the existing classes in the proper manner with slight adjustments. New, specialized classes just cluttered the playing field and overwhelmed the player with choices. But this mindset isn’t a benefit if you happen to like having a lot of choices.
With my newfound acceptance for the oddball in the sandbox, this battle of opinions regarding classes has become my biggest hurdle to overcome. I see the logic in staying with the established few, but the wahoo part of my brain wants samurai warriors, cavemen, crash-landed aliens, bounty hunters, goblins, and sentient polar bears represented in the party—so long as the players want them too. I know I have that gear in my head, but, so far, I’m just grinding metal every time I try to engage it. I can’t quite make the leap yet from “How Come?” to “Why Not?”
Not that I’ve given up trying, though. I’m continuing to tinker with the Crabaugh Method from Dragon #109. If I can customize and update that method to something that fits my tastes exactly, I know I’ll have found my personal character class Rosetta Stone. Little discoveries like the dwarven craftsman class from Liaisons Dangereuses inspire and excite me to keep working on a “unified class method” suitable for my own use. While this search remains underway, I’m continuing my own quest to find a personal happy median between the vanilla and the tutti-frutti of role-playing ideas and attitudes.
I may never get to the point where I can take a troll to lunch, but at least I’ve become unbiased enough to meet him for coffee.