Here’s a conversation that sort of starts over on The Mule Abides. Tavis, an erudite thinker on the topic of games and a man who certainly knows what it means to play, and I share a great many interests and something of a common ancestry in the world of roleplaying. Late last year, at AnonyCon, we enjoyed a game of Swords Without Master together. It was actually kind of an amazing game–with our heroes being flung around an ancient treasure room by giant animated statues and then later picking gems and other bits of treasure from each others’ flesh as they fled down the jungle river leading from the temple and that was all before they were beset by the ghost tribe, hand-sharpened teeth glowing in the fog . . .
I could go on and on. And we did, that night, and afterwards at the con.
The game was a personal victory of mine, because of the type of player Tavis is. He’s an open-minded gamer, willing to try all sorts of new forms of game and play, but his heart belongs to his true love, the primogenitor of the hobby: D&D. There’s a little Tavis in me, hell probably in all of us, and I wanted to see if Swords could seduce him.
Now, I’m no homewrecker. I wasn’t trying to break Tavis and D&D up for good. I just wanted to see if what I saw in the game was real. There were promises made when I was young and first came across the hobby. Promises made by the fiction in Appendix N, by the art in the game, and by the metal I was listening to at the time. Promises of violence, adventure and wonder that were never quite answered by the mechanics of D&D, or any other game, not for me, not until Swords began to form.
Sure, I found plenty of violence, adventure and wonder along the way, playing a multitude of games, but these were turning out to be very specific promises. I clearly feel Swords answers these promises, but I’m a little too close to it to judge. So I love testing the game on players like Tavis, players who I think have heard the same promises. Tavis obviously had these promises fulfilled with D&D, but I was delighted to see he could find them answered in Swords as well.
Over on The Mule Abides, Tavis quotes me talking about a moment during the design of Swords when I felt compelled to hack at early D&D.
I had a moment, last year, while working on Swords, where I found myself compelled to hack D&D. It was like I was exorcising a demon. With both Sw/oM and the hack, I was striking at the very roots of my gaming in an attempt to capture the essence of what lured me into this hobby. And what I was finding was two completely different games. Swords answered all the promises in one way; and something in that Basic-Expert-Companion set combo felt like the other way to answer them. ACKS looks like it’s hitting right on that second way. I’m excited about that.
For me, where the mechanics of D&D and the promise of the fiction diverge, the mechanics begin to promise their own thing. Flipping through the old books, perusing the levels I’d never reach (at least not in that edition) I’d dream of the tower my magic-user might one day build, or the army my fighter might amass. There were glories to be won beyond treasures that lay abandoned beneath the earth. Something for the adventurer to become if he or she survived long enough. Something to fight and struggle for.
All of these promises–from the mechanics, the fiction, the art, the music–intermingled in my mind for decades. And so, when it came time to design Swords, I found I had to hack and toy with D&D as well, perhaps to reassure myself that I wasn’t abandoning one dream for the other.
Adventurer Conqueror King seems to be hitting exactly what I was striking at while I hacked. A game about characters whose concerns and influence change as they grow in ability and renown. Where this growth, this struggle, is the game itself. The promises I found in D&D‘s mechanics. And I’m pretty damn excited about that.
ACK has just over a week left in its Kickstarter. If you’re as excited about it as I am, I recommend getting in on it now, so you can get a piece of that mass combat supplement. You’re going to have a hard time conquering without mass combat.