Games That Really Disappointed Me

A thread on TheRPGSite about “Games You Really Wanted To Like But Couldn’t” struck a chord with me.  Here’s some of the games I really, really wanted to like but was sadly crushed by. Chime in with yours!

Rune. After Feng Shui, which I loved with an intense love, I was really looking forward to Robin Laws’ next game, and Vikings are cool, so it seemed like a shoo-in. Then when I got it, it was a weird budget-driven thing that I couldn’t even begin to attempt to run. You can’t put in a trap, you have to take the trap out of the budget for opposing elements…  Spreadsheet time! To create a Rune adventure you’d have to do days of prep and math, there is no “winging it.” A warning shot of what has mostly gone wrong with RPGs since in many ways. Recently I saw the 2e clone Myth & Magic trying to put in an “XP budget” thing in their scenario building and it gave me post-traumatic stress disorder flashbacks to Rune, I said “Rip that out POST HASTE boys!”

Savage Worlds. With Savage Worlds there isn’t enough meat there unless the GM is willing to be off-the-cuffing stuff, and ours wasn’t. “I’m sorry, that seems like a valid Strength trick but the game only defines Smarts and Agility tricks.” “Oh well then this system is boring as all get out as written.” Also probably the GM’s style is to blame, he’d just suddenly take 15 minutes to build a big HeroClix battle mat and put the exact same generic goblin and dwarf minis down on it (we never fought dwarves or goblins, they were just stand-ins) and look at us and say “What do you want to do?” “To what? Where are we? What do those goblins represent? Are they attacking us or something?” But we gave it two campaigns. Once the final one ended with us getting killed by the traditional SW “guy you can’t hit ever except on super lucky dice explosions” we boycotted.

With FATE, I’ve tried Spirit of the Century and Dresden Files. Spirit of the Century was just too big.  411 pages for a “pick-up” RPG?  There was no way to bootstrap a group into playing it.  With Dresden Files, it wasn’t really the core mechanics that got us. Well, maybe it was. I just remember the wizard continually outshining other people in their specialty, and then us taking an egregiously long time to cast some detection spell. “Do we have enough juju to make it work? No? OK, we put in… Some grass, because he was on grass when he was abducted! Still not enough? We put in… A phone book with his name in it! How about now?” We stole Aspects and just added them to our Pathfinder characters in some campaigns, that works well enough. Might give FATE a try in another circumstance, but it’s operating at “two strikes.”

D&D 4e, because I actually liked D&D in Basic, 1e, 2e, and 3e; then 4e took a big steaming dump on everything the game stood for.

M&M 2e and Spycraft 2e. I loved 1e of both, and I was fine with upgrading and bought the books for both new editions sight unseen. And with both, they took a fine RPG and ladled on big levels of complexity and made it read like an encyclopedia full of definitions and not a game. They were completely un-charming and in both cases after reading some, even with my previous understanding from the earlier edition, I didn’t really want to power through reading the rest of the weighty tome. There’s a game design philosophy that sometimes comes into vogue that says “Make it read like a big ol’ dictionary, and they can just piece it together from all the individual definitions!”  And that’s about as easy as learning a foreign language from a dictionary. Game designers, stop being lazy. Write a game.

I think it’s at this point I decided giant complex games were not for me any more and started eyeballing lighter approaches (though sadly Savage Worlds was supposed to be the lead candidate there).

Those are the games that I really, really wanted to like, that many people told me I should like, but that in the end I like so little that if our group was like “Let’s play X” I, who generally go along with whatever game system without comment, would have to say “Uh… I don’t know if I’d really enjoy that.”

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19 responses to “Games That Really Disappointed Me

  1. D&D 4e, because I actually liked D&D in Basic, 1e, 2e, and 3e, and 4e took a big steaming dump on everything the game stood for.

    Hear, hear! When I basically said the same thing a couple of days ago, I got a few die-hards steaming up my comments. Here’s hoping you avoid that fate.

    Might give FATE a try in another circumstance, but it’s operating at “two strikes.”

    I’ve heard excellent things about Disapora, a sci-fi game that uses the FATE system, although I’ve not played it myself. Might be worth giving a try for your third strike.

  2. I think you may have given Spirit of the Century a bums rush dude. Its actually a really easy game to learn & heaps of fun to play once you understand it (which is pretty simple). Much of the book is flavour, which if properly edited & layed out wouldn’t be half its size. Its also the only game i know of that has roleplaying in the character generation.

    As for MnM 2E what can i say, other then i think you are wrong. Its base system is not all that complex & in play its no more complex then you as a player wants it to be (kind of like 2E & 3E D&D). DC Adventures (which is the 3E version of MnM) is likewise complex by your given standard, but its still significantly less complex then say Champions & more conclusive the V&V.

    • But SotC really is too complex, still, even if you discount the page count for being smaller size. Escalating compels! Temporary Aspects! Concessions! Stunts! Sure, I read the book, and had to read and re-read it to figure out the nuances. There’s no way I could get a whole gaming group to. Especially when the value proposition is “And it’ll be a freewheeling pulp game!” when there’s dozens of reputable pulp games with lighter rulesets out there.

      With M&M 2e it’s a different thing. The complexity they added in 2e was unnecessary. I don’t really care if it’s less or more than any other game; they added pointless garbage on top of 1e, and worse, in a very charmless package. The book was just unpleasant to read, so I stopped. “Where’s the added value to me over just continuing to play 1e,” I thought? I can’t see it. 3e seems like maybe it’s de-complexified a little bit, but I’m not sure of the value of upgrade.

      I’m typing this on a computer running Windows XP. “You want my money” is not a value proposition for an upgrade, I want something to be actually better out of it.

      And complexity is a barrier to entry. There should be clear and compelling value for each mechanic and mini-game you add to your game… Busy adults who game like myself have less and less tolerance for “Here’s my new 400 page darling! Its rules, my, there are so many of them!”

      • Whats so hard to get. Its a sliding success scale, with a dice pool of d6′s where you can improve your roll or re-roll as long as you have fate points & you can find a valid story excuse based on the fun list of abilites you generated as part of the group character designing. Thats literally the entire game… Print of some pregens & play… It really is one of the most simple games i’ve seen in quite some time.

        As for MnM2, they didn’t really add any complexity to MnM1. Its pretty much the same game (a couple of name changes). DCA is the bigger upgrade. As for its worth as an RPG… Well DC liked it enough to commission the engine directly for its own RPG… Do with that as you will i suppose.

        While complexity may be a barrier for the over 30 w/children set, for most of the rest of us it isn’t. A hobby is a thing you do in your spare time, if you don’t have any spare time you shouldn’t be looking at a hobby. But to judge an entire system based on how much time one has to spare is kind of disingenious to the game & its designers don’t you think?

        • Now you’re just being silly. With SotC, if “that’s all there is to it” then there’s no need for 400 of those 411 pages in the rulebook. I specifically listed a bunch of the other mechanics, in fact – that’s not “all there is to it.”

          With M&M2, again, not factually accurate. M&M 1e – 192 pages. M&M 2e – 256. 25% increase not just from “changing words,” unless you contend they just went in and added a new syllable to every word in the book. It’s not “fonts,” it’s not “more art,” it’s increase in rules.

          I didn’t really intend to haggle over the merits of the specific games on my list, which I am sure other people enjoy, but these claims you’re making are just false.

          Look man, this post is about games that disappointed me. Me personally. (With the exception of 4e,) I’m not here to argue that they are good or bad games, just games that I was looking forward to that then either I read and didn’t feel it was worthwhile to play, or played and didn’t feel it was worthwhile to play again. The way you have to judge games’ usefulness is whether they are useful to you. You personally. That should be simple enough that I wouldn’t have to explain it, but I guess you’re feeling threatened today or something.

          So yes, for me personally, in my own personal circumstance, 400 page rulebooks are very difficult to get an entire group to adopt and play. Additional complexity requires an additional compelling benefit for us to adopt it. I am glad for you that you love and play all these games (assuming you do and aren’t just playing devil’s advocate) but for me, I was looking forward to them and then was disappointed enough that they’re off my gaming slate.

          • Matthew Lane

            SotC is actually only about 200 pages long system wise, the rest is fluff & if it were a full sized book instead of a digest sized book & used a more sensible font & indenting, i doubt the actual rules part of the book would be more then about 6o pages (double spaced).

            As for MnM 2E, much of its increase in length is taken up by an increase in the amount of story info it provides & extra information for the GM. But just to show how much of a difference layout can make to the length of a book, MnM 3E’s core book has been released twice, once for DCA & again as the Generic non DCA version. Up until chapter 7 they both contain the same info, word for word (with trademarked names swapped out for non trade marked names & a few words added in as fixes). Chapter 7 starts on page 157 in the generic version & page 143 in the non generic version. Its not all editing though, however MnM 2E was not much of an update from the first version, especially with complexity.

            But you are right this is about games you didn’t like. So to each there own.

  3. I agree, 4e D&D as a roleplaying game is garbage.

  4. I have to agree with your assessment of 4e & Savage Worlds. I really wanted to love both games, but ended up being very disappointed.
    Other games that I was excited about then sadly disappointed by are Rifts/Palladium Fantasy, Hero system and L5R. I love reading the books for Rifts and L5R, but I just don’t like playing them.

  5. It does sound like your GM didn’t make the best of Savage Worlds. My only issue with it is that it’s so generic that it sometimes seems a bit flavourless, but on the whole I really like it. You gave it a fair try though, so I’m not going to urge you to try again.

    I don’t understand why Spirit of the Century, which is supposed to be a free-wheeling pulp game, is presented as a book comparable to Pathfinder in size. Baffling. Also, I seem to fail to understand the FATE system on some conceptual level; I just don’t get it.

    • Thats because its not really a 411 page book. Its actually only about a 60 page book, as produced by WotC, or Paizo. Problem is, it used a big font, in a small book, with a large margin indent. In truth only about 200 pages are rules (the rest is GM tips, meta-storyline time table, etc) & when you are only getting 1 skill per page, its not actually a whole heap of information for the rules.

      To say that the Spirt of the Century game is bigger then a Paizo Pathfinder book is a little disingenious. It may have the higher page count, but its got significantly less information in it.

      An yes Savage Worlds is flavourless, its a generic system that is meant to have flavour plug ins in the form of genres books. Problem with generic RPG’s is that they are always going to lose out to actual games looking to capture a single specific niche.

  6. Yeah, for me, D&D 4E is the big one. I wanted to like it. There’s a local forum, the forum of my old Living Greyhawk playgroup, where there’s a long thread about 4E, from back when it was announced. For the first four or five pages, you can see me defending the game, and then counseling patience and holding off judgment until we have actually seen what’s in it.

    Then, one day, full 180.

    Comparing with my calendar, that was the day after our first playtest.

    Another one that really disappoints me is Eclipse Phase. I love the setting, I love the concept, I love the writing, I love that it’s Creative Commons, and I buy the stuff just for that… but the rules leave me cold. They’re a clunky, inelegant, unintuitive mess, and I still haven’t been able to learn them.

    While 4E makes me angry, Eclipse Phase makes me sad.

    • Eclipse phase isn’t that hard… Oh you mean its inelegant… Yeah i can’t disagree there. I quite enjoy it, but more for the universe then the system. The systems not bad, its just really heavy if you don’t get it. To me its not unintuitive, but thats probably just because i get it. I didn’t have the initial hump to try and get over as i hadn’t gamed in months when i was trying to learn it.

  7. I can understand that people don’ t like generic systems like Savage Worlds, but I think that the flavor comes from description (the players and the GM). Flavor in a book/setting is only the authors/companies describes it as such and you go from there.

    I tend to take the “trappings” mechanic for spells/powers to heart. It can be whatever you want. Make it fit your setting/descriptions. Don’t let a book dictate the flavor for ya or take it away either.

    And it really does sound like you had a bad go of it. I won’t try to push you (not that it would matter anyways) to try it again, but maybe under a more competent GM more familiar with the rules, you’d have more fun.

    • Again, I really like Savage Worlds, and when I say that I have a problem with it being flavourless, it’s not something that comes up in play; rather there’s always a slight sense of disappointment that all that separates “Infernal Blast” and “Righteous Smite” is that the names are different.

      As I say, it doesn’t come up in play, because I’m good enough at description that my players think I’ve got hundreds of spells and powers up my sleeve. It’s just that as a GM, I can see the mechanics behind the curtain, as it were, and they’re a bit dry.

      It’s not a big problem, barely a problem at all really. On the whole, it’s one of my favourite systems.

  8. FATE/SotC really easy if someone is walking you through it, not so easy if trying to learn from the book. At least, that is my experience with it.

    Savage Worlds is just a generic base system, it works but I find nothing exceptional about it. But Deadlands, weird western roleplaying, still sings even under SW.

    M&M2, I liked it but I like M&M3 much better.

    Anyway, thanks for the discussion. Play games you enjoy and salvage useful bits from the rest.

    • I suppose i had the advantage there. I saw a podcast for it, downloaded the actual play podcast & got a run through on the system from people playing it, before i even found a copy of the book. An yes the DCA MnM3E version of MnM is better then the 2E version.

      As for Deadlands, i may have to give it a once over. I’ve only tried Savage Worlds once before and that was with necassary evil & that kind of bugged me because i kept on thinking; “MnM could do this better.”

      -M

  9. I am usually quite open to interpreting each game in its own way, and trying to learn how to run each the way the designers intended. I think this, and not discussing RPGs with people outside my own playing groups for 27 of the last 28 years of gaming has been responsible for feeling fewer disappointments.

    Sticking to issues purely of system, I would have to say the biggest case of disappointment I have felt for a game I was initially really excited about would be Burning Wheel. I am tempted to add FATE to this list, but honestly at the time I was introduced to it, I don’t think I really wanted to like it. Once we started using it (SoTC, and later in a Mish-Mash Fantasy Setting) the experience of it left me cold. Part of that was our inexperience with it leading to dull game play, but a bigger part of it was definitely that it feels geared to safe game play with very little fear of loss.

    Anyway: Burning Wheel.

    I really wanted to like Burning Wheel, and I did not really view the initial difficulty I had with ‘getting it’ to be a negative until I noticed how long it was taking me to ‘get it.’ Finally on rpg.net, I got the clue I needed. It wasn’t that I did not get the system. I did get it. I had pretty much gotten it right off, in fact, but convinced myself I had to be mistaken. What the problem was, was that I did not like the system, the intent behind it, nor will I ever need it for the sort of environment my games have. I would say that moment really was the biggest disappointment in any of my experiments with RPGs.

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