RPGs, in the main, are a numbers game. Stats, to-hit, armor class, damage modifiers, experience levels – all those and more tend to become the player’s focus. Power gaming. Min/max. Munchkinizing.

With computer games, it doesn’t matter too much. The player, especially if solo, needs every advantage. As a friend of mine put it: “You have to win every combat. They only have to win one“.

In live gaming, it’s supposed to be different. But the advent of the D&D 3/3.5 rules, with their emphasis on power gaming, shows otherwise.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Once, I played in a system where a lot of the typical D&D trappings just didn’t matter.

In the early 80’s, I ran a Friday night online game on CompuServe. One of my players – a DM in his own right – invited me to join a game he was starting up. The system was called Bushido.

As you might guess, it was a quasi-real-world feudal Japan setting. Something a little different from the ordinary run of RPGs.

Actually, it was different in several important ways. Of course, there were plenty of numbers to get a handle on, which took awhile. And the manual was not exactly well-organized. You could pore over it for months and keep finding bits of information tucked away in odd places.

Gaining levels was the first change. Along with experience, there was on. On was your reputation, your honor, your personal standing, based on actons in the game. To advance, you needed not only experience points, but a minimum on score as well.

And the levels only went to six. Think about that for a moment in these days of 20+ characters. Six was it. The top. The max. The most you could have, ever.

So gaining levels was not a quick jaunt up a small hill. Of course, there were also skills and stats. These could be improved by various methods independent of level. So even at L6, your character could still advance in other ways (stats topped at 40, skills at 99).

The system was not heavy on magic items, either. The manual covered goodies in about two and a half pages. They were scarcer than birthday cards from a red dragon.

And you know what? None of that mattered. For one thing, I was lucky enough to have an excellent DM. He knew the system and the setting very well. He also knew how to set up and run a good story, with balanced combat.

For another, with level gains at a slow pace (very slow, as the sessions were two hours once a week), the emphasis on plot, and lack of magic items, the usual “gotta make level, gotta find goodies” just dropped out completely.

With no worries about making level (advancing skills was far more important), and no scavenging for magic items, I could concentrate completely on the game itself. Now, that’s a change of pace.

I doubt whether anything like this could make it in a computer game. Just the lack of Neat Stuff and high levels would turn off a lot of players. Besides, no pre-scripted story can match the flexibility of a live DM.

I also doubt whether many people would want to play something like Bushido live, even with a good DM. There would be some, naturally. But I wonder if the days of the “slow RPG”, whatever the system, are over. If so, that would be a loss.

Regardles, I can certainly say this: my participation in the Bushido campaign was the finest RP experience I’ve ever had. And that says it all.miniscorp