I used to love fantasy role-playing games. I’d devour all the Bard’s Tales, Ultimas and Baldur’s Gates I could get my Hands of Great Fingeritude +2 on. Some of my fondest geeky childhood memories are of drawing maps of enormous dungeons (back before the days of wimpy auto-mapping features) and adorning them with clumsy doodles of ringwraiths, dragons and beholders. I got a kick out of reading the rulesets for Dungeons & Dragons and imagining my own (predictably generic) fantasy world, although I never got a successful campaign off the ground – mainly because one of the players was quite mad and better at chewing up PET bottles, skulking off to a corner and rambling incoherently than at role-playing his dwarven fighter. (And no, I don’t think that sort of behaviour qualifies as valid role-playing for a dwarf.)
I still have a weak spot for the Ultima games, mainly because they got two things right: the world and the characters. If I had unlimited time, didn’t have to work and wasn’t worried about my girlfriend thinking I’m even more of a geek than I am, I would try to recreate the series’ Britannia as a huge mod for The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion. And then I’d get a kick out of walking from one end of the continent to the other, stopping every now and then to see the sunset over Brittany Bay or to watch a thunderstorm from some mountain peak. Sad, isn’t it?
Anyway, to get back to the issue at hand: I bought Neverwinter Nights 2 last year, an RPG based on the Dungeons & Dragons ruleset. I’d heard good things about its story and writing. Somehow I never made it past the tutorial when I got started on it last year, but now I’ve started playing it again. And while it’s okay and competently executed, I realise I’m tired of what the 1UP review calls a “wonky fantasy geekfest”. I’m tired of the D&D ruleset. I’m tired of grumpy dwarfs, aloof elves, of slaughtering cheap orc knock-offs (doesn’t matter if they’re called “bladelings”). Yes, the writing is quite good, but not enough so to make the game much less generic. The characters seem fun – but not enough so to make me care much about the world or about what’s going on. Big evil threatening the Forgotten Realms, and only you can save the world? Please. Give me Planescape Torment instead any day, with its hyper-intelligent hive-mind rats, its puritanical succubus, floating skulls, and the best amnesia story this side of Memento. And its enchanted panty-sniffing armoires. Let’s not forget about the panty-sniffing armoires.
Anyway, enough of a rant about generic fantasy RPGs. More later, perhaps. And for those of you who tune in for the movie and TV musings, don’t worry – they’ll be back before long. It’s just that watching anything is more fun if my special someone is sitting beside me. And yes, that’s the kind of soppy, sentimental bastard that I am. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.