Thursday, February 26, 2009

"The Complete Guide to Role-Playing Games": a book by Rick Swan

I found this tome in a local used bookshop, and figured I'd snag it just for some fun easy reading of some quick reviews of various RPGs thru the years. This book is dated 1990, so it covers tons of games up until that point.

The book is by Rick Swan, who has also written some 2nd edition AD&D supplements ("The Complete Barbarian's Handbook", among others) and various modules for Dragonlance, Spelljammer, Al-Qadim, Planescape, Forgotten Realms, and even some Marvel Super Heroes.

I have yet to get much into this book...just browsing a few entries covering games for which I have a particular fondness. At any rate, the format looks pretty nice, including for each game entry: a game title, a # of stars rating, complexity rating, publisher info, a game review/synopsis, buyers notes, and suggested supplements. The game order is A-Z, and there is a nice subject index grouping the games by genre.

Here's just a brief summary of a few reviews Swan has given for some of my faves:


1st and 2nd editions
This is one of the more lengthy reviews in the book, from what I've seen. A good portion of the entry deals with 2nd edition, possibly due to the fact that Swan contributed to many of the settings in that edition. Regarding AD&D in general, he writes "A role-player who's never experienced AD&D is like a board-gamer who's never tried Monopoly or a kid who's never played baseball." - Now that's some solid marketing...I like it.

Boot Hill

1979 edition

Rick writes "fire order is crucial; slowpokes don't last long in Boot Hill." - Nice! He also recommends Lost Conquistador Mine as "not only the best of the Boot Hill supplements, it's also the best Western adventure ever published." - Now, I only have the original box set, so I can't comment, but he sure makes me want to track that one down.


1974, 1977, 1983 editions

This one is kinda tough to cover fully, as the different revs (OD&D, Holmes, Moldvay/Cook/Marsh, Mentzer BECMI, RC) all have their unique coolness, and could warrant an entire book to that discussion alone. One biggie though: Swan skips right over my all-time fave 1981 Moldvay/Cook/Marsh B/X edition. Major points lost from me on that one, Rick...ha! However he makes up for it with this gem (discussing folks who claim that D&D is too simpleminded, illogical, meaningless, abstract, juvenile, etc): "These grouches completely miss the point. Complaining that Dungeons and Dragons is an unrealistic RPG is like saying that chess is an inaccurate wargame. We're not talking about delving into the social structure of medieval Europe here, we're talking about tossing fireballs at lizard men and swiping gold pieces from ogres." - Agreed...simple (and sometimes silly) counts too.

Gamma World

1st and 3rd ed

He says "the third edition is the one to buy." - I personally totally disagree. 1st, 2nd and even 4th are much better, IMO...leaning on 2nd as my fave, although 1st ed was my 1st copy back in school. I do like this line by Swan though: "It's a bang-up job by designers James Ward, David James Ritchie, and Gary Jaquet; that is, if you don't take your nuclear holocausts too seriously."

Top Secret


Swan advises "Top Secret is good, but Top Secret/S.I. is better." - I personally have only played the original. However, I have heard this same opinion of the 1987 sequel from other gamers, so maybe I should give it a go someday. There is quite a bit of the S.I. source material, mods, and such floating around my local area game shops and used book stores, so it wouldn't be tough to snag some. Actually, I might even have a little bit of the S.I. stuff in piles of geekgoodies, but I know for sure I only have play experience in the original. And even that is pretty marginal XP.

Tunnels and Trolls


In his Suggested Supplements section, Swan comments that "With its simple rules, Tunnels and Trolls is a natural for solo play, and the solitaire T&T supplements are among the best of their kind." - I personally love the fact that T&T has such a huge amount of Solo/Solitaire mods published. I have a pile of them, and they are very nice for a gamer who has limited resources as far as grouping goes. I just recently have been able to play some real PnP D&D (4e) with real people at a real table so I am literally (and figuratively) "geeked" about that. But, prior to my recent gaming, solo mods...true "solitaire" mods were all I really had with which to get my game on. So I applaud Flying Buffalo (notably Rick Loomis) for this portion of the fantasy RPG genre. I only wish more game systems and other genres would follow suit. Sure there are a few solo/solitaire TSR D&D/AD&D modules in the mix, but IMO not enough.

Well that's really all I've checked out so far. There are over 150 games reviewed by Swan in this book, some more lengthy than others. I don't have a real grasp on how I regard the author's reviews yet, and how much faith I'll put into his advice, so I will withhold that judgment until I give the book a fair shake.

Thus, I will be reading some more entries, to see his take on some more games that I have played, but more interestingly some that I have yet to try, or even yet to hear of. First in that list: Macho Women with Guns. Sounds hot!

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