Thursday, November 20, 2008


Ladies and Gentlemen, today's truth comes from approximately thirteen years of research. I have a confession to make, and chances are, it will shock none of you, but...

I'm a nerd.

I spent my youth playing Magic: the Gathering, Vampire: the Masquerade, and other fancy games with colons in the title. Over time and lots of research down in a dark room with pasty friends and lots of dice, I've learned a few things about these games: the names are all deceptive, and as such are false advertising. So today, I'll list my favorite games, describe why they're misnamed, and propose new names more befitting their nature. And along the way, I'll use lots of fancy colons.

Dungeons and Dragons: The quintessential geek game. Players take on the role of fantasy adventurers killing monsters and taking treasure.
  • FACT: Most games don't involve dragons. In fact, the bulk of the creatures you fight, that party can kill in one hit.
  • FACT: Many games don't involve dungeons, but rather tombs, keeps, castles, lairs, labyrinths, and fortresses. Almost all games, however, involve a tavern of some kind.
  • FACT: Every game involves getting treasure by taking it from cursed tombs and looting the bodies of dead monsters.
  • SOLUTION: Since most games don't involve dungeons or dragons, the name ought to be changed to something more appropriate.
  • New name? Taverns and Grave-robbers.
Vampire: The Masquerade: Characters are vampires living in our world pretending to be human. They walk among us just below the surface. It's the game that made being goth cool, or if not cool, at least, not as whiney. Plus, we've avoided the D&D trap, in that all games of Vampire involve vampires, and there is a major premise called the Masquerade. How could this possibly be a misnomer?
  • FACT: Vampires have nifty powers that let them shapeshift or pick up cars. And they have pointy teeth. All of these things kinda break the Masquerade, which states that vampires should act like normal people.
  • FACT: Most vampires in these games blatantly use these powers in ridiculous combat sequences and then slaughter wholesale all mortals unfortunate enough to have seen the events, which in turn, prompts huge police investigations into the activities of the undead. It's not a smart way to hide.
  • SOLUTION: The vampire part can stay. It's accurate. However, the Masquerade is often a laughing afterthought in the games I've played. In fact, quite the opposite happens. Too much attention is drawn to the characters.
  • New name? Vampire: The Big Neon Sign.
Cyberpunk 2020: Corporate greed, data espionage, street gangs. The gritty urban computer driven future. What's not to love?
  • FACT: The game does involve punks who are both online and often cybernetic.
  • FACT: The game is allegedly set in the year 2020, and while I can easily see corporations all but ruling the world by then and an increase in gang activity, I think it's safe to say that I won't be able to buy cybernetic adamantite retractable claws from a street doctor any time soon. Or have infrared sensors augmented to my eyes. Or use a neural relay to log onto a super-sweet virtual reality internet.
  • SOLUTION: There are two ways we could go. Set in what 2020 will probably really be like. Today with smaller cellphones and better gas milage. But then the game loses a lot of its flavor. So instead, we need to set it at a time when the future really could have those cool techno-gadgets. Unfortunately, technology never seems to advance as fast as we would like it to.
  • New name? Cyberpunk Undetermined Year at least One Hundred Years from Today (or Cyberpunk UYaLOHYfT for short).
Rifts: Post apocalyptic high tech, high magic goodness. This is a powergamer's dream. You will meet dragons in this game, and almost every character can drop a tank with ease and the U.S. is led by a xenophobic facist military government called the Coalition. And the world even got this way after a surge of magic energy tore open rifts to other dimensions. So what's the problem?
  • FACT: I've never played in a game where I've actually seen a rift. Sure they still open from time to time in the game world, but mostly that's all past.
  • FACT: People want to play the cool characters that can bench press battleships and blow up buildings with their minds, not the wimpy humans who need armor to survive. As such, the almost always end up fighting against the Coalition.
  • SOLUTION: We need a name that captures what games ultimately devolve into, and not a reference to a past event.
  • New name? Power Gamers Fight Space Nazis.
Magic: The Gathering: Sure, this one is a card game and not a role playing game, but the gamers, they love it. In concept, every player represents a super-powerful mage who is summoning all kinds of monsters and spells to beat up other mages. It's never really explained why these mages fight so much and don't just sit down, talk, and resolve their differences peacefully.
  • FACT: Calling the game a gathering seems wrong. Gatherings are for friends and family. They are a coming together, not a tearing apart by violent warfare and devestating spells.
  • FACT: Perhaps the gathering refers to the gathering of players, but I've seen many games get heated, even among friends. Or perhaps it's about the gathering of cards. Who can buy the most packs, the best cards, to ensure victory? The player who can afford the most packs and the best cards, that's who.
  • SOLUTION: Magic can stay. The game does involve magic. But Gathering? We need to clarify what that means.
  • New Name? Magic: The Rich Kid Always Wins.
Kobolds Ate My Baby: This game is exactly what it sounds like, almost. You play a kobold (or to be more accurate, several kobolds) trying to steal babies to eat. It's a fun, tongue-in-cheek, beer-and-pretzels rpg. What's the problem?
  • FACT: It isn't "my" baby the kobolds are eating, since I'm playing a kobold myself and we aren't after kobold babies. We want plump, tender, juicy human babies. Plus, the players go through kobolds rather quickly. They aren't the hardiest of monsters.
  • FACT: Mostly the kobolds don't actually get to eat the baby. Just their leader, King Torg. All hail King Torg!
  • SOLUTION: In theory the old name was fine. It just needs a couple of tweaks to get the name accurate.
  • New name? Many Kobolds Died to Serve Your Baby to King Torg (All hail King Torg!)
Before closing, I would to mention that there are many games with accurate names. GURPS really is a Generic Universal Role Playing System. Toon really is about cartoon characters. Paranoia really will make you think your friends are out to kill you (and they will). I applaud the honesty of these game titles. It's just the above Big Offenders that I feel ought to present themselves more accurately.

You have been informed.


Michael Croft said...

Not bad, but needs punching up...

Taverns and Tomb-robbers--because alliteration FTW!
Vampire:The Pretentious Subtitle Designed to Keep the 'D&D is Satanic' Crowd from Paying Attention to Us--hmm. not pithy enough...
Space Nazis Must Die!--because "Munchkin!" is already taken
Kobolds Parodied my RPG and/or Media Fandom!-- because that's how it usually goes...

Mr. Truth said...

Too true. Too true.

originally, I was going to give Vampire a name like that, but opted to try to keep the new name a reflection of the setting.

As we can see, however, I clearly lost that original goal by the time I got to Rifts and Magic.

Your D&D and Rifts names, though, are prefect!

Michael Croft said...

Thanks! It's a good idea that you had and I'll be very surprised if I'm the only one who wants to play along at home. One of my fellow gamers says she "fully approves of [your] new name for Rifts".

I came here via the Kobolds Ate My Baby! mailing list, btw.

The next logical step is the taglines. "Monsters we are lest monsters we become!" has always been ridiculed by my V:tM group.

Greg Morrow said...

At least one of my Champions groups featured players who, admittedly, mostly tried to be superheroes, but had the kinds of character flaws that made them fail. Their tagline was "We're not heroes, we're assholes!"

Thus you might have Assholes: The Superjerk Role-Playing Game.

Michael Croft said...

Shadowrun needs some lovin'

Let's Go For Sushi And Not Pay, Because the Actual Villains Are Way Too Tough For Us

I keep failing that "Pithy" requirement. I will hold a pithy party for myself.

Mr. Truth said...

Thinking about it, the biggest problem with "Space Nazis Must Die!" is too many people would be looking for a sci-fi sequel to "Surf Nazis Must Die!" and sadly, I've never seen anyone make a Rifts character for Leroy's Mama.

Michael Croft said...

Is that a challenge, Mr. Truth?

... Youwin this time! You called my bluff. I've never played Rifts. I'll see if I can get Kadath to do it...

Chuk said...

Repo Man reference FTW