September 10, 2008

Homebrew vs. Published

This is my first time participating in a blog carnival and I have decided to unleash my thoughts on this. So this is (hopefully) one of my many entries to the 2nd RPG Blog Carnival; Hombrew.

As I recall my chilhood memories growing up playing RPGs. It was all about homebrewing. I played in homebrew campaigns set in homebrew worlds using homebrew systems.

My first group-based RPG was actually a homebrew system created by my brother. He was the 'DM' and I get to play a party of 5 characters (I did mention that it was group-based afterall). We only played one campaign with it but it had inspired me to write up my own system, which I called 'BattleAxe' (a twist from Warhammer and it was a less than a mouthful from Advanced Dungeons & Dragons back then. I thought it was original!)

When I was writing some of the basic designs concepts, I was looking for inspiration and references to make my own homebrew system much cooler than my brother's (naturally when I was only 10). That's when I stumbled upon the 2nd edition AD&D PHB. It was there I decided to rip off things such as AC, hitpoints, the 6 stats, the paladin, the funny looking man in a costume (bard) and some other things I didn't remember (God forbid, I didn't know what THAC0 was then). The only thing that was original in my homebrew system were the spells.

As I spend countless bedtime hours poring through the PHB as I was looking for any concepts that I could steal right off the bat and plug it into my system, I slowly started to realize something. As more and more things were being taken from the AD&D system to my homebrew system, I would have to call it, 'BattleAxe: Based on AD&D'.

So instead of spending time trying to tear the whole AD&D system apart into modular pieces (with the brainpower of a 10 year old could manage) for salvaging, I decided to study the system as an entire game. Since it was designed as game, very much like what I was trying to do, it's meant to be played at some point, right?

Besides, I said to myself, after playing this complex game system for a while, I would probably have enough data to get back to BattleAxe and make it more original someday.

Fast forward about 10 years and 2 editions (and now the name has changed back to normal D&D) later, I've been playing the same game and none of my gaming buddies that I introduced RPGs to, ever heard of BattleAxe (which is a good thing considering the laughs that I would get if I told them).

BattleAxe has become a nostalgic piece of item that brings me back memories of my first and unfinished attempt in creating a homebrew system. I read it again just to laugh at my own childish notes and scribbles but I don't think I'll ever get back to it and turn it into the game that it once was supposed to be. I don't even know where it is now but I'm still having fun 'collecting data'.

Over the years, I've come to learn that homebrewing a RPG system really takes alot of game design, development and playtesting. I don't think, after being much older, I can make something at the same standards as games made by a team of professional game designers. It was too a big task then and still it is now. With all the amount of systems out there, I can't even think of a system that I would even call it original. These days, I don't homebrew my own rules, I just houserule them from existing ones and I still have fun playing them.

The same story goes for campaign settings as well.

When I first started playing 3.0 during my secondary school years, my campaigns were mainly based in homebrew settings. As I had to spend more and more time for my academic studies and exams, I was also getting more and more stumped for ideas on how to develop my campaign world. It was slowly turning cliche and shallow and I wanted my players to be more engaged in exploring the campaign setting but it really lacked the depth.

Then I decided to pick up the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting. One of my first reasons for buying it was that I wouldn't need to spend hours just sitting somewhere and try to create something. All the work had been done for me and I just had to drop my players in. It had incredible details and depth too which made me love the setting in the end.

When 3.5 was released, the first 3.5 issue of Dragon and Dungeon had inspired me to try my hand at homebrewing again. However, I was so reliant on published material by then that I was having internal conflicts with myself because I didn't dare to change anything that was already written in the DMG and MM about the githyanki and the how the cosmology works. I wanted a certain feel and style to my homebrew world for the campaign but 3.5 was not made for it.

I was afraid that my players were too familiar with what was written and had taken to them so much that if I laid down the new groundwork for my homebrew, my players would suffer from a culture shock or disliked my homebrew because it was not the published material that I had been feeding them and following by the book over the years.

This was a really big mistake. At that point, I began to realize that I would not play in any homebrew setting and religiously followed anything that was published. From campaign settings to supplements, I had turned into a fanboy who had even disregarded 3rd party publishers. Creativity was meant to be followed and it had only come from Wizards. I'd lost the homebrewing spirit and became the slave of publishers.

My Incursion campaign never took off because the homebrew world was never ready. I spend years developing it, trying so hard in futile attempt to fit in every variant rule and class into making my world as compatabile as everything that was ever published while making tough decisions and sacrifices for what I had in mind for the homebrew. It lost alot of the flavor that I had in mind for it. It became a homebrew setting that paradoxically existed in the published setting.
My 3.5 days were over without a single one spent in a homebrew setting and it is something that I've regretted to this day.

I'm not trying to say that publishing is bad because it kills creativity. It's still fun to read what's the latest from the printers but every once in a while, think about your own homebrew. Don't be afraid that it is different because it is meant to be different. Homebrews are how you want it to be and don't let others tell you how it should be. It works the same for game systems and campaign settings. Gary Gygax didn't follow exactly every rule of wargames in making D&D and Ed Greenwood didn't make the Forgotten Realms to be the identical twin brother of Greyhawk. They both started with a homebrew and they wanted to be different from something.

Of course, published materials are always good for players who don't have time to homebrew but here's my advice.

If you are using published materials, always find space to flex your creativity muscles. Do make an effort to use that published material and make it as your own. If you are using a published campaign setting, develop or expand anything that is left unexplained or vaguely written (the 4E Forgotten Realms seems perfect for this).

If a later published materials is released later, you use only what you haven't expanded before and leave what has already been done in your version. Don't retcon the changes Your players won't notice it and frankly, I don't think they would care any less about the difference because you have made it their own more than what publishers can ever tell the players to feel about it. The players would like their version better.

For published adventure modules, change one or two things that you think doesn't suit you or your group's taste. Modify the encounters, expand on the NPCs or rewrite the adventure synopsis if you are adapting it for your campaign. It doesn't take as much time as writing an adventure from the plot hook and you get same rewarding feeling as if you're playing in your own homebrew adventure.

Keep the homebrewing spirit up, not only because it's a tradition that created the game but it is what keeps the game alive. Publishers will eventually run out of ideas and it is only because there are homebrewers, they are still printing them damn books.

If all else fails, there is still another way to homebrew using published materials; rip them off. There is no shame in stealing, robbing, pillaging or yoinking anything that you like from a published material and using it in your homebrew. Just strip the published material down to its concept and theme, add in your own mix of flavors in it and you've got a homebrew!

Homebrew = Published. Don't follow the published too much or it will kill your homebrew.

1 comment:

LeeHng said...

Again, Home brew FTW!