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Neatest Toybox In The World?

I remember sometime, I had something that resembled an epiphany in relation to roleplaying games. Now, I'm not sure of exactly when that happened; I think I have a couple of memories all tangled up with a couple of others. but the content is the point, and I think it's worrthwhile.

I used to enjoy "equipment" books for roleplaying games, and still do to an extent. It's a combination of pretty pictures and impressive, meaningful-looking numbers. I'd lust after them, want the opportunity to use these big, small, sleek, blunt, cool-looking, cool-statted objects in a game.

The realisation I had was this: All those natty pieces of tech? They're just numbers. That Glitter Boy suit of powered armour? All those cool looking machines in Coalition War Camapign, or even the Gears & Striders books for Heavy Gear? Numbers, and lots of 'em. That's all you're geeking out about, son, is just the possibility of putting those numbers next to some numbers you'd already written down on a piece of paper. The actual gear doesn't exist, and while that may seem self-evident, it was nonetheless the idea of an RPG alter-ego of mine actually possessing and using these mythical objects that tended to whet my appetite for playing a roleplaying game. The thing is, all I'm really doing when I whip out my smartgun, link it to my cyber-interface and firing a three-round burst is juggling numbers.

Recently, I realised something else. I kept trying to figure out just what it is and / or was that got me hooked into the whole RPG business in the first place, you know, with games like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles & Other Strangeness and Robotech and (for a while) RIFTS. I mean, sure, Robotech, RIFTS, cool looking gear aplenty, but TMNT? Not so much; although funky-looking mutant animals are cool, there weren't any really cool items that I could give them. I'm not really sure whether I was after - the superhero factor? Again, I dunno - I've always been more an Iron Man fan. Regardless of "RPG gear = numbers", what was so attractive about these "character" constructs, gear or not? I mean, what makes someone "roll a character up" as a recreational activity, when there's slim to zero chance that character will ever be part of a game?

I think that the relationship I've had with each character I've made under one of those systems is similar if not identical to that I have with a toy. It's this cool looking thing that I've attached some sort of value to that likely isn't really present. Also, there's the added attachment to something I've spent time building; monkeying around with those numbers was like a Lego set, but without all that tedious having to build joints and put air hoses in and actualyl design a moving structure. I think the HERO System slogan is a misnomer: It should be, "The Ultimate Gamer's Toybox." Or maybe even "The Ultimate Gamer's Lego Set." Or maybe that's unfair - The HERO System is a toolkit, it's just a toolkit for building your own personalised, fully-tricked-out toy. And I've spent more time building imaginary toys with HERO and Mekton Zeta than playing with them.

The groovy bit, in theory, about roleplaying games is that they're not just toy building kits, they're games for your toys; sure, you might have a cool collection of TransFormers, but you can't do anything meaningful with them aside from maybe transform them back and forth unless you make a game for them. RPGs are, by definition, a game for your own personal toys.

But looking back at my history with roleplaying games, it's always been those sorts of games that have been the least satisfying to play or run. Not just HERO or Robotech or even Heavy Gear, but Star Wars (D6 and D20 both) the odd Advanced Dungeons & Dragons and GURPS, the assorted con games I've played - I can't remember reliably or consistently having fun.

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