By Scott D. Haring
I sit here at the typewriter thinking, "Didn't I just do one of these last week?" Actually, it's been three months. time flies when you're having fun.
What did you do on your holiday? I put the finishing touches on Dueltrack, our big gasoline-engines-and metal-armor, racing-and-mayhem supplement for Car Wars. It's out to the AADA chapter clubs now for playtest; once we get it back, there's sure to be some changes we'll want to make. We're looking to have it on sale at the end of May, so keep your eyes peeled. I'll give you one little taste now: Imagine a compact with a turreted Vulcan and a ramplate, capable of 205 mph...
THE OFFICIAL WORD
There's been a fair amount of clamor recently over the proliferation of new gadgets and rules in the pages of ADQ, and whether or not they are "official." The sports car power plant, introduced in a letter a few issues back, is one example. The letter presented the stats as a "I used it and it's neat, so why don't you try it out" sort of thing, and my response was, "Looks good - if anyone wants to include it in their campaign, they can."
Just two issues back, John M. Ford wrote an excellent piece of fiction called "Alkahest - the Deathtoll Solution," which featured super-powered mutants, people masquerading as super-powered mutants, and a bunch of neat new gadgets - X-Ray lasers, booster jets for quick acceleration and jumping, a cheaper automotive stealth system, and other things. I think they're all neat ideas - they make the story work. But some of them are very powerful, and the jump rockets are extremely complicated, so what do we do? Are they "official"?
I even published a letter recently from someone suggesting we include attack dogs in the game, and he provided some stats in the letter along with the description. Within days of the issue's publication, I started getting letters: "Is this 'official'?"
For the record, none of the above items are "official." The general rule is, items and rules presented in regular articles of ADQ - Uncle Albert, scenarios, new vehicle types, and even the gaming notes for fiction - are official. Gadgets and ideas presented in ADQ&A or Backfire are not - they're just the ideas of one letter-writer, passed on for your amusement and interest.
The exception, of course, is when I specifically say in print something is or is not "official" - and I'll try to make sure there's no confusion on this point in the future. For example, the gadgets at the end of John Ford's "Alkahest" story are not official, because I specifically said so, in print, in the article.
But that's not good enough for some. I also get letters asking, "Why isn't the x-ray laser (or the attack dog, or the jump rockets, or whatever) official?", or, "When will the (fill-in-the-blank) become official?" This brings up an entirely different, and mostly philosophical, question.
I'm not so sure it's important at all that any design or rule be crowned, "Official." The final arbiter of any campaign is the referee - where there is no referee, the ground rules should be commonly decided by all the players. Neither of these situations requires anything to be "official."
We will continue to make the differentiation between official and unofficial rules because, in come cases, it's important. A game in which players come and go, like a campaign at a gaming club, can't afford to re-argue each point for every new player. An established set of "official" rules can come in very handy. Also, at conventions, where a large number of people who have never faced each other come together, often competing for large prizes, a body of "official" rules are absolutely necessary. In fact, while the question, "Is this official?" bothers me quite a bit, the question, "If I play in a tournament you run, can I use this?" makes perfect sense.
When the Steve Jackson Games crew runs a tournament, we will run it according to the Deluxe Car Wars rules. Additional gadgets published in the Uncle Albert Catalogs, and the Uncle Albert and other gadget company ads of issues of Autoduel Quarterly published since the catalogs, are also official. Other new gadgets and rules must be specifically listed as "official" before they will be allowed.
And those are the exceptions. For most games among a constant group of friends, the rules we publish can be treated like Holy Writ - or they can be changed top to bottom to suit your desires. It's entirely up to you. I think some experimentation is a good thing - who knows, you might come up with a new idea that improves the game! (If you do, I expect you to write it up and send it in, of course...)
Some would argue that the rules we write take special care to insure game balance, and that rules and gadgets dreamed up by the players out there are less likely to do that. I'm not sure that's important. If a particular gaming group decided to start making available a "Death Ray" - 1 space, 50 lbs., $100, 8 dice damage, to hit 4, unlimited shots (this is not I repeat not official) - that would be OK with me. Because everybody would immediately put eight on their cars, and everybody would be even (dead, but even...). Balance would be preserved. The game would be less fun because everybody would die so quickly, though, and my guess is that after a session or two, they'd stop using it. Game evolution at work! The bad rule has been weeded out by a sort of natural selection. Darwin would be proud.
So, is the attack dog "official"? For your game, if you want it to be, yes. For us, no. But just because we say so doesn't mean you should follow blindly - for one thing, it makes me feel uncomfortable, and for another, we could be wrong. I'm reminded of the scene in Monty Python's Life of Brian where Brian is trying to convince the multitude parked outside his house not to follow him. "You are all individuals!" he implores. "We are all individuals," the crowd chants back in unison. So much for individuality...
So be an individual. We'll continue to put out magazines and supplements full of great ideas for Car Wars, but it's up to you to decide whether or not you want to use them. After all, it's your game.
That's it for now. Keep On Duelin'!
- Scott D. Haring