(Not actually a cranky post, no rants follow this.)
On the way home, I had the stray thought of adapting Santa Muerte into a villainess for ICONS. Fortunately, a quick visit to Wikipedia informed me of what a bad idea that was. While I'm as guilty of cultural appropriation as the next middle-aged suburban white geek, there are limits to what is and isn't a good idea.
Instead, I'm going to talk briefly about some conversations I've had with a younger generation of gamers and how their experiences and expectations differ from mine. These are guys I played D&D with for a couple of years, but they're half my age or younger, having been undergrads at Rice recruited out of the university gaming club to join our crew of old farts. These guys are my friends and I'm not making judgments about their gaming styles. If anything, I'm reminding myself to avoid the traps of declaring something "badwrongfun."
A couple of years ago, during one of our "A-Game" breaks, I ran a short (4 session) mini-campaign for Hollow Earth Expedition. For one of the players, it was his first exposure to a non-class and level, skill-driven system. After one of the early sessions, after I'd doled out experience, he was flabbergasted by the fact that he could spend the points any way he wanted. He was so used to being channeled in a particular direction or optimal build choice that he was really sort of paralyzed by the sheer number of options available.
I found it odd, because I often felt constrained by the very limited choices in D&D 3.5 (our main game at the time) and how incredibly important each choice could be in keeping your character competitive, not only with the opposition but as a contributing member of the party. To me, the freedom to do what you want is much more comfortable than narrow channels, but if it's all you know, I guess it's pretty daunting.
Last night, another one of the younger crew joined us for dinner, as he and his wife were back in town visiting. He mentioned that he'd tried running a Star Wars SAGA game, but found it really hard because most weapons and armor could only be upgraded twice, so the characters were running out of combat bonuses. This struck me as an even more alien concept than being weirded out by freedom of choice. I mean, it's STAR WARS, not World of Dungeon Age. It should never be about having the most plus-ful equipment. It's about story and conflict and in-campaign rewards.
Of course, as a long-term supers guy, I'm all about the story and conflicts and in-campaign rewards and not in the least about becoming the most plus-ful. The most successful Champions campaign I ever played in was created from the outset with no limits on character points. We built the characters we wanted from the outset, and never worried about experience or mechanical advancement. It's not an approach that works for everyone, but it worked for that group for years. But supers aside, I just can't imagine running Star Wars as a race to the top of the combat food chain. But I'm sure it happens.
(In fact, I know it happens. And happened back in the day as well. I can remember a long-running "flame war" conducted in the letters column of Dragon in the late 80s, over the legality and feasibility of a munchkinized d6 Star Wars character. Seriously. A flame war. Carried out over the course of months in the leading gaming publication of the day. I can only surmise the folks in Lake Geneva thought it was hilarious and thus printed new letters on the subject each month.)
I should note that his solution to the problem was to saddle the PCs with a freighter, which they could use to ship goods and turn profits, but in exchange, they had to keep up the payments on it. When I heard this, I may have said, "Congratulations! You've invented Traveller," but I meant it with my compliments. Because it's just the sort of story-driving solution I would have used to take the emphasis of the campaign away from who's got a +12 to hit with a heavy blaster.