Elder Old School
Knights of Pen and Paper is the first meta-RPG I’ve seen. Meta? Well, you don’t just play characters in a fantasy world, you play characters that play characters in a fantasy world. The main screen has your team of players sitting around a table, talking to the gamemaster. It’s a nice twist, and while I don’t think this core idea was exploited nearly enough, the game itself is a hoot to play.
The first way the game fails to exploit its premise is in character creation. While most RPGs use the “race and class” model for character generation (eg, you’re a dwarf warrior, or elven wizard, or the like), “race” is now merely the player of the character. You can pick the pizza guy (and get a discount for choosing him), or an alien (gives bonus magic points), or your little brother (high initiative), and then match that player to the class. Naturally, some “races” go best with with some classes, the alien being a good choice for wizard being an easy example.
This game plays on various handheld devices in addition to the PC—if you’re looking for top of the line graphics and sound, just stop reading now, and go elsewhere. Graphics and sound get the job done, but that’s it—only the cross-platform use of the game makes this forgivable.
“…there’s a surprising depth to the game.”
While gameplay is simple and turn-based, there’s a surprising depth to the game. Character classes have 4 skills to improve, gaining one skill point a level—you’ll generally focus on one active skill and perhaps some passive skills. This makes combat repetitive, but the wide variety of cutesy monsters with odd abilities keeps combat moving (and the game itself ends just as the repetition starts to get dull). Additional character classes can be unlocked via quests in the game, making a second play-through a decent enough idea (at least for me).
Loot is handled a bit differently than usual. Each character has 4 generic slots for magic equipment (so, he could wear 4 rings or 4 amulets). For weapons and armor, everything must be made at the blacksmith, and the blacksmith must be trained first, by giving him grindstones you find while adventuring or buy in town. Other than that, there are no magic weapons or armor; it’s different, but strangely, it works and serves as a functional gold sink, which is always in short supply (you can spend $5 of real money to get 10,000 gold, which, spent wisely, can make for an easy game experience).
You can also spend gold on “meta” items. Buy some miniatures, or a pizza, and it gives a bonus to the game. You can hire a different game master, to provide a different bonus, and the gaming room can be equipped with other items that grant various bonuses. Again, it’s a different approach but works.
There’s a main quest line for the game, but side quests can offer bonuses (such as those extra classes I mentioned, or special magical loot). You can always just set up a combat against whatever monsters you want—a great way to pick up those last few experience points or gold pieces you might need. Again, this is very simplistic, but effective.
For all the simplicity, this hard core serious gamer has enjoyed the ride, and is having fun on the second play-through, just to see what I missed the first time around. This might not be a game for everyone, but for those that can tolerate the shortfalls, the clean game design can provide some decent fun.