If it's "crunch" that you want, where do you want it and why?

innerdude

Legend
I've been thinking lately about how much "crunch" I actually want in my games. I've only recently embarked on GM-ing FFG Star Wars, which is by all accounts a "medium crunch" system. Generally I'd agree with that statement, as so far it seems to be a bit lighter than Savage Worlds, but certainly not approaching PbtA or Fate on the "rules light" spectrum.

But it's interesting, because as far as I can tell, the majority of the "crunch" in FFG Star Wars is in the gear and vehicles. Other than the occasional talent (functionally equivalent to a D&D feat) adding an occasional bonus or removing penalties, the bulk of the crunch isn't in the character build options. You know the gear section is "crunchy" when the weapon keyword list is nearly as long as the character skill list.

This is different from what I experienced in my last attempt at really parsing Runequest / Legend, where reading the character generation steps took some serious mental fortitude and text parsing. Combining two attribute values, then dividing by 4? Movement rating versus weapon speed rating? Learning how all of this interacts / engages with the combat engine? ** wipes forehead **

And it got me thinking -- is one area of crunch easier or harder to work with? And does one provide more or less benefit, to what degree, and in what aspect of gameplay?

On a general level, it seems to me that mechanical "crunch" exists for one of two reasons.
  • You're trying to enhance "realism" by modeling some component of how a given entity (person or thing) interacts with the game world.
  • You're trying to differentiate one entity (person or thing) from another for purposes of uniqueness / situational usefulness (or situational impedance).
  • Or a combination of the two.
In terms of character building, there's an additional aspect of representing the mixture of innate talent and training. How does the system address it? Does the system favor one over the other? This is probably just a sub-component of entity differentiation, but different systems handle it differently.

For example, one of the things that drew me to Savage Worlds, for instance, was that even though it doesn't model character skills all that granularly (there's really only 5 tiers -- d4, d6, d8, d10, d12), it does elegantly and simply model the interplay between innate talent and skill. Learning skills is easier when you have a natural aptitude for it, but you don't get to just "skip" the actual skill training; you still have to build up the skills. There's a consistent, internal logic to building out your character's initial attributes and skills that follows an abstract, but generally realistic pattern.

There's also the question of crunch based on specialization (which is also largely a sub-component of entity differentiation). GURPS, for example, can be a very simple game if you ignore the need for having to specialize in 15 or 20 different weapon styles just to be competent at fighting---but if you choose to use the specialization it provides, there is no question when you're done building your character exactly which weapons your character is and is not good at wielding (i.e., specialization as a means to differentiation). Likewise with knowledge skills---modeling your average local pharmacist as a "standard" GURPS character probably requires purchasing 9 or 10 different skill specializations to even come close to representing his or her actual body of knowledge.

In my own experience, I've decided that I enjoy crunch for entity differentiation but only to a point, and am largely indifferent or even mildly hostile to crunch that insists on pushing towards the far end of the "realism" spectrum.

For example, despite having some experience with GURPS, it's always left me cold, as its rules crunch is focused on high granularity, hyper-specialized process-resolution "realism". Every ounce of "crunch" in GURPS goes in the exact opposite direction I'm interested in following. Likewise, despite hearing great things about Mythras, knowing that it's largely a reboot of Runequest 6 makes me think that it's probably just not going to be something I'm interested in.

*Edit: I'd add that historically, D&D's "crunch" is almost entirely focused on entity differentiation, with only casual nods to realism along the way. It's much more interested in putting forth the situational / tactical usefulness of a given rules interaction for the fun of putting it into play, rather than trying to wholly justify the hows-and-whys it actually works in the game world.
 
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payn

Legend
I will say I greatly miss crit threat ranges and damage multipliers of weapons in 3E/PF1. I do get that some of the mechanics made some weapons bad (really all 3E/PF1 problems can be said to be the gulf of effectiveness between things). I'd love to see that moved into secondary items beyond damage, like reach, tripping, vicious, etc..

Why do I like it? Someone mentioned earlier in another thread that just having all damage be D8 for example. Then, you simply reflavor as you like. The result is very homogeneous feel to the game. I like my crunch to push differentiation. The obvious downside is complexity, which can slow down gameplay. I'll take it though over simplifying uniform crunch.
 

CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
I prefer crunch on my character sheet and on my monster stat blocks. Here, Crunch is King.

I loathe crunch in my spell descriptions, magic item descriptions, traps, and combat rules. Especially the combat rules. In these places, Streamlining is King.
 




Li Shenron

Legend
I am a bit confused as it seems you're describing both rules complexity and character material in the same context...

Complexity can be fun if it strikes something that everybody at the table find intriguing. We had a lot of fun back in 3e with weapons details and I sometimes miss those in 5e, because they were never a burden. We also had a lot of house rules especially on skills that probably most people wouldn't care for (like using Appraise to wrestle on prices), it's not obvious how to predict what extra complexity will create fun within your group and which will create only annoyance.

However I do think that simulationism as a purpose is mostly a recipe for disaster, it only brings up more needs for even more rules. So I'd rather add extra rules just for the sake of wanting more focus on a particular aspect of the game, rather than because of a presumed lack of realism.

The quantity of character material added beyond core for the purpose of variety is a completely different matter. About that there is no hard limit, but by experience I learned that for my tastes the PHB in every edition is always a bit too little to give me a sense of "I have enough to play this edition forever", but I get that feeling soon enough with a few additions. In 3.0 it was the first round of 5 splatbooks (no new classes but they added plenty of feats, spells, equipment and already too many prestige classes) and in 5e Xanathar was enough for me, plus maybe the Volo races.
 

innerdude

Legend
I am a bit confused as it seems you're describing both rules complexity and character material in the same context...

I'm not sure about the confusion . . . there's a 1-to-1 correlation between character material "bits" and rules complexity.

The more mechanical bits a character has --- to either differentiate them from other characters or make the character more "realistic" within the assumed game world, or both --- the more complex the rules become to store and aggregate those differences in the game math.


Complexity can be fun if it strikes something that everybody at the table find intriguing. We had a lot of fun back in 3e with weapons details and I sometimes miss those in 5e, because they were never a burden. We also had a lot of house rules especially on skills that probably most people wouldn't care for (like using Appraise to wrestle on prices), it's not obvious how to predict what extra complexity will create fun within your group and which will create only annoyance.

Well, this thread was partially a response to try and answer the question --- how do you / can you predict what complexity (read: mechanical "crunch") creates fun and what complexity creates annoyance?

However I do think that simulationism as a purpose is mostly a recipe for disaster, it only brings up more needs for even more rules. So I'd rather add extra rules just for the sake of wanting more focus on a particular aspect of the game, rather than because of a presumed lack of realism.

Realism and simulationism are generally orthogonal, in my experience. Realism is an attempt to model, through mechanical rules interactions, a specific real-world cause-effect relationship, often based in some kind of physical science. In other words, micro level interactions at the rules level.

Simulationism is an attempt to make the cohesive whole of the game fiction feel more like a "living world" (which is a term I generally dislike, but whatever). In other words, macro-level interactions at the fiction level.

There may be an overlap in "realism" helping produce some aspects of the "simulationism", but really they're two separate aims. It's entirely possible to have highly "realistic" game rules that wholly fail to create a "simulationist" world if the GM doesn't know what (s)he is doing. You can play GURPS with every supplement that's ever been printed and still not have a "simulationist" world if the GM isn't good at extrapolating macro-level cause/effects within their gameworld.

As far as the idea around adding rules complexity to point focus of the game --- again, the question becomes, for what purpose if not for "realism"? It's almost always about differentiation, and the intellectual exercise of making those pieces come together. I'd posit that in most cases, adding rules complexity for entity differentiation is a gamist, not a realist impulse.

The reason we want differentiation in combat effects / combat styles / weapon types / weapon damage / combat abilities is because we want our characters to feel differentiated from one another in play. We want that differentiation to matter in the way players approach action and scene resolution with their characters.

If it's all about just finding out what happened in the fictional scene, there is far less need for differentiation between combat abilities. Do we want to find out if Character A succeeded at defeating NPC B? Or do we want to know if Character A invoked Barbarian Rage, Multi-Step Power Attack, Swift Riposte, Blood Rage Damage, and Carebear Stare to achieve the victory? All of those combat abilities are just ways to differentiate the in-game actions and for the player to feel a sense of accomplishment (gamism) for successfully using/chaining together the abilities to highest effect.

As I recall, wasn't this one of the biggest complaints about 4e back in the day? That the A/E/D/U power structure for every character destroyed something fundamental about this kind of differentiation in play?

*Edit: Knowing me from circa 2008-2012, it's entirely possible I made that very argument against 4e . . . though it would have been coming from a place of profound ignorance at the time.
 
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Retreater

Legend
I like crunch to protect me as a GM. Rules that let me know what is and what is not expected of the characters and their opponents. In earlier editions of the game (thinking 2e here), I had players that would argue and reason out their abilities likely beyond what the rules would permit. This would also limit the effectiveness (and sometimes enjoyment) of other players who couldn't make the same arguments. In more freeform games I can nerf powers or overpower other players.
 

Asisreo

Patron Badass
Only if its Crunchberries. Cap'n Crunchberries = The Awesome

Regular Cap'n Crunch = The meh
I think I'm the only person in existence that would rather eat "Oops, no berries!" In Cap'n crunch. But I hate cereal in general anyways.

Uh,

I prefer crunch as far removed from the player experience as possible. I want players to do as little math as possible. But I want DM-side crunch to be somewhat granular.
 

MattW

Explorer
I like "crunch" in gear, vehicles and weapons. I find it helpful in visualising what they "do" - which helps me describe them to the players. It also helps in consistency and avoiding plot holes. Players tend to get upset when things are changed in mid-game (or, at least, they notice when the changes are not to their benefit)

I don't like "crunch" in character creation. My ideal system would have a one-page character sheet and it would take less than 30 minutes to go from concept to fully-statted PC.
 

Combat, and by association, equipment and skills. I want a system where the player's choices is the key component to victory, not the ability to remember your PC's twenty-four feats, talents, and racial benefit.
 

Smackpixi

Adventurer
Crunch is a crutch. People want crunch to over-complicate doing the same thing over again. Let’s add more rules about it so walking into a roomful of orcs gambling at a table is more interesting this time.

In the 80’s stereos started adding more and more equalizer bars so you could noodle up the sound of the Eagles the 100th time you played Hotel California on your crappy speakers. Stop listening to Eagles for ffs.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
In my TTRPG that is in its 3rd major test revision, we are currently focusing on the goal of making the character sheet the home of most of what you need to play your character. Right now, you need that, and maybe a general conflict scene sheet for the group that has the conflict round spelled out, list of conditions, etc.

We want people to open the books when making characters, NPCs, thier home or other special resources, etc, not during play.

To facilitate that, while still having a good “make your OC” experience, there are a ton of skills, even more traits to choose from, and some other bits, that you get during character creation.

In short; I want creation to be crunchy, and gameplay streamlined.
 

Crunch is a crutch. People want crunch to over-complicate doing the same thing over again. Let’s add more rules about it so walking into a roomful of orcs gambling at a table is more interesting this time.
So everyone should settle for 'roll to hit, roll for damage, next round'?

Crunch, properly done, adds depth and roleplay. Back in the 70s and early 80s, I admit, I cleared many a dungeon crawl. But that gets so very, very dull.
 

payn

Legend
In my TTRPG that is in its 3rd major test revision, we are currently focusing on the goal of making the character sheet the home of most of what you need to play your character. Right now, you need that, and maybe a general conflict scene sheet for the group that has the conflict round spelled out, list of conditions, etc.

We want people to open the books when making characters, NPCs, thier home or other special resources, etc, not during play.

To facilitate that, while still having a good “make your OC” experience, there are a ton of skills, even more traits to choose from, and some other bits, that you get during character creation.

In short; I want creation to be crunchy, and gameplay streamlined.
This right here. I love Traveller because chargen is real fun process, and despite being random, doesnt kick out useless characters (unless you are trying on purpose.) Chargen takes an entire night (for a full party) but afterwards, gameplay is a breeze. All the heavy lifting is done up front. Its a good example to follow.
 

There can be two places I want it, and in both cases for the same reason: to have mechanical heft that isn't purely dependent on the GM to make my decisions matter. The two place I find I want it are in character definition (which often translates into generation, because I'm not a fan of loose and subjective creation) and in combat choices.

Others can matter in specific genres and campaigns, but those two tend to matter to me across the board.
 

This right here. I love Traveller because chargen is real fun process, and despite being random, doesnt kick out useless characters (unless you are trying on purpose.) Chargen takes an entire night (for a full party) but afterwards, gameplay is a breeze. All the heavy lifting is done up front. Its a good example to follow.

I dunno, man, I saw some pretty worthless Trav characters back in the day; forced retirement was a thing, and if it happened early enough you could end up having no skills above +0 that were meaningful to the game at hand.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
This right here. I love Traveller because chargen is real fun process, and despite being random, doesnt kick out useless characters (unless you are trying on purpose.) Chargen takes an entire night (for a full party) but afterwards, gameplay is a breeze. All the heavy lifting is done up front. Its a good example to follow.
Yeah and my game, Quest For Chevar, isn’t much more complex in chargen than making a level 3 D&D 5e character. It could be done in 5 minutes, if I wrote out quick start builds for each archetype, ncluding an origin and what skills to train outside of your archetype skills, but that isn’t all that fun, to me.
Instead, you choose an ancestry, upbringing, and occupation, and then an Archetype, which comes with a few automatic traits and skills and a few you pick from a short list, and then fill in a few more skills and traits without any filter. Your attribute points are pretty simple, and your skill ranks are very easy to tabulate.

The CharGen document goes step by step and uses the same language the game will use in play where possible. Eg, when explaining how skill ranks work, it refers to skills as Skill (Specialty), eg Acrobatics (Parkour), and then explains that when you make an Acrobatics (Parkour) check, you add your skill and specialty ranks to determine the number of dice in your dice pool. This is probably the single most complex aspect of the entire system.

In play, you have the whole skill list on the front page of your sheet, and up top you have the success ladder spelled out for easy reference, next to the Trauma tracker.

From there, you just decide what you wanna do, make checks as needed, and use the success ladder to guide what happens as a result. The results of each level of success are similar to pbta style games, and we are working on a conflict sheet that can sit on a GM screen facing out or be at hand at the table, that covers what is most likely to need referencing during play, but so far even new players tend only to need those rules referenced in the first couple sessions, at most.
 

payn

Legend
I dunno, man, I saw some pretty worthless Trav characters back in the day; forced retirement was a thing, and if it happened early enough you could end up having no skills above +0 that were meaningful to the game at hand.
Sure, not bullet proof, but the recent Mongoose 2E makes it pretty solid.
 

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