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


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kenada

Legend
As a GM, I want my crunch in the game’s procedures because that is what will tell me what it’s about. For NPCs and creatures (and hazards), I’d prefer to have as little as possible. Just give me a table of values. They don’t need to be built like PCs. They don’t need five different skill values for skills they’ll never use. Keep it minimal but functional.

For players, give them enough crunch that they’re happy with their ability to customize their characters and have fun playing, but don’t make it so much that they have to keep looking up how their characters work. When this conflicts with the GM stuff, defer to that.
 

I’m a big fan of keeping the core rules of a game relatively simple and easy to use, and having any crunch come in the form of player options.

I’ve been running Spire, and the actual rules of the game can fit on a nice one page summary. Every action attempted by any PC followd the same core rule process (roll a pool of d10s, results based on highest die roll). It doesn’t matter if you’re trying to sneak up on someone or scale a wall or convince someone to back down or to hack someone with a blade, you follow the same core rule.

Where the crunch comes in, is in the class abilities. Each class has a bunch of abilities to choose from anytime they would get an advance (equivalent of leveling up). Those abilities give each class their flavor and help define their role in the game. And there are a good amount, so it can take some time to learn them all. But there aren’t really any trap options. Just about all the abilities are cool in their own way and you don’t suffer for your choices. They just expand what you can do.

I like this because the core game is easy to grasp and learn….it takes minutes. But there are enough options to kind of look at and select when the time comes, which is something players tend to enjoy because doesn't like a cool new ability?

Simple core with lots of player options. It’s a strong combo.
 

As a GM, I want my crunch in the game’s procedures because that is what will tell me what it’s about. For NPCs and creatures (and hazards), I’d prefer to have as little as possible. Just give me a table of values. They don’t need to be built like PCs. They don’t need five different skill values for skills they’ll never use. Keep it minimal but functional.

For players, give them enough crunch that they’re happy with their ability to customize their characters and have fun playing, but don’t make it so much that they have to keep looking up how their characters work. When this conflicts with the GM stuff, defer to that.

If you have players who can't be bothered to learn how their PCs work (after a couple sessions), the system isn't the problem. The players are.
 

kenada

Legend
If you have players who can't be bothered to learn how their PCs work (after a couple sessions), the system isn't the problem. The players are.
For a crunchy systems like Pathfinder, there’s a bunch of stuff you need to keep straight. Players may know what their common options are, but they’ll usually have to look up some of their more rarely used abilities or spells. I’ve just never played in or run for a group where everyone could keep everything straight without some sort of reference or time spent looking things up. Tools can help, but that’s just changing where you look up the information.

I guess what I’m saying is I’d rather PCs have a handful of cool things that are broadly useful than a bunch of situationally useful ones that they might forget or slow down the game looking up (because wouldn’t it be nice if players were always prepared for their turns ahead of time …).
 

(because wouldn’t it be nice if players were always prepared for their turns ahead of time …).

If you are doing your job as a GM (IMO), combat should be fluid enough that players will have to continually deal with tactical developments, but I get your point.

Personally, I don't think of Pathfinder as 'crunch'; its just a deluge of silly options to make player feel special. 5e isn't much better.
 

For a crunchy systems like Pathfinder, there’s a bunch of stuff you need to keep straight. Players may know what their common options are, but they’ll usually have to look up some of their more rarely used abilities or spells. I’ve just never played in or run for a group where everyone could keep everything straight without some sort of reference or time spent looking things up. Tools can help, but that’s just changing where you look up the information.

I guess what I’m saying is I’d rather PCs have a handful of cool things that are broadly useful than a bunch of situationally useful ones that they might forget or slow down the game looking up (because wouldn’t it be nice if players were always prepared for their turns ahead of time …).

I still stand by my opinion that a lot of this problem is an artifact of exception based design; when playing designs less wedded to that, even ones more complicated in basic mechanics than D&D derivatives, I've seen much less of that.
 

kenada

Legend
If you are doing your job as a GM (IMO), combat should be fluid enough that players will have to continually deal with tactical developments, but I get your point.
Sure, sometimes something completely unexpected is going to happen, but I wouldn’t expect that to be the common case. If everyone is playing tactically, then they should be trying to anticipate what’s going to happen and be ready to respond to it. If you do that, then you can be ready for your turn (more or less).

Alas, my players aren’t that tactically minded, so we don’t play those games anymore. I find the way Worlds Without Number handles side-based initiative works much better for us compared to those other games. It also has about the right amount of customization for my players.
 

kenada

Legend
I still stand by my opinion that a lot of this problem is an artifact of exception based design; when playing designs less wedded to that, even ones more complicated in basic mechanics than D&D derivatives, I've seen much less of that.
Yeah. We have far fewer problems in other games. It’s just that I’m our usual D&D (or adjacent) referee, so I can’t really avoid those problems. Fortunately, I’ve been able to mitigate them somewhat by picking a system that matches how we operate. There’s some choice, but it’s not too much.
 


ART!

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.
I think this is mostly where I want my crunch. I want weapon choices to make a significant difference, and sometimes to make a huge difference - i.e. X weapon is especially good against Y armor. Similarly, I want armor choices to make a difference. I want a meaty amount detail in that part of a rules set. I think I am heavily influenced by getting my hands on a copy of Palladium's Compendium of Weapons, Armor, and Castles at a tender age.

I also like a lot of skills, a subskills system, or the like, with lots of languages, and reading & writing mostly separate from speaking.
 

Yeah. We have far fewer problems in other games. It’s just that I’m our usual D&D (or adjacent) referee, so I can’t really avoid those problems. Fortunately, I’ve been able to mitigate them somewhat by picking a system that matches how we operate. There’s some choice, but it’s not too much.

I can see that. Its just this subject tends to evoke a bit of a dry response from me when some of the same people who cheerfully play modern D&D versions (including playing spellcasters where the overhead from the exception based design has always hit hardest) will talk about how complicated the Hero System is, whereas I've rarely seen a Hero character who was even close to as complicated to play as a mid-level D&D spellcaster or a 3e era fighter.
 

kenada

Legend
Again, the fault lies with the players (IMO). Since I game on Roll20, a non-tactical player does not last at my table.
Well, yeah. They’re the ones who don’t do well with tactical games, so it would indeed be on them. We’re a group that’s been gaming together for a while, some of us together for twenty years. We’ll game online if necessary, but we prefer in person. I’m not going to blow up the group because some games aren’t a good fit when there are others that can make everyone happy. With that said, I don’t fault you for wanting a group that plays the way you want to run.

As a GM, I don’t care all that much about the tactical element. We haven’t had any combat in the last three sessions, and I think that’s great. It means the characters are being smart and working with people to achieve their goals instead of just defaulting to violence as a universal solution. I’m also much more inclined towards exploration-driven/sandbox games, which is why my GM preference tends to be for low crunch (bringing this discussion back to the topic at hand).
 

Well, yeah. They’re the ones who don’t do well with tactical games, so it would indeed be on them. We’re a group that’s been gaming together for a while, some of us together for twenty years. We’ll game online if necessary, but we prefer in person. I’m not going to blow up the group because some games aren’t a good fit when there are others that can make everyone happy. With that said, I don’t fault you for wanting a group that plays the way you want to run.

As a GM, I don’t care all that much about the tactical element. We haven’t had any combat in the last three sessions, and I think that’s great. It means the characters are being smart and working with people to achieve their goals instead of just defaulting to violence as a universal solution. I’m also much more inclined towards exploration-driven/sandbox games, which is why my GM preference tends to be for low crunch (bringing this discussion back to the topic at hand).
I prefer investigative games with a strong sandbox aspect. But when there is combat, I want to be a high-risk element, with healing to involve skills and supplies, where players' choices are the key aspect, not just rolling dice and managing a stable of abilities that have no basis in reality.

There is a lot to say about an old group; I've had that, too, and it can be a wonderful thing.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
And it got me thinking -- is one area of crunch easier or harder to work with?
Sort of. Fewer rules, systems, and subsystems are easier to work with. Focused crunch that's broadly applicable like say the four basic actions of Fate is far easier to handle than the nightmarish tangle of rule after rule after convoluted rule of some of the heavier games. Avoiding naming names to avoid edition warring and pointless arguments. But even something that light leads to issues, like the perennial favorite of sniper rifles and being on fire. The mechanics of the game literally get in the way of emulating the reality of the situation. Gamers have to force themselves to bypass the rules and get to what would reasonably happen in that situation. But instead a lot of people get hung up on the rules themselves and that's the focus of their play.
And does one provide more or less benefit, to what degree, and in what aspect of gameplay?
The only aspect of gameplay that need mechanics is conflict resolution. And they don't need to be that complicated. A simple opposed roll (of whatever matching kinds of dice you want in the moment) will suffice. If you want to get really fancy, you can include things like dis/advantage to each side of the opposed roll based on the characters' abilities and the external circumstances, environmental factors, etc.

Everything else is extra. But I differentiate between mechanics (STR is a stat that means X, when using STR you add this modifier to your roll, etc) and diegetic rules, that is rules about the world and the things in it. Like how much a horse needs to eat in a day or how much water a person needs to drink. Those aren't quite crunch, as I'd define it. Those are things that are just as true in the real world as they are in the fantasy world of the game. But any fantasy game will have things that don't exist in the real world. Yep. But we can extrapolate from the real world examples. Like how much food a gnome needs in a day or how much water a dragon needs to drink.
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.
Crunch almost never enhances realism, quite the opposite. Crunch tends to get in the way of realism and cause bizarre and wild outcomes that are far from what would realistically happen in a given situation. Absurdly high hit points combined with falling damage in D&D, for an example. Realism would be even max-level characters simply dying from a fall over a certain height. Realism would be a dragon simply biting a character in half (mechanically going from full hit point to dead in one hit). The fewer the rules and the more broadly they're applied the better they help with realism. Pushing framing in the fiction gets you almost all the way there.

Differentiating between characters is something crunch can do well. But I think we've taken it way, way too far. Something as simple as a 100-word description is enough to make this character unique from that character. Along with how they're roleplayed. Give some kind of mechanical weight (dis/advantage perhaps) and you now have distinct characters with meaningful mechanically differences between them. And the whole system could fit on both sides of a 3x5 card or one side of a sheet of paper.
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 me, that's not a distinction that makes a difference. Unless the mechanics of the game force that to be meaningful. Like a dice pool system. You only get one die from each category and innate talent is a distinct category from training. Otherwise it doesn't matter.
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.
Crunch doesn't provide realism, it prevents realism. Or at least seriously hampers realism. It's almost a reverse correlation. The more crunch, the less realism. If you mean realism here as heavy crunch systems with rules for everything, then I don't agree with that assumption. Fewer rules, systems, and subsystems tends leads to more realism in the sense of the outcome of the mechanics being closer to what would be produced in the real world...or at least if the fantasy world were a real place and the characters were real people living in that real place.
 


Phew. I got home two days ago, but jet lag is a bitch. As is all the real life nonsense that I couldn't ignore after being away from home for three weeks.

Anyhoo...

Crunch. My favourite games over the years have all been crunch heavy. Hero, GURPS, Shadowrun, DnD3/Pathfinder1. They all have slightly different appeal to me.
Hero and GURPS have a great "build what you want" thing, be that thing a character or a campaign. They are also very easy to play.
DnD/Pathfinder are much more restricted than the others but there is a fun to be had in the mixing and matching of feats and the anticipation of getting to Level X, to get Feat Y, that will synergise with Class Ability Z to give all the whizz, Bang, POW!
Shadowrun has all that glorious gear porn. In addition, the sensibilities and implementation of the magic system really worked for me.
OH! I nearly forgot Ars Magica. I mean, it's the best magic system out there for that particular feel of a wizard in their tower studying arcane mysteries, building their knowledge and power over time, etc.
And honourable mentions to Rolemaster for the crit charts; and Twilight 2000 for yet more gear porn.

To specifically reply to the OP: I like crunch for both genre emulation and character differentiation. But I also like crunch for the gamist (is the word gamist? or am I using it wrong?) opportunities to manipulate the system and seeing what it can do in play.

I say genre emulation rather than "realism." I mean, I've been gaming so long I'm not sure what reality is anyway. But using crunch to generate realism will never get one more than a few key aspects that are important to whatever style of game is being played; which is to say one will wind up emulating a genre in any case.

DnD/Pathfinder aren't good at genre emulation. As people round here frequently say, DnD is a sub-genre all to itself; the system is pretty useless for emulating anything else. When it comes to being used in play I think the D20 system is a bit clunky. Well... very clunky. I've had 20 years of practice to get used to it but any time I introduce a new player to the system I get reminded of how unintuitive it is. Too many subsystems and unique ways of doing things. I consider the actual play of D20 to be an example of bad crunch. So I guess I like DnD crunch for character differentiation.

Shadowrun. (Only 1st ed. so all remarks are regarding that edition.) Again, it's own genre being the first (to my knowledge) to mash high fantasy and cyberpunk. That being said one could easily separate the magic and the cyberpunk to play a game of purely one genre or the other.

I think that in SR the crunch delivers for both genre emulation and character differentiation. So much of cyberpunk's genre appeal is the gear. And SR delivers on this. At the same time all that gear enables a lot of character differentiation. And then there's the magic and magical gear for yet more character differentiation and of course fantasy genre emulation.

I give SR good marks for consistently applying its dice conventions to all aspects of the game. This allows tech and magic to work together pretty well. (Aside: Those dice conventions weren't the best... Allowing people to manipulate both target numbers and the size of the dice pool made the thing a power gamer's paradise. Which I was cool with as player. :) But power gaming makes it hard to GM a game.)

Hero and GURPS. I'll lump them together. Both very flexible crunch at the cost of great complexity. You can use the systems to create all the character differentiation you want. In both games the crunch is a) very consistently applied across the whole system; and b) mostly in character design. This makes them pretty easy to play once one has gotten the hang of the basic game conventions.

As for genre emulation they both have a good supply of genre/campaign source books. GURPS has the best library of these things out of any game system I know. Hero is a better tool for creating one's own genre stuff from scratch, this can be very time consuming of course. (I am currently doing the work for an L5R campaign using Hero. It is much work.) But at least you get exactly what you want.

So, yeah. There we go. A bunch of my thoughts on crunch with some specific examples.
 

aramis erak

Legend
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?
Combat: 6-12 discrete actions. FFG Star wars is a bit high - only 4 "actions", but 9 "maneuvers" and half a dozen "incidentals"... before adding those from Talents. Pendragon has 9 (Moove, attack, defense, berserk attack, double feint, Escape Melee¹, Evasion¹, Dodge, Charge². 1: same mechanics, different narrative. 2: a move by mount combined with an attack by the rider.

For skills, I like between 15 and 30 skills.

If there are talents/feats/etc, I want them to be able to be reduced to a single written line across half the width of an A4 or Letter sheet in readable font size. WFRP3 was too crunchy per talent. D&D 5E is a bit over for many feats. FFG SW is usually pretty good, but some are paragraph.

Same for spells.

I'm good with L5R 5, but some of the talent-likes (including spells) are a bit overly complex. D&D 5E makes most spells fit within the 1 line for reference, but the fact that most have more than 1 paragrapjh, plus the header entries ...

I don't mind tables much, but that makes me an outlier.
 

TheSword

Legend
I’d like more options for combat maneuvers that aren’t gated behind class abilities (like they are in 5e and Level Up). Options that anyone can use to be tactical in combat.

Other than that I think 5e is pretty spot on.
 

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