The Dilemma of the Simple RPG


In my experience with contemporary college game clubs, there are many younger people who have not yet tried tabletop RPGs. I was also told that many of the players coming to the evening games at a local shop have been new to tabletop RPGs. This is different from my pre-Internet, pre-video gamegeneration (Boomers), where most game-minded people were exposed to D&D because it had so little competition for leisure time.

"A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away." - Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Another reason for the difference may be the “crunchiness” of many contemporary RPGs. That is, the fiddliness and time needed to generate a character and start actually playing the game is offputting. Then there is the difficulty of running a character because there are so many details and numbers (such as skills) involved. The rules interfere with the adventure.

Yet we continue to see the most popular RPGs loaded down with vast rulebooks. Unfortunately, the seeds of long-range destruction of any RPG edition are built into the capitalist economy.

You don't need a Ph.D. in history to know a lot can be explained if you "follow the money". To make money you need to sell product. If your primary business is RPGs you have to produce a game that is not only large but very extensible, so that you can sell additional rules. In the long run, that makes the game crunchy and unwieldy, dooms it to become too complex to appeal to the less than hard-core players.

Complexity may be a boon for some players. 3rd Edition D&D (3e) became "find rules somewhere that give me an advantage." This is a complete contrast to my advice to GMs dating back to the 70s: prevent players from gaining unearned advantages. When I GMed 3e I said "core rules only, no add-ons." When the highly-tinkered-by-additional-rules "one man armies" are present in a game, the more casual players are left behind in several ways.

"Everything should be as simple as possible, but not simpler." - Albert Einstien

Complex games also make the GM's job harder. As there are more rules, there's more work for the GM. The biggest problem of tabletop RPGs, compared with other games, is that GMing is work, not play. We need more GMs to "grow" the hobby, yet complex games with constant rules add-ons lead to fewer GMs available.

The typical course of events is that RPGs get more complex as more rules are added, until the entire edition is abandoned and a new one comes out. While D&D Second Edition wasn't much different than 1e, and many more or less ignored 2e (I did), each succeeding edition has changed the game drastically to help persuade players to buy the new version, coming full circle with 5e. In each case, a new edition led to lots of sales. And each was then subjected to the rising pyramid of additional rules.

Money talks. Unfortunately for RPGs, money argues for complexity, not simplicity.

contributed by Lewis Pulsipher
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Lewis Pulsipher

Comments

pemerton

Legend
I think basically I was in the wrong there, in that while I was using the 1e rules as written, that is a very deviant thing to do with 1e. Whenever I'd run 1e in previous campaigns I'm pretty sure I always let everyone move their listed move rate and attack at +2/-2 but keep DEX bonus. If I ever run 1e again I'll likely use Moldvay/5e style movement.
I don't have a view on whether or not you were in the wrong, but I actually quite like that 1st ed AD&D rule. By encouraging closing as a separate "thing", it reduces the benefits of speed/alpha-ing.
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest
Wow. Now there's some seriously different experiences. :D

I spent most of my 1e and 2e experiences fielding arguments (and sometimes making them) with players. Even in 3e, I saw it frequently, although, that tended to be a single player whose grasp of the mechanics was less accurate than he believed it to be.

But, seriously, I'm stunned to be honest. You've had a much, much more cooperative group(s) than I ever saw. Must be nice.
We've had a few minor arguments over the years but nothing really serious. My experiences since 1981 have been far more like S'mon's than yours. I don't think there's any relationship between simple/complicated games that relates to that - it strikes me more as dysfunctional group dynamics because of toxic personalities. If they're going to be toxic with a simple game, they're going to be toxic with a complicated one and vice versa.
 

Hussar

Legend
We've had a few minor arguments over the years but nothing really serious. My experiences since 1981 have been far more like S'mon's than yours. I don't think there's any relationship between simple/complicated games that relates to that - it strikes me more as dysfunctional group dynamics because of toxic personalities. If they're going to be toxic with a simple game, they're going to be toxic with a complicated one and vice versa.
I'm not sure I agree. None, or at least very few, of the people I played with I would consider toxic. Note, for much of my gaming after high school, I played with strangers. It hasn't been until the last five or six years that I've actually had a stable group since high school. It was, from the early 90's to after the Oughts that I ran into this mostly and it was almost always with these "random gamers playing together" groups.

And, it's almost always due to a mismatch in player vs DM perspectives. It's the "No, you cannot jump in armor, you can barely walk in plate mail" vs "What? Man, I wish they'd hurry up and invent Youtube so I can show you what can be done in armor". :D

Very little of the problems I've seen stem from any sort of malice. No one was deliberately sabotaging the game. But, what there was was often clashes of differing points of view. Which, by and large, disappeared in 3e with its much more comprehensive ruleset. It still came up, from time to time, but, far, far less often.
 

pemerton

Legend
It's the "No, you cannot jump in armor, you can barely walk in plate mail" vs "What? Man, I wish they'd hurry up and invent Youtube so I can show you what can be done in armor".

<snip>

Very little of the problems I've seen stem from any sort of malice. No one was deliberately sabotaging the game. But, what there was was often clashes of differing points of view.
This is easily described in analytic terms: the GM is making a call based on the fictional positioning of the PC ("You're in cumbersome armour, so you can't jump") and the player doesn't share the GM's view of the fictional positioning.

One common approach to resolving these sorts of disagreements is to say that the GM always has the last (perhaps even the first!) say on the fictional positioning. What they may tend to do, though - especially if it is first say - is discourage players from declaring actions where fictional positioning is relevant, so that they can rely purely on mechanics that never interact with the fiction. That is, in effect, what is being advocated here:

Which, by and large, disappeared in 3e with its much more comprehensive ruleset. It still came up, from time to time, but, far, far less often.

3E replaces adjudication based on fictional positioning with adjudication based on rules at heaps of places in the game (continuing an approach to D&D that I would say had its published origins in the late-80s DSG and WSG).

My preferred solution is to maintain the significance of fictional positioning for action declaration, but to change the incentives that operate on players and GMs (so that, eg, GMs don't need to feel worried that by letting players get the benefit of their conception of their PCs' fictional positioning, the game will break or the player get some sort of undue benefit). All three games that I am currently GMing - Burning Wheel, Cortex/MHRP, and 4e D&D - have solutions to this problem along the lines I have sketched, though it is different for each game.
 

Shasarak

Visitor
I spent most of my 1e and 2e experiences fielding arguments (and sometimes making them) with players. Even in 3e, I saw it frequently, although, that tended to be a single player whose grasp of the mechanics was less accurate than he believed it to be.
Hussar I am frankly shocked, shocked I tell you, that you would be fielding arguments from anyone.
 

Hussar

Legend
Hussar I am frankly shocked, shocked I tell you, that you would be fielding arguments from anyone.
Thanks for that. I needed the giggle.

Fair enough. Although, to be fair, my personality on boards is not exactly the same as how I play.

Thing is, as I said before, I played with a LOT of strangers. Mostly random assortments of players and DM's who got together to play. Most of the time, I didn't play with friends - I moved far too often and, for the past almost twenty years, my gaming has been all on VTT's, meaning that I've never actually met my fellow players face to face in a very long time.

Add to that the fact that many of the groups I played with had some absolutely atrocious DM's, probably including myself for a very long time since I mimicked how I saw other people run their games. Deus ex machina plot lines, sidelining PC's, railroading, and some blindingly poor DMing decisions (and I'm only talking about myself here, never minding the garbage games I played in for years) made for some extremely frustrating play for far too much time than I care to remember.

I have to admit, I'm so jealous of players who have solid groups that have come together as friends and have such an easier time of gaming together. I certainly didn't have that. My gaming history is a litany of horror stories - the GMPC Mary Sue's, the lockstep railroading, you name it, I've either done it, or played it.

So, yeah, my attitude towards things like table friction is a bit less forgiving than it might be. It hasn't been until the last, oh, about six or so years that I've had a stable group. The first thirty years or so was a hodgepodge of various gamers, all with wildly differing approaches.
 
Thanks for that. I needed the giggle.

Fair enough. Although, to be fair, my personality on boards is not exactly the same as how I play.

Thing is, as I said before, I played with a LOT of strangers. Mostly random assortments of players and DM's who got together to play. Most of the time, I didn't play with friends - I moved far too often and, for the past almost twenty years, my gaming has been all on VTT's, meaning that I've never actually met my fellow players face to face in a very long time.

Add to that the fact that many of the groups I played with had some absolutely atrocious DM's, probably including myself for a very long time since I mimicked how I saw other people run their games. Deus ex machina plot lines, sidelining PC's, railroading, and some blindingly poor DMing decisions (and I'm only talking about myself here, never minding the garbage games I played in for years) made for some extremely frustrating play for far too much time than I care to remember.

I have to admit, I'm so jealous of players who have solid groups that have come together as friends and have such an easier time of gaming together. I certainly didn't have that. My gaming history is a litany of horror stories - the GMPC Mary Sue's, the lockstep railroading, you name it, I've either done it, or played it.

So, yeah, my attitude towards things like table friction is a bit less forgiving than it might be. It hasn't been until the last, oh, about six or so years that I've had a stable group. The first thirty years or so was a hodgepodge of various gamers, all with wildly differing approaches.
Well that really sucks. A good group of people that you can play live games with is truly a greater treasure than any set of rules.
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest
This is easily described in analytic terms: the GM is making a call based on the fictional positioning of the PC ("You're in cumbersome armour, so you can't jump") and the player doesn't share the GM's view of the fictional positioning.

One common approach to resolving these sorts of disagreements is to say that the GM always has the last (perhaps even the first!) say on the fictional positioning. What they may tend to do, though - especially if it is first say - is discourage players from declaring actions where fictional positioning is relevant, so that they can rely purely on mechanics that never interact with the fiction. That is, in effect, what is being advocated here:
While I think you describe the issue between the GM and the player - they have opposed views of the situation, I don't agree that the alternative is relying purely on mechanics or that doing so is never interacting with the fiction. The rules structure of 3e, particularly in the case of jumping in armor, doesn't dispense with the fictional situation at all. The PC has a gap they're thinking about jumping while wearing armor in both situations. What 3e does is provide a consistent answer to the question "How far can the PC jump in this armor." In essence, it just provides more detail for the situation for both the GM and the player, something intended to give the player a reliable means of estimating their chances of success with certain given factors (ACP penalty of the armor, Jump skill) but that doesn't prevent there from being additional fictional positioning like various means of helping the jumping PC affect their final success (or failure).
 

pemerton

Legend
While I think you describe the issue between the GM and the player - they have opposed views of the situation, I don't agree that the alternative is relying purely on mechanics or that doing so is never interacting with the fiction.
Don't agree with whom? Maybe you've misunderstood me.

In the post you quoted, I said:

My preferred solution is to maintain the significance of fictional positioning for action declaration, but to change the incentives that operate on players and GMs (so that, eg, GMs don't need to feel worried that by letting players get the benefit of their conception of their PCs' fictional positioning, the game will break or the player get some sort of undue benefit). All three games that I am currently GMing - Burning Wheel, Cortex/MHRP, and 4e D&D - have solutions to this problem along the lines I have sketched, though it is different for each game.

The rules structure of 3e, particularly in the case of jumping in armor, doesn't dispense with the fictional situation at all. The PC has a gap they're thinking about jumping while wearing armor in both situations. What 3e does is provide a consistent answer to the question "How far can the PC jump in this armor."
The fictional positioning doesn't factor into the resolution except by establishing the framing of the check. The concepts of "feet jumped", "armour check penalty", "Jumping skill bonsu", are all mechanically defined.

If the GM were to say, "OK, there's a patch of mud at your launching point, that will impose a -2 to the check" - that would be factoring in fictional positioning. And if the player then responded, "Luckily I've been carrying around a sandbag on my equipment list - I empty out all my sand onto the mud patch, so that I won't lose my footing as I make the jump - that should cancel the -2" - well, that would be factoring in fictional positioning also.

One way to think about it is this: someone who didn't know what a chasm was, or how long a foot is as a measure of distance, or what effect armour has on maneouvring, could still adjudicate the 3E action declaration, "I jump across the 5' wide chasm without taking off my armour". Whereas imposing the penalty for mud, and trying to mitigate that by laying sand, both can be done only by someone who knows what mud is, and why it will interfere with the take off for the jump, and what sand might do to reduce the slipperiness. (And if the GM and player have different views about the effectiveness of sand as a corrrective for mud when jumping - it's not something I personally know much about - then the sort of disupte [MENTION=22779]Hussar[/MENTION] referred to above might break out.)

In essence, it just provides more detail for the situation for both the GM and the player, something intended to give the player a reliable means of estimating their chances of success with certain given factors (ACP penalty of the armor, Jump skill)
But not very much more detail about the fiction. For instance, 3E doesn't describe chasms, and jumping surfaces, and armour, in any more detail than does AD&D or Moldvay Basic. When we look at armour, the same is true vis-a-vis AD&D, and compared to Moldvay Basic all it does is add a few more makes of armour.

It does have more detail than AD&D or Moldvay Basic about whether or not a character is a good jumper, but even that is very cursory - the rules don't tell us, for instance, whether +10 to jump means "Can jump as well as the strongest athlete in the high school playground" or "Can jump as well as an Olympic-level competitor" - at best we can infer that from the DC chart, although the weirdness of the d20 factors in to that too.

The extra detail is mechanical. Which is why it does the work [MENTION=22779]Hussar[/MENTION] has asked it to do - it removes the need for anyone to adjudicate the fictional positioning.
 

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