log in or register to remove this ad

 

The Stakes of Classifying Games as Rules Lite, Medium, or Heavy?

Aldarc

Legend
TTRPGs are commonly debated about where they lie on a rules crunch spectrum of lite to heavy. For example, is D&D 5e rules medium or rules heavy? Is Fate rules lite or rules medium? Is Runequest rules medium or rules heavy? For purposes of this thread, I'm not actually interested in debating the answers to those questions. Instead, my interest rests in the fundamental stakes of this system of classification from rules lite to rules heavy commonly found in our hobby. Why does this classification matter for some people? What is gained through classifying games along this spectrum? What is at stake if D&D 5e, for example, gets classified as Rules Heavy rather than Rules Medium? Are there incentives for games to be perceived and classified as lighter than they accurately are?
 

log in or register to remove this ad

Staffan

Legend
I think "heavy" and "light" are more useful as directions than as absolutes. That is, it is pretty clear that D&D 5e is lighter than D&D 3.5e (which I think we can all agree is pretty heavy, particularly with all the splats). But does that mean it's still "heavy" or "medium"? Hecked if I know.
 


Cadence

Legend
Supporter
I wonder if one of the problems with trying to classify is deciding what to do with optional rules and things for minutiae/edge cases.

Is the card game bridge rules heavy or rules light? If you don't need to keep score and don't really have a bidding system it feels light. Some of those bidding systems...

In MtG, do we count the rules about layers when deciding exactly how rules heavy it is even if most players don't know them?

Are baseball and American football heavy or light? They feel pretty light to me, but then a lot of games have some obscure thing come up (the pdf of the 2019 Official Baseball Rules is 188 pages long; the 2021 NFL one is 95 pages).

Do spell and character class abilities actually count as "rules"? Or are they things that use the rules like a weapon or armor type does?
 

I'd suggest there are no stakes. They're conversational tools, but that's about it.
I think the only real issue is that a lot of people want to claim games with complex, heavy rules systems are "rules-light" in order to convince people it's not going to be an issue to adopt or use them, particularly with new player, and this consistently leads to problems where people do try those games, or invest in them, find they are rules-heavy, and don't really play them, wasting money/time and having generally deleterious effects.

I've almost never seen a rules-light game described as anything else (except maliciously, but that's incredibly rare). Whereas I've seen countless people outright lie about whether games are rules-heavy, especially when talking to new players/DMs. The very fact that they decide to actively lie/deceive suggests that they strongly believe there is a stake. Especially as they almost never try such a line with experience RPGers.

I should add that they generally seem to know they're being deceptive because their reactions to it being suggested they're being deceptive are typically either to admit they were stretching the truth or become very defensive in that sort of "Well technically..." way. I once saw someone basically try to suggest D&D wasn't relatively rules-heavy by talking about Rolemaster for god's sake. (As an aside I'd say 5E was at the shallow end of rules-heavy - it's certainly not light or medium - 4E likewise, 3.XE was unquestionably rules-heavy, as was PF1).

I would agree with anyone saying "rules-medium" isn't very useful. Games are either rules-light, rules-heavy or not really either but I'd strongly suggest the vast majority of games are one or the other (light or heavy). CoC is the only one that immediately springs to mind as being in the middle.
 

dragoner

Dying in Chargen
5e as a benchmark of medium is good; in engineering we have correction factors, such as with dynamometer or dyno for test vehicle horsepower, the correction factor is a '78 Kawasaki Z1 motorcycle.
 

Endroren

Explorer
Publisher
I don't think there are any stakes since we don't have anything like the shelving and distribution categories common to fiction publishing in years gone by. If books got shelved according to their "rule weight" it could have an impact. As it stands, I agree that it's merely a descriptor. At best, it helps you to target your desired market (assuming your market cares about rules weight) and at worst you can shoot yourself in the foot by using a subjective descriptor that others won't agree with when they shell out the cash.

In fact, the original comment already demonstrates a subjective bias in suggesting rules-light is positive and rules-heavy is negative. Rules-Light does not mean "better." Sometimes it means "poorly defined," "filled with gaps," and "lacking substance." It's just a descriptor like "gritty" or "grimdark" or "heroic." Whether these words are positive or negative depend on the player.
 

Wolfram stout

Adventurer
When I am looking at purchasing an RPG, if reviews use the terms Heavy & Crunchy together or Light & Narrative it becomes a much harder sale. I still read the reviews to try and get details but either set of those descriptors have become a bit of a warning to me.
 

As a marketing term, rules light means i can read the rules in an afternoon and get my players playing it solidly within 15 minutes. That is an important descriptor. If a company described their game as light and it failed to meet those criteria, I’d trust the company less and be less likely to buy from them.

the opposite marketing term is not ‘rules heavy’ though. You always accentuate the positives (no-one sells ice-cream as ‘high fat’ …). The advantages of light rules are clear, so if you don’t have light rules you have to stress what your rules do really well. That might be to make an appeal to simulation or realism, or to nostalgia; or it may be to stress how universal they are.
 

payn

Legend
The terms are very general to me. When I hear rules lite & narrative I know I'll be able to jump in quickly and start playing and teaching. Heavy & Crunchy implies that some investment in time will be required to be able to run and teach that game. Medium rules is used so rarely that I don't even really pay attention to it.

I have learned that some folks find games like D&D/Pathfinder to be rules lite games. A lot of that is their perception. These folks likely play many TTRPGs, also complex board games, and thus are used to eating up rules crunch for breakfast. To them, groking complex systems is second nature. Usually, this kind of perception is on message boards and not something I see included in reviews. Folks often, dig deeper in message boards to get a bigger picture, so you got to weigh many opinions, not just the first person to drop the term.
 

TheAlkaizer

Game Designer
Why does this classification matter for some people? What is gained through classifying games along this spectrum?
I think it's one of these things that's useful for understanding a product before you had the chance to play with it.

Just like someone can go on a board and ask does anyone know a game that explores this genre someone can go and say I'm not into rule-heavy games, anyone has something a bit lighter. It's a characteristic of games. There's an equivalent with board games. Almost every time someone whips out a board game around me, someone will ask but how long does it take to setup the game and learn it. Or if someone suggest a longer game someone will say no, one session lasts way too long, I want something shorter.

In video games we'll talk about genre, platform, number of players, challenge level, setting, etc. In shows we'll look into the length of episodes, the number of seasons, the themes explored, number of characters, the setting, the genre, etc.

As to crunch specifically, it's a useful characteristic to me. I've spent the last two years toying with Starfinder, with I consider quite crunchy. I've got about a dozen TTRPG ready to try and my colleagues asked to try Pathfinder 2E and I said "No sorry, I'm looking to run something lighter for a few months". It takes time to learn to play a crunchy game, to me there's definitely a correlation between the crunch level and the accessibility of the game. It demands more from me, it demands more from my players.
 
Last edited:

Aldarc

Legend
In fact, the original comment already demonstrates a subjective bias in suggesting rules-light is positive and rules-heavy is negative. Rules-Light does not mean "better." Sometimes it means "poorly defined," "filled with gaps," and "lacking substance." It's just a descriptor like "gritty" or "grimdark" or "heroic." Whether these words are positive or negative depend on the player.
I'm not sure if my original comment demonstrates a subjective bias so much as it does an awareness that such a bias may be present in such discussions, hence the thread about the stakes of such classification.
 

Cadence

Legend
Supporter
In terms of 5e, is the Essentials box (or similar starter box) rules heavy or rules light?

Does expandability equate to rules heavy? Is the primary issue what is needed to get someone started, or what is needed to run it long term?
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Instead, my interest rests in the fundamental stakes of this system of classification from rules lite to rules heavy commonly found in our hobby.

"Stakes" are what you might lose in a risky situation. The only real stakes are ending up with a misapprehension of what a game is like in practice. There are some perceived and social stakes in discussions, but those aren't actually about the classification.

Why does this classification matter for some people?

So, on the internet, there's a social phenomenon - once you've (generic, not you, Aldarc) said a thing, there's a perception of loss of face if you then admit that you were wrong. Many internet discussions are driven not by how important the issue actually is, but instead by how much people cannot admit being wrong, or allow someone else to have the last word.

What is gained through classifying games along this spectrum? What is at stake if D&D 5e, for example, gets classified as Rules Heavy rather than Rules Medium? Are there incentives for games to be perceived and classified as lighter than they accurately are?

There's a tendency for people to want some... "ownership" for lack of a better term. I like Game X. I like Y aspect. Therefore I want X classified as Y. Classifying it as Z instead to me has some cognitive dissonance, because I'm not a fan of Z, so I push back because of my own identification.
 

Aldarc

Legend
"Stakes" are what you might lose in a risky situation. The only real stakes are ending up with a misapprehension of what a game is like in practice. There are some perceived and social stakes in discussions, but those aren't actually about the classification.
"Stakes" is self-admittedly not the most appropriate word for this sort of discussion, as it's more a case of discussing why classifying game A as lite, medium, or heavy can be so contentious and matters for some. (You add good points for consideration to that matter in the rest of your post.)
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
"Stakes" is self-admittedly not the most appropriate word for this sort of discussion, as it's more a case of discussing why classifying game A as lite, medium, or heavy can be so contentious and matters for some. (You add good points for consideration to that matter in the rest of your post.)

Sure. I actually found it a good framework, though, because it was a natural way to introduce the social stakes of conversations on the internet.
 

For me, it comes down to how easy it is to teach and run a system. I often play with players who are new to ttrpgs, and so rules lite systems are helpful because they are easy to learn. Further, a game with a lot of rules can be difficult to run. I would be on board with a rules heavy game if the entire table was committed to learning and understanding the rules.
 

"Stakes" are what you might lose in a risky situation. The only real stakes are ending up with a misapprehension of what a game is like in practice.
That is, however, a pretty severe stake from an authorial and publishing view.

And what makes something rules-heavy isn't a well agreed upon term... but it's a consistently reported term in reviews. So, the stakes already exist, and aren't trivial.
 

Yora

Legend
What is at stake if D&D 5e, for example, gets classified as Rules Heavy rather than Rules Medium?
duty_calls.png
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
That is, however, a pretty severe stake from an authorial and publishing view.

I don't think there's evidence that EN World discussion of classifying the weight of rules really has an impact on game sales. We aren't thought leaders influencing the market.

In addition, the OP is asking why people in the discussion care. Generally, the authors and publishers don't come here and get in the discussion. If one of them did, yes, they may feel they have a stake, but their assessment is then going to be largely profit-driven, which is perhaps not the best basis for classification.
 

Level Up!

An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top