What Is "Unnecessary Complexity" to You?

Retreater

Legend
Last night I was having a cozy read of some RPG books and got overwhelmed with the complexity. I'll leave these games anonymous to protect their identities, because the point of this griping isn't too complain about a particular system or to start an edition/system war with its fans. I'm curious - what traits usually get you to "nope" out of a system?

Here are a few from my list, in no particular order:

Erratic number goals. Do you want to roll high on this check, low on another? Are some skills percentile while others on a d20 or a d6?
Charts. I'm not talking about a handy list of what you get each time you level or what spells you can select. I'm talking about each and every combat or skill challenge to get out random charts, roll percentage dice or whatever to see what happens. You can never be rid of the book and have to use it every moment of every session since you don't have all relevant information on your character sheet.
Multiple maths used in each roll. Did you hit? Compare the target number to your die roll. Then divide by another number to see how many ranks of success. Then add to a feature of your weapon. Then subtract the opponent's armor rating compared to the AP rating of the weapon.
Hidden descriptions. "The monster is undead and has all the undead traits." Then you look up undead traits to see immune to cold, negative energy, poison, charm, sleep, etc. Just put all of that in the monster description so I don't have to look it up for every undead creature every fight. Or every plant, or demon, or whatever. How am I supposed to remember this stuff?
 

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prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
I agree, broadly, with your thinking that it's mainly about extra steps--extra math steps, extra page flips (for charts or descriptions). For me, I think, it's mostly a diminishing returns thing--sometimes added complexity adds enough depth to be worthwhile, and sometimes it doesn't. Obviously different people will feel as though they hit those diminishing returns sooner than others.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
The overly broad definition of Unnecessary Complexity in an RPG would be one where the net enjoyment is negative for the target audience.

Complexity that slows down play. Example: Extra combat mechanics in a game that zooms in on combat that don't have a corresponding payoff. (Note: there are plenty of other ways to slow down combat, complexity is only one.)

Complexity that obscures the nature of what is going on. Example: Multiple roll successes before failure(s) that hide the true odds of success/failure.

Complexity for the sake of complexity. Example: Using a more involved subsystem that is neat, nifty, or minorly better instead of staying to a universal mechanic.

On the other hand, I disagree with the example used in your "hidden descriptions". Having common keywords that always have the same meaning is easy because of it's uniformity, something that could be included on a DM screen, and is also something that player can understand and bring that experience to other creatures of the same type.

For example, I am very glad D&D has had for several editions a common set of Conditions, instead of each monster trying to roll their own.

Though I am opposed to having a hierarchy of them, where one keyword also requires looking up additional keywords. At that point you aren't gaining in ease or uniformity anymore - list them all together. You can list "also consider them "this type/condition/keyword".
 

payn

Legend
Im finding a lot of the conversations around here lately pinging my complexity meter warnings. Like simulation initiative systems, weapon speeds, healing/resting recharges, etc... When im gaming I just want to move from game mode to game mode effortlessly. Spend more time on exploration and role play less on combat. Many of these systems just slow down the game when I really just want to speed up play.

As I get more into VTT though, I'm realizing automation makes a lot of these things pretty easy to implement. They add the desired variety to the game without slowing it to a crawl. So, im starting to come around again to more complex systems as long as I can picture the added bonus of their inclusion.
 


Jer

Legend
Supporter
Last night I was having a cozy read of some RPG books and got overwhelmed with the complexity. I'll leave these games anonymous to protect their identities, because the point of this griping isn't too complain about a particular system or to start an edition/system war with its fans. I'm curious - what traits usually get you to "nope" out of a system?
Complexity is a funny thing and pinpointing exactly what I consider "too complex" is funny as well. It basically comes down to the fact that I'm the GM for any game we run and most of my players are going to be folks who are not going to get the books and learn the game on their own - they'll sit down to play and I can teach them, but for most of them it's like a boardgame - if we sit down to play Arkham Horror nobody expects them to go buy their own copy of the game and read a tome of rules before sitting down at the table. Once they know the game they'll buy a copy of the book if we're going to be playing it for a long haul - so my regular table has 13th age books, my kids tables eventually get their own 5e books.

So what I'm generally looking for in games to run as one-shots or mini-arcs for my players are ones that:

  • Have a consistent core mechanic that drives task resolution - no separate sub-systems. And powers that the PCs have that change the core mechanic are easily noted on their character sheets as skills/powers that they might have.
  • Even with a core mechanic, keep the number of bonuses/penalties/adjustments to the roll limited.
  • Have simple character creation rules that limit the choices that starting players need to make - generally either class/level systems or if point buy they have a template mechanism of some sort.
  • If the game has a skill system, keep the number of skills manageable. Having 100+ skills in a game might have been exciting to me when I was 12, but I'm now far older than 12 and I don't have the time to parse out the differences between "Radio Use", "Radio Operations" and "Radio Repair" let alone enforce it at the table when a player who picked the wrong one wants to substitute it in for a check.
  • Have combat rules that value ease of play at the table over simulation when they have to make choice between the two.
  • Be able to run the game with only one copy of the book available for reference (this one can be mitigated by having an SRD available, but if every character has specific rules that need to be referenced and you can't put onto the character sheet, it's too complex).
  • (And this is a big one actually) Don't make the GM have to create opponents using the same system as PCs unless it's a superhero game (exceptions to every rule). Either provide a decent set of opponents in your core rules or provide simplified rules for creating opposition.

Basically my two axes of complexity boil down to "how hard is this game going to be for me to teach at the table" and "how hard is this game going to be for me to run at the table". Anything we play outside of D&D has to be low for both of those things.
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
Constantly having to cross reference rules with other rules is my main complaint. There was a game system my friends tried some years ago (I don't want to call it out). Just about every step of the way during character creation, you would be referred to some different part of the book. It became so frustrating after awhile- if the book was hyperlinked somehow, I wouldn't mind, but having to go to the monster section just to find out why it matters that Elves are Fey creatures seems a bit ridiculous.
 

South by Southwest

Incorrigible Daydreamer
Mmmm...

Some of this, I'm sure, comes down to matters of personal taste. I know some players and GMs who love really intricate, detailed rules systems that try to make social interactions, combat, and exploration all as life-like as possible; I also know some others who regard "rules hounding" with the same approval that they would a fresh pile of vomitus. So for the personal preference variable I think the answer will vary as widely as people do.

On another level, though, I don't think personal tastes govern all. One point at which I willingly would call a system unnecessarily complex is when all the rules, LUTs, and dice rolls serve no essential purpose. When such stuff is there just for "flavor," I'm prepared to say it shouldn't be there. If it isn't helping the story along and it isn't helping the game play along, then what exactly is it doing in there? Looking cute and smiling for the camera???
 

payn

Legend
Constantly having to cross reference rules with other rules is my main complaint. There was a game system my friends tried some years ago (I don't want to call it out). Just about every step of the way during character creation, you would be referred to some different part of the book. It became so frustrating after awhile- if the book was hyperlinked somehow, I wouldn't mind, but having to go to the monster section just to find out why it matters that Elves are Fey creatures seems a bit ridiculous.
This. It doesnt have to be the mechanics just a very poorly organized rulebook that can drive me bonkers. PDFs and online tools have been a godsend.
 



James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
Actually I can tell you exactly where my point of "this game is too complex". European-style board games. I have a friend who is constantly trying to afflict me with new games to try, and I want to tear what is left of my hair out with poorly written rules and examples. We tried to play this game, Chocolate Factory by Alleycat Games last time and it took us 20 minutes to decide how to leave materials on the assembly line to be converted into various other ingredients.
 

Jer

Legend
Supporter
A badly-organized rulebook can make a relatively simple game feel massively complicated. This is true.
Yes. Also it doesn't need to be a "badly" organized rule book to get me to pass on a game. It could be a perfectly well-organized reference rulebook for people who already know how to play and be a terribly organized book for trying to teach the game to someone. Making the game look more complex than it actually is when you're reading the book to learn how to play the game.

And that's a tough needle to thread because RPG rulebooks generally need to serve both purposes.
 

payn

Legend
Actually I can tell you exactly where my point of "this game is too complex". European-style board games. I have a friend who is constantly trying to afflict me with new games to try, and I want to tear what is left of my hair out with poorly written rules and examples. We tried to play this game, Chocolate Factory by Alleycat Games last time and it took us 20 minutes to decide how to leave materials on the assembly line to be converted into various other ingredients.
Question for you. Do you read the rulebook ahead of playing? Or do you just tear the shrink wrap and dive in? I have friends who love terribly complex games and are notorious for trying to learn as they go. Drives me nuts. The worst part, after teaching folks a few times they look to me as the rules explainer by default...
 


prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
Yes. Also it doesn't need to be a "badly" organized rule book to get me to pass on a game. It could be a perfectly well-organized reference rulebook for people who already know how to play and be a terribly organized book for trying to teach the game to someone. Making the game look more complex than it actually is when you're reading the book to learn how to play the game.

And that's a tough needle to thread because RPG rulebooks generally need to serve both purposes.
This is fair. I would think that "badly-organized" might be situational--that a book could be well-organized as a reference and badly-organized as a game-teaching document--so ... yeah, we're not arguing, really, that I can tell.
 

aramis erak

Legend
Im finding a lot of the conversations around here lately pinging my complexity meter warnings. Like simulation initiative systems, weapon speeds, healing/resting recharges, etc... When im gaming I just want to move from game mode to game mode effortlessly. Spend more time on exploration and role play less on combat. Many of these systems just slow down the game when I really just want to speed up play.

As I get more into VTT though, I'm realizing automation makes a lot of these things pretty easy to implement. They add the desired variety to the game without slowing it to a crawl. So, im starting to come around again to more complex systems as long as I can picture the added bonus of their inclusion.
My FTF vs VTT experience is that VTT is always slower...

A large portion of that is interfacing with the tech. Another portion is increased distraction susceptibility....

How much slower varies... 2 to 6 times slower.... by game, specific players, and how tired everyone is.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
My FTF vs VTT experience is that VTT is always slower...

A large portion of that is interfacing with the tech. Another portion is increased distraction susceptibility....

How much slower varies... 2 to 6 times slower.... by game, specific players, and how tired everyone is.
I think one might be able to take advantage of a VTT to make processing math quicker, but I agree that (at least using voice, no cameras) actual play will be slower, because the communication channel/s won't have as much bandwidth as in person.
 

John Dallman

Adventurer
Some of this, I'm sure, comes down to matters of personal taste. I know some players and GMs who love really intricate, detailed rules systems that try to make social interactions, combat, and exploration all as life-like as possible...
Well, I mostly play and run GURPS 4e, which is fairly detailed. We do not try to drag in rules that aren't applicable to a setting or genre, but there is quite a lot of material for D&D-style fantasy, and for semi-historical settings. Replying with that in mind:

Erratic number goals. Do you want to roll high on this check, low on another? Are some skills percentile while others on a d20 or a d6?
All rolls to see if you can do something are 3d6 roll low. You want to roll high for damage, and you want the GM to roll high for social reactions (players don't need to roll those). This works fine; the classes of roll are clearly separate.
Charts. I'm not talking about a handy list of what you get each time you level or what spells you can select. I'm talking about each and every combat or skill challenge to get out random charts, roll percentage dice or whatever to see what happens.
Occasionally you need to look up a skill's description, but there aren't any more charts. There are charts for critical hits and misses in combat, but you only need them when you've rolled a critical, and they're one more 3d6 roll.
Multiple maths used in each roll. Did you hit? Compare the target number to your die roll. Then divide by another number to see how many ranks of success. Then add to a feature of your weapon. Then subtract the opponent's armor rating compared to the AP rating of the weapon.
Basically, roll against your skill. If you want to attack specific hit locations, or make the opponent's defence roll harder, there are subtractions to your skill, but those are optional, and controlled by the player. Ranged combat requires asking the GM for for the range penalty, and if you're using a weapon that fires multiple shots, a very small division to find out how many shots hit. Roll your damage, subtract armour, apply it to the opponent.

Hidden descriptions. "The monster is undead and has all the undead traits." Then you look up undead traits to see immune to cold, negative energy, poison, charm, sleep, etc. Just put all of that in the monster description so I don't have to look it up for every undead creature every fight. Or every plant, or demon, or whatever. How am I supposed to remember this stuff?
Reasonable in the era of PDFs. In the print-only times, keeping down the page count was important.

Complexity that obscures the nature of what is going on. Example: Multiple roll successes before failure(s) that hide the true odds of success/failure.
Some game designers seem to have a "cargo cult" view of mechanics. "This worked great for me in (really cool campaign I ran years ago), so all my games should work that way.
Basically my two axes of complexity boil down to "how hard is this game going to be for me to teach at the table" and "how hard is this game going to be for me to run at the table".
Whereas we aren't really into system-hopping. Different players in the group play with different default levels of detail, and nothing breaks. We had a campaign run by our least technically accomplished player in 2019; she just ran it as "human being with skill rolls", much in the style of CoC.
 

Parmandur

Book-Friend
Multiple maths used in each roll. Did you hit? Compare the target number to your die roll. Then divide by another number to see how many ranks of success. Then add to a feature of your weapon. Then subtract the opponent's armor rating compared to the AP rating of the weapon.
Yeah, that's the major blocker for me. I like a little math...but I need to be able to hold the formula for resolution in my English major brain fir the game to not turn into a quagmire. I remember reading the long strung out multiple factor formula (1d20 + X ÷ y, averaged with z....) for Skill resolution in an unamed game...and Noped right out of that.
 

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