What Is "Unnecessary Complexity" to You?


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delericho

Legend
Basically, unnecessary complexity is anything that is more complex than it needs to be to model whatever it is that is being modelled - I have no problem with something complex needing complex mechanics.

My "nope" calculation is therefore based on two questions: how much does this mechanic add to the game experience? How much does it cost? If the first is too small, or the second too big, then it's a pretty bad mechanic, regardless of how simple or complex the mechanic.

For example: 5e's rule that arrows that miss can be recovered 50% of the time isn't a complex mechanic, but it really doesn't add enough to be worthwhile (IMO)... not least because after the first adventure mundane ammunition as a whole is barely worth tracking.
 

Scruffy nerf herder

Toaster Loving AdMech Boi
Unnecessary complexity is fairly party dependent too. When I experience sections of a session that are a slog for everyone, or they are struggling to understand what's going on with something even if it's happened before and a precedent is set, well that means that something is a candidate for either simplification or being cut.
 

Haiku Elvis

Adventurer
By coincidence I went from reading this thread to reading the below. It seemed possibly relevant.

for_the_sake_of_simplicity.png
 


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.
13th Age hits my desired level of complexity as well. At every step you mention.

But: The organisation of the book is a bit weird, and it makes a few assumptions that only make sense if you've played a version of D&D before you get to 13th Age. It could use an improved rulebook, to be honest.
 

There's multiple kinds for me, the big obvious one is actually if a system functions off a lot of very 'different' things, like if it uses multiple distinct systems that have to be learned because they aren't necessarily derived from each other, so each thing has to be explained directly rather than hanging off something else. The more 'centralized' a system is, referring back to a basic set of mechanics, the less complex it is, even if its actually really expansive. From what I recall, the 3.5 grapple system is like this, and I felt it when we moved on from 4e and learned about Saving Throws instead of just having multiple defenses. Meanwhile pf2e is a chonky system, but its all permutations of the same handful of ideas, so once you have the basics of it, its rare to find something thats hard to understand.

Then there's density of calculation, my buddy had to make a spreadsheet in excel to track their 4e unity avenger because the math changed based on how many people were standing next to them, but the game had another conditional numbers from feats or conditions that were normally in play. Meanwhile Lancer is a similarly tactical game, but I can see that the calculations remain very simple due to the way its dice rolls work, and how accuracy and difficulty work, as I'm currently learning the game to run it at some point. Just today I found the brutal talent and was admiring how it was stacking "Accuracy" per miss, but ultimately can only ever be as valuable as +6 to the roll, since it was just rolling a d6 per accuracy point and adding the highest d6 result to the roll-- that's never actually going to result in a whole bunch of calculations, just a fistful of dice and a glance to see which comes up highest.

The next is when something is designed in a way that corners me when I try to modify it, I felt like 5e could be this way, in reality, due to things like the anti-granularity of advantage making it hard to add things, or the way classes are designed around rests per day, changing one thing always feels like it breaks something else. My collection of power gamers were always notifying me of how a proposed alteration would likely change our meta, obviously its quite a bit easier if your players don't place your alterations under pressure but that's just part of how we all game, even me.

Sometimes games can be so abstract with their rules, that its hard to wrap your head around when a mechanic should be used and that can be a form of complexity, I think this ties into the recent dialogue on twitter about how some rule sets require 'media literacy' to pull a lot of the weight in how they should be played. Similarly, there are games that leave the pacing and structure of something like a fight scene up to the GM, and those can be kind of painful because I'm right back to freeform roleplaying and deciding how imapctful it makes sense for something to be-- I'm actually looking forward to trying Avatar Legends now that I got my pdf because I feel like Masks needed something along the lines of its exchange system to help GMs structure something as pacing centric as a fight scene.

Finally, things that require GM rulings can be annoying for me, because my table values game balance enough to necessitate me understanding the consequences of how I rule, so a system that spells out how I should rule somewhere is less complex than a system that doesn't, and a system that lets me see the consequences of my actions (or tells me what they'll be for certain courses of action) feel less complex as well.
 

D1Tremere

Adventurer
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?
I second these and would add spell descriptions. I dont want 30 pages of prewritten spells, all with varying levels of usefulness from garbage to gotta have. Give me a chart of various spell features and let the player decide how to combine them into unique spell effects, or just eldritch blast. Make it easy to use but hard to master.
Now that I think about it, same thing for feats that modify melee or ranged attacks. 1st level you get a 2 point attack or spell. 1 point for die of damage, one point for added element. Or 2 one point attacks maybe? Not sure about the logistics, but 30 pages of scripted attacks is both boring and pointlessly complex to keep track of.
 

Lord Mhoram

Adventurer
Mostly complexity in play.

Two of my most played games are different examples of that.
HERO - there is a huge amount of detail and complexity in creating a character, but at the table it's roll compare to number, roll damage. Skill are roll under. While there can be situational bonuses or penalties, or things you have to assign that could change that (levels) - combat is pretty simple.
D&D3.PF - Character creation can be simpler than HERO, but not necessarily - but in combat, you have so many modifiers when you attack, situational penalties or bonuses, feats that apply circumstantially, Crit number and modifiers, feats that trigger on certain attack rolls or crit, did the cleric cast bless?. The positioning is much more precise than HERO, to me it makes combat much more complex, and more difficult to do.

To put it simple if the complexity is away from table I don't care how much it is, but keep it simple at the table.
 

aramis erak

Legend
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.
Even with video; visual communication is reduced. My face isn't the most expressive... I do a lot with gesture, sign, and gaze. While ASL is possible over video, in my limited experience, it's like talking past a a mouthful of candy: Sure, you can communicate, but it's not natural in size, tone, nor expressiveness. (My brother-in-law is profoundly deaf, his wife totally deaf.) Even before I learned ASL, I used ASL-like signs often.

Also, there's the issue that a lot of subvocal audio is missed on VOIP.
 

Frankly, my view is the only time complexity is "unnecessary" is when it doesn't serve the purpose intended, or there's an obvious way to get very similar levels of input and output (i.e. things that effect the thing being represented, and information yielded by the process) without as many steps or calculations. Everything else is projecting on other people what they want to matter because its not what you want to matter.

(And no, ad-hoc GM intervention is not a substitute. No matter how many times people think its a virtue).
 

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.
My experience is exactly the opposite. With so much automated (2\Roll20), there is almost no thumbing through rules, so action moves faster and players are more engaged. Since I only use audio (discord), the technical end is much reduced. I just lots of handouts and cut & paste key descriptions and information into chat, so note-taking is much reduced.
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
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...
Sorry, I failed to answer this in a timely fashion. Yes, step one is to always read the rulebook. And sometimes, be subjected to a half hour video about the game. In this specific instance I'm talking about, the game wasn't very clear about what was going on, and we couldn't find a clear example, so we were left to infer "this must be how it works because nothing else makes sense".

But by that point, I was checked out, because I knew I was going to lose, lol. It was one of those games with multiple ways to earn points for scoring, and I'm notoriously bad at figuring out which of the ways presented is the right one. So Dominion, Alhambra, Ticket to Ride, are all games where I'm like "somehow I lost and that other guy won. Oh well!"

I'm not super competitive, but I do hate being confounded by how a game can obscure what should be a simple task- the correct strategy to win, lol. Though in fairness, I guess if games were up front about that sort of thing, they'd be instantly solved and no one would play them!
 

But as to the thread core, to me, it is rolls for things that you shouldn't need to roll for, and inconsistent dice rolling. For example, I played in a system where some attack rolls were equal or over the target number, while others, using other dice, rolled under.

It made sense mathematically, but it was quite annoying.
 

Whenever complexity comes up I need to mention Hero. But Lord Mhoram has already said what I would, so I'll just second them.

I will say that complexity is fine when it gives the game something the players want. As long as the complexity is as simple as possible for the job.
 

payn

Legend
Sorry, I failed to answer this in a timely fashion. Yes, step one is to always read the rulebook. And sometimes, be subjected to a half hour video about the game. In this specific instance I'm talking about, the game wasn't very clear about what was going on, and we couldn't find a clear example, so we were left to infer "this must be how it works because nothing else makes sense".

But by that point, I was checked out, because I knew I was going to lose, lol. It was one of those games with multiple ways to earn points for scoring, and I'm notoriously bad at figuring out which of the ways presented is the right one. So Dominion, Alhambra, Ticket to Ride, are all games where I'm like "somehow I lost and that other guy won. Oh well!"

I'm not super competitive, but I do hate being confounded by how a game can obscure what should be a simple task- the correct strategy to win, lol. Though in fairness, I guess if games were up front about that sort of thing, they'd be instantly solved and no one would play them!
Sure, I get it. My friends were notoriously bad at explaining games. I mean, they wouldnt talk about the various ways to score points until it came up in play. Usually by then, you are out of the race. Which is why you always cover the ways to score points and that the objective is to score highest (if thats true) from the get go.

I do find BGs have gotten much better with their manual layouts. The videos you mention usually help too. Sometimes though, its a language translation and that can add a whole other level of complexity.
 

A badly-organized rulebook can make a relatively simple game feel massively complicated. This is true.
This right here, 100%.

I know the rule I need isn't in the core rulebook. Is it in the GM's guide? No? Oh, it's in the appendix to the bestiary. Because I would have obviously thought to look there first.

I make it a point to tell people that I GM for that if I cannot find a rule quickly and if no one at the table knows what it is off the top of their head, I'm just going to make a ruling and move on. I don't want the game to grind to a halt as we check indexes or search google. After the session I'll hunt down the correct ruling and if I'm wrong, I'll absolutlely mea culpa. Thankfully, the people I play with are pretty cool with that.
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
I mean, in the old days, rules were squirreled away all over the place, and few people have the time to read a rulebook cover to cover (or the super high reading comprehension to actually REMEMBER some of these rules). I used to wow and amaze my friends with 2e D&D rules they never heard of, but totally exist. Sometimes, there are trends. Like if you're playing GURPS, you know to pay close attention to sidebars- often, that's where all the important rules are!

Over time, you can get good enough to know where the basic rule you are looking for is, and flip to the right section. And if the rules are placed in a logical place, this is soooo much easier!

Though while too much complexity is a headache, it also needs to be stated that too little complexity is just as bad- a good example of this are the old White Wolf games, where arguments usually started because a rule wasn't comprehensive enough!

As an example, an ability might say that you "lower the difficulty of ALL Perception rolls by 2". Then go on to say that "to see through illusions, roll Perception + Kenning difficulty 8". Is the difficulty 8 or 6? Any way you rule, you have an equal chance of being right!
 

delericho

Legend
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.
We should have both - use the common keyword but also repeat the text in the monster statblock. That way the DMs who do remember can skip the repeated description, while those who don't have the text handy.
 

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