What Is "Unnecessary Complexity" to You?

Hex08

Adventurer
Since I moved away from my main gaming group more than 10 years ago we no longer play at a table, we have been using Fantasy Grounds instead so we can still play together. This has changed my definition of "unnecessary complexity". One of the things Fantasy Grounds does really well is that it does a lot of the complex math for you. As an example, Pathfinder 1st ed. can get pretty complex with all of the different modifiers from feats, magic items, spells, etc. but if used right Fantasy Grounds takes care of all of that and combat is a whole lot faster than it used to be when we played face-to-face.

That said, to me unnecessary complexity, to me, is weird subsystems thrown into a game that doesn't really mesh well with the rest. For Pathfinder 1st ed. it's stuff like the grapple rules (I think D&D 3.x was even worse but it's been so long I'm not sure I'm remembering right). For most editions of D&D it was psionics. For Savage Worlds it's the chase rules.

Things like tracking ammo and encumbrance also always made sense to me but they just slowed down games (unnecessary complexity), so I ignored them. Fantasy Grounds automates that so, once again, it's much easier. Getting around it is easy for the player: "While I am in town I'm going to stop and buy some arrows/bullets, how much does that cost me?".
 
Last edited:

log in or register to remove this ad

Scruffy nerf herder

Toaster Loving AdMech Boi
Actually, in light of my previous post, there's something I'd like to add to my general "unnecessary complexity" list: errata.

As a rule of thumb, if your errata runs to more than 1% of the page count of the book you're fixing, it probably means you've made a mess of writing the thing. If you need to patch the same thing twice (that is, provide errata for your errata), that almost certainly means it's unnecessarily complex. And as soon as your "errata" moves beyond fixing errors and to revising good rules, you're adding unnecessary complexity - it should almost certainly wait for the next edition.

There are exceptions to all of the above, of course. And, of course, it's all IMO only.

Lol you're kind of describing a ton of the splat books TSR published for AD&D. Worth mentioning that without some of that overly complex stuff we might not have the paladin or barbarian class.
 

Hex08

Adventurer
I'm curious, how do people feel about the old Dragon Magazine? It certainly added a lot of options to AD&D back in the day. Did adoption of the material add to unnecessary complexity?
 

TerraDave

5ever, or until 2024
I'm curious, how do people feel about the old Dragon Magazine? It certainly added a lot of options to AD&D back in the day. Did adoption of the material add to unnecessary complexity?
For me right after 3e comes the edges of AD&D and the sort of stuff that ended up in Unearthed Arcana--which came from Dragon. Similar are official options in the later parts of 2e. Which of course fed into 3e.
 

delericho

Legend
I'm curious, how do people feel about the old Dragon Magazine? It certainly added a lot of options to AD&D back in the day. Did adoption of the material add to unnecessary complexity?
On the one hand, no - Dragon magazine (and splatbooks) are always entirely optional, so any complexity that results is a choice on the part of the group. Can't really blame TSR for their choices.

On the other hand, it has been my experience that many, possibly most, of these supplementary materials have ended up making the game actively worse. Which applies regardless of source - Dragon magazine, official supplements, and indeed my own houserules. It took me an awfully long time to realize that - it wasn't at all clear at the time.
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
I was always excited by Dragon content, but if I'm being honest, I don't think I've ever used anything (save for the 4e era, where all that stuff was put onto the online character builder). There was like one alternate class I wanted to play but never did, the Scout. One game I was in allowed a Witch class that was horribly broken (it had a spell called seduction that made enemies tear off their clothes and run at the Witch with intent to...well you get the idea that usually led them to their dooms) and I had nothing but negative views about it. Over the years, we started to realize that while there were good ideas in Dragon, it was better to ignore anything player facing because it was invariably either too tuned or not tuned enough for the games we were playing.

Oh I did try to offer some Dragon magazine races in 3e to my players, but nobody ever took me up on it. Like the Golmoid, an early Warforged created by Gnomes.
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
On the one hand, no - Dragon magazine (and splatbooks) are always entirely optional, so any complexity that results is a choice on the part of the group. Can't really blame TSR for their choices.

On the other hand, it has been my experience that many, possibly most, of these supplementary materials have ended up making the game actively worse. Which applies regardless of source - Dragon magazine, official supplements, and indeed my own houserules. It took me an awfully long time to realize that - it wasn't at all clear at the time.
It's funny, in another thread, I had someone telling me that "book bloat" kills games. That too many splatbooks is what destroyed 3e, which is why 5e has far fewer books. Even when I pointed out these books are optional material and only matter to a game if the DM decides to mix and match products (especially supplements for different campaigns).

It's good to know I'm not the only guy who immediately goes "wow, well of course your Druid can Wild Shape into a dinosaur from Eberron and destroy game balance with this spell from the Forgotten Realms! Boy D&D is sure a busted game!"
 
Last edited:

delericho

Legend
Unless you've got a big playtesting budget, its all too easy for a game with lots of moving parts to show problems in various places you never saw during initial design.
The problem being that the 'fixed' version also interacts with all those many moving parts, but inevitably has less playtesting than the broken version it is replacing. Which means that it is very likely to cause some other problem elsewhere in the system.

If they're not really disciplined, the designers risk getting caught up in a quest for an elusive perfection that is always just over the next hill. And they end up accumulating endless revisions that individually fix issues... and yet somehow as a collective they make the overall game worse.

There isn't a particularly good answer to this, I know - just leaving things broken isn't great either. I guess, maybe, the least-worst I can come up with is "fix things that are egregiously broken; try to live with what you can".
 

aramis erak

Legend
Things like power points on spacecraft in Traveller, where you get chernobyl 3000 megawatt computers, it only works as inhibition, and does nothing else, totally not realistic. Things such as that.
I found the power point system in MGT 1E draft 3.2 to be brilliant, along with the ship combat. Actually added uite a bit of realism at minimal expense in play time... especially if using a playmat like FASA STRPG's ship combat systems. Totally abandoned in the actual published game.

Then again, I played Star Fleet Battles for decades.
 

aramis erak

Legend
I'm curious, how do people feel about the old Dragon Magazine? It certainly added a lot of options to AD&D back in the day. Did adoption of the material add to unnecessary complexity?
see below...

I was always excited by Dragon content, but if I'm being honest, I don't think I've ever used anything ...
I used the stuff in Dragon from time to time.

For Traveller, I used the random alien generator, the robots rules, and as exemplar, Exonidas Spaceport (by Jefferson Swycaffer)

For AD&D, I did use some of the classes - Time Lord (but, never having seen Dr. Who, we just ignored the racial requirement), variant bards (from Best Of), the Ecology articles....

For BX/BECMI, I used the Create Your Own Classes... some times silly, sometimes not.

I ran several of the mini-rpgs in pre-3E era mags. I loved the Tom Wham games bound it. (I'm sorely tempted to reprint the Planet Busters game from the CDROMs..)

While I didn't use it at the time, the game material from Voyage of the Princess Ark story & game notes was collated into a boxed set which I have since used.
On the one hand, no - Dragon magazine (and splatbooks) are always entirely optional, so any complexity that results is a choice on the part of the group. Can't really blame TSR for their choices.

On the other hand, it has been my experience that many, possibly most, of these supplementary materials have ended up making the game actively worse. Which applies regardless of source - Dragon magazine, official supplements, and indeed my own houserules. It took me an awfully long time to realize that - it wasn't at all clear at the time.
For many games, the first several supplements are really "core rules, part II-IV..."
For others, they are ways to open up other elements of the setting.
And there is a subset of games where the rules are serialized across multiple boxes...

  • Core Rules part II examples:
    • MegaTraveller's Referee's Companion. It adds a number of elements that are nifty
      • The Mass Combat Rules - which are what justifies the abstractions in the PM's combat mechanics.
      • The Research Rules - one of the most interesting and useful expansions from the book; I've used it more than the mass combat, and I've used both a lot.]
      • expected force strengths for worlds... important to running the rebellion setting if one is doing that subsetting.
    • all the Old World of Darkness games' Players' Guides.
      • Advantages and Disadvantages are in there, not the corebooks... but are explicitly part of the intended rules.
    • Unearthed Arcana for AD&D 1E. (really should have spawned a new edition, so fundamental are the changes
      • Expansion of races
      • expansion of classes (Barbarian, Thief Acrobat)
      • alteration of class/subclass relationships (Paladin becomes Cavalier subclass, rather than fighter)
      • Weapon Proficiency expansions
      • additional allowed multiclassing
      • increased maximum levels for high attributes
      • Corporate Sourcebook for Justifiers.
    • Star Frontiers Knight Hawks... the ships and space rules for Star Frontiers...
    • Albedo Ship Sourcebook.
  • Serialized games:
    • BX/BECMI D&D;
    • Dragon Age Sets 1-3;
    • Arduin Grimoire.
    • Basic Set (big black box), Cyclopedia, Wrath of the Immortals - the Alston & Denning edition of BX/BECMI....
    • Mazes and Minotaurs (not Revised).
    • D&D Gazeteers - they really do serialize to create a wholly different game from stock BECMI/B-Cy D&D.
  • Open Up other Elements:
    • Dark Sun & Dragon Kings for AD&D 2.
      • Dark Sun - the magic changes alone are a huge alteration. The alternate character gen also makes the game feel a lot different. Character Trees are a great idea, as well.
      • Dragon Kings: adds high level characters becoming dragons, 10th level spells, quest magic.
    • The Colonial Marines handbook for Alien. Gives a lot more support for a randomly driven campaign of martially focused games in the Alien setting. Not all of them involving bug hunts.
    • The Rivendell book for The One RIng (which adds more magic items, and gives rules for Songs to have mechanical effects - really great expansions to make the game far superior.)
    • Council of Wyrms for AD&D 2. Dragons as PCs...
    • D&D Gazeteers - each not only adds setting materials, but several also add expansion rules that make entire new elements part of the available play experience. Two add merchanting rules, one adds sailing rules, 3 expand the racial magic items for settingling down at... and several add general skills. (Which are core in Cyclopedia.) One adds piecemeal armor.
    • Advanced Recon (opens up to Mercs and actious in the rest of SE Asia.) - has since been integrated in Deluxe Recon.

Not every expansion is bloat. Not every game is complete as initially released. For many, completion is only after a couple of sourcebooks. On the other hand, some games shouldn't have their expansions all used at once, and a few shouldn't have had certain expansions written. And sometimes, an expansion should have been a new edition...
Examples of that last....
  • AD&D1's Unearthed Arcana
  • Zebulon's Guide for Star Frontiers (Completely replaces the skill system, but lacks any integration to SFKH...)
  • Space Knights for Dark Realms (Takes it from a fantasy game to a sci-fi one.)
  • AD&D 2 Skills & Powers + Combat & Tactics...
 



aramis erak

Legend
Indexes that refer you to look at another part of the index rather than just giving you the page.
That's often done when the list is longer than 1 line... it's a method of limiting the length of the index. It's actually standard under several style manuals, even.
 


The problem being that the 'fixed' version also interacts with all those many moving parts, but inevitably has less playtesting than the broken version it is replacing. Which means that it is very likely to cause some other problem elsewhere in the system.

While fair, I've rarely seen it create as many problems as what it was replacing (note "rarely" is not a synonym for "never"). That's still not a reason to keep limping along with a problematic rule construct that has emerged as such.

If they're not really disciplined, the designers risk getting caught up in a quest for an elusive perfection that is always just over the next hill. And they end up accumulating endless revisions that individually fix issues... and yet somehow as a collective they make the overall game worse.

There isn't a particularly good answer to this, I know - just leaving things broken isn't great either. I guess, maybe, the least-worst I can come up with is "fix things that are egregiously broken; try to live with what you can".

Probably the best choice, but there's always the tendency to think once you're going to do errata to fix the big things anyway, you might as well address the small ones too.
 

dragoner

solisrpg.com
I found the power point system in MGT 1E draft 3.2 to be brilliant, along with the ship combat. Actually added uite a bit of realism at minimal expense in play time... especially if using a playmat like FASA STRPG's ship combat systems. Totally abandoned in the actual published game.

Then again, I played Star Fleet Battles for decades.
SFB with the laminated sheets and grease pencils? I remember that, played it some, except played Starfire I-III a lot more.

I made a dton of mgt1 ships, though a player printed out the relevant sections of the 2e playtest docs for ships, we looked over them pre-game at the pub, and I was non-plussed, pretty much the definition of unnecessary complexity. I mean I understand why HG2 did what it did, and it was basically a war game bolted onto the OTU, which is cool, we played that a lot as a war game, because my role playing evolved out of being a chess player, war gamer. Winchell Chung and crew were tweeting about Berg's The Campaign For North Africa, which is another game that takes complexity to the max, I still own SPI's Third World War, and used to play all those games a lot.

Mgt1 spacecraft definitely had issues, any bit of armor making normal lasers and missiles irrelevant, lasers shoot to infinity at -1, particle accelerator turrets became the du jour every weapon, etc.. I still face a lot of that with Cepheus Engine, except it is simple and I know it. Life keeps rolling by, and I don't have the time to learn another rules set if it doesn't have something real to offer.
 

dragoner

solisrpg.com
The 5th Ed PHB, it's excessive though. In some instances one will refer you to another part of the index which will then refer you to another part.
My Solis book at 242 pages has a 12 page index, triple column, 10 point font with around 3,000 entries. I do that a bit, except some would call making any index "excessive". It is definitely time consuming.
 

Level Up!

An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top