Why the hate for complexity?

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
The relationship between "rules" and written law and "rulings" and common law is something I've thought about before.

I've always been a critic of the phrase "rulings not rules" because ultimately both seemed to me to be much the same thing - regardless of whether the law is derived from a Constitution or a body of common law, it's still going to be law and fodder therefore for lawyers.

I've never been a lawyer, but it seems to me that the great difficulty in being a lawyer always come from the common law, which in any legal system soon vastly outweighs the written law both in its volume and its influence over how a case is adjudicated. I've read the written law and it's often struck me how the written law is just as badly written as RPG rules, and often much more so, so that it doesn't actually address the question or provide the answers you'd want to have in practice.
Well, the issue with legal writing is that it is often requires jargon (words that have acquired specific legal meaning) or that, in the need to be complete, it acquires a great deal of complexity.


I don't think it is possible to write law or rules that are so complete that no common law arises from the interpretation of them.
Tell that to Napoleon! (I kid. But the issue of primacy of interpretation is, well, something that is featured in Anglo-american jurisprudence, less so in those that prefer the more Roman model).


But I think it is possible to write law or rules to varying degrees of quality so that on the whole, the situation is more ruled by the law than fiat and almost everyone reading the rules has some close sense regarding what the laws say and how they'll work in practice.

I likewise think that there is a more or less ideal state where the rules are short enough to be comprehensible and yet comprehensive enough that they seldom give rise to the need for rulings touching on things that the rules do not cover adequately.
Again, that's what the quote is going to. The more simplified the system, the easier to read and comprehend, the more open it is to interpretation. You can't possibly begin to cover all use-cases with general language. Just think of the usual phrase-

"Due process." Well, how much process are you due? Notice? An opportunity to be heard? Okay, great! How much notice? What is notice? Does it have to be a particular form? Email? What happens when the person doesn't get notice? What if it's through no fault of their own? What if the person is actually a corporation? How do they get notice?

... and so on. Just look at something as simple as, well, (American) Football. If you look at the byzantine rulebook, you get further and further in the weeds as they attempt to truly define things, because they can't trust the refs to interpret.

Like I said- there are always tradeoffs. It's not a question of good or bad, just different.


My suspicion is that that ideal state is for a rather large body of written rules, both by practical experience (trying to apply different rules set) and theoretically in that I think that the complexity of a rules set which involves simple operations tends to grow at a less than linear rate. That is to say, I tend to think that doubling the page count less than doubles the complexity - at least for certain types of writing (the sort I prefer).
Yeah .... there's a difference between, "Everyone pay your fair share of taxes" and U.S. Code Title 26 and associated regulations (the tax code).

The trouble with your assertion (doubling less than doubles complexity) is that it doesn't take into account how different provisions interact with each other. Unfortunately, most rules you add tend to interact with other rules, and then you have rules that specifically change, modify, and otherwise alter the impact of already-extant rules. So IME doubling the length of something more than doubles complexity- first, because of the actual increase, and second, because it becomes more difficult for someone to fully understand all of it.

In fact, I think you can increase complexity by shortening the rules. For example, consider the following variant:

1) If the proposition is trivially easy, it always succeeds.
2) If the proposition is impossible, it always fails.
3) If the proposition is doubtful, then the GM decides the outcome.

For most traditional RPGs, since the GM is the sole authority on resolving propositions, so this reduces to a game with only the following rule:

1) The GM decides the outcome of propositions.

This is in fact a game which contains only the rule frequently referred to as "Rule Zero". Despite having the same number of rules as "The World's Simplest RPG", the complexity of "The World's Simplest RPG" defined by the number of factors that touch on the resolution is zero. While the complexity of game based solely on "Rule Zero" has a complexity that approaches infinity. Since the "Rule Zero" game is the only rule in a Braunstein, I see the entire history of RPG rule development as an attempt to reduce the complexity of the rules compared to that of a Braunstein.
That's what we get to from the beginning- it depends on how you measure complexity. And preferences.


To give you an easy example from RL- the more trust there is between two parties, the easier it is to draft a short document (settlement, lease, contract, etc.). The less trust, the longer it becomes as a general rule (because of the need to account for eventualities, and additional language in case it goes to litigation).*

I think this applies to a lot of things; if you have believe that there will be a good-faith interpretation, you're less worried about the need to constrain the adjudicator and the other parties; OTOH, if you are worried .... this might apply to RPGs, too. :)



*Of course, any good attorney will tell you to trust no one. That's why you hired an attorney.
 

Celebrim

Legend
Tell that to Napoleon!
I can really sympathize with Napoleon. As megalomaniac dictators go, he was one of the least despicable, and in particular I share his distrust of leaving legislative power in the hands of judges.

But, I also recognize that no matter what you do, you end up with a body of rulings and some person tasked with interpretation where the law is silent.

Just look at something as simple as, well, (American) Football.
There is nothing simple about American football. By contrast, consider the laws of Association Football, which are simple (outside of the description of what footwear you can wear) but which are mostly subjective regarding what constitutes a foul.

I agree with you that there are always tradeoffs.

The trouble with your assertion (doubling less than doubles complexity) is that it doesn't take into account how different provisions interact with each other. Unfortunately, most rules you add tend to interact with other rules, and then you have rules that specifically change, modify, and otherwise alter the impact of already-extant rules. So IME doubling the length of something more than doubles complexity- first, because of the actual increase, and second, because it becomes more difficult for someone to fully understand all of it.
Depends on how you do it. I write code for a living and it's certainly possible to write code that increases in complexity at a greater than linear rate, but if you do that when working for me you probably ought to polish your resume. There are ideas in code like "separation of concerns" and "separation of layers" and "encapsulation" that are designed to prevent complexity from increasing at a greater than linear rate. Now, writing code isn't exactly like writing game rules, and is even less like writing law, but there is some overlap between writing good code and writing good rules.

For example, somewhere around here I defined an RPG, and I defined it in such a way that the increase in complexity is equivalent to the search time of a list stored in a B-Tree. That is to say, a set of rules to handle an evasion/pursuit mini-game don't necessarily have to add complexity to a combat mini-game or to a diplomatic mini-game.

If you look at rules sets that do this badly, 1e AD&D does have a bunch of separate systems for handling things, but the rules in them are scattered out in no obvious order, sometimes contradictory, and often have emergent properties that aren't clear until you attempt to collect them together into a coherent form. The AD&D rules for covering surprise and initiative are extraordinarily complex and contain huge numbers of exceptions and caveats.

An example of how you end up creating exception based systems that are complex when you were meaning to create something simple are absolute rules. As example, simple sounding rule like, "X always goes last.", becomes an immediate problem with X faces X. Or you might have a rule, "X can't be lifted." which runs into a problem when elsewhere in the rules it says, "Y can lift anything." D&D rules in general contain too many absolutes intended to be simple but which become complex in application. Immunities often end up with situations like, "X is immune to Y.", followed by a rule elsewhere the creates an exception, "Y works even if something is immune to it." Minimizing these things for me tends to create fewer error handling moments, so I tend to rewrite absolute rules as much as possible into quantifiable rules.

On the other extreme, the Mouse Guard rules define a single almost all encompassing game intended to cover absolutely all situations that could occur, and involves less than immediately translucent math (if I have 11 dice, what is the odds of at least 4 successes?), two different systems for resolving any question to choose from (single roll or combat, as in theory any thing from baking a cake to negotiation could be a combat), a system where every roll could have like 11 different factors modifying the roll in 4 separate non-equivalent ways (exploding dice, additional dice, altered difficulty, additional successes either automatically or if the roll succeeds), where the RAW guidelines for setting DC generally involve multiple factors that set all DC's too high for success to be possible under the same rules, and where despite all this complexity the rules provide absolutely no guidance regarding the stakes of the roll and to the extent that they do the largely leave the resolution up to a complex fiat based open ended table negotiation between the parties involved. It is possibly the single most complex rule set for adjudication of propositions I've encountered - in many ways more complex than something like RoleMaster - and yet at the same time it seems to have no intention of simulating anything. And to a large extent, it manages have the same problem of remote side effects that AD&D 1e has, for example a monster's tool might be describe as having the same effect as a sword, axe, or spear, but that requires you to look up sword axe or spear, only to discover that they have an effect like "+1s on a successful attack" which would have cost nothing to write instead of "As axe" especially considering the adjacent monster might well have a weapon that says "+1s on a successful attack". Why not be both consistent and clear?

To give you an easy example from RL- the more trust there is between two parties, the easier it is to draft a short document (settlement, lease, contract, etc.). The less trust, the longer it becomes as a general rule (because of the need to account for eventualities, and additional language in case it goes to litigation).*

I think this applies to a lot of things; if you have believe that there will be a good-faith interpretation, you're less worried about the need to constrain the adjudicator and the other parties; OTOH, if you are worried .... this might apply to RPGs, too. :)
I think it does, but as it applies to my game, even if all my players trust me, the problem of "good-faith interpretation" still applies because for me at least, there is a contract I feel I must uphold with myself, concerning my duty toward the players. So when asked to make a ruling, even if I know my players will accept whatever ruling I give, it's still no less agonizing because I still question my own judgment. Or, to put it bluntly, I want to give the right answer and I have little trust in myself to know immediately what the right answer is. For this reason, I'd rather outline the contract I intend to uphold after due consideration of the problem before the problem is encountered.

Like Napoleon, I'm an megalomaniac autocrat that yet wants to establish the rule of law in a fair and translucent manner, so that justice is served and the strong do not oppress the weak.
 
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MichaelSomething

Adventurer
Nothing wrong with being a cricket hater! But out of curiosity, are you from a cricket-playing culture, or looking at it as a horrified outsider? (And apologies if that dichotomy is too simplistic.)
I just picked cricket out of the blue because I think people here aren't familiar with it. I really wanted to bring up how rulings and rules can be complex in different ways and that some people may prefer one over the other.
 

pemerton

Legend
As a matter of empirical fact - the claim that "common law" is the source of complexity in a legal system, compared to written law, is not true in the case of Australia, at least in the opinoin of most superior court judges. Statutory interpretation is where the intellectual action is both in argument and in adjudication.
 

LostSoul

Villager
The relationship between "rules" and written law and "rulings" and common law is something I've thought about before.

I've always been a critic of the phrase "rulings not rules" because ultimately both seemed to me to be much the same thing - regardless of whether the law is derived from a Constitution or a body of common law, it's still going to be law and fodder therefore for lawyers.
I've found that, with written rules, players focus on the text; with rulings, players focus on the game world.
 

DMMike

Game Masticator
What I'm trying to get at is that the shortness of the rules isn't always a good judge of their complexity and that fiat is actually a very high complexity feature of a rules set.
Fair, but [MENTION=75787]GrahamWills[/MENTION] used a good starting point, because the coin-flip RPG is literally the simplest RPG possible, given my stipulation that GM "resolution" is removed and replaced with GM permission-or-denial. [MENTION=177]Umbran[/MENTION] explained properly that GM fiat will be a feature of any(?) role-playing game, so my question is: can having more rules actually simplify a game, by virtue of limiting Rule Zero?

For something we can wrap our hands around (and strangle): I opened up my copy of the D&D Rules Compendium. There are over 50 types of actions listed, divided into 5 (or so) categories. Which, upon reflection, makes me think that D&D 3.5 is actually a rules-heavy game, since that's just the tip of the iceberg.
 

Ratskinner

Adventurer
Fair, but [MENTION=75787]GrahamWills[/MENTION] used a good starting point, because the coin-flip RPG is literally the simplest RPG possible, given my stipulation that GM "resolution" is removed and replaced with GM permission-or-denial. [MENTION=177]Umbran[/MENTION] explained properly that GM fiat will be a feature of any(?) role-playing game, so my question is: can having more rules actually simplify a game, by virtue of limiting Rule Zero?
..there are games that claim to rpgs and have no GM. Capes, in particular, is one that I think is imminently suitable to this discussion. Capes is super-simple in play, although hard to describe.
 

steenan

Adventurer
That's definitely not the case with Capes. The flow of play in Capes is very structured. It's clear who makes each decision, who narrates each part and what exactly is resolved by dice.

What is, in traditional games, the responsibility of GM, in Capes is not only distributed between players but also moves from one player to another during play. Each player in turn sets a scene. Within a scene, each player may use their action to define a stake that must be resolved and it's typically other players who select sides on given issue (which allows them to narrate its resolution). It's impossible to be a "backseat GM" without clearly violating the rules of the game.
 

Celebrim

Legend
In my non-experience, "GMless" games tend to be "whoever's the loudest is the GM" games.
True of cooperative games in general, but most modern games that are gmless will have some sort of narrative token that is passed between players, which grants ownership of the narrative to whomever holds it.

While this can be overruled in dysfunctional groups where one of the players bullies the other participants into always doing things his way, the same is even true of games with GMs.
 

Ratskinner

Adventurer
That's definitely not the case with Capes. The flow of play in Capes is very structured. It's clear who makes each decision, who narrates each part and what exactly is resolved by dice.

What is, in traditional games, the responsibility of GM, in Capes is not only distributed between players but also moves from one player to another during play. Each player in turn sets a scene. Within a scene, each player may use their action to define a stake that must be resolved and it's typically other players who select sides on given issue (which allows them to narrate its resolution). It's impossible to be a "backseat GM" without clearly violating the rules of the game.
Capes is near-miraculous, IMO. Totally changed my perspective on what story/role-playing games could be:
clearly-structured Conflict Resolution, insanely fast character creation including drives, as well as the power and speed of completely abandoning Simulationism. I've often wished for a "Second edition" that had the rules more clearly explained. OTOH, the guided playthrough is almost more helpful than the rules for giving you a grip on how to play.
 

DrunkonDuty

Explorer
I like complexity when it adds something that I enjoy to the game. And since I'm not (very) silly I avoid those games that add complexity that I don't get enjoyment out of.

I prefer complexity when it is modular, that is when complexity comes as sub-systems that can be added or removed from play as desired. This allows players to engage with it as they see fit.

For example: I liked the old 3.X Undead Turning subsystem. Was it it elegant? God no. It took time and effort to check up tables every time it got used. It's results were either too effective or not effective at all.

In 3rd Ed. Legend of the 5 Rings I really enjoy the dueling mechanic. Is it simple? No. No it is not. It is complicated, it requires learning a whole new sub-system. But I would say the outcomes were worth the complexity.

What I like about them is that they are both mini-games that give me, as a player, something.

I think the L5R dueling is the better mini-game of the two. The stakes rise the longer the duel goes on and players have a fair amount of agency in deciding how things will turn out. (Do I spend Void now to assess my opponent's stats? Save it to increase my chances of focusing successfully, and thereby have more chance of getting the first shot in? Or use it to do more damage come the actual attack roll?) It gives good drama in return for the complexity. Also, genre appropriate drama: Two samurai in the misty dawn, standing a sword's length apart, staring at one another, waiting for the perfect moment to strike. Gold.

The 3.X turning sub-system gives comedy. It's one of those old, gonzo sort of game constructs, that I am generally against, in which random crap happens. (I have no idea why I like the gonzo style here but hate in most other places. I just do.)

Obviously not everyone will agree with me on these two sub-systems. But if they are modular sub-systems then most players don't need to worry about understanding them. And if I like them then I'm going to end up with a bit of system mastery over them and be able to get through the mechanics of it quickly, so I won't bore the other players too much.

When complexity gets in the way for me is when it's a part of the core mechanics. When you must engage with a complicated mechanic to be playing the game at all then I feel it is bad complexity. Exalted comes to mind here. (Of course what is complicated to one person is not necessarily complicated to another. But if a game wants wide appeal it has to consider a wide range of people and they should aim to simpler if they want broad appeal. Also, Exalted is very complicated.)

This is why I like HERO system. At it's core conflict is resolved with: Roll to hit, roll damage, subtract defenses from damage, apply result.

Want to punch someone? Roll to hit, roll damage, subtract defenses from damage, apply result.
Want to Mind Control someone? Roll to hit, roll damage, subtract defenses from damage, apply result.
Turn someone into a newt? Roll to hit, roll damage, subtract defenses from damage, apply result.
Drain their strength? Roll to hit, roll damage, subtract defenses from damage, apply result.
Grapple someone? Roll to hit. (Damage is optional.)

Of course there are distinct sub-systems for some things.
An attack that blinds the target, like a flash-bang, has the same basic method BUT you count the damage dice differently.
Killing attacks, that is, attacks in which you are using lethal weapons, also count the damage dice differently. (This seems odd until you remember the system came out of super heroes genre, where attacking to kill was the unusual choice.)
And famously, character design. If you're doing up a super hero, you better like character design. (The equivalent of a level 1 DnD character is actually pretty easy.)

But these are modular elements and can be ignored, or minimised in one's experience of the game.

D20 has, at its core, a very simple mechanic. Roll and add your bonus. (If it's an attack and you hit, roll damage.) Higherer is betterer. I mean, how good is that?

Yes, D20 has a lot more complexity that can be added. Character design isn't simple. The magic system isn't simple (and in many places just downright screwed up.) But again, these are modular sub-systems and can be avoided by players who want to avoid them.

So no, I don't think all complexity is bad. Hell, even Exalted is perfectly fine if that's what you want.

The real trick is getting your group to all agree on a given level of complexity that they want for their game. Now that's complicated.


I have just noticed (while writing up this post) that 4th ed L5R has simplified the duel mechanic. Gone are the rising stakes of each player focusing in turn, with increasing target numbers, waiting to see who will be the first to blink. <sad face> It's now a three turn, one roll per character per turn, thing. Much less drama, in my opinion. But it is simpler.
 

Samloyal23

Explorer
A real simple example of how a lack of complexity can be annoying. I was in a discussion on Facebook about a way to use ball bearings to add damage to a spell attack in a 5E D&D game. Someone had the allegedly bright idea of animating the ball bearings and said since they would do 1d4 + 4 hp of damage because they are size Tiny. I said that is ridiculous, a ball bearing is the size of a marble, less than an inch on a side, and would not meet the minimum size for Tiny. Come to find out, the smaller sizes like Delicate and Fine had been skipped in the new rules. Why? No idea. But now a rolling marble can do up to 8 hp of damage.
 

Sword of Spirit

Adventurer
The thought comes to me that what people mostly want is efficiency. The rules can be intricate and complex as long as they are giving you what you want to get out of them in an efficient manner. Which of course generally means that the more complex the rules are the more you need to be getting out of them.

Even simple rules are unsatisfying when they are inefficient at giving you what you want (including failing to do so altogether). As simple as the coin-flip game is, the reason most of us have no interest in it is that it manages to avoid efficiently giving us what we're looking for in a role-playing system.

This is kind of a conceptual breakthrough for me (though it's obvious in hindsight) and now I'm going to try to remember to periodically re-check my designs for efficiency.
 

pemerton

Legend
What are the rules of an RPG for? What function are they expected to perform, as far as the play of the game is concerned?

I think Vincent Baker's answer from 2003 is as good as any:

Roleplaying is negotiated imagination. In order for any thing to be true in game, all the participants in the game (players and GMs, if you've even got such things) have to understand and assent to it. When you're roleplaying, what you're doing is a) suggesting things that might be true in the game and then b) negotiating with the other participants to determine whether they're actually true or not. . . .

So look, you! Mechanics might model the stuff of the game world, that's another topic, but they don't exist to do so. They exist to ease and constrain real-world social negotiation between the players at the table. That's their sole and crucial function.​

Baker even gives a nice little illustration that flags possible degrees of complexity:

So you're sitting at the table and one player says, "[let's imagine that] an orc jumps out of the underbrush!"

What has to happen before the group agrees that, indeed, an orc jumps out of the underbrush?

1. Sometimes, not much at all. The right participant said it, at an appropriate moment, and everybody else just incorporates it smoothly into their imaginary picture of the situation. "An orc! Yikes! Battlestations!" This is how it usually is for participants with high ownership of whatever they're talking about: GMs describing the weather or the noncombat actions of NPCs, players saying what their characters are wearing or thinking.

2. Sometimes, a little bit more. "Really? An orc?" "Yeppers." "Huh, an orc. Well, okay." Sometimes the suggesting participant has to defend the suggestion: "Really, an orc this far into Elfland?" "Yeah, cuz this thing about her tribe..." "Okay, I guess that makes sense."

3. Sometimes, mechanics. "An orc? Only if you make your having-an-orc-show-up roll. Throw down!" "Rawk! 57!" "Dude, orc it is!" The thing to notice here is that the mechanics serve the exact same purpose as the explanation about this thing about her tribe in point 2, which is to establish your credibility wrt the orc in question.

4. And sometimes, lots of mechanics and negotiation. Debate the likelihood of a lone orc in the underbrush way out here, make a having-an-orc-show-up roll, a having-an-orc-hide-in-the-underbrush roll, a having-the-orc-jump-out roll, argue about the modifiers for each of the rolls, get into a philosophical thing about the rules' modeling of orc-jump-out likelihood... all to establish one little thing. Wave a stick in a game store and every game you knock of the shelves will have a combat system that works like this.​

How complex should the rules be? As complex as is needed to establish credibility, resolve the questions at issue, and perhaps do any desired modelling on the way through.
 

DMZ2112

Chaotic Looseleaf
The thought comes to me that what people mostly want is efficiency. The rules can be intricate and complex as long as they are giving you what you want to get out of them in an efficient manner. Which of course generally means that the more complex the rules are the more you need to be getting out of them.
And if you're looking for a great example, I think FFG's WH40KRP games are a wonderful place to start. I recently restarted a PbP game of Deathwatch, and everyone, myself included, was dreading relearning what seemed like a cyclopean wall of rules. But once we got started, we were all struck by how smoothly we slipped back into play.

When a system works, it works. I think there's a strong predisposition to mistrust when it comes to complex systems, because so many of them originate in an era when efficiency was an underappreciated feature of a game.

As for the original question, I blame shortened attention spans. That's not a generation gap thing -- I know my attention span has shortened in the last 20 years. Everything is easier now. If we have to work for something, we'd better really want it.
 

Saelorn

Adventurer
A real simple example of how a lack of complexity can be annoying. I was in a discussion on Facebook about a way to use ball bearings to add damage to a spell attack in a 5E D&D game. Someone had the allegedly bright idea of animating the ball bearings and said since they would do 1d4 + 4 hp of damage because they are size Tiny. I said that is ridiculous, a ball bearing is the size of a marble, less than an inch on a side, and would not meet the minimum size for Tiny. Come to find out, the smaller sizes like Delicate and Fine had been skipped in the new rules. Why? No idea. But now a rolling marble can do up to 8 hp of damage.
I'm pretty sure that's supposed to fall under DM discretion. The DM is expected to say that something much smaller than a house cat is too small to be animated with the stats of a Tiny object. Fifth Edition is intentionally written to support such rulings.

Codifying stats for things that should be irrelevant is one of the areas where 3E went overboard with its complexity.
 

ParanoydStyle

Peace Among Worlds
Okay, here's some real talk from a professional game developer and publisher. As I have a tendency to, I'm gonna speak directly to the OP.

Maybe I am wrong but I have the impression that for some time now (a decade at least) there has been an ever increasing dislike for complexity and calls for ever simpler "rules light" systems.
You aren't wrong, and it's closer to two decades.

D&D 5E is already much simpler than previous editions like 3E and 2E, yet people still look for even lighter systems up to a point that for large parts of the you are freeforming with no mechanics at all.
You are mischaracterizing "rules-lite" and "story games". Most of them have BAD mechanics. Others, like Fiasco, aren't RPGs at all (Fiasco is an "exquisite corpse" or "spanking yoda" game with dice, it shares more DNA with Apples to Apples than Dungeons & Dragons). To be clear, I'm not biased against this genre. My own Anathema is a storygame of Forge vintage. My own Dicepunk System is something I often advertise as rules-lite (although it's more like rules-medium, it IS substantially simpler than D&D 5E).

Have people grown up, gotten jobs and dont have time/interest to learn rules anymore?
Well, yes. So you already knew at least part of the answer to your own question, I see.

Do they feel rules are constricting or that the granularity complex rules add like characters being differently competent in different skills instead of having one modifier for everything doesn't add anything to the game?
No. Here's the truth: accessibility.

"The average tabletop roleplaying gamer has at least close to genius IQ."

If you were to create a graph tracking the truth of that statement, with a timeline from the 1970s until 2019, you would watch the truth plummet continuously. At the same time:

"Virtually no one plays roleplaying games."

If you were to graph the truth of that statement over the same timeline, it would do the same thing.

You see where I'm going with this? The gates are opening. You don't need to be a genius, or even smart, to play RPGs. This "dumbing down" outright frightens some people, even people who don't necessarily understand what it is they're frightened of, and it's very reasonable for them to be frightened. But it makes perfect sense from a marketing perspective. When you reduce the barrier to entry, younger and dumber people can play the game, you get more sales, and you grow the hobby. 5E Worked.

There is something I like to call "bounce rate", which is the percent chance someone will try their first RPG, decide it's not for them, and never play an RPG again. 5E has the lowest "bounce rate" of any edition of D&D ever. While other factors effect it, primarily GM skill (specifically spotlight management skill, also skill at creating a welcoming atmosphere), the most important thing to understand is that bounce rate is directly related to complexity. The people who make D&D want an edition of D&D that doesn't scare people away with too many rules.

BUT THAT IS NOT ALL

See, while I would hope we all want to grow the hobby, I personally don't have a financial stake in how many D&D books sell, and I prefer to play with very smart people. Right now, I am running D&D 5E because it's what everyone is playing but if I could get the same turnout for 3.5E I would do so in a heartbeat. In a sense I was just born a little too late, or maybe got into the hobby a little too late. It would have been awesome to be part of Living Greyhawk...but I digress.

So why do I care about rules not being too complex?

Speed of play.

As an example, here is a complexity problem that both D&D 3.5 had that D&D 5E has improved upon. In D&D 3.5 every single spell is a special snowflake which totally unique rules all of which are slightly different from every other. There is no consistency to them. And there are a TON of them. Many of them with their own tables. So even if you have the mental capacity to memorize the spells that are commonly used, how many spells can you really memorize that way? Not enough that you don't wind up flipping through the PHB multiple times per session. 5th Edition didn't fix this completely, but it did improve upon it. First off, the number of spells was reduced, while the ability to use higher level spell slots to amplify lower level effects (my favorite examples being sleep and magic missile, especially sleep) was introduced. Big improvement right there. Secondly, they added at least a degree of consistency. In 3.5 a spell might or might not require a ranged touch attack roll and/or allow for a save and/or care about spell resistance and/or have some orthogonal means of resolution. In 5th Edition, generally, offensive spells either call for a spell attack roll OR allow for a save. Very few spells fall into the "both", "neither", or "other" category. Spell resistance has been stripped down to certain monsters having advantage on saving throws which is simpler and more elegant. When spells do violate these "rules", they're usually well known cases, like again, sleep and magic missile. The former effects 5d8 hit points of monsters in the area, starting with the enemy with the lowest hit points. There is no roll to attack, and no save. Magic missile always hits, requiring no attack roll, and allowing for no save, but if there is anything virtually every D&D player from any edition knows about the rules of D&D, it's that that is how magic missile works and has always worked.

You can shed complexity without shedding granularity. I would argue that 5th has done very well at this.

So, speaking as someone who has done this (and pretty much nothing else) for a living/for a career since 2011...5E is objectively a better game than Pathfinder or 3.5E. But I personally would rather play 3.X than 5E because I know it and love it, even for all its many, many, many flaws.

Final consideration: the simpler a game is, the easier it is to balance.
 

Jonathan Tweet

Explorer
As RPGs become more normalized and popular, one would expect them to become less complex. There's a certain geeky personality type that has a high tolerance for weapon lengths, weapon speed factors, etc. The broader the appeal of the games, the more gamers there will be who don't put up with those sorts of rules. Some people love systems, and for them following detailed rules to achieve a simulation is its own reward. Most people don't feel that way.
 

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