Why the hate for complexity?

Celebrim

Legend
Necessary Complexity is good, I suppose, Needless Complexity, bad.
Yes, but that is just a truism. You might as well say good complexity is good and bad complexity is bad. You've just used fancy words to connotate 'good' and 'bad' in this context.

The question you should be asking is, "How much complexity do I want, and why?"

Back to the World's Simplest RPG. It's a complete system. However, some problems with the system are immediately forth coming, such as that the propositions, "I jump over a puddle.", "I jump over the Atlantic Ocean.", and I get up from my chair are equally likely to succeed. The results that we achieve using this system might be funny in their incongruity, but unless that is what we are going for we are likely to become dissatisfied with this system over time, and the longer we play it the more dissatisfied we might become. So, while the World's Simplest RPG is complete and universal and as rules light as it comes, there are still things missing from it that make it a good game.
 

dragoner

Dying in Chargen
Like many old RPG players, I also played war games, some could get terribly complex like Squad Leader, Anvil of Victory. That was cool, except around 10-15 years ago I noticed that a lot of the older war game crowd were signing off, and newer people just didn't care for the war game-y style of play. Rules light comes to rule if I have to be fairly encyclopedic about rules as GM, then the less the better, to reduce my burden as I devote time to prep.
 

Saelorn

Adventurer
Ok, I'll take a different tack. Rules Light inherently supports less granularity in the resolution. The proponents of Rules Light tended to mock the idea that you needed to have fine grained resolutions, and as a result tended to create games that do not as an element of the resolution process give you any degree of granularity or specificity. They are not merely looking for a simpler or more elegant way to achieve what used to be called realism, they are eschewing the need for complexity at all.
Is that what this thread is about? Is it not about those who criticize old games for their inelegant designs, but about those who criticize the need for granular results at all?

I guess I missed that.
 

Celebrim

Legend
Fine, then. What is your word that refers to the number of rule interactions and the amount of effort required to resolve something under a particular game system?
- emphasis added

Garbage in.

Is it just 'work'?
- emphasis added

Garbage out.

You continue to define things circularly.

The number of system interactions is not the same as the amount of effort required to resolve something. Cryptography is for example dependent on the speed of resolution of encoding and decoding a message once you know the rule is vastly smaller than the effort required to find the rule by analyzing the message. There is not a one to one relationship between complexity and work. Finding a large prime number is difficult. Proving it is a prime number once you find it is easy. Life is filled with asymmetries like that because reality is... complex.

Do you want me to say that complex systems aren't bad, but work is bad, and people don't like complex games because they're too much work?
No. What I want you to see is that complexity is not work, and that people can have reasons for not liking complex games that don't have anything to do with work.

What's wrong with saying 'complexity' then?
Because words have definitions and definitions are important.

The amount of effort required to resolve something is an incredibly important factor in discussing game design.
Agreed.

I mean, if you're discussing a machine that has a lot of moving parts which don't necessarily interact in obvious ways, then I wouldn't hesitate to call it a complex machine. How is an RPG any different?
Yes, it is a complex machine! But the work required to operate that machine doesn't necessarily correspond to complexity of it. For example, a Slot Machine.
 

MGibster

Adventurer
And there are people who like fine-tuning the engines of their cars, and who like arguing the minutiae of TV continuity, and who memorise stats of sports players, and who painstakingly build model railways, and who like the arduous process of computer coding. I can't imagine doing any of those things.
Or those strange people who like to discuss the minutia of details as they relate to games where they pretend to be elves with magical powers. ::looks nervously left and right::

GURPS is an example of a complex game that some people absolutely love precisely because of its complexity. The rules allow someone to create almost any type of game world they want and some people love being able to tinker with things at the macro and micro levels.

I used to love GURPS and I'd still use it but most of my players refuse to play it. To be fair they did give it a shot at least. For the most part I don't enjoy a lot of complexity in my games. I loved Battletech and Car Wars when I was younger but I'd never play them today. Of course I don't want something too simple because it won't work for me.
 

Celebrim

Legend
Is that what this thread is about? Is it not about those who criticize old games for their inelegant designs, but about those who criticize the need for granular results at all?

I guess I missed that.
Eureka! I mean, that's not all that this thread is about, but it is a necessary insight to fully understand the conversation.

So, suppose you had an RPG that came with a little box something like Alexa, and during combat if you declared an attack, the box would magically spit back a detailed summary of the results of your attack that paid attention to all the factors involved in the attack and produced a granular and cinematic result like:

"You slash the orc's sword hand, severing it at the wrist. The wrist lands in an adjacent square and the orcs scimitar clatters to the ground beside him. The orc howls in pain as blood splatters out of the wound.", and meanwhile during this narration, the orcs stats on the GM's worksheet were magically updated.

There was a time when this would have been considered unquestionably the greatest thing ever.

But some people started asking, "Why do you need to know whether the orc's sword hand got severed? Don't you really just want to know whether you one the fight with the orc or not? Why not just generate that as a result, and then leave it up to the game's participants to narrate that result in the way that they thought would make the best story? Having it specified what happened during the fight is actually getting in the way of the goal of RPing."
 
I

Immortal Sun

Guest
Complexity leads to characters builds.
Character builds leads to powergaming.
Powergaming is the path to the dark side.

At least that's usually the vibe I get from people.
 

Saelorn

Adventurer
You continue to define things circularly.
You're the one who brought 'work' into this conversation. I was perfectly happy with 'complexity'.

The number of system interactions is not the same as the amount of effort required to resolve something.
Not exactly, but they do both tend to scale with the number of steps involved with the resolution process. If swinging a sword means that I roll a die to hit, and then you roll a die to parry, and then the GM rolls a die for happenstance, and then you roll a die for divine intervention, and then I roll for damage, and then you roll for damage resistance; then that's a lot of system interactions, which require a lot of effort to resolve. Even if you don't want to call it complex, I would still call it complicated and convoluted.

What I want you to see is that complexity is not work, and that people can have reasons for not liking complex games that don't have anything to do with work.
Sure, anyone can dislike anything for any reason. There are plenty of reasons why someone might not like a game that takes twelve steps to resolve an attack. However, the amount of time and effort required is a big and obvious reason, and it's worth consideration.

Because words have definitions and definitions are important.
Agreed, but in the context of RPGs, I still don't see how the word in question fails to meet the definition being used. If it takes twelve steps to resolve an attack, then there are a lot of moving parts and interactions between the relevant variables, which should qualify it as complex under the agreed-upon definition.

I'm really getting tired of the semantics here, so let's just say that we agree on the basic points of this thread, even if we can't agree on the words to describe those points. I'm pretty sure that's accurate.
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
You're the one who brought 'work' into this conversation. I was perfectly happy with 'complexity'.

Not exactly, but they do both tend to scale with the number of steps involved with the resolution process. If swinging a sword means that I roll a die to hit, and then you roll a die to parry, and then the GM rolls a die for happenstance, and then you roll a die for divine intervention, and then I roll for damage, and then you roll for damage resistance; then that's a lot of system interactions, which require a lot of effort to resolve. Even if you don't want to call it complex, I would still call it complicated and convoluted.

Sure, anyone can dislike anything for any reason. There are plenty of reasons why someone might not like a game that takes twelve steps to resolve an attack. However, the amount of time and effort required is a big and obvious reason, and it's worth consideration.

Agreed, but in the context of RPGs, I still don't see how the word in question fails to meet the definition being used. If it takes twelve steps to resolve an attack, then there are a lot of moving parts and interactions between the relevant variables, which should qualify it as complex under the agreed-upon definition.

I'm really getting tired of the semantics here, so let's just say that we agree on the basic points of this thread, even if we can't agree on the words to describe those points. I'm pretty sure that's accurate.
There’s no game that takes twelve steps to resolve an attack. That’s as much an extremism as describing light games as just improv theatre. Sure, both ends at their absurd extremes cease to be useable roleplaying games. Pathfinder, the go-to example of a medium complex game, has two steps - roll to hit, roll for damage. For this conversation to even work, we have to use realistic examples of both.
 

Saelorn

Adventurer
Complexity leads to characters builds.
Character builds leads to powergaming.
Powergaming is the path to the dark side.

At least that's usually the vibe I get from people.
Particularly in the wake of 3E, and the reveal that they'd always known Toughness was a garbage feat which only existed so experienced players would feel smart by avoiding it, there's been a certain backlash against games that require significant degrees of system mastery in order to create an effective character. I don't know that anybody is really on-board with rule sets designed to trick new players into accidentally making ineffective characters, or which allow some players to completely dominate every aspect of gameplay just because they're good at math.
 

Celebrim

Legend
You're the one who brought 'work' into this conversation. I was perfectly happy with 'complexity'.
Also Saelorn said:
Complexity is a bad thing. It always has been, and it always will be. Complexity is the cost of playing. It is the amount of work you have to put in, before you get any results from the system.
At this point, it's clear that this isn't going anywhere.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Complexity is a good thing. Indeed, it's one of the best things, maybe the best things there is. If we tweaked the fundamental constants of the universe such that the universe was made of nothing but hydrogen atoms, it would contain the same amount of information but none of it would be complex.
Sorry, but you are incorrect here. It takes significantly *less* information to describe a universe that is all Hydrogen than our universe. I our universe, to describe things within it, we have to describe where it is, how it is moving, and what it is. In the all-hydrogen universe, we don't need to know what, as that is the same for all things, vastly reducing the amount of information within the universe.

And, here's an interesting thing to chew on - one of my possible thesis projects was in what we call origin of life calculations, which includes study of self-organizing systems. We considered the probability of a system going from just a disorganized collection of molecules (a condition of high entropy) to an organized collection of cells/organisms (a condition of much lower entropy).

If your system has too few different puzzle pieces to work with, you don't have enough variety, and there's nothing to organize around. If your system has too many puzzle pieces to work with, it never settles into organized patterns, as there are too many options. Life requires some complexity, but not too much. There need to be some limits on complexity for the system to be organized enough to be useful.

Make of that what you will.

I think I mentioned this in another thread recently, but it might be useful here, as well. Most folks use "complicated" and "complex" mostly interchangeably. There are times when narrowing the connotations can be useful.

We say a system is complicated, when it has a lot of different parts in action. We say a system is complex when the results of the action are difficult to describe or predict.

So, a mechanical wristwatch is complicated, but not complex. There are many parts, but their resultant overall action is easy to describe, and works very predictably.

But, we can take a much simpler system - three planetary bodies moving under their mutual gravitation (a "three body problem") is super-simple to describe the parts, but their resulting action is, in general, chaotic, difficult to describe or predict in the long run. It is not complicated, but it is complex. Or, the game of Go - the rules are not complicated, but the resulting play is very complex.

In this sense, we probably all want our games to be complex - the results are not easy to predict, there is unforeseen emergent details or behavior. But some people want this to come from complicated rules, and others probably want rules that are not as complicated.
 

DMMike

Game Masticator
I don't know that anybody is really on-board with rule sets designed to trick new players into accidentally making ineffective characters, or which allow some players to completely dominate every aspect of gameplay just because they're good at math.
Damn. Back to the drawing board...

So I wonder where this hate for complexity comes from? Was it always there? Have people grown up, gotten jobs and dont have time/interest to learn rules anymore?
This. Except people often have more than one job. And the competition, VRPGs, are usually rules-light by comparison, so a rules-medium TRPG seems to have a high barrier to entry.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Are you suggesting that some people might enjoy complexity, for its own sake?
Of course!

Some people like the game of Go - the rules of this game are not at all complicated.

Other people like Eurogames with 17 different resources to develop and track over the course of play...
 

MechaPilot

Explorer
Complexity is fine, as long as the complexity serves the purpose of enhancing the enjoyment of those playing the game (including the DM). When complexity is frustrating to implement or track, or when the effort it takes to implement the complexity provides little to no benefit to the gaming experience, then complexity becomes undesirable.
 
I

Immortal Sun

Guest
Particularly in the wake of 3E, and the reveal that they'd always known Toughness was a garbage feat which only existed so experienced players would feel smart by avoiding it, there's been a certain backlash against games that require significant degrees of system mastery in order to create an effective character. I don't know that anybody is really on-board with rule sets designed to trick new players into accidentally making ineffective characters, or which allow some players to completely dominate every aspect of gameplay just because they're good at math.
As a card-gamer, I think D&D has generally done a terrible job at creating good complexity. It is more often than not complex for the sake of being complex, not for presenting interesting options (even if some are superior to others) or creating interesting interactions. It's just, bloaty and complicated.

I doubt I could build a good character from scratch in D&D. But I know I could build a good MTG deck.
 

Celebrim

Legend
Sorry, but you are incorrect here. It takes significantly *less* information to describe a universe that is all Hydrogen than our universe. I our universe, to describe things within it, we have to describe where it is, how it is moving, and what it is. In the all-hydrogen universe, we don't need to know what, as that is the same for all things, vastly reducing the amount of information within the universe.
You sound like the expert in this, but it seems to me that I can describe all the what it is by simply identifying where all the constituents are. That is to say, in both universes I could simply say: proton, electron, proton, electron, etc. And as long as I labeled where all the parts where and where they were going (ignoring some known problems with that), I would still have a complete description. Indeed, does it take more or less information to describe 'bunch of protons and electrons' compared to 'U238'? Does the fact that things are frequently organized in a regular manner increase or decrease the information? (Seriously asking here, I don't know.)

I think I mentioned this in another thread recently, but it might be useful here, as well. Most folks use "complicated" and "complex" mostly interchangeably. There are times when narrowing the connotations can be useful.
I would say most times. I'll be happy to take correction over when my word choice is sloppy and ill-considered. I certainly wasn't thinking of this distinction until you brought it up clearly.

So, a mechanical wristwatch is complicated, but not complex. There are many parts, but their resultant overall action is easy to describe, and works very predictably.

But, we can take a much simpler system - three planetary bodies moving under their mutual gravitation (a "three body problem") is super-simple to describe the parts, but their resulting action is, in general, chaotic, difficult to describe or predict in the long run. It is not complicated, but it is complex.
I get where you are going with that, but I suspect that in reality the wrist watch is similar to a three body problem where the pieces are in a stable, regularized orbit - such as a solar system which has been orbiting a star for millions of years and so is likely to do so for millions of years to come. The constraints on the system make it seems as if both will necessarily run forever like, well like a clockwork, but in fact it is not true in either case. There are small deviations and changes happening that in the long run will make a very big difference. The watch is only easily described in the sense that it is meant to model something and we can easily describe the thing that it models.

In this sense, we probably all want our games to be complex - the results are not easy to predict, there is unforeseen emergent details or behavior. But some people want this to come from complicated rules, and others probably want rules that are not as complicated.
I'm not sure that he complicated nature of the rules is for most humans the real problem. Humans are pretty well adapted to complications. What seems to draw complaints is the computational burden of the rules. After all, we could in theory describe a simulation of the whole world in terms of a few 'simple' equations, but the computational burden of figuring out what happens by applying those simple rules in that simulation would be daunting. Gamers, as with engineers, make a model that reduces the computational burden down to something approachable, where the realism of the model is 'good enough'.
 

Celebrim

Legend
As a card-gamer, I think D&D has generally done a terrible job at creating good complexity. It is more often than not complex for the sake of being complex, not for presenting interesting options (even if some are superior to others) or creating interesting interactions. It's just, bloaty and complicated.

I doubt I could build a good character from scratch in D&D. But I know I could build a good MTG deck.
I think one of the things that the 4e designers were trying to do was make the complexity do a better job of making interesting choices at all times, at least within what they considered the core gameplay of D&D, which was the skirmish combat. Some people really enjoyed it. Some people didn't.

I agree though that D&D rules sets tend to be bloaty and complicated. For example, over time editions of D&D tend to accumulate far more spells than they really need, simply because on one level it is easy to write spells and then you have some content to put into the next splatbook you are selling.

PS: I really hate what MtG has become.
 
I

Immortal Sun

Guest
I think one of the things that the 4e designers were trying to do was make the complexity do a better job of making interesting choices at all times, at least within what they considered the core gameplay of D&D, which was the skirmish combat. Some people really enjoyed it. Some people didn't.
I felt like it did a good job of remaining complex, but also having fewer false choices. Particularly among "casters". As you reference spells below, there are a lot of them in vancian systems that are just...pointless. Noone takes them, and even people with no system mastery know they're bad.

I agree though that D&D rules sets tend to be bloaty and complicated. For example, over time editions of D&D tend to accumulate far more spells than they really need, simply because on one level it is easy to write spells and then you have some content to put into the next splatbook you are selling.
Without more regular smaller editions or the ability to update existing material like a digital game would, this is unfortunately bound to happen. The only other alternative is to create a very strict spell-creation algorithim and force all spells to be made according to it. It would probably result in a lot of "samey" feeling spells though.

PS: I really hate what MtG has become.
In what way?
 

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