Why the hate for complexity?

pemerton

Legend
[MENTION=907]Staffan[/MENTION]'s post made me think about Rolemaster:

1. Declare attack/defence split.
2. Declare target.
3. Roll d100.
4. Add attack portion of the split declared at 1.
5. Subtract target defence.
6. Cross reference on chart to determine hits taken and crit delivered.
7. Roll crit.
8. Cross reference on chart to determine consequence of crit.
9. Determine total hits delivered (from 6 and 8).
10. Apply hits taken and other crit effects to target.

This can get to twelve steps if more than one crit table has to be consulted (which can happen with some RM attack forms).
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
[MENTION=907]Staffan[/MENTION]'s post made me think about Rolemaster:

1. Declare attack/defence split.
2. Declare target.
3. Roll d100.
4. Add attack portion of the split declared at 1.
5. Subtract target defence.
6. Cross reference on chart to determine hits taken and crit delivered.
7. Roll crit.
8. Cross reference on chart to determine consequence of crit.
9. Determine total hits delivered (from 6 and 8).
10. Apply hits taken and other crit effects to target.

This can get to twelve steps if more than one crit table has to be consulted (which can happen with some RM attack forms).
You're kinda creating micro steps out of single steps though. For D&D I could say:

1. Declare target.
2. Pick up a d20.
3. Look up the monster's armor class.
4. Roll the d20.
5. Add your attack bonus.
6. Compare the total to the monster's armor class.
7. Determine whether it was a critical hit.
8. Look up your damage roll.
9. Roll damage.
10. Double the dice rolls if it was a critical.
11. Compare damage to monster's resistances.
12. Halve damage if the monster is resistant.
13. Deduct damage from the monster's hit points.

I mean, yeah, I agree that Rolemaster is much more complex than D&D 5E, but you can also stretch out any process into as many steps as you want to.
 

pemerton

Legend
You're kinda creating micro steps out of single steps though.

<snip>

I mean, yeah, I agree that Rolemaster is much more complex than D&D 5E, but you can also stretch out any process into as many steps as you want to.
I've played a lot of Rolemaster - regular (weekly or fortnightly) sessions from 1990 to 2008. I think my identification of the steps is pretty reasonable.

For 4e D&D - which I've also played quite a bit of - I would say:

1. Choose attack
2. Declare target
3. Roll d20
4. Add attack bonus
5. Comare result to target's defence
6. Roll damage
7. Apply damage and any other effect

That makes 4e less complex than RM, and to me that seems right. Choosing a power to use in 4e is comparable to declaring the RM OB/DB split - it sets your tactical orientation for the round; comparing to defence is comparable to subtracting deffence in RM (though mathematically easier); and rolling damage is comparable to rolling a crit.

But in 4e there are no table look-ups, which are a significant part of RM attack resolution; and there is no need to combine the first lot of hits with the hits from the crit, which is a real thing.
 
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3catcircus

Explorer
One thing that doesn’t come up much is that simulationism isn’t always complex.
I would argue that part of what drives perceived complexity is how well the editing was done. Twilight:2013 is a great set of rules with not-good editing. Mythus was a set of rules hampered by purposely adding complexity in the language used and artificially upping the complexity (such as adding unnecessary granularity to each of the attributes) - Mythus Prime is actually an ok rules set.
 

GrahamWills

Adventurer
For 4e D&D - which I've also played quite a bit of - I would say:

1. Choose attack
2. Declare target
3. Roll d20
4. Add attack bonus
5. Comare result to target's defence
6. Roll damage
7. Apply damage and any other effect

That makes 4e less complex than RM, and to me that seems right
Hmm. I've run 100s of sessions of both RM and 4E, and my impression is the reverse; For both examples I'll assume a "good" sport of hit -- one that causes a critical or triggers an effect


Rolemaster
0. Declare action (who you attack and how/what attack)
1. Declare attack/defence split.
2. Roll d100.
3. Apply modifiers (attack split, defense, situational)
4. Cross reference on chart to determine hits taken and crit delivered.
5. Roll crit.
6. Cross reference on chart to determine consequence of crit.
7. Apply total hits taken and other crit effects to target.

D&D 4E
0. Declare action (who you attack and how/what power)
1. Roll d20.
2. Apply modifiers (attack bonus, situational) and compare to defense
3. Work out how many damage dice to roll based on d20 roll and other situational modifiers
4. Roll damage dice
5. Work out modifications to the damage based usually on situational modifiers
6. Apply hit/miss/effects for the power
7. Resolve reactions
8. Apply total hits taken and other effects to target


Not only are there more steps, but the details for the 4E ones are trickier (dare I say "more complex"?)
Looking at my current 4E character, here is a completely standard attack sequence:

0. "I attack the stone giant with OPENING MOVE"
1. Roll 19
2. +22 attack, +2 for combat advantage, +2 because the warlord gave me a bonus -- I hit
3a. Since I am using my longsword I will roll a base of 2d8 (referring to both power and weapon information)
3b. I have combat advantage, so I will add 3d8 sneak attack dice
3c. Critical? I did not roll a critical (refer to weapon, which only crits on a 20, unlike my jagged longsword) so no modifications there
4. Roll 5d8 for a total of 26 hits
5a. Standard modifier is +12 (different for each combination of power and weapon -- some attacks are dex based, others charisma)
5b. My goblin totem weapon applies, adding +3 to the damage
5c. As a multi classed fighter, choose whether I want to apply my once per encounter damage bonus
6. Apply the OPENING MOVE effect of a power bonus to my AC and reflex for one turn
7. Anything could happen now, if I'd used a ranged attack, typically the ranger might take an attack right now
8. Target only takes hits damage from this power.

My experience is that RM is significantly easier -- conditional stuff usually applies just to the the attack roll, not to damage calculations, not to extra effects, and so on. The lack of reactions is also huge.

This is not a knock on 4E -- I love playing it, but it is because I enjoy the complexity! It's a feature!
 

pemerton

Legend
[MENTION=75787]GrahamWills[/MENTION], that's interesting - you're right that I left out reactions, although those can come up in RM too (Bladeturn being a popular one in our games). But I do find 4e quicker/less complex than RM.
 

Johnny3D3D

Adventurer
I don't believe that being "rules light" necessarily translates into being less complex.

Sometimes loosely vague and ambiguous rules can complicate things in actual play.

On addition, I believe that some games have a reputation for being complex/easy which isn't entirely accurate. For example, it's an unpopular opinion, but I personally find certain editions of D&D to be far more complicated than GURPS. While the latter (arguably) has more rules, the application of those rules is relatively coherent and intuitive. For D&D, that's not always the case; in some editions, understanding how one part of the game works doesn't at all correlate into even having a rough idea of how something else works. The plethora of feats, different abilities, spells, and various other things is (imo) sometimes far more complicated than keeping track of active defenses.
 

pemerton

Legend
I don't believe that being "rules light" necessarily translates into being less complex.

Sometimes loosely vague and ambiguous rules can complicate things in actual play.
I would say it depends very much on the details of the rules in question.

If rules light means a sub-system type game but with subsystems for only a few sorts of actions, yet the game contemplates activity encompassing other actions, then the issue you raise will arise. Likewise if the sub-systems and/or their scope are poorly defined.

Trying to use Moldvay Basic to play a game with the fictional scope of Dragonlance, for instance, won't be free of mechanical/adjudicative complexity. Using Prince Valiant to play that game, however, will be.
 

Derren

Adventurer
My experience is that RM is significantly easier -- conditional stuff usually applies just to the the attack roll, not to damage calculations, not to extra effects, and so on. The lack of reactions is also huge.
Which hits up a good point. There are several types of complexity which should not be simply mixed and compared with each other.

Some systems have a lot of one-time frontloaded complexity. Complex rules spread over several sub systems for example. But once you learn them, navigating them is easy and the game moves surprisingly fast for the amount of rules there are.
On the other side you have dynamic complexity. This kind of complexity might not look like much when reading or learning the rules, but for example once you are playing you are bombarded with so many temporary and situational modifiers so that even if you know all the rules you have to still stop and calculate all the stuff that applies in the current situation (or wing it when the outcome is obvious).
 
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Majoru Oakheart

Adventurer
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.
I think if you factor in a lot of the optional steps then there are plenty. The problem is that complexity doesn't always translate to complication. It always has that potential, however.

For instance, my experience playing 3.5e was that the complexity(or the sheer number of options, if you'd prefer) always slowed down the game because it had the potential to exist at the table even when no one took those options.

You could reduce an attack roll in the game down to 1) Roll to hit and 2) Roll for damage. But within those steps there are many substeps. Those substeps all take time so they really need to be factored in. Even when the substeps don't apply during this particular attack, they still need to be checked to see if they resolve.

For instance:

Pre 1) Declare who you are attacking
Pre 1a) Can you see them?
Pre 1a1) If you can't see them, do you have a magical effect that allows you to see them?
Pre 1a2) If you have a magical effect that allows you to see them do they have a magical effect that counters that?
...
1) You attack them
1a) Do you have any bonuses or penalties on your attack roll from yourself?
1b) Do you have any bonuses or penalties from allies?
1c) Do you have any bonuses or penalties from enemies?
1d) Do you have any bonuses or penalties from the environment?
...

This goes on and on. If a particular substep happens rarely enough, you can mostly ignore it. But when it happens a reasonable number of times, you have to think about it each time.

Practically, this manifests itself as players constantly double checking rules because they can never be sure if the particular step was accidentally missed or it was missed on purpose. One of the most common ones used to be Attacks of Opportunity in 3.5e. Every time someone would do something that provoked one there was a constant barrage of players reminding the DM of all the things that could or might happen:

P1: "He left that square, doesn't he provoke?"
P2: "He might not provoke if he has X ability, that would let him move without provoking."
P1: "Unless I happen to have Y ability which would mean I still get an AOO"
P3: "Right, but then he could do Z to bypass that ability."
DM: "DO you have Y ability?"
P1: "No. But I might have and you never checked."
DM: "It didn't really matter, because as P3 said, he has Z ability which lets him bypass Y. That's why I didn't ask."

That situation could have been resolved very quickly: Monster just moves. However, in practice it took ages because of the number of options in the game.
 

Flexor the Mighty!

18/100 Strength!
3.x was pretty concise in theory but in play as levels rose it became a mess of shifting mods to track. The game rapidly became a chore to run as it was really built with the idea that players were buffed to the max and loaded with gear so they usually were.
 

the Jester

Legend
This is an interesting topic for me. I like a certain amount of complexity on a personal level, but I have a good head for math and can keep a bunch of complex parts in my head. Not lal players are like that. I have several people in my group who are really bad at math, several who tend to forget their character's abilities, etc. So even if I might enjoy some fiddly bits in the game- for instance, I really miss the old "+1 to hit for higher ground" modifier- not everyone else can keep all that fiddly stuff in mind. For a lot of players, the added complexity is added not-fun mental load.

I think a lot of games, in the 3e era, tried for a simulationist approach, with rules describing every case that the pcs might be expected to face in the game. The low-complexity movement arose (I think) largely in response to this. I wouldn't be surprised to see a new wave of high-complexity games arising in the future; this back and forth might be one of those things that is periodic, like the swing of a pendulum.

As with many elements of playstyle preference, I think that 'complex vs. simple ruleset' is a continuum that players move through. Nobody always wants to play the same type of game, and the choice isn't between a simple game and a complex game; some games are far simpler than others, even if both might be considered to be on the simple or complex end of the spectrum. For instance, GURPS is more complex than 3e, which is more complex than 5e, which is more complex than Top Secret, which is more complex than Amber Diceless. Two players who like complex games might still have different preferences as to just how complex they want it.

But I think the basic answer to the OP is, "Right now the pendulum is swung toward simple games".

I'm pretty sure it will swing back.
 

Flexor the Mighty!

18/100 Strength!
Part of me would love to run a Hackmaster 5e game. But I know my group would collapse under its complexity. We will see how Mutant Crawl Classics goes when I get a chance.
 

Sword of Spirit

Adventurer
Once a renewed interest in RPG theory arises, maybe rules systems that are highly complex but highly elegant will become more of a thing. Some people think RPG design is mature. I completely disagree. It is probably a bit out of its infancy, but still in early childhood.
 

5ekyu

Adventurer
First, to me, it's kinda key to separate the "feel" from forums, sales and play. To me those three often are very different things.

Played lotsa high complex and medium and light etc.

Complexity at chargen *can* serve to make more problematic bringing in new players. A steep start-up effort is a hurdle.

Complexity in play can make keeping those new players more difficult.

None of those will really impact "the gang" who has been running ABC since "the old days when it used Roman numerals".

But, in this modern age of online gaming and FLGS Adventure League tables being much more common than the old days where that was more "convention things", I think being able to quickly get up and running with new players or unfamiliar players has grown in value as far as "appeal" to the market goes.

Also, in my experience, complexity is decided at the table level more than at system level. Ye olde "binder of house rules" has added complexity to many light systems and ye olde "rule, roll and move on" has streamlined many rules complex systems as well.
 

Zhaleskra

Explorer
I'm not a fan of the idea of RPG theory at all. From what the Forge did, I am of the opinion that it did way more harm to RPGs than help.
 

dragoner

Dying in Chargen
There are still complex games, and people love them, I saw people taking multiple milk crates of Pathfinder books into a local gaming cafe not too long ago. I usually take my messenger bag w/ rules book, portfolio, fire, and some dice; and it's not full.
 
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? 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?
Quick thought...

A lot of people who like complexity actually like their own complexity. Almost everyone I know who is a fan of high-complexity games uses house rules in RPG because they are unsatisfied by how things are designed by the authors. I might be wrong, but I have developed the feeling that their true motive is simply wanting to be in charge, and perhaps even wanting to believe they are better than professional designers. It might be just a casual correlation of two different things, but at least it's something I've noticed first-hand in gamers I know. And I am also partially guilty of this myself!

The opposite trend of wanting low-complexity games exists for a variety of reasons, but I cannot exclude that in part is also a reaction to those in the hobby who have the profile above. I'd say however that the main motivation for wanting low-complexity games is simply because higher complexity requires a bigger effort (especially for DMs) but doesn't necessarily improve the game for everyone. Maybe it's the simple fact that the relative amount of gamers who aren't willing to invest too much time to learn the rules or "master" character design, and those who can only afford casual gaming once in a while (and therefore want to quickly get into the game with little preparation) has grown a lot.

However, in theory a low-complexity game can be better for everyone. Those who want low-complexity already have it, and those who want high-complexity are free to add their own rules and designs. If you start with a high-complexity game, it is more difficult to both, for the first to tone it down and for the second to accept what is already provided by the designers, or change it without causing unwanted consequences.
 

Saelorn

Adventurer
A lot of people who like complexity actually like their own complexity. Almost everyone I know who is a fan of high-complexity games uses house rules in RPG because they are unsatisfied by how things are designed by the authors. I might be wrong, but I have developed the feeling that their true motive is simply wanting to be in charge, and perhaps even wanting to believe they are better than professional designers. It might be just a casual correlation of two different things, but at least it's something I've noticed first-hand in gamers I know. And I am also partially guilty of this myself!
I think it's less about wanting to be in charge, and more about having a strong vision for what they want from a game. One of the benefits of a complex game is that they can give you a lot more detail about the outcome of an action, but unless you have the exact same vision as the game designer, you probably don't want those specific details.

I can say with absolute certainty that any halfway-competent amateur is better than a professional designer, at delivering the specific content that the amateur is looking for. The amateur knows exactly what they want, and all of the complexity in the game can be used to further that goal. The professional isn't even necessarily looking at the amateur as their target audience.
 

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