Sunday, October 14, 2012

How Simple Do You Like the Rules When You GM?

Crap! I used to have this!
As a player I had a blast playing Dark Heresy, but I sincerely doubt I could even attempt to run it or any of the Warhammer 40k line - I knew enough to play my little corner of the game universe and that was all.

Now when I start looking at the game I own and would like to run, I realize that my tolerance for complexity isn't what it was during my High School and College years. Learning the ins and outs of a new system, even one relatively similar to what I already know, is beyond my available time and interest. Work, family, gaming, reading and other responsibilities and interests chip away at that thing called "time". It a limited and precious resource.

For me, the highest amount of complexity I'd be looking for these days is LL AEC or S&W Complete or Blood & Treasure. I've been running ACKS for a few months now, but I've been running it by defaulting to my AD&D knowledge (which is in and of itself inherently faulty after the passage of time) when possible to avoid looking up rules. I've run 3 sessions of Avarice and Ambition with extremely minimal rules stoppage, but that's probably due to the fact that the game designer is in my gaming group, and I ask him the rules questions on the occasions that they pop up ;)

Nothing kills the momentum of a gaming session like pausing to look up rules. That was the great thing about the DM Shields / Screens back in the day - not so much to keep the players from seeing your notes, but to lower the incidence of game stoppage due to rules lookup.

My lowest complexity level for gaming on a regular basis? Probably S&W White Box. Yeah, these are all D&D variations, but it's where I am grounded and the types of games I can play with minimal rules interuptus. I'm sure there are viable rules that are as simple or simpler that S&W WB, but that would require be to rebuild a base of knowledge. That being said, I'm all ears to new games and rules that might fit the bill.

Just understand that Savage Worlds appears to my eyes to be needlessly complex and impossible for me to run as a GM, but it's seen that way by me because of the direction I am coming to it from. I've heard it's a simple game, and even played a session on Fantasy Grounds a few years back and I had fun, but I have no confidence in learning the rules to the point I'd be comfortable running a game. When it comes to running an RPG, if you aren't working from your comfort zone, it's already starting out rough for you and your players ;)


  1. Savage Worlds is about the only non-D&D derived game I'd consider running these days. My mood may change, but I find that I'm just not that into complexity/granularity anymore.

  2. When I am just doing pick up games I like the rules to be simple as possible. I want to play and not look up a bunch of stuff. But for our Monday night game we play GURPS. While GURPS is heavy with rules our group has grown with it through all its editions and know it well. So while it is rule heavy we know it well enough to keep gameplay moving without too many rule checks.

  3. I guess it depends on my mood, and whether I'm running the game or playing in it. To me the flow of gaming is more important than anything else. If the rules are too complex and game play grinds down to the pace of a tortoise, then that's never good.

    Of course if you're running a game it also depends on your players. Some want to know all the rules, and some just want to play, and don't worry about Rule x,y, or z. They just want to state their action, and get the result, success, failure, or other. Most players just want consistency, at least that's what I've found.

  4. Oh I forgot to ask, who makes that terrain in the photo? It's awesome.

  5. I also have no interest in running rules-complex games these days. Basic D&D is perfect for me.

    As a DM I want to focus my time on 1. settings and adventures, 2. extras like new monsters, spells or magic items.

    I've also noticed that I actually have no interest in learning new game systems. I dream about running all sorts of campaigns in the future (everything from prehistoric to sci-fi), but would always run them using a tweaked Basic D&D rules set, just because that's what I know and am comfortable with.

    Re: Savage Worlds, I ran it for a while. I found it way too fiddly in the end, rules wise. Once you've got the basic idea of how all the sub-systems work it seems pretty simple at first, but after playing it for a while I found that there's really a lot of very complex interaction between the different sub-systems. It led to lots of discussions at the table about how edge X interacts with edge Y in situation Z, sometimes followed up by searching the SW forums for "official answers". Not much fun.

  6. ps. I don't mean that one *has* to play SW that way, that was my experience with it though.

  7. For me, it is Basic D&D (or its derivatives / clones / simulacra) over AD&D, and it is OpenQuest rather than RuneQuest.

    Sometimes I want rules for more things, but I want the simplest, most elegant variation of those rules.

    I've got a couple of the WH40k RPGs, and they just seem so needlessly complex. I'd probably just try to transplant the general theme into X-Plorers, Stars Without Number, or even Traveller.

  8. I don't know if it has anything to do with my age (44) or my being too busy to spend too much time on preparing monsters' & NPCs' stats, but I'm all in favour of ultra-simple rules these days. Even T&T, which was my system of choice until recently, has become too clunky. Can you imagine that...

  9. You're right, Dark Heresy can be a bitch to run. I finally made a reference notebook by putting in all of the tables I use routinely (printed from PDF). It helped a bit. I also got to the point where my own adventure writing included reference materials to have close to hand (e.g., NPC stats with all talents and traits defined). After several years I still haven't learned all the rules by heart, for sure, but it's a lot better now than when I started.

    This is part of the reason I'm looking forward to something a bit easier.

  10. Well, my favorite rules engine is D&D 3.5/Pathfinder, but I'll be running Swords & Wizardry for the next campaign. Of course, I've added a lot to the S&W chassey that increases its complexity to nearly AD&D 1E/2E levels. It's about the bottom for me, as far as rules-lightness. I love the tinkering that 3.5 affords, and by extension, 3.PF. It is a rules-tinker's dream come true. Plus, I love to have a ridiculous amount of character options available, and there's nothing like 3.X for that. I find 3.X to be as complicated as something like Rolemaster, but perhaps a bit more intuitive.

  11. Because I cam at Savage Worlds through the original Deadlands, it sees a very simple system to me, but as you say, it's all about which direction you come from. I don't think there are many games that would stop me running them due to their complexity, but with a few exceptions, I'm happier running a game that I've played in, so I have a basic understanding going in, and can also see what house rules people have used and how it can speed up game play.

  12. The answer definitely depends on one's life situation. Like many of us in the gaming blogosphere, I'm an older gentleman with a full load of life-duties to perform. Therefore, I need the rules to be simple these days if I am running a game. I've been running Castles & Crusades that that works fine, but lately I feel like that system is even too detailed for me.

    I think I'm feeling this way because I'm really determined to know a system inside and out. I'm leaning more and more toward Basic D&D for that reason. I've posted recently about my desire to "master" a system: http://unto-the-breach.blogspot.com/2012/10/the-system-mastery-grail.html

    Basic D&D would be the only system I could maintain in my aging brain to my level of GMing satisfaction. It's a frustrating thing to learn about oneself but it's also liberating to admit that you just don't have the time or energy anymore to run more complex systems.

  13. As a player, I love Pathfinder. As a DM, I like older versions of D&D.

    Like many have said, work/wife/house/commute/40s/etc. have drastically decreased my ability and desire to run more complex systems.

    I dig that Dwarven Forge piece. What set is it from?

  14. wish i knew what set it came from - grabbed it at a yard sale in not so great shape and can't find it now

  15. @Erik:

    The tiles below the bridge/chasm are from one of the cavern sets. The bridge/chasm tile was sold as a sparate gimmick to these sets and was not part of any set as far as i know

  16. @beastman - now i really need to figure out where it is - about the only gaming piece i've found yard sale - might be at my folks place in the poconos - it was the only piece, and the walkway was broken amongst other damage - but for a buck it was worth it

  17. cut my teeth on D&D B/X and AD&D many years ago, now I find them a little too complex. I too hate having to stop and look things up. As Einstein famously said, "Things should be as simple as possible, but no simpler."
    I had a look at Microlite20, I think they had the right idea, but I don't like how some of the things were implemented, like using up hit points to power spells. It's as close to ideal as I've found in terms of simplicity, but I've gone and built a separate D&D lite system based loosely on the D&D Basic boxed set. I'm working on a final version and I'll have a downloadable PDF available soon for it. It's mostly explained in detail in my blog, for whoever might be interested.


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