Friday, August 1, 2014

Rules - Then and Now - A Personal Perspective

+Vincent Florio was kind enough to plant this seed in my head earlier this morning and I find it beginning to take root.'

I was brought into the world or RPGs with AD&D 1e, so I was brought in with a fairly structured and rules heavy set of rules. We were high on the words of Gygax, so little meddling was done (although we ignored that which we did not fully understand - weapon speed was the first to go - we just used to it resolve ties with initiative). The only class we used that was "unofficial" was the Bard from Dragon #56. Unearthed Arcana was an offering to us from the Gygax himself - more official rules which meant more complications and contradictions, but we didn't care. More rules was more better.

Heck, we absorbed new rules like a sponge. Runequest 3, with it's three different types of magic? Throw it at us. Rolemaster with charts and modifiers like no one else? Easy peasy. Getting killed during character generation in Traveller? Par for the course.

Somewhere, somehow, as I got older I found myself desiring less complications. Easier rules.

I've compared this in the past to how a younger person generally has an easier time learning new languages, but I think there is more to it that that.

I just want to have fun playing, not learning. Learning new rules is no longer fun for me. Shit, it's damn near annoying.

When I was younger, we had no problem taking 20 minutes right in the middle of combat to figure out the exact modifiers for a laster carbine fired downhill at a target 55 meters away on full auto at a small creature lying prone behind concealment (no cover) that is attempting to put down suppression fire himself. Oh, and it's twilight.

Today? I'd just wing it.

The game is more important than the rules for me these days, which is why I find myself wrapped in the comforting arms of the OSR for any genre I want to play. I can make fair rulings without referring to the rules.

Which isn't to say there are no rules or there should be no rules. It just means I find that there is a point of severely diminishing returns, where more rules slow things down and detract from the gameplay.

Alright, need to love on the Ashley Cat before returning to puppy duties.

More thoughts on this later.


  1. This is why I run a custom OSR-flavored Ars Magica/Roll For Shoes crossover. AM is fun, but a rules engine that fits on the player's 3-page character/inventory/magic reference sheet is easier to digest and still just as fun.

    Every time a new rules subsystem is introduced, you get more complexity to track and forget. Better to just make/use rules subsystems for the things that make the game unique. All of the mechanics in the system I'm running point the game in the direction of the Crapsack World / Arthurian Legend / Being Good Is Hard tropes that I wanted in the first place.

  2. The overcomplex rules come from the wargame dna in D&D and serve unfortunately to scare folks away from RPG in general. I mean look at the Pathfinder rulebooks, dozens of monstrous books. Who has time or money to invest if you didnt already sort of know rpgs already.

  3. The play is the thing. Rules that aid play are good. Rules that slow play are less good.

  4. ...and yet there are people who love the ultra intricate, ultra complex rules system. You even mentioned how you loved the crunchy systems at one point. Right now I myself am veering toward the "lite" system, something where the system is in the background...and yet I am still running Shadowrun 3E with ALL the books, a very min/max crunchy system.

    While right now I prefer a lite system, sometimes a rules lite system can get "stale". We know the system too well. Sometimes we're looking for something to shake things up and we go looking at a crunchy system, something with lots of options.

    Personally, I think both have their places...at the right time.

  5. Every now and then I get really keen on rules-crunchy systems. I keep Hero 6th edition around for those moments. It usually takes a few hours tinkering with Hero to burn me out on the idea entirely. Still....my idea of rules lite is still a lot "heavier" in the rules department than most....Savage Worlds is about as rules light as I am comfortable with.

  6. Yeah, I started in wargaming before being introduced to RPGs (thanks, Gib!), so I was all about the crunch. Now I find that I often don't have time to really learn all the rules and so just wing a lot of it--and it doesn't interfere with the fun at all.

  7. It's good that there's options for every desired type of RPG, light and heavy. Realistically, major published RPG's are going to have plenty of rules and options. You can do a light version of D&D without big, expensive books, but they'd feel unprofessional since they'd require house rules to adjudicate and your own imagination to make up character options. Also, it'd be hard to sell and since anybody RPG experience could just make up their own light rules game.

  8. I'm pretty much where you're at. 15-20 years ago, when I was running 2e AD&D, I thought nothing of pausing the game for several minutes while I looked up a particular rule. Now, I'm running B/X D&D precisely so I don't have to do that sort of thing.

  9. More and more I'm coming around to the view that modern, professional RPGs are over designed for no other reason than to sell more game to players than they actually need.

    I can understand why: they want to make a living at it, and selling a couple thousand rules pamphlets at $10 a pop won't keep the lights on for long, but a 400 page core rulebook for $50, to say nothing of the endless expansion books, will pay your bills long enough for you to release the next edition and start the cycle all over again.

    But that's just my take on it. :)



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