Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Issues With Rules Complexity

Sometimes you have a feeling about something in your head that you know you want to post about but it just hasn't quite coalesced yet.

Sometimes while that is happening you wander down an internet rabbit hole and end up running across a post by someone else that expresses exactly what that feeling is about.

Sometimes it's to the point that trying to express the same feeling would feel like you were stealing their work, because it would be so similar.

So I'll just do it openly:

This is a post from 2014 by someone named Robot, or Grant, or possibly both and while it is specifically about one game it expresses my feelings about a lot of games nowadays.

Looks like it is "Grant". Good. Don't know him, never met him, just ran across the post this week.

It struck such a nerve with some people that it's still attracting comments as recently as this month Not from me of course - I'm just going to link to it.

A few observational points

  • I can't understand why more game publishers don't look at the playability of their game. Not "is the math right" or "have I faithfully included ways to make every conceivable character from prior editions of this game" but "how much page flipping are people doing during play" and "how long does it take to resolve combat? to infiltrate an enemy outpost? to create a magic item? to make a character?" - things people might want to do who aren't sitting in the same room having it explained to them by the designer.

    Shadowrun at one point was a fairly intuitive game to grasp: roll your stat/skill rating in dice to meet or beat the other guy's opposing stat/skill. That was it! the core of the whole game! But  layer after layer has been piled on, typically in the name of "realism" - in a game with magic and fictional technology - to the point that it's just not that simple anymore. 
  • Older games still have trouble integrating a lot of newer style ideas, even when it would make them obviously better. That "Dead Man's Trigger" example is a perfect illustration of this. The basic idea is very new school and would make Shadowrun a better game . Then there are a bunch of mechanical conditions the player has to jump through to use it. Why? Is there a balance concern here? What is the problem that those 3 extra rules solve?
  • I don't get the commenters who keep equating 4E D&D with "easy" and SR5 in a "complexity" level with Rifts. Rifts! There are typically two types of "complexity" when it comes to games: 
    • Games where the systems are complicated and involved. Shadowrun is in this bucket.
    • Games where the core mechanics are simple but there's just a lot of stuff to sort through. This is Rifts. It's not a difficult game to understand mechanically - there's just 100+ books of options that you could pull from for a game. 
Anyway, there's an "easy way out" post for Tuesday!


Kelvin Green said...

I was reading that exact same article a couple of weeks ago, also as a result of a bit of a down-the-rabbit-hole moment; I was reading about the new rules-light version of Shadowrun and one thing led to another.

I'm in complete agreement with you. I can appreciate a set of crunchy rules but sometimes designers do seem to forget how to make the whole thing playable; I have never played any edition of Shadowrun with all the rules, and I'd be astounded if even the designers do. And if they aren't using the rules, then do those rules need to be there? I don't think enough designers ask themselves that question.

WQRobb said...

I bought the latest edition of Shadowrun a while back, mostly out of sentimentality--I hadn't owned an edition past second. I was astounded by the size of the book, especially when I realized it wasn't all fluff. It's funny that you mention Rifts as the other example because the two games are often together in my own head: games that attempt to include everything and the kitchen sink. Rifts felt like an old house than kept having additions built onto the sides--wander around enough and you'd find some real artifacts here and there. Shadowrun felt like something that was evolving as a whole in complexity.

Jerry Harris said...

Speaking as someone who has put up a "backwater unplaytested clusterfuck PDF found on the arse-end of the internet" (http://jdh417.blogspot.com/2012/09/fantasy-core-rpg.html), there is a reason why published RPG games are so voluminous. It is that basically any player can conceivably make up their own game. In fact, play groups routinely mangle published rules beyond their creator's recognition. It's somewhat expected.

If you're expecting people to pay for your rules, it's not just a matter of nice artwork and playtesting. It's expected that you're providing more character and monster options than anyone would ever use and piles of rules so that the group isn't cursing the designers for hand-waving or not anticipating any possible game situation.

Given the current price gamebooks, players expect more completeness. I think the designers are likely fully anticipating players not using all the rules. They just want to make sure they give them all the options.

Monkapotomus said...


I can definitely see that point and I think it is definitely an influence. If that is true however, why can't publishers organize the game so that they have the core, minimum rules to run the game in one spot upfront, and then leave the rest of the add-ons and complication for later in the book. That way people don't have to sort through the mess to find the basics of what is needed to run the game.