Day 9 of #RPGaDAY 2020. Today’s prompt is ‘Light’.
In an earlier post I talked about complexity in rulesystems for games. Complexity was needed to model all kinds of effects and behaviour, because ‘realism’ was something seen as desirable. But as time progressed, we found out that realism in RPG games is just not that much fun. Who wants to do a lot of calculations to determine the outcome of a character action? If you need a minute to determine the effect of every roll, what progression are you making in the story?
The way I see it, there are three ‘levels’ to RPGs. At one level, it’s people sitting around a table (or in a (video) chat application) and talking. On the level above that, it is them engaging with the rules of the game to manipulate numbers. Rolling for an attack in order to do damage to an adversary is doing something with numbers: rolling the die, adding your attack value, comparing to the defense value of the adversary, rolling for damage, deducting that damage from the hitpoints — that’s all doing stuff with numbers. It’s what makes an RPG a game: there are rules for things.
And the third level, there is “the fiction”: the narrative that emerges from the conversation and the interaction with the rules. That’s the story you are experiencing through your character.
And it turns out that if you have a really rules-heavy game, there is less attention left to the fiction. How many fights in the fantasy novels you enjoy are basically two persons standing in front of each other and repeatedly swinging their swords? Probably none, and yet when the rules of the game take the forefront, that’s the kind of story that emerges.
The best solution for that, in my experience, is to make the rules lighter. Yes, you need rules (otherwise it’s not a game!), but the rules do not need to be complex. In the groundbreaking Amber Diceless RPG, every character had four scores, and every type of conflict was governed by one of those scores. And if two characters came into conflict, everything being equal, the character with the highest score wins and gets their way. As a player, you engaged with the rules by making sure everything was not equal, so you get the kinds of fights with feints, dodges, dirty tricks etcetera that you know from the fiction. (And, this being based on the Amber novels by Roger Zelazny, that is very true to the source material!)
In my opinion, lighter rules give a better experience because there’s more time left to create better fiction.