Sliding Towards Simplicity

Disclaimer: When I’m talking about crunchy, rules-heavy or simulationist games in this post, I’m not implying they’re bad–hell, play what you want–but they’re just not for me.

As you might gather from the disclaimer above, I’ve never really been a fan of simulationist games or ones that have vast tomes of increasing complex rules, TBH I’m surprised that I like FFG’s Star Wars so much given the number of specialisations, bonuses and other stuff that is in there, but I suppose preference is a fickle beast. Since sometime last year–probably even before that–I’ve been noticing that my preferences have been moving towards simpler and simpler RPGs. Whether you want to call them RPGs or Storytelling games is an argument for another time, I’m going to stick to using RPGs in this blog entry.

If you’ve seen any of my stuff online you’ll know I’m a big fan of the Fate and Dungeon World games, both of these have–in my opinion–a nice clear central mechanic that pretty much everything else in the rest of the game references, and for a long time I thought that was the big lure of these games for me, but I’ve also started taking an interest in OSR products.

If you’ve not heard of OSR you can find a basic definition here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_School_Revival

OSR games tend to be based on earlier basic editions of D&D, and I’ve no doubt that nostalgia is an influencing factor in some people’s love of these games–hell I’ve got loads of White Wolf World of Darkness books that I hold onto, even though I’ve not played it for ages, because it’s one of the first games I played–but I was never a big D&D player back in the day (I much preferred WFRP). So if it’s not nostalgia drawing me to the OSR and it’s not the central core mechanic–since a lot of OSR games don’t have skills systems and the class powers you get often use different mechanics–what is?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently, following a ‘What type of player are you?’ survey that I did on Facebook:

I didn’t exactly find the results surprising since the major pull of RPGs to me has always been the excitement of a GM and a group of players coming together to tell interesting stories about characters and fantastic places.

I think that our RP tastes evolve with time, I know that when I was younger I used to love pouring over the various abilities and powers you could get for characters in certain games and thinking about how they could make games more interesting, but as I’ve run more games it’s the interactions between the characters themselves and their interactions with the NPCs and the world that really make the game fun and vibrant for me. When a game is going great I want the rules system to provide the necessary support to keep things consistent and then get the hell out of the way so that we can concentrate on the story, and I think that’s why I’m current leaning more towards OSR games, they’re certainly not the most simulationist or the most detailed by any means, but they give just enough whilst not interfering or slowing down the story as people pour over rule-books or calculate dice pools.

5 thoughts on “Sliding Towards Simplicity

  1. But I think people mean different things when they use the term ‘Storyteller’, certainly I mean something different now to what I did some years back.

    Overall I think I like my roleplay to be, for a large part (but not exclusively) about the relationships between the PCs, and between the PCs and the world. I like to see how my character changes the world and is changed by the world.

    I dont need hours of talking in character, but I do want to make decisions on the basis of who my character is, not just doing what the ‘plot’ demands. I prefer games that set up a situation rather than lay out a pre-set plot too far ahead.

    And the modern PbtA games are a revelation. It’s a real shame they’re not more popular.

    1. I think you’re right Rich, people do mean very different things when they use the term ‘Storyteller’, it’s often an issue I’ve found with RP conversations that–since there’s no real central authority that has defined these terms–people often end up talking at cross purpose because they have different definitions of things. I have very similar preferences to yourself in that I like to be able to roleplay my character’s behaviour and prefer games and settings that don’t stifle this too much – I’m a big fan of a number of PbtA games such as Masks, Dungeon World and Tremulus 🙂

  2. Let’s not forget that Dungeons & Dragons were an outgrowth of Chainmail (board-wargaming with a fantasy bent) and so wargamers will be wargamers and codify lots of precise rules. I remember old RPGs with numbered paragraphs and sections like “4.2.1.3” as if they were government legislation!

    Buuuuuut the story is the thing and players in the majority now seem to prefer a simpler looser style emphasizing story and plot and political intrigue (if NPCs ask a player-character to start leading them, that is a world of trouble!)

    Original or “boxed” (BECMI) D&D was a lovely version of D&D. Most of the content was reprinted in the 90s as a Rules Cyclopedia hardcover. The rules and spells did not have as many stipulations and details so this naturally cut down on the rules-lawyering and allowed more prominence to the story during a game! I can also recommend “White Lies” (DWD Studios), an espionage game set up with “old school” D&D rules where spies are arranged in five character classes of 10 levels each.

    Powered by the Apocalypse game systems (Apocalypse, Dungeons World, Uncharted Worlds (SF) and many more) have done a great job of placing rules up-front on the character sheet and playbook (for a player’s chosen character-class) and this is all as up-front a framework as you can get. Older players may not think there is much “depth” to the rules as a result, but everyone should try to focus on story, and any story decisions will naturally fall into certain prescribed Moves that are clearly defined and easily resolved. There are enough Move types to leave a clear impression of freedom of action.

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