Thursday, November 10, 2016

The long journey to simplicity

Looking at Time Lord twenty years later, I find myself thinking that simpler RPG mechanics have both become more common and more accepted. 

Of course, the truth might be that I have just become more aware of them and I am more accepting. After all, you can find examples of simple RPG mechanics from back in the 1980s. Toon, which is pretty darn intuitive and simple, was first published in 1984, to give one very clear example.

At the same time, it really does feel like there has been a move for game mechanics to be more user friendly. Which does mean more intuitive, more consistent and, yes, more simple.

Which only makes sense. Role playing games were developed out of miniature war games. The oldest systems were really designed to let you role play with miniature rules. I can pound in a nail with a screwdriver but I'll do a better job when I get a hammer.

For me, there was even a certain level of shame in playing a simple system. I spent years having tons of fun with the Original Marvel RPG with its one chart for everything. But now, looking at it as a system that was streamlined and just let us focus on over-the-top, super hero action, I think it's great.

A huge turning point for me was the third edition of D&D. Which really wasn't simple and, after endless supplements, got downright convoluted and even contradictory. However, having the system built around rolling high on a D20 is good made it much more intuitive and consistent then earlier versions. Having a single, underlining principle made the whole game hang together.

Another important game for me was Once Upon A Time, which I didn't consider an RPG when I first played it but I do now. Even then, though, I viewed it as a great tool for teaching RPG basics.

A game about collectively and competitively creating a Fairy Tale while using cards to add specific elements, Once Upon A Time uses simple rules to let folks explore the complex freedom of creating your own narrative. 

Learning to let go of complexity and learning to have story telling be the main focus of a game was a valuable lesson for me.

Now, I'm don't knock games that are mechanically driven and are simulations. They can be very immersive and engaging, as well as rewarding for using the system well. I still think that may be the best way to play an open-ended campaign that could last years.

However, it is okay to have a game that lasts only a handful or even one session. It's okay to have a system that uses broad strokes for simplicity's sake. It's okay to have a rule set that takes five minutes to explain.

And the success of games like Fiasco, as one good example, indicate that I am not alone in changing the way I used to think. This is something that a definite segment of the hobby wants and is prepared to support.

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