Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Fear of the Rules that are Lite


It has come to my attention that rules lite games make people weary and it has been frustrating for me. I have had many conversations with people trying to pitch a game like Sword and Backpack, Swords and Six-Siders, Supercrew, Blood of Pangea, or other games on or around that crunch level. The most common response is something along the lines of "I get it, but I am not sure if there is enough there for structure".  I am not sure what type of structure they think is missing; character creation? check,  resolution mechanic? check, and obstacles for them to overcome? check.

So, I have been spending a lot of time thinking about this from different angles and I have come up with three conclusions as why people in general have an aversion when you talk about a game with a 32 page rule book instead of a 300+ rule book. 


  1. Spoiled and Lazy:  These two create a symbiotic relationship, one feeds into the other and vice versa. By spoiled I mean a lot of the modern games and rule books have a rule for everything and hyper detailed character creation. So, there is actual minimal effort that needs to be put into character thought, actions, and background as there is a rule for that. These type of rules take away the player agency and make the game harder to manage on both ends of the table. So, being spoiled by the rules leads into people being lazy. Why actually put effort into role play when you can roll a skill to see if you get that discount or not at the store (etc.)? Why expand on your backgrounds (outside of the description in the book) so you can pursue your characters own agenda in game? Or give the GM story hook to use? Or put effort into exploring a dark and dangerous place as your character has never been there before (instead of relying on perception checks, etc.)? This type of laziness happens on both sides of the table as the GM does not have to make calls at the table or decide if there is need to a roll or what the roll should be. 
  2. High Trust vs. Low Trust and Lack of Said Trust: A lot of people have had bad experiences playing games on both sides of the table. Sometimes this results from abrasive personalities at the table, people treating it has a video game and feel the need to win, and just people trying to exploit every rule or lack thereof that is possible. Due to these experiences (most commonly in public settings or cons) people feel the need to lean towards low trust games for built in protection. This means that these are games that require little or no trust in the players because the system is well-tuned enough to prevent the worst player abuse and well-phrased in order to minimize the need of GM calls. Thus, the system actually minimizes the degree to which players and GM have to be on the same page about what the story is about or what is possible within the story. There is a clear and stable framework within which everybody can work (such games often restrict the creative freedom of players and GM's). Due to this, players avoid high trust games. By high trust, I mean games that require a lot of trust between GM and player, so that nobody abuses the system, that everybody is on the same page and knows what is expected from and within the story. These games require much more establishing of a "common ground" and constant re-evaluation of this common ground. They allow for a much more open and flexible play, but can "break" more easily if there are miscommunication or problem players. People with this mind set makes me want to break out a doll and tell them to show me where the bad GM or player touched you. This has also created a odd war akin to edition wars where people line up on each side and act their opinion or preferred style of play is the only right way. I think the trust are edition wars are both redonkulous and people need to chill out, but I digress.
  3. Newer is Better: There is this common idea that new is better, things have evolved form the old ways for a reason. and 300-600+ rules books are the norm. I think today's gaming environment we have seen massive movements where the mindset is going back to more of the rules light style. Even mainstream games like Dungeons and Dragons have come along way and the current iteration of 5th edition has been a really good evolution all the way around. I am not saying there are not more tactical focused games like Pathfinder that are still being produced and have their own fans and are thriving. It is just the idea that newer is better creates a mental block and I think this is especially true for older games or have been there throughout the ages. 

I think that it comes down to the Player's Responsibility and if they want to be entertained then they can go play a bored game. Maybe I am just being an old grognard but I have been around the block more then a few times and I would rather role play then roll play. 

I guess I wish more people would just relax, try something new or old, participate, get into character, put input into the world, and let the immersion happen. 

You cannot tell me that waiting got for the GM to look up a rule, the players looking up spells or characters abilities, or adding up modifiers before they decide what to do (in and out of combat) helps with the flow of the game or supports immersion. 

This has been another episode of What Really Grinds my Gears...

12 comments:

  1. Correct. I despise the "newer is better" mentality that creeps in everywhere, not just games. It is often detached from what made previous iterations good while attempting baseless innovation.

    Also, excellent memes.

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    1. I agree and it is more common that I realized. Thank you, I work hard on my memes.

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  2. Preach on, brother! An essential manifesto...

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  3. Players look for a rules system to save them from bad play. A rules-lite system gives bad players no place to hide. It goes like this "I suck so bad at being a good player character I need a step by step approach, a higher authority in the form of comprehensive rules so my lame efforts are not uncovered.

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    1. That is something I have not considered before and I have to agree. I think it protects against lazy/bad play and toxic players for sure.

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  4. Burning Wheel is this "unwillingness to look at your quality of play" taken to the logical extreme. A set of mechanics substituting for actually opening your mouth and saying something interesting.

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    1. This is one of the best things I have ever read about the Burning Wheel.

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  5. I would suggest that point 2 casts a light on an issue but not necessarily trust alone - also fluency in the system. I know I would be hesitant to walk up to a table and go 'I don't know how this high trust play-style works, I want to hog a bunch of you, a strangers, time to get me ready to play' - maybe it takes all of 5 minutes, maybe you love inducting new folk, but if I don't know enough to know that, then I would be concerned I would just be a drag on the table and stick to what I know.

    tl:dr; less concern about system abuse, but about being a time-sink and spoiling others fun.

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    1. I see your point. Though, the benefit is that a game being rules light as long as it is not to far into the diceless/group fiction era can be pretty quick to explain.

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