Sunday, March 12, 2017

Gaming Simpler is Gaming Better, a Theory

A recent blog entry over at Tenkar's Tavern regarding the popularity and "less is more" approach of Swords & Wizardry, both as a game and as inspiration for other games, got me to thinking. The game of Dungeons & Dragons expanded from its wargamer beginnings, became more and more detailed, saw its focus change from "players in a Dungeon Master's world" to "players wanting to play heroes in need of a willing referee," became increasingly crunchy and rules-heavy until gamers took the initiative to use its Open Gaming License to create other games (clones that mimic any of its iterations, Advanced or not, in "feel" if not mechanics) to splinter the hobby as much as new edition releases have, and then retreat towards the 2005+ Old School Renaissance or games that are D&D in everything but name like Paizo's Pathfinder RPG (a revised Third Edition D&D game). Erik "Tenkar" writes that many designers are tweaking games. This is once more like what Tabletop Role-Playing Game referees and players did in the 1970's and 1980's. "The rules are the rules" mentality that spawned a new generation of rules lawyers after 2000's release of D&D's Third Edition appears to be receding as players want more time playing in-game and less time fussing over rules, mechanics, and minutiae.

There were similar discussions to this, 10-12 years ago on Troll Lord Games' message boards. In the middle of the transition to 3.5 edition from standard third edition D&D, folks who became overwhelmed by the voluminous rules commented how having less things to manage in TLG's Castles & Crusades game was liberating. This was explained thusly: features that told what a PC could do in fact told what a PC could not do except for the few choices made in feats and skills. In the first seven iterations of D&D (OD&D, Holmes D&D, OAD&D, Moldvay/Cook B/X D&D, Mentzer BECMI D&D, AD&D 2e, & RC D&D) player choice was about making decisions in-game. Post-1999 player choice was a litany of decisions made on the character sheet, limiting what could be done by players once the game play was underway. Post-2005 games have mostly worked their way back to the "OSR style," even if they do not fully explain or realize the reasons for why simpler is better for many.

Of course, OSRIC and Basic Fantasy RPG released not long after C&C. By the end of 2006, there were three games intent on being simpler at the table (S&W would come along in 2008, by which time a few more "Old School" or "Clone Games" had been published, further taking the field to clone earlier D&D games for the sake of gamers who longed to play in a previous manner). By the beginning of this decade (2010-2019), unshackled Game Masters such as myself began to be able to adjudicate at the table once more rather than simply be the "to the letter" judge of the rulebooks-as-law.

I should note that those players who still owned their 1970's & 1980's books and never moved on to the newer editions of D&D that had Open Gaming Licenses never needed to take a circuitous route. They were still playing the games that others have tried to clone so that new material could be written for the older games. At least, that was the proposed reason for the OSRIC game being produced. Its popularity, though, spawned revisions if only to make the game more palatable to those who did not own or have access to the original Advanced Dungeons & Dragons game.

As Erik writes in his blog, what game masters have discovered in their wanting to run their own house-ruled versions of these OSR and Original School games is: It is easier to start with a simple game and add on house rules than it is to take a rules heavy game and subtract them. This is especially true of game systems where they have many interworking parts. Take a cog out of a machine and you get the same result: an unworking system.

Until next time, Happy Gaming!