Friday, June 11, 2010

A Million Rules, a Million Pages

I announced in my last post that I was disenchanted with most RPGs and was hard at work writing a new one.  

I think in some ways what I'm disenchanted with is the tendency to cram a million rules into 300 pages, and the set in stone mentality of many rules systems.  I think I know why the bulk of these rules are written, though.  Aside from a bottom line, the authors usually assume that at least some of their core audience have never picked up a game before.  Never played anything more challenging than Chutes & Ladders.  

Which, to be fair, may well be the case.  

Now, if you were the tyro, and you'd never seen a role-playing game before, which would you prefer?  Something that you can pick up and understand immediately, or something that you have to study in order to play the game efficiently?  

All things being equal, I'd rather someone hand me a 30-page intro and by the end I'd have a character and a basic idea of how to play.  Here's a look at how this has changed over the years:

OD&D (Gygax, Arneson): 18 pages
D&D (Holmes): 17 pages
Basic D&D (Moldvay): 13 pages of character creation
Basic D&D (Mentzer): 52 pages (to be fair, this was the best intro to the game I've ever seen)
AD&D Player's Handbook (1st Ed): 40 pages

In 3.0, this inflated to monstrous proportions.  By page 114, they had not even gotten to Movement yet.

For fun, let's take a look at some licensed properties of TSR, both for AD&D 2E:
Adventures in Lankhmar: 35 pages (and very well-done)
Diablo II: This is a weird one, so it's hard to codify.  Each character received a sort of a character folio, with all the numbers filled in.  There were instructions on the sheets as well, everything from an XP chart to take 'em to 5th level, and explanations of how to make a Hit Roll or a Saving Throw.  The actual rulebook itself was 32 pages long. 

The licensed ones were not only fairly short, they were also the most fun to read.  Diablo II started it out as its own game system, with some additions not found in AD&D before (like their powers, which cost mana).  Diablo II later became entwined in 3.0, and spiralled out of control, but the basic boxed set is fun.   

By contrast, reading The 3E Player's Handbook was a great cure for insomnia.  Watching paint dry was not only more interesting, but seemed to be more useful.  I dunno, I guess the pretty pictures inside failed to suck me in.

This is what I don't understand.  If you assume your core audience has never gamed before, why cram your product full of rules that they must learn?  Why not provide a good framework, explain how to create a character well, and create systems that are intuitive so that there is less to explain?  I'm looking at you, WotC!

This post, however, is very much YMMV.  There are some people who love 3.x, and more power to them.  For my own buck, I'd rather find something else.  I just wish I could take a large number of followers with me...

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