Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Rules Light

I've noticed a trend among folks when they first look at Modern20: there's confusion in the majority of people I've shown the game to for comment because they expect the game to be "rules light".

This is especially true once they see that skills have been somewhat simplified. I say somewhat, because I'm not really sure they have been. The total number of skills is less, but skills are much more dense, and skills do more things, especially in combat, than they do in traditional d20.

Ah yes, combat. This is when it truly dawns on everyone that Modern20 is not in fact rules light. Usually folks assume this is a mistake on my part, and my friends have helpfully suggested that I need to rework the game at times, since I clearly want the game to be rules light and it's clearly not.

Here's the thing: Modern20 was never ever ever ever intended, at any point, to be rules light.

I fucking hate rules light games. I like classes. I like hit points. I like character creation to border on a mini-game. I like taking a session for the players to make their characters.

But the questions that nag me about this are: A) why does everyone assume I wanted to make a rules light game and B) is rules light what people want?

My answer to A) is that most variant d20 systems aspire to be what d20 is most definitely not, and that's rules light. You could certainly make the case that one of the most popular d20 variants, True 20, is rules light in many ways.

My answer to B) is no. The most popular d20 variants on the market are some of the densest: Star Wars, d20 Modern, M&M and Spycraft 2.0 are very, very dense games.

And I don't think this is an accident. I happen to think most people like dense rules sets. I think it's something deep in the dark heart of gamers that makes them likes games.

We like to master things. I know how the Sphere Grid in Final Fantasy X works, know how to use it to make awesome characters, and that makes me feel superior.

I know, I just violated the code. We're not supposed to admit this shit.

And by the way, though it kind of has a rep for being rules light, because it has only three classes and no HP, True 20 isn't rules light either. How many feats are in that book? And action points? And Virtues and Vices? There is lots and lots of crunch there.


mikelaff said...

(just for exposure - this might be a good one to cross-post to ENworld)

FWIW - one of my regular gamers hadn't touched RPGs since 2nd Ed D+D days. I've had her playing Mutants and Masterminds and she's been delighted by how quickly combat goes - compared to what she was used to back in the day.

mikelaff said...

There certainly are rules light games, but I've been thinking that "rule light" is a phrase that gets tossed around a lot without much thought.

Just to pick one handy examples: Spirit of the Century is a fun game that I've enjoyed reading and playing.

To call it "rules light" is a bit of stretch IMHO.

Are there less rules than some other systems?

But playing still requires plenty of page-flipping.

There's still plenty of crunch - it's just a different kind of crunch.

Chuck said...

Yeah, RPG terms of all kinds get tossed around a lot, with most serving as buzzwords.

"Story game" would be high on that list as well.

I see a true rules light game as being something like Gamma World 1st edition, which was what? a complete game in a 64 page rule book? character generation, setting AND monsters?

People would lose their minds over something like that today lol.

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