I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man's. I will not reason and compare: my business is to create.

- William Blake

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Of Rules and Halberds

There are many reasons to like old school D&D, including the oft-cited “simplicity”. Even though it isn't one of my first criteria to find out if a game caters to my tastes, I do appreciate some of the perceived simplicity of older editions.

For example, I have a hard time wrapping my head around big lists of skills, specially in D&D. I like 3rd edition, but every time I read “Use Rope” on a character sheet I remember why I probably will never play it RAW again. GURPS and Burning Wheel, two games I appreciate, have the exact same problem for me.

Feats are even worse - like the concept, hate the sheer number of options with all the complexity they bring. I get bored before I can read a dozen of them. Repetitive ones with little difference from each others are the worse. Even spells, which are meant to be awesome, can become dull lists of numbers, specially in in some editions (Wiz 3, 400 ft. + 40 ft./level, 20-ft.-radius, 1d6 per level, just to mention a famous one).

But the original game is not that simple, either. For example, I am not a fan of calculating XP, specially if I must add 10% for prime ability and then multiply it by 5/8 because my character is an 8th level wizard fighting a 5th level monster. I understand the idea behind traditional XP rules, but I think it could be made simpler without losing much utility.

And earlier editions could be astonishing complex, sometimes even more than later ones. The first supplement to D&D, Greyhawk, differentiates weapons by efficiency against armor, damage, damage against large opponents, space required, and so on. Because of Gary Gygax's well-known appreciation for polearms, first edition would have about a dozen of slightly different ones.

First edition weapons table.

So maybe early D&D isn't the place to go looking for simplicity. But that's ok; my own tastes are not that minimalist as well.

For example, I do like monsters. Lots of them. Reading about new, well-written monsters is always a pleasure to me. And unique characters, bizarre laws, strange customs, forgotten deities, mysterious religions and crazy factions.

I also happen to love medieval weapons. And armor. And how weapons interact with armor. And how fast, strong, and versatile each weapon is (even though 1e gets too complex for my tastes). Specially swords - I'm not a fan of having too many polearms, to be honest.

That's why I think that “rules light” and “rules heavy” aren't the best terms to describe my favorite playstyle. The games that I like the most are often both too simple and too complex at the same time, so I have to change them until I make them my own.

Detail should be where the heart is; the rest is often uninteresting.

That's also why I think I'll never be able to stop reading (and writing) new games, new house rules, new blogs and so on. I'm just too interested in new ideas for roleplaying games. And if you love polearms, there is no such thing as too many of them.

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