Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Picking A RPG System Part 2: Jekyll & Hyde

"With every day, and from both sides of my intelligence, the moral and the intellectual, I thus drew steadily nearer to the truth, by whose partial discovery I have been doomed to such a dreadful shipwreck: that man is not truly one, but truly two."
- Robert Louis Stevenson, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Oh, how true, how true. In my quest for a new generic RPG system and in general, I fight against the two polar opposites of my nature. In many cases, I am mercurial and changing to the point of ludicrousness. By day, the sweet kindly GM holds sway, considering player input and maybe even giving credence to the thought of shared GMing duties. But at night, a horrific, wonderful madness descends upon me, and the baser demons of my psyche are put on the gaming table for all to see.

Here are a few of the back-and-forth struggles I have on what I enjoy in gaming. Good thing it’s ok to enjoy more than one gaming style—right?

Rules-Light vs. Rules-Heavy

I loves me some Risus. It’s one of the most fun, fast one-shot RPG systems this side of anything. And occasionally, I want a loose, light framework to maneuver in—not some huge list of conditional rules that require lots of page flipping. On the other hand, I can appreciate a good rules structure, one that clearly defines consistent mechanics. My general rule seems to be that if I have a light system, I add stuff on. If I have a heavy system, I gut the crap out of it. I end up in the middle, feeling somewhat dirty.

Random Roll vs. Point-Buy

Roll it! Let the fates decide! So what if your Fighter has a laughably weak Constitution score? It builds character, pun intended! Wait! Reverse that! Let’s maximize everything using point-buy, so you can play the character you want. You have 2 points left over and want to learn Basket Weaving? Fine, just fine! Goodness, what a well and carefully-built character. It’s a shame he’s missing A HEART.

Skills vs. No Skills

I appreciate the freedom and player ingenuity that the lack of a skill list can provide. It’s one of the reasons I enjoy Swords & Wizardry and Microlite74 so much—it’s one more impediment to getting down to the nitty-gritty that’s out the window. However, I grew up on games with skill lists, and many players like a quantifiable risk of what they want to do. Rolemaster and Rifts or Red Box?

Lots of Dice vs. Less Dice

On one hand, I love the idea of one simple roll to determine the outcome. Get the hell out of the way of the game, dice! But man, like a big portion of the fun in the hobby is about rolling dice. D6s, D8s, D100s, D20s, and yes, even the poor, oft-forgotten D12. The dice are a part of the experience, for a lot of us. Plus, games with lots of dice give me another reason to visit Gamescience.

The only place I’ve really trended one way would be Player Narrative Control vs. Centralized GM Power, where I definitely skew well towards the latter. I’m a fascist, I know. But at least I’m not a monster.


WalkerP said...

Ha ha! Hilarious post. I think you speak for many of us when you break down your two-sided personality. I wish mine were so cleanly divided between night and day. Rather, I'm going back and forth in my head every 10 minutes!

Snals-at-Fleas said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Snals-at-Fleas said...

Ha. So I'm not the only one with this kind of mental disorder. :)

Zachary The First said...

Not even close, my friend. I suspect we are Legion.

da Trux said...

good post. i've been wrestling it the same issues for a while now. i grew up on rules-heavy, skill-listed, GM-centric games, but now find myself in an awkward position: i spend more time trying to find ways to streamline rules-heavy games than i do playing those games.

Carpe Guitarrem said...

I think that embracing both types is totally viable, and not necessarily a bad thing. It's all about variety. Rules-light and rules-heavy systems, for instance, teach you to think in new ways. Rules-light teaches you to elaborate on your actions and condense them to their bare essentials, while rules-heavy teaches you to use the tools you have to create magic.

Personally, though, I prefer lots of skills and lots of dice, for a few reasons. Maybe that's why I'm totally into World of Darkness right now.

Zachary The First said...

Oh yes, both have their merits. I can run Risus, turn around and run Rolemaster without batting an eye. It's about the group wants, too.

James V said...

My general rule seems to be that if I have a light system, I add stuff on. If I have a heavy system, I gut the crap out of it. I end up in the middle, feeling somewhat dirty.

Ah, the curse of the rules tinker! I too suffer from it, though I wouldn't say I'm really suffering when I do it. :)

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Sean said...

Good to know I'm not alone in any of this - next step, join a self-help group!