Tuesday, February 16, 2010

RPGs That Just Click

In my continuing search for a new generic RPG system, I can sit here all day and write about the importance of clean layout, simple rules presentation, and proper power scaling. Yet that overlooks one of the most important, and least understood reasons for choosing or selecting a new RPG—the Click Factor.

Now, there are a lot of RPG products out there I am ambivalent towards. Most of them don’t do anything for me, even as I recognize some of their merits (i.e., GURPS, JAGS, D&D 4e, etc.). Whatever the reason, I just don’t get into those systems. But there are other products that I just “get”, right off the bat. They appeal to me, I get the system, and I feel like I have the game figured out. I call this the Click Factor, because everything just “clicks” into place all of the sudden regarding the game.

There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to this. Rolemaster and Risus both clicked for me immediately. So did In Harm’s Way, d6, and Two-Fisted Tales. I understood what the game was going for, and that made the rules seem to be following a logical progression. It’s almost as if the writer and I were on the same wavelength at that point. I suppose it’s a mix of layout, rules presentation, tone of writing, and just how I’m wired. I’m sure other people feel this way about games from GURPS to Exalted.

I’m an old Palladium fan, but that’s how I started in the hobby. That’s not so much a Click Factor as my native tongue (which might be why I feel compelled to write in italics with exclamation points at times!!!). You could say the same of Rules Cyclopedia D&D.

The Click Factor isn’t always an immediate thing. It took a revisit to Castles & Crusades before the light went on. I’m following the same sort of path with EABA, as I also messed with it before to middling effect.

If a game doesn’t “click” for me, that’s not to say I won’t use it or work on it, but it’s a far tougher endeavor. Feeling comfortable with a RPG product is an invaluable thing. Sometimes it comes from experience, sometimes it comes from writing what you want yourself, and sometimes it just clicks.


DNAphil said...

I know exactly what you are talking about. For me games some times click on a mechanical level, such as Conspiracy X 1.0 and Iron Heroes. Other times, its the setting that clicks for me, such as Vampire and Burning Empires.

Whichever side of the game clicks for me, I am willing to forgive the other half. There are some exceptions. Personally, I love the Shadowrun setting, but every time I play it, I cannot get past the mechanics.

For Vampire, I loved the setting so much that I threw away nearly all the mechanics and ran it diceless.

For me its rare to find a game that clicks on both Mechanics and Setting. Though given the choice, I am better at coming up with a setting than mechanics, so I lean towards games that mechanically click with me.

Tim Brannan said...

The biggest click for me was C.J. Carella's WitchCraft RPG. Everything about it was so perfect for me. I just wish I had more people to play it with.

Swordgleam said...

I know what you mean. When my group played Midgard, it clicked for me right away. Everyone else kept forgetting the rules constantly, so the game eventually faltered.

Carpe Guitarrem said...

Oh yeah. I've had that click for me with Risus, Wushu Open, and World of Darkness. The system just seems to flow so well, it just works.

Jason Richards said...

"write in italics with exclamation points at times!!!"

Yeah, I laughed out loud at that one.

A very good (maybe not great) system that "clicked" for me was Guardians of Order's Tri-Stat. I struggled with it at first, until I figured out that the problem was actually with me, and that I was trying to make it do things that it was never intended to do. Once I let myself slip into the sweet embrace of its cinematic presentation.

Thaumiel Nerub said...

There are several games that "click" for me, but not one general rules set what would cover most of the gaming. That is the reason I am making my own general rules. Still, that doesn't drop out using other systems also. I like variety.

d7 said...

I know exactly what you mean. I've always liked GURPS in principle, but the mechanics just won't click for me—they feel lifeless to me. Savage Worlds read great to me but running it leaves me cold. I can't explain it, since I think it's a great system.

Burning Wheel clicks for me even when I don't like everything in it. Another that I love on paper is the One Roll Engine (the version in Reign particularly) but until I run it I won't be sure that it clicks.

I sure would like to know what's behind that, if only to be able to point at a feature set and say, "this is why this suits my tastes."

Zachary The First said...

@Jason: Thanks! Glad you liked it. We Rifts fans, of course, now exactly what that’s all about.
When the damage of a weapon is in italics, you *know* it’s good.

@d7: Burning Wheel clicks for me, until we get to Duel of Wits and Scripted Combat. Both feel somewhat…inorganic, if that makes sense.

@Everyone: Thanks for the comments! Glad to see I’m not alone on this one.

Anonymous said...

The games that click (for me) are those that use mechanics to reinforce color. Luke Crane's Burning Empires is a terrific example of this. The same is true of SFIRP, but to a lesser extent. Don't get me wrong, I think GURPs and HeroQuest are terrific, but their nature -- the need to be generic -- prevents them from using game mechanics to build on, reinforce and develop color. That, in turn, makes it much harder for generic games to click for me.

T Bone said...

Interesting observation on gaming experiences. GURPS clicked for me (which must be why I write so much about it) – but then again, its very first incarnation was anything but a huge, all-genres work; it was a light and focused, low-tech melee combat game.

Earlier than that, D&D clicked for me in terms of fun, but not mechanics; it took my group some time to really learn the "how to play" aspect of D&D (and RPGs overall).

I've played plenty of HERO, by invitation, but somehow the click doesn't happen. I like and respect much of the design, but... It's an intangible just-not-there. A non-click.

Will have to go and look at more gaming experiences from the click point of view!

d7 said...

@Zachary: I do know what you mean. One bit of advice I'll be following is: Don't add scripting (DoW or Fight) for a good long time. The base mechanic is plenty for all those conflicts, especially once everyone really groks the resolution mechanic's nuances.

The other bit of advice is just to think of scripting differently. There's two bits to how I'm thinking about scripting to get more comfortable with it. The first is that an exchange isn't three actions (assuming one per volley), it's one "round" with a single custom-made manoeuver.

The second is from an interview with Luke Crane where he explained "where the hell did scripting come from?" He said it was designed not for realism (he says it's not), but to emulate the chaos that everyone who's been in combat describes. He wanted to eliminate the carefully-considered action-reaction tactics that comes from turn-based combat, where characters always have the perfect response to what the enemy just did to them.

Knowing what the system was designed for, and thinking of it as a single custom complex manoeuver, makes it a bit more sensible to me. (As always, mileage varies!)

Zachary The First said...

@Anonymous: I can see that. I don't come at it from the same angle, but color can be important in that regard.

@TBone: Yep, I think the overall perception is what counts. Sometimes we get so bogged down in the d6s and d8s we don't see the forest for the trees.

@d7: I've done the simple combat in BW, which worked, but left me wanted more. I've actually encountered more player resistance about DoW than combat. Usually, I just let arguments play out as in other RPGs.

Good points--I'll have to remember to frame combat that way to the players if we ever have another go at it.

d7 said...

@Zachary: If you want a little bit more to simple combats, especially something that explicitly captures the party-centric nature of many stories (as opposed to the individual-centric combat that BW supposes), you might find these old group combat rules for BW I unearthed. Crane mentioned them in an old podcast I was listening to recently, and though they'd disappeared from the official site, they're still in the Wayback Machine.

I personally don't want to learn an entirely new set of combat modifiers, but reading it has given me useful ideas for how to modify a bloody versus test on-the-fly to represent combats between a PC party and a group of enemies.

Zachary The First said...

@d7: Superb! My sincere thanks to you.

Anonymous said...

@d7 -- Great catch! On a quick read, the rules looks quite useful.

Disgruntled said...

@T Bone -- I had the same experience with GURPs. It initially clicked for me (back when it was still called Man to Man), but as it got broader, it became less exciting.

Zachary The First said...

@TBone, Disgruntled: I actually like making characters for GURPS, just not running it!