One of the biggest sentiments coming from my gaming peers this past Gen Con weekend is that we just don’t have the time to play like we used to. I know I’ve mentioned that issue before here, but it can be tough transitioning from 8-12 hours every weekend to 4 hours every other weekend. Long combats or systems giving you “resolution lag” (“uh, hold on, let me check that…page…um…ok, so derive that from your STR stat, then…”) can effectively end a session before it ever gets a chance to get going.
That’s why I see more and more of us going to simpler, more streamlined systems. It’s why Savage Worlds is expanding like it is, and it’s a big reason why FATE-derived systems, or Rogue Games’ 12 ° system, or indie fave Fiasco is catching on with some of the blogging crowd. I’ll bet it’s a big reason I saw Exile Games Studio with its Ubiquity system more crowded than I thought it’d be. It’s part of the reason Michael Wolf’s free, light RPG Warrior, Rogue, and Mage has had over 2k downloads in an impressively short amount of time. It’s also at least part of the reason people are interested in many of the classical retro-clones and the link, I think. I had two lengthy conversations with a guy over the merits of Tunnels & Trolls and Labyrinth Lord in this regard, pretty much of out of the blue.
Gamer Dads, Moms, and older, busy professionals still want structure, but they want fast gameplay and easier rules, too. Is there still a market for the complex? Of course, but I think the trend towards rules-light is going to continue and gain momentum. It doesn't have to be hand-wavy freeform, but a streamlined, fast-play set of rules is much in demand, I think.
For those that still like more complex games like Pathfinder, a bevy of “helper” accessories and software, such a HeroLab, are always popping up. If we play those somewhat more complex games, chances are we’re also looking for software and resources to cut down prep time.
When I look at the small-press companies at this year’s Gen Con, from Troll Lord to WEGS to Pinnacle to many of the companies in the Cubicle 7 family, I see companies pushing rules-light systems, especially compared to the bigger companies of the hobby. The Big 3, at least, might be pushing (at least) rules-medium, but it seems like a lot of us were in search of something different. And it was there for the taking.