Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Rules-Light Games Make Me Jealous (but I still can't play them)

I started playing D&D in the 3rd grade, got into AD&D shortly after that, and started running Traveller soon thereafter. I diced through the heady 80s with games like Fantasy Wargaming, Espionage, Rolemaster and Aftermath. The late 80s and much of the 90s was dominated by various incarnations of HERO games and at one point (4th edition, I think), I vowed I would never play anything but HERO. In the late 90s, when I decided I would write Runebearer, it was (and still is) an unholy combination of HERO, Rolemaster, Aftermath, Jorune, a bit of AD&D, and yes, Fantasy Wargaming (but simpler, honest). My biggest gaming regrets are never having run Bushido or Space Opera.

Basically, I dig rules-heavy games. Generally, I think that puts me in the majority (Pathfinder, D20 and D&D4th are pretty rulesy), but in the forums and internet circles I follow, it is all about Savage Worlds, FATE, OSR and Apocalypse World... definitely lighter fare than I am comfortable with.

I admit, this makes me a tiny bit jealous for two reasons. The first reason is simply that as I get older, I cannot escape the growing feeling that the gaming world has passed my by. The second reason is that I do sometimes enjoy the idea of NOT worrying if a system is working, or if such and such rule is balanced. Every so often, "pick up and play" seems like a neat idea. I would love to love light games.

But ultimately, I feel these games lack something. After a few sessions, all of the characters in a Savage Worlds (or FATE) campaign look the same to me and most OSR games look just a bit too much like Basic D&D -- a fine game, but one I quickly discarded for a game with more crunch. I realize that nowadays, my go-to rules-light game is ... 5th Edition HERO!?!

For me, one of the main draws of heavy games is the joy of interacting with a system. I enjoy seeing players sweat the trade-offs during character creation. I enjoy watching how different skills and talents interact to make characters powerful. I enjoy seeing a tactical situation develop and knowing that the players' actions (and luck) THIS ROUND will decide the whole fight. I love the fact that with just the right amount of complexity, things become nuanced, balanced and beautiful instead of complicated, clunky and slow.

So, this article ends the same way any "heavy vs. light" article has to end -- we all like different crap. Where do you fall on that scale? Tell me what level of crunch you enjoy in your rpgs. What draws you to those games?