Monthly Archives: March 2012

Genre Musings

Lately i’ve been thinking about why I prefer playing in fantasy worlds over sci-fi worlds. For my reading I tend to like the futuristic sci-fi type stuff more (I do enjoy both almost equally), yet whenever I get invited to play in a sci-fi campaign I tend to decline. It felt right in my head even though I couldn’t explain why. This happens in video games as well. I tend to have more complaints about sci-fi games then fantasy games. it has taken me a while to figure out why, and the fact that Mass Effect was just released has gotten me thinking about it more and I’ve pinned down the main reason.

I have a higher tolerance for fantasy trappings used as plot devices. In science fiction settings I get frustrated that advanced tech is pretty much either ‘modern stuff with chrome’ or ‘macguffin plot device that moves the plot’. In fantasy settings I don’t mind this as magic doesn’t make sense. In sci-fi settings I get frustrated that there isn’t anything exciting or new. In mass effect there are shotguns that are basically the same as today’s shotguns with some silvery finish and glowing lights (well, the shotguns of a decade or two ago anyway. Apparently we lose the tech for shotguns that bend around corners in the future) . Where is my gun that sends out a sweeping wave of 5G gravity that throws everything loose backwards at immense speeds?

I just get frustrated when the only ‘advanced tech’ in a game is merely a game mechanic force field or re-skinned tech from a decade ago. In the mass effect games this happens a lot. It looks all sci-fi and there are some really cool single moments of ‘what if?’ that are really good science fiction. Between those moments is nothing but boring normality that swings between chromed-up version of 1990’s tech and cinematic plot devices to simplify things so they don’t get in the way.

In video games this is somewhat understandable. The limitations of the hardware doesn’t let games do the really cool stuff. Tabletop games don’t even have this excuse. Even in miniature/battlemat heavy games the majority of the game takes place in the player’s imaginations. Some of this isn’t the game’s fault. Perhaps I just need to talk to more out-there people when talking about campaign settings. But when I hear my gaming group talk about how powerful flashbang grenades are in a advanced tech setting, all I can think of is how useless that would be against proper battle helmets with computer-aided displays, or robots, or aliens that don’t have the same response to overstimulation as humans, or any number of other things that a advance science fiction setting should have all over the place.

These are the types of weapons the human race is working on now:

Why isn’t our science fiction game settings have things at least this interesting?

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Posted by on March 6, 2012 in Pondering RPGs


Rules light combat

Been tweaking my Risus homebrew once again. Really need to come up with a name for it. Anyway, was tweaking the conflict rules (combat and other involved conflicts) and that combined with some posts I read on my usual gaming blogs gave me something else to expound upon. I may have either touched on this, or even explained before, but this is one of the other reasons I like very simple rules light systems.

In a rules light system it is very easy to add whatever flavour or complexity you want into a fight. If you want to describe a attack (using simple mechanics) as ‘Flying Fists of Fury!’ there is nothing getting in the way of making combat as exciting as you want when you have the energy to be creative. For those nights you aren’t feeling so creative and have just enough mental energy to say ‘I roll to hit, I do x damage’ then simple rules are right there helping you as well. For more along this idea, check out this post on another blog.

Complex rules (assuming you are playing a system you enjoy and understand) give you consistent flavour, complexity, what have you. At the cost of your minimum level of effort is much higher. It is not impossible to simplify the rules if you are looking for a more streamlined experience, but the more complex a rule system is the more interlocking parts it has and the more changing one detail tends to affect everything else. This affects adding things to it as well. Bolting new ideas onto the system becomes a balancing act as you wait to see what other parts of the system a new houserule might mess up. As someone who often likes to fiddle with the mechanics of a system even before reading through it once I consider this something of a problem. I like to tweak things. Not because they are broken most of the time. Just from a urge to tinker and add my own ideas to the source mechanics.

Example: In basic old-school D&D you basically have a abstract ‘to hit’ roll that is a straight d20 roll against a static number, which causes damage when you succeed. So the most you have to keep track of is the target number and maybe a single bonus to the roll. If you are feeling creative you might describe how your Fighting-Man jumps off a table, swings on the chandelier, landing just behind the monster to stab it in the back, negotiate with the DM to see if that might get you a minor bonus of some kind, the roll and deliver damage. If you are not feeling creative you just roll, then tell the DM the damage if you succeed.

In 4th Edition D&D in the same situation you have to pick which power off your sheet you want to use, check for any conditions affecting you or the monster you are attacking, see if any other PC powers can help you, juggle as much as a half-dozen modifiers, roll to hit, tell the gm any affects of either success or failure including damage or effects. This is great on those nights when you have the energy to get excited. But those nights where you aren’t quite so energetic? There is no real equivalent of ‘roll, damage’ minimalism with rules that complex and interwoven with all the other PCs.


Not directly related to combat is another priority in my own game design efforts. I want a system that I can sit down with someone who has never played before and teach them the basics while they make a character and then explain how things work as play progresses. As well as a game I can carry around and play anywhere me and a few friends have a hour or to to kill. To use 4th Edition D&D as a example. It is technically possible to sit down with someone who hasn’t played it before and learn as you go. It is a incredibly slow process, having to stop pretty much every five minutes to explain something. Can you imagine having some friends over for a hour or two and someone suggests ‘hey, lets play some d&d’ and then pulling out the 4th edition books to make characters to play? It takes my group of friends over an hour to make characters on a good night. So I really enjoy the idea of a system that takes less then 30 minutes to make characters, explain the entire system to a new player, and get started.

To sum up. I like rules light systems because it is easy enough to add whatever level of complexity you are interested in on any given session, but doesn’t require it so there is no downside. Whereas complex systems have downsides in that it requires the amount of effort that always on complexity needs to function. I also want games with a very short and very gentle learning curve so that time between prep and play is as minimal as possible.

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Posted by on March 2, 2012 in Pondering RPGs