Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Keep It Simple, Stupid

I have had as a policy that every rule I add to the game, those that affect the players directly, must be something that takes virtually no time to play. For example, while my trading system is extensive, from my players point of view, it's just another equipment table (albeit one which the player's can't presume the prices from session to session--they have to look them up). My combat system is likewise. Although took me three hours to write out the details of two combat rounds, we would play those rounds out in a couple of minutes, with most of the time taken up in the players deciding what exactly they wanted to do. The system would not be the time-waster.

That's mostly the reason why I hated Rolemaster and the various systems that were birthed from those early attempts to add detail to the game. They were simply unplayable, as we sat around for hours waiting for the gamemaster to look up table after table. I remember one 24-hour session where we got into a combat involving dozens and dozens of troops against an attacking company of I don't remember what...and us sitting around and sitting around waiting for hit locations to be rolled and critical hits and Elvis in his sidecar knew what else. Killed that campaign.

Sometimes I struggle and struggle with a game idea that fails inevitably because it just takes too long to roll up the results. My efforts at treasure tables, for instance...where you want interesting, complex and bizarre treasure results, but it just gets tiresome at the end of a battle rolling and rolling and rolling out various pieces of jewelry, gems, furnishings, storeroom vittles, luxuries, armors, weapons, magic items, blah. Give me a system where I can produce an easily deliverable list in less than five minutes and I'm there.

I've been playing with the idea of just creating cards, possibly with pictures, or just blanks neatly cut by a print shop, which I can write up all at once, ready to shuffled and be dealt out at a session. Then the players can sift through the pile on the table and divide them up. The logic would be, it wouldn't be satisfactory for the player to write down the item any more...if he wanted to sell the item, or use the item, they better damn well have the card in their possession.

The hold up is that I'd have to create cards for everything they own now, and that's work I'm too lazy to do...but some session I'm going to get a complete list from them and go forward from there.

Another simplicity nightmare is weather. I've done enough interesting things with the weather in this campaign, since it started, to prove two things: A) parties fucking hate weather effects, no matter what they are; B) weather makes everything REAL.

About two years ago, the much weaker third-level party bought passage aboard a ship bound down the Volga river; the pirates aboard overcame them, jacked their possessions and threw them onto the bank--in November. The particular area, about 120 mi. north of Astrakhan, had a terrain much like the swamp from Lord of the Rings...ankle deep water. I worked for many hours prior to the session to produce believable weather tables, temperatures, rainfall, humidity, based off climate statistics from the area--and what followed was a very long session of absolute hell as the party staggered for mile after mile, trying to cross the great flat, ankle deep in freezing or near-freezing water, without proper gear or clothing. Without cantrips they would never have made it. As it was the half the party collapsed from pneumonia within a week and it was touch and go keeping them alive.

Did the party like it? No, they swore through the entire process. Was the adventure memorable? Damn straight. They remember it like they were there. They remember it because every day the weather changes marginally adjusted the nightmare, enough that they were praying for good weather--it really meant something to have it.

Although I've produced similar effects with adventures through deserts and, up until my hiatus (scheduled to end in two weeks, when I can run again, yay), through a snow forest, the actual creation of the weather is a superior bitch. As is the exact effects the weather has on the party depending primarily on what they are wearing and what climate they were raised in. So far, I haven't found an accurate, easy way to manage those variables and for the most part, they get ignored. That is, I unhappily treat the fur-coat wearing player far too similar to the player too stupid to buy himself a jacket, and is now wrapped with leather strips and deerskins.

But I feel I'm close to solving the problem. I hope I can sometime in the next few months, and maybe post the whole system here (that would be nice). At the moment, however, I'm stoked by the discovery of something called "clo"...which fits into an ad hoc point-value system I had earlier been using for clothing. Nice to find an accurate measure.

8 comments:

Restless said...

I plan to do something similar. That way, it keeps accounting simple. In addition, it seems sort of neat that if there is a chest, I can just hand them an envelope with the treasure in it and they can divvy it up. I plan to do something similar with coins and gems as well (using printed chits for money). I would likewise do the same with expendables like ammo, rations, oil, torches, except that it seems like having all these piles of paper would lead to too much clutter. I wish I could resolve that problem!

brokenmarrow said...

There are folder you can keep collectable cards in.

Players could just use a folder to store the paper in (perhaps use some stiffer card)

The folder would be their backpack, so to speak :)

Restless said...

That's actually an interesting idea. I looked into trading card sized stock for a while this morning. The holders are certainly cheap, so they'd be an effective "backpack." While it's not that expensive for artist trading card stock (2.5"x3.5"), it seems cheaper to just buy some bulk business card stock (2"x3.5") on standard-sized sheets and then run it through the printer. That way you don't have to handwrite the whole lot of it. You can even get business cards in a lot of different colors, so you can put different types of items on different colors of cardstock, etc.

Alexis said...

Why stop at a backpack? Obviously, you'd want separate containers for quivers, saddle bags, what you were keeping stored on the mule, at your personal abode, even potentially what was stored in each room or below ground.

On each card you would have the item, along with its encumberance, so that they could be quickly added together to determine if they "fit" into the storage unit. Then, as DM, I could at any time just randomly check someone's backpack or whatever, and find out if they had overpacked it. If they had, I might say, "this item got broken" or "this item fell out of your overstuffed pack because you couldn't properly close it"...selecting randomly, of course.

Furthermore, upon firing an arrow or lighting a torch, or any use of a similar item, the player would have to hand over the card before using it...making accounting for those things much, much simpler. It would be equally nice if they could hand over coins to buy cards, except that the number of coins makes this generally unworkable, at least in terms of the cost of the cards (although cards could be made for tens, hundreds, thousands of coins...perhaps simpler to just use monopoly money).

I've thought all this through already, have already got the cards made, ready to be written out. I decided to forego having them printed in advance, since I wanted to add unique magic or jewelry items, so I thought it best to just make up cards as necessary. Though admittedly, that might slow a running down in the early stages, until there are literally thousands of cards at the ready.

Incidentally, I'd leave it up to the players to figure out what method they'd like to use to store the cards: boxes or zip-lock baggies or whatever...as long as the container were marked somehow (even having the card marked "large saddlebags" inside the container, so that if lost the box could be used for something else.

Since posting a few days ago, I've been asking my players if they want to try it, and the answer has been uniformly positive so far. I have six players, and have spoken to three, so at this point I'd feel justified in unilaterally making the change. The only thing is, as I've said before, am I ready for the work involved?

It isn't the only thing on the burner, after all.

Alexis said...

Oh, obviously, if a player couldn't remember their cards, they've lost everything.

But as a kind hearted DM I'd let them store the cards at my abode.

Restless said...

Then, as DM, I could at any time just randomly check someone's backpack or whatever, and find out if they had overpacked it. If they had, I might say, "this item got broken" or "this item fell out of your overstuffed pack because you couldn't properly close it"...selecting randomly, of course.

I think I've been too soft in the past... consequences instead of the waggling finger, "now, don't do that again!" I like the consequences.


Furthermore, upon firing an arrow or lighting a torch, or any use of a similar item, the player would have to hand over the card before using it...making accounting for those things much, much simpler.

Exactly. One thing I would probably do, rather than having a card for each piece of ammo or expendables, is have a set of "bulk" cards (perhaps a score of arrows or bolts, a week's worth of rations, etc) and they trade it in for a token that counts individual pieces of ammo, probably some glass stones. At the end of a session they can trade unused ones back in for a partial card (a six arrow card, say). As you mentioned, these could be written out at game time if need be, they don't need to be pre-printed.

The reason for doing this is that I intend to do a simplified encumbrance system based on units or parts of units. If a week's worth of rations or a bundle of arrows (or any part thereof) takes up a one-unit space, say, and a player can carry n units based on size and strength and the standard backpack can hold eight units, then they have to fit the eight item "units" into their backpack. It makes it easier to verify and also easier for them to keep track of themselves because rather than carrying a large number of coins with each item being a varying coin value, maybe you can carry fifteen or twenty units and each individual item or small bundle of similar items is between one and three units.


It would be equally nice if they could hand over coins to buy cards, except that the number of coins makes this generally unworkable, at least in terms of the cost of the cards (although cards could be made for tens, hundreds, thousands of coins...perhaps simpler to just use monopoly money).

You could make your own toy money by laying it out in Word or other program and printing it. Check this out. He has other denominations and types on his gallery, too; just print on paper of an appropriate color for easy identification. There are commercial equivalents for this already laid out on the usual PDF supplement suspects, too, if you prefer to go that route.

Another way to limit it a bit is to make treasure less about the coins and more about objects. A few cards of things like "ornate dresser" and "tapestry trimmed in silver threads depicting the Great Hunt" can be the treasures, give flavor and realism to your game and be traded for other items in barter for a quick roleplaying fix, or even for treasure if you like. As well, it keeps the small change denominations from flying around the table so much, and can even give adventure hooks itself. ("Where are we going to shift this dresser? Nobody in this town wants the bloody thing, and it took four men-at-arms to carry it out of the tower down those narrow stairs!")


Incidentally, I'd leave it up to the players to figure out what method they'd like to use to store the cards: boxes or zip-lock baggies or whatever...as long as the container were marked somehow (even having the card marked "large saddlebags" inside the container, so that if lost the box could be used for something else.

Rather than just having a ton of baggies, it seems like you could just use the trading card pocket pages that fit in a looseleaf binder and mark the pockets by some method. You can slip a piece of paper into the pocket in front of the card's item that says the location of the given item (so some pockets are backpack, some are belt pouches, and some are way back at camp on the mule).

It's not as handy as when a player is dunked into the raging river gorge and you hold your hand out while telling him that he lost his backpack in the rapids, though. He hands over the baggie and I bet the look on his face is priceless, but does that really happen all that often?


But as a kind hearted DM I'd let them store the cards at my abode.

I am hoping to do more of a sandbox game with a core of (more or less) regulars as well as some casual players, similar to the original spirit of the game I suspect. If I end up with a dozen or more players overall, logistics on that might become a problem. That's why I like the cards in the binder idea -- a couple large binders, and that's everybody's stuff. Otherwise I need to store a big storage box full of baggies and rifle through it to find them all; heavens help you if the baggies break open and their stuff gets mixed up...


The only thing is, as I've said before, am I ready for the work involved?

I truly believe that the up-front time cost is made up for in spades at the gaming table, plus over time the cost goes down as you amass a large collection of cards.



Sorry I am so long-winded. This is a topic I am quite interested in because it minimizes some forms of player cheating and more important, the record keeping is one of the things I love and hate in RPGs. I love it because it's important to the immersion, and I hate it because... well, it's a lot of record keeping.

The more I talk about this, the more I think I should just write some software to handle all of it. The biggest problem is communicating the information to the players, and also then I have to update everything which is a real pain, or have all my players bring laptops to the table, which is a pain in and of itself.

Alexis said...

“…heavens help you if the baggies break open and their stuff gets mixed up...”

You mean, heaven help the players. Once they buy the stuff, sorting it is THEIR problem, not mine.

Sorry I am so long-winded.

I love that you’re long-winded. You should check out my equipment lists in regards to bizarre, heavy stuff. I am ready to give any of this as “treasure.”

connor mckay said...

I do not know how I missed it the first time through, but I love the link to the Clo website. That makes the clothing system I have had percolating in my brain easier to implement.