Monday, January 11, 2010

No Anchors

Having read some comments on other blogs, I seem to have developed a reputation that my world is a complicated, overworked miasma of unending house rules – nothing, I think, could be farther from the truth.

It is a fact that I have done much work on my world. It is a fact, without question, that the trade system is extensive and by no means simple minded. But most of that is entirely invisible to the ordinary party member. The main trouble to the party member presented by my trade system is that the ‘equipment table’ includes more than 1400 items – not the sort of thing one flips through in a few minutes. Now I’ve played a character of my own, having to buy from the table, and I admit, it is daunting. But any town composed of a great many shops will take considerable time to poke through, so I don’t mind that the equipment list is extensive.

I would like to point out that overall, the disposal of a great many rules, or the refusal to play them, greatly simplifies my world. Reading anything about later editions convinces me that combat alone must be a head-banging procedure for the poor noobs introduced into it. Spot checks and other foolishness make my trade system appear simple-minded by comparison.

I think if there is an argument to be made between ‘old school’ and ‘other’; it’s that the original system, or systems, did not need a mass of rules to micromanage the effects of combat or anything else. In the 80’s there were many experimenters who attempted to incorporate Rolemaster hit locations and Ice Law weapon rules into ordinary D&D campaigns – without any success, I might add. The game simply slowed down to a dead crawl, making it impossible to experience any pleasure.

It baffles me that some experimenters were so convinced it must work that they did not stop until such rules were standardized into the game; until the game itself was standardized along such rules. At no time do I remember thinking that more modifiers and more required rolls were successful in making the game more real.

It may be, from outside the box, that my world appears to be swimming in additional die rolls and long lists of modifiers; the blog might reasonably have left that impression. But I so rarely use things such as siege engines or structural damage, whatever time I’ve spent talking about those things on line. The numbers might be higher for monsters, there might be additional ways for monsters to cause damage, but each rule is carefully weighed against how quickly it can be expedited.

Recently, I wrote two posts about potential rules. In the first case, regarding wisdom checks before combat, I did not explain the principal reason why I wouldn’t implement it. It’s a pain in the ass! It is too much bloody trouble. No matter what the die roll is based on, the overall effect will be mostly to drag the game.

In the second rule, I described how I would make incidental damage occur with a 50% likelihood. I got some very good answers about how to manage it otherwise – but I probably won’t use them, for one simple rule. A 50% chance means I can use a d6 to determine the likelihood. And I can roll eight or twelve d6 very quickly, and identify the numbers rolled very quickly, with a bare minimum of thought. Thus reducing the drag.

No doubt, I could have come at the subject more directly, but I want to just say that a HUGE detriment in many campaigns I’ve been in did not stem from the DM’s lack of resolve, or skill, or patience ... but from the DM being unable to act quickly. To not have the details at his or her fingertips. To have plenty of tables for plenty of possible results, but the tables stacked haphazardly in binders and folders, not to be found without three minutes of paper shuffling. I must argue for the use of a computer again. I find tables in, on average, seven seconds. Any key word will drag the table up.

Shave time however you can. I cannot tell how often I’ve sat in a party, watching a DM painstakingly copy a dungeon hallway from the blueprints we’re not allowed to see, onto the hex map we are given. I recognize that what’s on the table has to be reduced to what we’ve explored ... but there is a sickening slowness to a DM erasing a hallway because it’s been made five feet too long, or three feet too narrow. No one cares. Get on with it.

It doesn’t ‘get on,’ however, as DMs are notorious perfectionists (me included). But the time for perfection is not during the campaign. Long paragraphs of description might sound good when written out in advance, but during play they can be death. So it goes for every decision, every argument, every long standing debate about what can and can’t be done, every tedious collection of die rolls, every lengthy perusing by the DM of a particular spell or magic item, and so on ad nauseum.

Be considerate, be kind, be autocratic and be a bastard, but be it QUICKLY. Don’t throw an anchor into your own campaign.


A Paladin In Citadel said...

Agreed. Having suffered through two six-hour Descent games because the rules had to be referenced every 5 minutes, I say just make an on-the-spot ruling, and keep the game moving.

There's time after the game to check the rules to see if you "got it right".

Your world-building exercize is interesting. Having gone down that road myself, I appreciate the appeal.

Ben Brooks said...

I know when I was younger I felt I couldn't GM games like Shadow Run because I didn't feel like I could resolve those rules on the fly. I find parts of the new WOTC Starwars rules interesting, but it's the same problem. However, I reject the notion some people seem to have that games must put simplicity above all other considerations.

The "holy grail" is to create rules that makes the players sweat their own decisions, but be fast to resolve when the time comes. And then leave them wondering if they're still going to die anyway. :)

Carl said...

2nd edition is the miasma. Your game has just been evolving for 25 years. Complicated, yes, but overworked? That's something for you to decide.

I would test your house rules with this question, "How many hours of training would it take you to hand your existing game off to a new DM?"

Strix said...

Having played in one of your games I can account for the fact that things happen quickly. No anchors, even if there seems to be a lot of rules, most of them are there to speed things up or, if otherwise, they happen outside of game play.

I would also like to add that players, not just the DM, should take not of this post. Keep things moving people!