Less System, More Work

I've been experimenting with tabletop rules systems. More specifically, I've been experimenting with less and less in the way of rules. Fate 2.0 - which I use, almost unmodified, for most of my games - is already a massive step down in rule density from D&D 3.5, which I was using before.

And the game I play in, as opposed to the many games I run, uses a system I describe as "Amiable GM Fiat". In it, we've a character description, and sometimes we roll Fudge dice. I'm pretty sure higher is better, but I have no idea what the numbers are being compared against. I suspect "higher is better" summarises the numeric rules accurately.

Now, for a sci-fi game I'm running, I'm taking that even further. The characters have three phrases to describe them - "I will always...", "I will never...", and "... drives me mad". They also get to pick two skills, which can be as general as "Fighting" and as precise as "Sniper Shooting with the M1500 Special Edition Laser Rifle". The more precise they are, the better they are, and that gets worked directly into the narrative. There are no dice rolls at all.

The Amiable GM is clearly taking this as a challenge. For his next game, we've been told that our characters will be "a symbol, and up to three memories". I'm looking forward to that.

All of this stands in stark contrast to the 4th Edition D&D game, which has, obviously, one published edition of D&D worth of rules. We're keeping the number of rulebooks low - PHB, PHBII, DMG, MM, and that's it - but it's still a chunk of numbers and crunchery.

It is, however, clear that the amount of work it takes to run the game is inversely proportional to the mass of the rules. Possibly the mass of the rules squared; physics is not my strong point. For the D&D game, I can kick back and relax. Running the other games, I have to be switched on and paying attention, and the sci-fi game, with the least rules, is definitely the most effort. I'm now wondering, though, if the rules allow the workload to be transferred from the GM to the players. Maybe the players in the D&D game are thinking more, putting in more of the effort, than the players in the rules-light games.

I'll continue to experiment with both, although I do reckon that I've a personal preference somewhere around the Fate 2.0 level - less than that requires almost too much thinking.

Posted by Drew Shiel at August 24, 2010 4:02 PM

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