The 3rd installment of this series will discuss some aspects of simple and not-so-simple versions of Ye Olde Game, namely monster formats and player involvement and how these may affect the game.
One of my main reasons for choosing to play old D&D is the simplified monster format. It makes the game flow quicker and it’s very easy to create new monsters and improvise. It’s freedom in a jar for the GM. And conversely, I find the overly complex monster format in 3.x/Pathfinder severely off-putting. I feel it restricts the imagination with all the nitty-bitty details and do’s and don’ts.
I remember this old RuneQuest ad: “Monsters are also people” – meaning that monsters, NPCs and PCs all share a common statistics format. And in a way, that’s a cool thing, but when GM:ing, I really hate it and I have spent some time and energy working on a simplified NPC/monster format for OpenQuest 2 (which can be found here).
And yes, OpenQuest 2 is a simplified version of the mothership RuneQuest (Mongoose RQ 1 to be precise). In my opinion, it’s the modern d100 game that best replicates the old Chaosium RQ2 feel, only with better and more flexible mechanics.
In 5e, the monster format is simpler compared to 3.x/PF, but still much more complicated than old school D&D and I must say that browsing through the 5e Monster Manual I can’t help but feeling a little tired. Don’t get me wrong – I like 5e a lot – as a player. As a GM I find myself asking if all the extra bells and whistles really will make our games more fun and worth remembering, or if it only will serve to increase the “Papers & Paychecks“-factor, i.e. the crunching of numbers. I also know that when I GM systems I know less about, I tend to follow the rules more slavishly, not wanting to deviate too much in the beginning, which can be boring for all involved.
Another thing I’ve been thinking about is a thing Gavin Norman of City of Iron fame wrote in a G+ post a few weeks ago. It was about him coming back to Labyrinth Lord after having switched his home game to 5e a while back. His reasons for going back to a simpler system was about player involvement in the game, or rather the lack of the same. The point was that a game like 5e (or 3.x/PF) requires a certain level of player involvement between sessions: reading up on rules, learning about your powers and how to use them effectively etc. And as his players never did that, all the rules-y stuff fell back on him, the GM, to handle when playing.
This made me realize that I’m in that exact situation with my group. These guys (whom I have played RPGs with since the 80s) never read the books. They show up at the game and expect to have fun adventures with some old buddies. And that’s a perfectly good reason for playing RPGs in my book, if not even the best.
Being where we are in life, we have limited time for things like playing RPGs and other hobbies and we also have different reasons for doing so, being it social, gamer or whatnot. If I analyze my current main group I have two players who are only in for the social part, and gaming is just a context for hanging out. Then I have three players that I would call social gamers. They’re in for gaming, but in a fun and social context and with old buddies. None in these two categories ever reads anything at home. Gaming time and activities is strictly at the table. However, when we play, all get really immersed and we have great fun.
I only have one hard core gamer (and he’s also a Pathfinder GM). He’s there for the game more than the social part and he reads and memorizes the rules more than I ever do. For him rule mechanics and consistency is very important and he’s also the one who argues when someone suggests that we play “simpler” games like Swords & Wizardry or BECMI D&D. This guy reads up on the rules and makes well developed characters before the game and so on. This might sound a bit annoying, but at the same time he’s always there to support and keep the group together, and we’ve had a lot of fun playing his Pathfinder games.
So where am I going with this? Well, my point is that games like 5e (and PF) need a player group that is willing to invest both time and effort to read up on rules-y things that concern their characters. If not, the burden of keeping track of all these things falls on the GM, who already has his/her hands (and head) full of Game Master-y stuff. Knowing my players, I’m sure that I will do the heavy lifting when I run 5e further up the road (I will use it for a game set in Ravenloft, where I think the 5e engine will shine).