More is better!
By the end of D&D 4th Edition there were literally thousands of feats and powers, dozens of class choices, a near infinite variety of equipment (each piece only being good for a few builds), and so much choice you felt like you had it all. I get this feeling Pathfinder 1st Edition is in the same place, and when you add in all the web content for D&D 5th Edition you are getting back to that point of a massive amount of choice- though I could be wrong since I haven't been keeping up on 5th Edition since my player base has dried up recently. I do like they limit D&D 5 to the basic three books, but I don't feel this can be kept up forever and we will someday see choice creep come in as the pressure to sell new things (and the demand for it) increases.
Even if everything is great, there is a point where the sheer quantity of it all makes the entirety of it less great. If there is a mix of good, great, and average, I get this feeling it is all average.
I feel the original AD&D was built from the 'more is better' sort of feeling, where the more options you had the better the game became. But more, really, is it better?
Characters as Deck BuildsBy the time you get to D&D 3.x you get the concept of a Magic the Gathering style of 'deck building' as character design, and the game became polluted with 'bad choices' to create less-optimal paths for the game design concept of system mastery to be a thing. The double-ended two-handed weapons as I remember were put into the game expressly for this purpose, and a game already heavy with great, good, and okay choices now becomes cluttered with bad and worse choices everywhere to sort through.
Magic cards are one thing, you can put the ones you don't want in a box somewhere and you are left with a deck of your best stuff. You can control complexity by physical exclusion. Your deck is 'just the stuff you play with.' With role playing games, what options do I have to control complexity? Rip the pages out of the book? Permanent marker? I feel this is the biggest failing of the 'deck building' style of pen and paper RPG character creation games, you have to physically carry around every 'magic card' and rule with you in order to play the game (or you need programs like Hero Lab to sort through them all).
Printing a character sheet helps players keep everything together, but as a referee? I need to know this all or be able to reference it quickly should it come up, and there isn't an easy way for a GM to limit the rules they need to know. We need to know everything, be able to find a rule or feat in a collection of dozens of books out of thousands of entries, and it only gets worse the longer a game is around since expansions endlessly add complexity.
By D&D 4 this sort of data overload for referees was even worse, even though we liked that game at the time. Not so much now. D&D 5 thankfully rolled back the madness, but it is still AD&D-ish in the amount of choice and complexity in my feelings. I wish I had more experience with D&D 5 though, so I probably have more work and reading to do (along with finding opportunities to play) so I can have valid thoughts on that subject and be fair to the game.
And I feel when I read most of these modern post 3.x games, 'too much.' I get choice paralysis and walk away to play other games. Computer games do all this better. I simply don't have the time these days to wade through all of this, read through a thousand pages of game, and figure all this out.
B/X by ComparisonOSR and B/X games by comparison feel like a 'best of' compilation of the traditional dungeon game experience. Labyrinth Lord for me hits that AD&D level of complexity and choice while still keeping the B/X simple game feeling, so right now that is my game of choice. I don't want characters that are these two or three hour design session enshrined masterpiece of math and story background.
Roll 3d6 for three ability scores, pick a race and class, and let's get you to the shop to buy some gear. This character may not live that long so name them only if you want to. Pick something silly. Have fun. I could run this myself!
I get this feeling as I have less times to play games, the ones I get the most out of are the simple ones. The more a game has, the more it asks for me, and the more I just can't find the time to play it no matter how fun having all of those options are for players who have the time to master the system. I am just not one of them anymore. System mastery is ultimately an exclusive force, along with being a lock-in tactic for publishers.
Strip out all narrative systems and put the fear of what's behind the door in the player's hearts - not is some artificial storytelling system. That is B/X to me. But I still love my pure storytelling systems as well, I am not so convinced they need to be in dungeon games because I love that one to one player to referee relationship of 'what do you do next?' Risk. Reward. Puzzle solving. Danger. Pushing your limits. Going that extra room and possibly losing it all. That, to me, is the story of a great dungeon game. Again, we go back to that playing piece Monopoly feeling of the thrill of doing well in the game more than having to write a backstory for the car, dog, and the thimble.
So...personal stories. Extra detail? Yes. Interesting? Possibly. The focus of the game? I am not so sure. For the overall dungeon, yes, I feel there should be a story there. For characters? If they want, yes and I can play along, but I would never force a story on a player if all they wanted to do was hack and slash. My feeling, personal stories are optional and interesting, and those should be up to the players.
But an extra layer of complexity if codified into the rules, so it is worth asking are narrative rules really needed for a fun game.
A reset, if you will, and a fresh start.
I Want to Control What's 'More'Bringing this all back around to the original thought, I want to control the 'what's more' in my games. Too often, and this is especially true with Pathfinder, you will get a lot of junk with the few things you want. We are back to the magic card deck again, and having that ability to throw away the cards we don't want. In this thinking, having a game like B/X Essentials gives me just a base set of cards I can expand upon in any way. If I want to play a Arthurian fantasy game with some Robin Hood mixed in, I can do that easily, have a Knight class, a Robber class, a Sheriff class, maybe a Friar, and we are good to go. I don't need to worry about Druids or Halflings running around Sherwood Forest mucking things up. If I want them, they are there, but I have that choice.
If I want a narrative rules set for story-based play I can add it in, and I don't have to use it for every game I play. I can have a different narrative rules add-on for another game if it makes sense to change things, and I have that freedom with a modular system.
And more so, going forward, I want to be able to control complexity and add-ons, and not have to take everything. While I love the Class Compendium for Labyrinth Lord, there are parts I won't use and don't need. I can pick and choose, but I would love for things to be more modular without me having to create lists of what is being used versus what is not. I can envision a time when I collect so much stuff for Labyrinth Lord that I am at the same point as I was with Pathfinder, although the starting point will be B/X and I will be in an ultimately less complex and better place, my problems of 'too much' will return.
Again, it is why I like B/X Essentials so much, because it gives me a plan to escape this mess. This feels like a set of the old 'little black books' that I loved about the old Traveller game, but for dungeon adventures, yet better thought out and ready for expansion without breaking under the weight of the inevitable. There is even a 'reset' option for complexity. I could even throw out all of the expansions I added in, go back to the base rules, and start again if I so desired, something impossible with games like D&D or Pathfinder (without needing an entirely new edition).
Computer languages evolve like this, and they go from these very-low level and monolithic Towers of Babel to more modern, smaller, cleaner and more expressive designs that let you do more...