- Incoherent Combat
- Convoluted Story
- Forgettable Characters
It's funny "incoherent combat" comes up as something action movie fans dislike, and I can say I have the same dislikes in RPGs. I've had tabletop combats die under a weight of rules-referencing, power-list-mulling, and 'no my feat would haves' in my lifetime to last eons. Combat in RPGs should be simple and straightforward, it shouldn't take a combat rules encyclopedia to figure out, and there shouldn't be so many options players fall into choice paralysis. It's easy to cop out and say 'system mastery' is the answer here, but in my feeling, saying combats would go faster if you knew the rules is kinda like a comedian explaining a joke - a joke isn't a joke if you have to explain it. New players should be able to grasp defeating an enemy on the board from turn #1, this isn't chess, it's entertainment. In SBRPG with respect to combat, we have our hits and misses, but we try to simplify things with clear success chances and generic classes. We do more good than bad in retrospect.
A "convoluted story" is one area we tried to address in SBRPG with the faction system. There's your factions, and the bad guys. You are both in the sandbox, and fight. A lot of RPGs present vague conflicts, and lets you figure them out. This goes back a long time, not just today's games. A lot of games are content with presenting a bunch of cyber corporations, vampire clans, ideological movements, opposing armies, or other factions, and letting players figure out what to do with them. With SBRPG, we try to present an overall theme to the faction play, like "cops and robbers" or "wild west marshals", and then let the players develop the factions from there. How clear the story becomes is directly related to focus, and we try to focus your design early in the game-design process so this does not become an issue. Many games fail here, some succeed, but it is a problem that has plagued our role playing career.
"Forgettable Characters" covers a lot of ground, but in the article, it seems the reviewer has trouble with characters without clear motivations, too many plot twists, and characters built along a theme (wrestlers) that aren't allowed to shine (fight in hand to hand). Some games are good at this, while others aren't. Some games start out good, and then end up being very bad at it with a shelf-cracking pile of expansion books. SBRPG does a good job at letting characters shine at what they are good at - you design your class, and maximize your ability around your choices. Levels mean more resources to build your character into a system-abusing monster in their given field, and that was by design. If you pumped your AGIL, you were a Jackie-Chan style fighter that could out-act the field. That's probably a fun point, and also a balance issue haha, but we'll see how that works out in version 2.0.
If you check the article linked to that one in the New York Times Magazine, you can see a lot of fun comments, like action movies are alive and well, action movies are low-IQ entertainment, and a whole bunch of other crazy and on-topic talk. Cut past the flames, and there is a core principle here that deserves thought - action movies are entertainment, simplistic yes, but still meant to be enjoyed. Roleplaying games are no different, they are entertainment too. Think about all the games you have played, and try to ask yourself, "What parts take away from the core essence of the game - the fun?" Once you can boil down what makes a game fun, you can look at the game in a whole new light, and start simplifying the experience down to the most memorable and enjoyable parts.