Live gaming! vs Rules Light
Live Gaming, a web app to support tabletop gaming, is in development. The project sprung out of the difficulty that many new players have with RPGs: the rules are so complicated that just creating a character can take hours. Even experienced RPGers frequently have to interrupt play to flip through books and look up a rule or a chart. Many, many people have expressed interest in an app that can handle the rules and speed playing; some, however, have pointed out that players can avoid complications simply by using a ‘rules light’ system. Rules light systems are a great choice for people who are creative, focused on story telling more than rules, and need little structure. However, Appify and many of the RPGers we talk to still feel that there is a place for more developed systems, despite their additional rules and complications.
Avoiding complication with rules light systems
One way that people deal with the complex rules is simply to avoid them by playing ‘rules light’ systems. In rules light systems, a player character may be summed up in as few as 4-6 stats, with many non-player characters summed up by a single attribute. Fewer charts, fewer rolls, fewer game mechanics to memorize or look up. This way, play focuses a lot more on how a player describes what they do than on rolling dice.
Rules light can mean little supportive structure for new RPGers
Rules light systems have their own challenges. In a system with a comprehensive set of attributes, skills, and equipment, a player knows exactly what skills are at their disposal. Simply by looking at a character sheet, players can get an idea of what a character’s options are and what the character can do best. When characters are defined very broadly with only a few stats, new players may have a hard time understand when a skill applies. For example, Gary has a character with Private Investigator +2. Does that plus to apply to interrogation, observation, firearms? Does it over lap with Ex-cop +1? When interrogation, observation, and firearms are all independent skills, a character’s abilities are much clearer. When characters only have a few, non-comprehensive stats, new players may also simply forget that they can take actions or use skills not listed.
Rules light and simulation
Many experienced players, even those who dislike looking up charts, may have reasons to prefer normal RPGs to rules light systems. A well-developed system can create a fun simulation of the game world. For example, simulating magical or super powers can be more fun in a fleshed out system—the additional rules add flavor and limitations to how powers are used, creating a sort of physics that makes the game world more real (for some players). For example, does casting a spell cost mana or physically tire the wizard? Does it have a higher chance of backfiring the more a wizard deviates from reality? Does it require memorizing spells in advance? Each of those would require a system of support that would make a game more complicated, but each also tangibly changes the meaning of what magic is and how it works in the world.
In the same vein, more developed RPGs with all their stats and rules also help to differentiate characters. The player doesn’t just narrate their actions differently; differences are expressed in what kinds of rolls they make and their chances for success. For example, one system might have one attack roll that reflects both the chance to hit and damage: any success beyond that required to hit is damage. In this kind of system, a heavy, inaccurate bruiser and dextrous lightweight may narrate their actions differently (“I throw a haymaker” or “I do a flying jump kick”), but their die roll may be the same, and they might do the same damage. In a system with 2 rolls (1 to hit, 1 for damage), not only would the players describe their characters differently, but those differences are actually simulated in the game. The bruiser might not succeed very often on the hit roll, but will do a lot of damage when he does; the small, dextrous martial artist may hit frequently for low damage. One die roll is simpler and ‘lighter’, but the additional roll can make for a more interesting simulation of the game world, where differences between characters have more impact.
Live Gaming and the best of both worlds
We don’t feel like rules light systems by themselves are better or worse than the more typical RPG like Dungeons & Dragons. Rules light is simpler, faster, and more narrative but less structured and weaker at simulation. Appify simply noticed that an web app might help typical RPGs attain the best both worlds. When an app handles the rules and rolls (or at the very least, delivers the relevant rules at the touch of a button instead of several minutes of page turning), an RPG can have the ease and speed of a rules light system, while providing a structured environment for new players (almost like a video game), and simulate a complex and compelling world in which characters have meaningful differences.
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Tags: Live Gaming, roleplaying game, RPG, rules light, tabletop