08 July 2022


(this is a re-post of my content on frotz.prose.sh) 

Even though I don't participate in organized play like D&D 5E's Adventurer's League or Pathfinder's Pathfinder Society, I did participate in both for quite some time. I took a hiatus from participating with RPGs as I was a bit burned out from running weekly sessions, then COVID started, and so the hiatus continued. Recently I started playing with some great folks in Europe where we do short 2-hour sessions and limited duration campaigns using lightweight rules. It's been a lot of fun, and I haven't yet felt the telltale indicators of burnout.

My partner and I were discussing some new bit of needless complexity in the MMO EVE Online yesterday, and it started me off thinking about complexity that enhances, versus complexity that obfuscates or is just "complexity for complexity's sake".

The games I'm playing and running at the moment have an ethos of simplicity. Because the sessions are short, we try to pack as much into a session as possible and so complex rules don't seem like a good fit. I run a hexcrawl in a shared world with two other referees, and I'm using Alex Schröder's Halbards & Helmets, a sort of B/X-lite, to do so. It's worked pretty well; we've had to explore some additions to the rules to address funding certain enterprises, but mostly I run right out of the rules.

All of this sort of has coalesced into my mind as I still listen to the occasional "actual play" Pathfinder podcast, where the "complexity for complexity's sake" is definitely evident in the way the referee and the players handle their games. I do like complexity in games - GURPS, Shadowrun 3E, and d20 3rd edition (less so the revised(3.5) edition or Pathfinder) are some of my favorite systems. However I always felt a tension (not a bad thing necessarily) between providing enough complexity to keep players interested but not so complex they tune out. It was a fun line to walk - I felt like I did a reasonable job of "drilling down" when circumstances warranted really getting into the nitty-gritty but I kept things moving without turning everything between combat encounters into a hand-wave-y exposition from me.

Listening to these podcasts makes me think not everyone views complexity as a dial to be adjusted, rather than a switch set to "on" or "off". I like it as a dial, but not everyone does, I guess. Some like as little as possible all the time, and some like the opposite. Sort of like some people like only homegrown vs prepackaged campaign settings and modules, or really letting the imagination fly vs. treating a tabletop game like it's an analog version of a console or computer game with limited input and options.

I don't know where I'm really going with this, other than I don't find complexity for the sake of being complex fun.