Designer Talk: When the Game is TOO Complex

It’s not secret that I’m a fan of 3E/PF, and the basics of Five Moons are informed and inspired by 3E/PF. But as I go through the chapters of the Player’s Handbook and Core Rulebook, I keep running into rules that make the game a lot more complex and “realistic,” but I don’t really think they make the game better. Examples:

“Throwing a light or one-handed weapon is a standard action, while throwing a two-handed weapon is a full-round action.” This is hidden in the Thrown Weapons section of the Equipment chapter, and (due to its positioning in that paragraph after a sentence talking about improvised thrown weapons) it’s not actually clear if this rule applies to all two-handed thrown weapons or just to improvised two-handed thrown weapons.

“A stable character who has been tended by a healer or who has been magically healed eventually regains consciousness and recovers hit points naturally. If the character has no one to tend him, however, his life is still in danger, and he may yet slip away.” [Followed by further explanation about each possibility.] Meaning that even though you can roll to stabilize yourself, or someone else can stabilize you, and both of them give you the “stable” condition, they’re actually two different “stable” conditions, one for stabilized-myself and one for stabilized-by-someone-else, with different rules and effects.

Inappropriately Sized Weapons: A creature can’t make optimum use of a weapon that isn’t properly sized for it. A cumulative –2 penalty applies on attack rolls for each size category of difference between the size of its intended wielder and the size of its actual wielder. If the creature isn’t proficient with the weapon, a –4 nonproficiency penalty also applies.” I used to have a rant about this (when it was introduced in 3E), complete with photos of adult and child human hands (to represent Medium and Small creatures using Medium weapons) comfortably holding pencils, kitchen knives, swords, and baseball bats, all of which have different diameter handles, and all of which is fine because we have opposable thumbs. I’ve long been opposed to this rule because it’s one of those double-whammies where the game models the same thing twice (see footnote [3] of this blog post)… you take a –2 penalty for using a weapon of the wrong size, and you have to pay a “handedness” penalty on top of that.

From the Attack Roll Modifiers table: “Attacker is… on higher ground… +1 bonus on Melee attack rolls.” So a 6-foot-tall orc standing on a 4-foot-tall table (total 10 feet high) gets a +1 “higher ground” bonus to attack a 6-foot-human standing on the ground, but a 10-foot-tall hill giant next to the orc doesn’t get a “higher ground” bonus against the human, even though the hill giant and the orc are attacking from approximately the same height. (And the giant also has a –1 size penalty to attack the human.) (And because going out of your way to climb on a table in order to get that +1/+5% bonus on your attack roll is really worth it.) (And the orc would get full AC value of its shield against the human, even though the human is mainly attacking the orc’s legs.)

Buried as a footnote in the Equipment chapter’s Armor For Unusual Creatures table: “[For] Tiny or smaller creatures… *Divide bonus by 2.” So that Tiny pixie wearing half-plate doesn’t get the +8 armor bonus to AC, they only get a +4 armor bonus to AC… presumably because Tiny half-plate is more like aluminum foil than hard steel… but deflection, natural armor, and other AC bonuses are at full strength no matter what your size is. Also, note that there’s no corresponding increase to armor’s AC for a Huge or larger creature, even though a Huge creature’s armor is probably significantly thicker than a Medium creature’s armor.

—–

When I was on the design team at Paizo, I’d often have developers come to me with rules questions in order to make sure they were interpreting something the right way for an adventure or sourcebook. There were many times when we’d finally reach the answer after a convoluted bunny trail of rules precedents, and I’d end with singing, “the game is too complex dot commmmmm.”

Because the game is too complex. There are rules in it that the designers have forgotten about–rules that are great if you’re trying to closely simulate reality, but aren’t so great if you’re just trying to have fun in a fantasy world that routinely breaks reality’s fundamental laws.

Obviously, the rules I quoted above aren’t going to be in Five Moons RPG.

(Don’t get me wrong. I loved playing 3E and liked running it… but we’ve all learned a lot in the 14 years since it was published, and personally, one of those things I’ve learned is “there are a lot of rules that don’t really add much to the game, so why keep them?”)

Designer Talk

Designer Talk

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20 thoughts on “Designer Talk: When the Game is TOO Complex

  1. Pingback: Designer Talk: When the Game is TOO Complex | Sean K Reynolds

  2. Just because we love something doesn’t mean we cannot admit it has flaws! To add to the complexity issue, 3rd Edition rule books cannot decide whether or not it wants to read like a reference document or have a conversational, something that’s been touched on a lot.

    I’m honestly kind of curious about what Five Moons will do for inappropriately sized weapons. Martials utilizing their high attack bonuses to wield bigger weapons sounds like a fun way to give more power to the fighters. Okay, so maybe a high level fighter might reach manga territory with wielding surfboard-sized swords, but if that’s what the player wants, why not?

    The higher ground thing also never made sense to me. It also never made sense why it only works for melee attacks. Wouldn’t it be much easier to shoot arrows at someone at a much lower elevation than you? In fact, it’s actually more difficult to shoot someone from a high tower than shoot them on the same elevation as them due to 3-Dimensional distance and range increments. The high ground rule doesn’t make any sense

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    • {Just because we love something doesn’t mean we cannot admit it has flaws!}

      This is a motto I Live by! As fans of a given RPG, we need to be open and critical to its merits/flaws, and not look at them through rose-tinted beer goggles (as I feel so many fandoms for anything in general do).

      {Okay, so maybe a high level fighter might reach manga territory with wielding surfboard-sized swords, but if that’s what the player wants, why not?}
      I find it fun to point out, that while Anime gets called out as doing “over the top” stuff, we’ve had junk like that going on for literally centuries. Mango swords have long since existed in Western Mythology, like one character in Arthurian had a sword big enough to be used as a bridge, and Beowulf apparently wielded a blade made by Giants** (among other hardcore western junk). So I say hell yeah to the idea of letting the fighter types wield bigger, badder weapons (improvised or not), hopefully their benefits aren’t so marginal (so if more dice, hopefully more like 1d8 to 2d6-3d6-etc, opposed to 1d8-1d10-1d12-etc.). Though I definitely can see them being used for that one experimental rule idea for items & such having those Rechargeable Boosts.

      Pending when’s “High-Level”, following power level range consistent to 3E, I could see Fighter-types possibly uprooting & swinging trees (Like ogres) as early as 12th level (6th lv equivalent in 3E).

      **Look under “Mythology & Religion”: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/BFS

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      • Yeah, but mythology and epic poems tend to keep scale fairly inconsistent and frequently exaggerates things. It’s pretty easy to throw in a line about a sword big enough to cleave an entire army in one swing into an epic poem. Much different if a serialized manga, video game, or tabletop game.

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      • True, but various famous animes are also guilty of being inconsistent in their own power levels (Likes of Bleach, Naruto, and even DBZ know for this). As for “exaggeration”, Anime can also end up doing that in their comedies or ones with different art-styles (JoJo’s Bizarre adventure is an example of having really buff and fit characters, but reality of those muscles aren’t realize, minus to those that have superpowers). Video games have also exaggerated traits, you can see that in some famous games like Gears or War, Dragon’s Crown, and even Duke Nukem Returns (I know its bad, but sad to see ye can lift 1200lbs, but he struggles to lift up mall gates).

        My point was, for all the mention of people calling things “Anime” (despite its an art style, not a genre, and encompasses more than shonen), we’ve had super awesome “over the top” stuff going on for centuries in our stories.

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    • Nope–functionally (in terms of how they’re used), a Large shortsword is the same as a Medium longsword—and both of them weight 4 pounds. Yet a human trying to use a Large shortsword has a –2 attack roll penalty.

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      • The best argument I can think of is that you take a penalty because the weapon isn’t designed for your size. But if that’s the case, then the game should simply say characters wield inappropriately sized weapons as improvised weapons rather than make up a new penalty that stats on top of it.

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      • Garrick, that would be an easier solution, yes.
        Personally, I don’t think the penalty is necessary because your gripping hand can adjust its effective diameter from .25″ to about 1.25″ pretty easily, and since a one-size-difference weapon is only going to have a hilt diameter that’s about twice as wide, that should give you plenty of leeway. 🙂

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  3. { (Don’t get me wrong. I loved playing 3E and liked running it… but we’ve all learned a lot in the 14 years since it was published, and personally, one of those things I’ve learned is “there are a lot of rules that don’t really add much to the game, so why keep them?”) }

    I agree entirely, 3E conceptually has a lot of AWESOME content that gets me excited for ideas. High time we got an RPG that’s more “modern” in its design practices (not referring to its setting or morality), more mechanically sound, easier to DM/play, and pushing away from decades of baggage (read: sacred cows).

    Also, funny thing we usually find with games that may had rules for “Realism”, usually the rules themselves aren’t that realistic upon closer inspection. Such as the ones you mentioned and refuted, so even then, they start failing to justify their place in the game. We definitely really need to be conscious of rules like this, especially to see how they scale over the games level span. As PC’s get higher level, certain things may not need as much granular representation (12th+ PC’s Marathon running likely be tracking hours, than minutes running till checks, carrying capacity & bean-counting ammo & other minor consumables likely be considered unnecessary). As well that, rules like these are ones that seem to punish the Non-caster type PC’s more than anything else. Since its easier to come up with granular rules like that, opposed to radical changes to a pre-existing magic system.

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  4. Totally agree here SKR

    I’ve been playing this game for years and I still find the grapple rules utterly arcane. Oh and subdual damage and real damage on two tracks? Why exactly? Not wanting to make this an edition war (god forbid) but 5th ed has a rule that you can choose to render someone unconscious when you get them down to 0hp rather than kill them. Simple. Elegant. Better.

    Oh and don’t get me started on the horror that is the mundane crafting rules especially when you compare it to the magic item crafting rules (“You want to make a +1 sword from scratch? OK it will be 6 months to craft a masterwork sword then a week to enchant it.”)

    Yup fully behind this

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    • Nonlethal damage never bothered me so much because I write down how much damage I’ve taken rather than record my current hit points — easier to add than subtract. But I agree it’s probably not the best solution.

      I honestly had several problems in a 4th Edition campaign because your attacks aren’t considered “nonlethal” until you make the final blow. In one occasion, I had other players throw a tantrum at me because I attacked a party member that transformed into a werewolf during a celebration filled with villagers. The game provided no tools for subduing someone other than knocking them out when they reach zero hit points. if I were to modify 4th/5th Edition’s approach to nonlethal attacks, I’d say you have to announce your attack as nonlethal before attempting it, taking a penalty for it. Nonlethal attacks would deal damage as normal, but if it reduces the target to zero hit points, they’re knocked out.

      And don’t be ridiculous! It doesn’t take 6 months and 1 week to make a +1 longsword! It’s more like one month to make the sword and two days to enhance it. But seriously, totally agreed there. I never understood why they didn’t make mundane crafting as straightforward as magic item creation.

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    • {5th ed has a rule that you can choose to render someone unconscious when you get them down to 0hp rather than kill them. Simple. Elegant. Better.}

      As Garrick Williams somewhat pointed out, that rule was actually introduced in 4th edition, as they also didn’t have Subdual damage at all.

      {But I agree it’s probably not the best solution.}

      Fair enough there, though such systems mostly get problematic when the other HP is the path of less resistance or “master damage”. So if it was easier to take out someone’s other HP, then you’re encouraged to utilize attacks that do that. Games as Fantasy/Spy-Craft, Shadowrun, Star Wars: Edge of the Empire, all suffered from this problem in one form or another. Scarily enough, this issue could repeat itself in Five Moons, if the Social Combat system intends to use Resolve as a “Social HP” (albeit been told it won’t be directly by SKR, but some conflicting report on that).

      Lastly on the 4th campaign, why was that problematic? Strange enough there was a Werewolf PC (Shifters closest to that, or Druid/Warden/barbarian Dailies reflavored that I know) since its not normally supported.

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      • {Lastly on the 4th campaign, why was that problematic? Strange enough there was a Werewolf PC (Shifters closest to that, or Druid/Warden/barbarian Dailies reflavored that I know) since its not normally supported.}

        It’s a bit complicated. The other players came from a background of reading fiction where werewolves were romanticized as cool heroes with “super forms” rather than people cursed to become savage killers. The ranger wanted to have his character discover he was a natural werewolf, but choose the absolute worst time to have his character spontaneously transform — during a dinner party celebration marking the end of a story arc with all of us surrounded by paladins and villagers. As soon as it happened, my character sprung to action and attacked. Most of the group thought I was a massive jerk for doing that. It also did not help that my character was not fond of the ranger, who wasn’t roleplayed that well.

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    • Unfortunately I can’t find a copy of it anywhere, it probably fell prey to when my site got hacked a few years ago and the hackers replaced most of the files with extremist dogma. :/

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