Reduction and Simplification: When is it "good"?

Yeah, FKR seems really cool and is absolutely a relative of what I do but I very much like to use mechanics and procedures.

Since you asked: starting a new topic is preferable to talking about two different things in the same thread.


To loop things back to the original question I think that complexity should be added when players want it and removed if players don’t want it. I also think that this is the in the purview of a DM as they respond to a particular group rather than the job of the designer in anticipation of an imagined audience.

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Gonna toss a bomb in here: I think there is an assumption being made here that all game designers have access to people to test their games with before publication. Not all people who put out games have a table they can “design for/to”. Some can only design based on what they can figure out in their own heads.


Oh, sure, I’ve been doing that for a while because my depression/anxiety has made it difficult to play over the past year. To be honest I’m a little embarrassed to admit it, because my game design professor really drilled the importance of playtesting into me!

But, lack of access to playtesters is a practical reality for a lot of people, for all kinds of reasons. You’re probably right to raise it as something we should be more open about.

Aside from all that, I don’t really think it’s my job as the DM to cater exclusively to what the players want, any more than it’s the job of an artist to cater exclusively to what audiences want.

There’s an element of collaboration, sure, but part of the deal (for me) is that I get to do something that interests me on my side of the screen.

I think things probably change once you are a professional game designer. (By which I mean you rely on your rpg revenue in order to finance you and your families lifestyle.) When you are designing as a hobbyist your responsibility isn’t to consumers it is to you and to your friends.

So maybe you are designing a game even though you don’t have a regular group right now and also can’t get a playtest group together. If that is the case you are designing for your own satisfaction. Your audience is yourself.

If that’s the case the answer becomes “you should add complexity if you are enjoying adding complexity and you should simplify if you enjoy the challenge of being an elegant designer.” The idea of achieving some idealized design goal based on a particular play style should only ever enter the equation if doing so is fun to you in it’s own right.

But I am deeply opposed to the commodification of all hobbies. Side-hustle-ism is absolutely corrosive to any hobbyist scene. It’s cool if you want to sell your stuff but you have to realize that IF someone decides to actually play your game they very likely will not be doing so the way that you might have designed for them to do it… because as soon as the dice hit the table its THEIR game now and if they want to port some crunch from Burning Wheel or GURPS into your Into the Odd hack there is absolutely nothing you can do to stop them.

My other hobby is that I roast coffee. Most of it I drink myself or share with a few close friends and family members within that hobby scene. I roast the coffee that I like to drink because I’m going to drink it. Sometimes I give it as gifts or sell it at a very slight margin. Once I do I no longer get to get mad if someone wants to put pumpkin spice creamer in it or brew it in a cheap Mr. Coffee. That’s fine with me because I like roasting and brewing coffee for it’s own sake and, of course, I get to drink it!

Designing a game to sell to others for profit with no intent to play it yourself seems a bit like roasting and selling coffee that you have no interest in drinking yourself.

So I hope everyone is having fun making games, and if you can’t play right now my hope is that you can get back to the table soon!

I will reply in a separate thread.

simple… for lack of a better word, is good; simple is right; simple works

Here’s the nearest I can figure.

Simplicity is for when you want more direct connection, while complexity is for when you want a bit of distance. Distance allows for engaging with the subject as a game; you trade immersion for game.

This is not a bad thing. I’m not sure many of us want to RP having an arm ripped off. Nope, we just let hit points and wounds and whatnot take care of that for us. No sweat. We don’t want to roll around and pretend the blood’s spurting out.

In a related vein complexity allows us to model procedures we may not necessarily think of, but they make the story interesting and reinforce genre. A great example is wound infection: you’re gonna act really differently about injury if just getting hurt may kill you. If you turn your back and a counter starts to go up for NPCs to die you’re going to try and keep people nearby. It’s an extra layer of complexity but you’ve introduced a system that shapes your perceptions, and thus the game.

Hope any of that made sense.

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Did anyone link this yet? Chris McDowall is becoming an authority on minimalist games, it looks like he’s developing a whole procedure around simplifying existing games BASTIONLAND: Designing for Minimalism

I exclusively run minimalist games for these reasons:

  • I can hold all the rules all in my head
  • I can easily create new material for the game
  • it’s tons of fun, which begs the question: if I have so much fun with a rules-lite game, aren’t rules-heavy game full of stuff that doesn’t support fun, or it gets in the way, even? Especially since the most interesting parts of the games we play almost never have to do with the mechanics of the game, but rather with qualttative aspects and content: NPCs, magic items, creative problem-solving etc
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Chris hangs out on the NSR Discord from time to time!

I’m curious, what games do you run? And do you ever feel like adding extra mechanics to the game, e.g. “adding HP in 200-word RPGs”?

I think that is an absolute take and not right. Just because the heavy mechanical parts aren’t fun for you doesn’t mean they are not fun for others. To run I prefer light games too but to play I love some crunch and mechanical heft I can sink my teeth in and really “build” a character. I enjoy tactical combat and Battlemaps. They are part of the fun for me for those games where I w as not that. Lancer or 5e. Other games I don’t need nor want them and they would get in the way. I don’t think that can be answered as an absolute only as personal likes and dislikes.


I also think that different games can be fun in different ways and for different reasons. People can play/watch both Basketball and Baseball or play both Mario and Dark Souls.

TTRPG is like that too.

The hobby has a huge problem with wanting to categorize players based on how they play when really most people can play in multiple modes.


I’ve run world of dungeons and nowadays almost exclusively electric Bastionland. I also ran oneshots of cairn, Maze Rats, mausritter and knave.

I did feel the need to add some mechanics to world of dungeons and knave but in those games they are inequivocably lacking. WoDu even lists armor values without telling you how they are supposed to be used, knave doesn’t have rules for dungeoncrawling or hexcrawling.

But for Electric Bastionland, whenever I try to add or change something I always find that the original does it best.

But there’s a secret: EB makes it really easy to make up content for it. So you can occasional have monsters, NPCs, magic items, each with a unique mechanic, don’t you agree? Same goes for the rest of those games.

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Oh yeah and by the way I haven’t actually played any rules heavy game, (besides 5e if you consider that one rules heavy) that was me actually wondering what those additional parts are for.

But I have trouble even reading an RPG with more than a couple pages of rules, since I know that a full game can be played with much less, it feels like it wouldn’t be worth it

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Honestly, absolutely. People always ask why I say I’m rules-light but also play rules heavy games, and the answer is that while I prefer the former the latter can also be fun at times.


I don’t do rules-lite; the closest I’ve come is Trophy, and that’s because Trophy is so freaking well-designed and thematic I don’t want much more rules attached to it. My normal go-to games are Burning Wheel, Torchbearer, and 4e DnD.

My own designs are definitely crunchy: Crescendo is definitely a heavy character development game, with rules for many things you’d normally just handwave, and another game I’m developing, Its Shadow Still Remains, is possibly going to be even more crunchy.

The thing I like about heavier games is they’re really good at creating unusual situations, without me having to expend a lot of brainpower. I can just do the mechanic, and get something that is really unexpected, detailed, and difficult to get out of. It also lets me have heavier stories, as emotional vulnerability goes down when you can look at the dice and curse them out for getting your character into that situation.

I dunno if that makes any sense. But some things I don’t think should be up to the people at the table. It doesn’t feel like a game to me at that point.

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