RPG a Day 21: Simplicity

I’m going to talk here about how Crunch makes games simple.

Crunch is the conceptual opposite of Fluff, the idea that a system’s underlying philosophy is about numbers being used to make decisions. I don’t know that I agree with that division, or even with the definitions themselves, but like certain other more famous things, when it comes to crunch ‘I know it when I see it’.

The easiest way I have of picking up and playing any game that requires randomisers takes a single D6. For many years, I GMd a diceless RPG. I have my chops here, and they are MAGNIFICENT. I love weaving stories. My players come back for them. I’m not here to do myself down; I’m good at low-rule RPGs, although I have a problem where I can start things off but I find it hard to bring them in for a landing.

I’m at my best when I’m bullshitting. The sort of play where people do something and I react and there’s a new situation, and they do something… I love it. There is a certain sort of situation that I’m not as good at though, and that I need to plan well in advance. Finishing things up is difficult for me. In part, it’s because I want to keep telling those stories. I’ve learned to announce to my players that we’re in the end times now, so we can round off in a satisfying way, with no abrupt ending. That makes the difficult thing simple.

An abrupt ending to a combat career is a thing that happens often in RuneQuest. Anyone can die. Anyone can triumph. Life is not fair, and the adventurers are not guaranteed to win. So for RuneQuest, the game is always going to be in the state where the adventurers might be in the end times. It’s dangerous, and the danger is part of the appeal, because if your character is in peril, you care for them more. You’ve WORKED for those end of season ticks, those small to medium advances.

At that point, having a crunchy system makes things simple for me. I can commiserate with a player because the numbers did their job. I can rely on the sheet to carry the horror and terror of a dangerous situation, and I can rely on it to seem fair. A fluffy sheet like the 1D6 system can do that as well, but I’ve found that a complex system supports this style of play much better. The 1D6 system lets me do soaring imagination well, and the D100 sheet lets me get down and gritty, and a D20 sheet lets me say that no, your PC doesn’t know that, in a way that does not seem unfair.

So crunch is a way of making the GM’s job simpler, as long as the crunch supports their style of play. Which is obvious, perhaps, but it needs to be said that I’ve loved crunchy systems and I’ve loved fluffy systems, and neither’s better, but I think crunch works better at the gritty realism level.

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Oddly enough, RuneQuest’s runes and passions add a level of simplicity for me as a player, even if they make my adventurer’s life hard. As a bear with little brain sometimes, I struggle to make decisions for Varanis. I get confused about how she’d respond to a situation. So then I can look at her passions and runes, roll some dice, and I get ideas to work with rather than having to be completely creative. Although the system itself can feel complicated, this is an element of simplicity that makes gaming more fun for me.

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