As we are approaching the season of Bah! Humbug! I thought I’d try to get my curmudgeonly musings about what I’m prepared to put up with in RPGs these days. This is mainly from the perspective of me as GM, but there will be observations about stuff I’ve played over the past few years. Having nothing but online games for a big chunk of pandemic has increased my grounchiness by an order of magnitude.
1: No Crunch!
Good Grud Above, but I’m sick of crunchy games. I dislike them as a player and I’ve come to utterly loathe them as a GM. I want a system which is… You shoot them. They take damage. If they were wearing body armour the damage is less. If you aimed before you shot, you’ll have a better chance to hit. End of.
Playing WH40K Dark Heresy at the moment and all the pointless complications about this weapon is rending and that one has penetration, and that other one is balanced, whilst this one here is reliable. This beastie can resist this type of damage and that beastie is immune to that one. When I try to hit the beastie I get +10 for Thing or Situation A, -20 for B, +10 for C, +30 for D, -10 for E, etc etc. Aaaaaaaaargh!
Compared to games of yore, like Phoenix Command or Aftermath, WH40K has hardly any crunch at all. But it is still too much crunch for me.
2: No grindy combats.
Combat should be fast. If it takes 30 minutes to run a combat, that’s too long. If it takes a whole session - or worse more than one session - to run a combat, I’m bored and frustrated as a player. Get. On. With. It. (WH40K and Scion I’m looking at you here).
As a GM, combat grind is not why I run games.
3: I’m sick of having to run party NPCs in combats.
Because pandemic, most of the games I’ve been running have 3 players. Which means 2 when someone can’t make it. I got into the, in retrospect, stupid rut of boosting the party numbers by having some NPCs tag along with them. While that’s great for RP opportunities, plot hooks and plugging a skill gap if no-one wants to be the medic or the ship’s engineer, it is a pain in the backside if I have to run them as well as all the bad guy NPCs when the party gets into a fight.
It is a pain in the backside of a different sort if I hand them over to the players to run in combats. Partly
because then they have to be fully statted up, instead of just being Martin the Medic with 70% in First Aid. But they can’t have spoilery stuff on the char sheet. “Hey, Martin the Medic has ‘owes money to the space mafia’ on his sheet”. And what happens if I had a whole chunk of plot planned around Martin and the space mafia, but the player running them managed to fumble a roll and get them eaten by the ravenous bugblatter beast of Traal during a combat?
I resolve from now on not to let parties have fighty shooty NPCs. Except in systems where the presence of allied NPCs is represented by a game mechanic which states something along the lines of: add +1d6 to your dice pool for every ally who has your back in the fight.
4: No chapters and chapters of talents, feats, special abilities, spells, superpowers, etc etc.
I’m not so bothered if my players have a bunch of this stuff sprinkled all over their character sheets, just so long as they are the ones who are keeping track of what it does and don’t keep asking me to look up the rules for when they can/can’t use Expert Swordsman and what bonuses it gives, and does it stack with Pointy Thing Mastery and Fight Like A Girl.
But I don’t want to have to keep track of all this bollocks for NPCs (Vampire 5th ed and Werewolf the Apocalypse and Firefly I’m looking at you here). And it is a nightmare for games where not everyone owns a copy of the rulebook. Especially during character gen. And especially in online games whenever someone wants to spend xp.
5: I should be able to produce a short and sweet cheat sheets for my players.
Ideally on one side of A4 (even if it has to be in size 10 font). Maybe 2 sides if they need a list of things they can spend story points on.
I ended up with a 12 page (in size 10 font) cheat sheet for Vampire 5th ed. See complicated lists and crunch, above.
6: The game mechanics should make the PCs awesome.
They should have decent skill levels in the things their character is supposed to be good at. The medic should have First Aid 80% not 20%. The sniper should have shooting the crap out of things 85% not 25%.
They should have story points (or a similar mechanic) that they can spend for extra dice or re-rolls or the like. Those should either be really abundant or decently powerful. Like Dr Who gives you 12 story points, and you can spend them for extra dice or to turn a failure into “I’ve just succeeded by the skin of my teeth”. Or Cortex Prime lets you spend to roll an extra dice to add to your total.
Systems which are stingy with story points or only give them weak effects need not apply.
7: No-one should be sitting around bored during starship combat.
Any game where only the pilot and the gunner get anything to do can fek right off. A game that claims the engineer will have lots to do but every round is just a variant on “Do you want to heal the damage the shields took last round?” can fek right off too.
Thoughts? What are your deal breakers and wants list for a system? Has the pandemic gaming experience changed that?