Rules, Roller Coasters & RPGs

I am a huge fan of simple games. Incredibly complex rules for RPGs make my eyes glaze over. I do not want highly detailed and realistic rules, because if there is one thing that I have discovered that ruins an RPG session it is trying to make it feel “real”. You want reality? Pay your taxes. There is a nice dose of reality for you, and it is not very fucking exciting now is it?

This is not to say that you should live in a fantasy world. The most thrilling moments in my life trump my most thrilling moment playing an RPG any day of the week. Any modern roller coaster is more exciting at that moment than most RPG sessions can ever hope to be. The speed, the screams, the jolts and the twists as the cars fly along the track are all going to be taken in by your senses and your body will react accordingly with an increase in your heart rate and respiration. When was the last time that an RPG made you feel that way for several minutes? It is possible, but it won’t be a consistent result of every RPG session that you participate in. The roller coaster on the other hand has a very good chance of delivering that type of experience every time.

So why play RPGs? And what does this have to do with simple rules?

The reason that I play RPGs is to attempt to experience via my imagination things that are just not possible in my current reality. It is very likely that I will never fight a giant with sword, fly through outer space under my own power, cast magic spells that bring a hero back from the brink of death, or discover the lost continent of Atlantis.

But when I play an RPG all of those things are possible. Unlike a daydream my experiences in an RPG can be shared with my friends, and I can share in theirs as well. Through an RPG I can transcend from mere mortal who is going to trigger his fight-or-flight reflexes on a roller coaster into a being who has flown through suns without blinking an eye. There is something beautiful about how an RPG can immerse me so deeply into these fantasies, and the last thing that I want to hear is:

“Okay, according to the Player’s Guide you need to overcome the Sun’s gravity with an Endurance check, make a Flying skill roll to actually stay on course, check to see if the sun’s heat is greater than your Superhuman Invulnerability ranking and if not take the applicable damage, and you need to pass a Willpower test if you want to actually keep your eyes open while doing all of this.”

What? What the fuck? What the fuckity-fucking-fuck?

Just let my PC fly through the god damn sun! If you need a roll in order to recreate the risk involved limit it to a single roll! Make the interruptions to my imagining of the scene brief. Even if my PC fails when I blow that single roll I want to quickly get back to imagining the consequences of the failure. The reality of the rules have to be so simple and elegant that they take up so little of my mental resources that my imagination can stay as immersed as possible in the game world.

And maybe that is what good, simple, and elegant RPG rules do. They insulate our imagined worlds from the real world while allowing for all of the game’s participants to interact via a common medium. That is why I play games like Fudge, Savage Worlds, MicroLite 20 and other short and sweet systems. It also might explain why Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition bores me after leveling up a few times. The simpler the rules the more enjoyable the game is to me it seems, like chess where the rules can be learned in an hour but take a lifetime to master.

That is my opinion. Leave a comment below and let everyone know how you feel about this.