Tuesday, August 25, 2020

#RPGaDAY 2020: Day 25 Lever

Archimedes, the polymath of classical antiquity, is quoted with "Give me a lever and firm place to stand and I will move the world."

A lever is one of the six simple machines described by Renaissance writers. The lever is usually the first, though I think the inclined plane or ramp may have historically been the first.  

How does this apply to my games? Well...it does in a couple of ways, but the underlying theme is "keep it simple."

Design

Like a lot of people, I have been working from home since March.  It has worked out well for me since I can work anywhere I have a solid internet connection.  My wife has been home as well and I will admit I have enjoyed being home with her and my kids quite a bit.  I often get to listen in on her meetings when I go upstairs (my office is in my basement next to the game room) to get coffee. She has been talking about Optimization Levers all week.  In her case it has to do with software development.  But it is something I think about a lot in my day job and in my own RPG design work.

One of the reasons I feel I will never fully be part of the Old-School movement (whatever the stripe) is that I prefer simple solutions over complicated ones.  Don't give me 10 different ways of doing something in a game when one will suffice. I don't need tables when a simple algorithm and a number will work just as well or even better.

This is one of the reasons I feel that modern D&D is superior, design-wise, to older D&D.  I don't need pages of attack matrices for different classes and monsters when 3.x BAB and AC as DC works so much better.  I don't need percentile dive for thieves skills and d6s for ranger skills when both can be done with a d20.

The more you can simplify the rules the more then fade into the background and people can just play.

This is the central design philosophy behind Cinematic Unisystem. Everything is d10 based. Successes are based on any adjusted roll over a 9.  Simple. 

But simple mechanics do mean the game as been "simplified" or "dumbed down." It means the esoterica has been removed.  For D&D and Unisystem the lever is the d20 and d10 respectively.

I see a lot of people online complaining that such and such game is "dumbed down" or "made simple," often accompanied by a confession of never actually have played the game in question. 

Don't confuse simple with simplistic. 

Tools of Design

Likewise, I like to keep my process of design simple.  I feel it puts me into the right headspace for design.  So my levers here are the basic sort.  Paper and pencil.

Don't get me wrong. I am a technophile.  My wife and I love to be on the cutting edge of technology. I can even remember a time in the early 90s where I was looking for 50Ω terminators for the in house network we had built when such things were not only not common, but there was no good place to buy all the parts we needed for the multiple types of computers we had at the time.  

I will still run stats to determine spell levels and figure out which levels are needed.  While I can, and do, run those on my computer, I taught stats for long enough to also do the calculations with a pencil. 

Research still involves me, some books, and a folded up sheet of paper that serves as a bookmark and a place to keep notes. 

Coffee and pencils. Still my most reliable tools.

I mean yes. I will still transcribe those notes onto my PC/Laptop/Phone with some more details. but it has worked well for me for years.

So my advice is to be like Archimedes.  No, I don't mean run through the streets of Syracuse naked yelling "Eureka!" But rather use the simple tools and find a good place to stand.

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