Why Isn’t the WoD Selling Like Hot Cakes? Part Two of Several: Too Many Rules!

Davey, over at The Marienburg Gazette, is an insightful fellow indeed. Though he doesn’t know it, he’s actually trumped my next WoD post in a single sentence, and it be this:

something I’m always told by family members or friends when trying to entice them with a casual game: “there are so many rules!”

It’s something I’d half-heartedly felt for a long time but hadn’t really grasped until I tried to introduce our resident board-gamers to the RPG form, and I think the crucial thing here was that I was attempting to teach an RPG to adults, rather than to adolescents. We all know that, as the years go by, the time you have for fun and the patience you have for nonsense diminish; you are too old for this crap, and it shows.

Getting adults to do things they might have enjoyed ten years ago: not easy.

Looking at, say, character generation, you realise that what you’re effectively saying to someone is ‘you must fill out this convoluted form and make a whole bunch of uninformed choices before you may play this game’. This stands doubly true for something that’s points-buy-based, like Vampire, although random generation has its own perils – “I rolled low for this, my character’s shit”. At least the modern game defaults to a one-page character sheet (that’s a mercy, four sides was just far too many even for me), but still, there’s the prioritising of attributes and the allocation of points and the selection of archetypes, virtues and vices, deciding what kind of person your character is going to be before you have the faintest idea how to play them as any sort of person: it’s backasswards is what it is. And it takes time, and it requires people to be in a creative mood, and if it’s your first time you might not have any idea what sort of character you want, and ARGH.

Of course, this is avoidable. Chris, who’s nobly stepped up to run the last couple of sessions for my Original Recipe Gaming Group (which means I can play for a change, something I’m coming to enjoy more and more these days), has a neat little trick for Hunter characters whereby you create the human first and your special Hunter stuff (your virtues and powers) are built up during play. I do something similar with the prioritising of statistics and the allocation of dots; a prologue or prelude to the game narrative in which your characters navigate a scenario through call and response – I say “this happens”, you say “I do that” and I say “gain a dot in the other”. If one were to do both (shocking!) one would in theory arrive at that happy point where the player has been involved in the generation of their numbers and knows exactly what they mean, and has gotten to play from the moment of sitting down to play rather than having to fill out forms first, and has presumably thrashed out an idea of their character through actually playing them and so gotten some dots that represent the things they like to do.

It goes further than character generation, though. I’m looking at the step-by-step combat turn for the old World of Darkness system and there are sixteen steps involved. SIXTEEN. Two of those are ‘repeat previous step for subsequent characters, held actions or Celerity users’, so there’s exponentially more than that to be ploughed through just to, y’know, hit someone in the face and have them knee you in the whatsits. Now, admittedly, that’s the old one (I don’t have a new WoD book to hand), but I’m sure I don’t remember the new one being hugely more streamlined than this. Now, my last pair of new players are the sort of people who play a lot of board games, and frankly a sixteen-stage turn sequence for something that’s arguably not even the point of the game is more aggravating and convoluted than the most aggravating and convoluted board game in the house.

And, frankly, after re-reading the Vampire rules, I feel like I was a bit hard on ‘Race for the Galaxy’…

Then, lest we forget, there’s the small matter of supernatural abilities. Let’s disregard the fairly basic stuff; the spending of blood points for extra dice on Attribute rolls, or for healing injuries at different rates depending on what did the damage. Let’s look at the supernatural powers, shall we? Let’s consider that there are ten core Disciplines in contemporary Vampire – three of them are comparatively simple “the more dots you have in this the better you are at it” types, but the others are all “each dot gets you a new power with its own sub-system” types, as are the three Covenant-based ones. Again, that’s a whole lot of rules; the fattest chapter in the book. Again, Requiem is an advance on Masquerade in this department – thirteen is less than seventeen, and the structure of the new World of Darkness materials guarantees that you’ll encounter the core rules before the Discipline choices – but come on, people. It’s still a whole bunch of rules for pretending to be a vampire, it’s a hundred-plus page rulebook just to pretend to be a human and then three times as many pages to pretend to be a vampire, and it’s a whole bunch of rules which mechanise something which arguably doesn’t need to be mechanised much in the first place.

I’m running well over the recommended 750 words, though, so we’ll talk about that next time.

4 thoughts on “Why Isn’t the WoD Selling Like Hot Cakes? Part Two of Several: Too Many Rules!

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  1. I think you’re definitely on to something. The days where gamers took pride in being able to somehow coax a game out of a series of long and questionably written tomes with waaaay too much micro-representation of stuff are gone I think. It’s not just that people like you and I are too old for that crap. It’s that the younger people are all ‘WTF, is this trying to be confusing and slow?” and they kind of have a point.

    I’m about to start GMing a D&D game (a Pathfinder and 3.5 mash-up to be exact) and one of the players has never played a P&P RPG before. I’ve sent him the books but I’m not holding out much hope of him opening them and thinking “wow! I’m going to sit down right now and follow all these complex directions to be ready for the first game!”. Which is funny because I love reading rulebooks for fun, and still do when I have time. But I formed that habit as a kid. I’m not sure exactly why I don’t expect this guy to enjoy it. The world and gaming has changed a lot.

    1. Glad you think so, man. You’re definitely onto something with the younger people, too; my next post is going to skim over this in more detail, but the gist is that the crowd I WoW-RP with are between five and ten years younger than me (for the most part) and they’re used to having the actual mechanics of their systems dealt with by the machinery they use to play them. It’s not that they don’t understand mechanics or environments, it’s just that actually working out all the multipliers and modifiers and representing every last bit of their interaction with those things through the medium of dice rolls is not something they’ve ever had to do. They look at the environment, realise that they don’t stand in the lightning, and move out of the lightning, and the game implements that by itself.

      I used to enjoy reading rulebooks for fun. Now I don’t. I’m trying to refresh my memories of Savage Worlds because I thought it may be worth a go for a world I want to build at some stage, and I’m glancing right off it – “so it uses cards for this and dice for that and chips for the other and THIS IS TOO MUCH CLUTTER I JUST WANT TO PLAY LET’S PRETEND”.

      I’m perilously close to writing my own non-system. In fact, I might even give that a try today, since I’ve nothing else on…

  2. Do it. You know what would be interesting? Start playing an RPG without any rules and see at which points people get uncomfortable with things not having a mechanic. then you’d know precisely what a system actualy needs.

    Of course that would be hard for many experienced gamers to get behind, they’d probably feel lost. A complete novice though wouldn’t know the difference…

    1. Do it? I’ve done it. First RPG I’ve ever read where the introduction’s longer than the rules. I went for a slightly different solution, though – your suggestion is very much dependent on who you’re playing with, and the resultant system might be perfect for the group with whom I devised it and lousy for anyone else in the history of ever. It’s not systems that need a mechanic for X, Y or Z, it’s players – so what I went for was a mechanic that should work for absolutely any letter of the alphabet. You’ll see when it’s polished up.

      I’ll probably put together a slightly nicer-looking document before I show it to anybody though.

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