Thursday, July 1, 2010

An insight into "rules lite" systems

Yesterday we met for the first real session of 7th Sea, the new game in my "indie Wednesday" group. We had met once before but had not finished making characters. This time I had decided to set a time when everything had to be done, so we could play at least one scene. Having accomplished that goal I was struck by a sudden insight about "rules lite" systems.

I know some of my readers are familiar with The Bat in the Attic blog, and might have noticed the posts about GURPS there a while back. If you would have asked me two weeks ago if I wanted to ever pick up my GURPS books again, I would horrified have said "Never!". After last night, I think I might have changed my mind, slightly.

Just like GURPS, 7th Sea is a game where you build a character from points. Just like GURPS, there are dozens of things to spend those points on and choosing can take a while. A long while. That was really my main beef with GURPS.

Looking closer at the rules in GURPS, both from The Bat posts and my own copies, I realize it can be a fairly smooth game. On the other hand, if you spend all that time making characters, you not only feel an urge to cushion those Player Characters from danger (as a GM) but also risk loosing all interest in the game if it takes two sessions until you get to roll dice.

I don't know if I'd call GURPS a "rules lite" system, but it sure looks like a lot of the clunkyness can be found in the character generation system with point builds. This brings me to my newfound insight and hypothesis that the "rules lite" aspects that are so fondly spoken of in the OSR, is mostly the fact that the games most talked about are games where you get to dive into the action, right from the start. The reason "rules lite" is so popular is that "rules lite" = no point buy systems.

There, now go find a game popular in the OSR which have a quick character generation system with complex rules once play starts. I think that combo could be a seller.


  1. That's one of the biggest draws of a pure class-based system like older D&D, it lets you get right into the game with a playable archetype anyone can understand at a glance. No long customization process before the game can start. The little quirks and individual touches of the character will come out during play, assuming the character survives for a while.

  2. While I love to have game system support for, say, swashbuckling, it sure it nice to ignore that at start and just dive in. Classed based systems do make that easy, yes.

  3. One thing that I think is worth mentioning is that for all of the advantages, disadvantages, skills, etc that are in just the GURPS Basic Set how many of them are going to be applicable to a fantasy campaign. Or a sci-fi campaign. Or a modern campaign. If you start paring down the number of items that are discarded just for being the wrong flavor/TL for the campaign then I think you get it back down to a more maneagable list.

    Another thing I would point out is that I have run D&D and Pathfinder games with players that would literally spend 8-10+ hours rolling up characters. Maybe they are finding the optimal spread of feats and planning out how their character will advance or perhaps they are tweaking the distribution of their stats.

    Whatever the reason, just as much time can be invested in generating characters with a level based system versus a point generation system.

    I'm a firm believer in the "rules-lite" being more a matter of the core system mechanic, especially during gameplay, than during character creation. After all, you are only going to generate your character once at the beginning of the game whereas you will be playing with those core mechanics for months (hopefully) to come.

  4. Well, so many times have I rolled up characters that I vastly prefer my liteness in the character generation system.

    But, of course are you right about the possibility of slimming down GURPS. I get the idea to do it once every year, but the work makes me sigh. One of these days, though...


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