The Lure of Simplicity

In case anyone has been wondering where I’ve been the past two weeks, I’m still here.  I didn’t fall off the face of the Earth or climb into a devil-faced sphere of annihilation.  Far worse actually.  John Wick and Co. dropped a PDF preview of the new 7th Sea core book in the inboxes of over 11,000 people.  We immediately began combing through it looking for…anything and everything.  Together, we provided enough feedback that they delayed printing by a week so that we could provide even more feedback.  Now, the books are off to press, the proofs are being reviewed, and we are all waiting patiently for the final draft of the PDF to be released so we can go wild with it.

In the meantime, due to a night of unusual absentee-ism in my Witch Hunter game, I took them for a spin through the B/X D&D Dungeon I’ve been running for the kids in my library program.  And fun was had by all.  A surprising amount of it.  Which brings me to the topic at hand.

The intoxicating lure of simplicity.

For about the past decade, the two games I’ve run – almost exclusively – have been Savage Worlds and Witch Hunter.  Both are great games and a lot of fun.  But, as simple as their core mechanics are, both games have a lot of moving parts.  Between Talents and Edges, Stances and Maneuvers, Power Points and Strain, Hero Points and Bennies, there is a surprising amount to keep track of.  I’m not sure why, but when you compare it to the regimented ease of B/X D&D, both games feel clunky by comparison.

After the last game session in the teen program, where we managed to spend an hour drafting an adventure and only played an hour and a half of real action, things moved steadily and quickly.  Combat zipped along at an average of 2-3 rounds each.  Even with a large group of players (upwards of 12 on some nights), it never feels like it bogs down the way WH and SW can.

I feel like I’ve forgotten how liberating running a truly rules-lite game can be.  The last game I ran that felt this easy-breezy was SAGA (Dragonlance 5th Age).  A lot of this has to do with how the game works on the GM side, I believe.  It’s very regimented.  Party goes in a room with a trap?  Roll a couple of d6s and look for 1s or 2s.  Party encounters a monster?  Roll a pair of d6s to check for surprise.  Then 2 more for Reactions.  If things go poorly, 2 more for initiative and just start going around the table.

7th Sea promises to be equally as easy.  At its core, its a resource management game where the players much chose how they spend their resources to further the story.  But despite the simplicity of the core mechanic, the game offers a very robust menu of character options.  Players choose two backgrounds (each with a different means of gaining Hero Points, a secondary resource), two Arcana (more Hero Points), and up to five Advantages (ways to spend those Hero Points).  This makes for a lot of options on the player’s part, which eats up game time.  Meanwhile, with B/X D&D, when a player poses a task outside the parameters of their class, the GM has three simple ways to solve it: say “yes” or “no”, give them a Saving Throw (or maybe an Ability roll if you’re just not feeling the old school love), or roll a d6 and look for 1s or 2s.  You might be generous and apply their Ability bonus to the roll.  Taking some of that dice rolling out of the players hands seems to speed the game up – or perhaps it just makes the GM busier so it just feels that way.

All this has left me with the crazy desire to put together a B/X pastiche for handling swashbuckling adventure.  To take a retro-clone (probably Lamentations of the Flame Princess) and mix in aspects of 7th Sea (all three editions, including d20), Flashing Blades, Honor+Intrigue, and Witch Hunter for the perfect witches brew of rules-light swashbuckling, monster hunting, and exploration.  Which is hilarious, mostly because I have no time for such an endeavor.  But there is something very satisfying about the idea of a complete swashbuckling game in only 64 pages.

And yes, I am aware of Simon Washbourne’s Sabres and Witchery.  A good start, but only about 1/3 of the equation.

I’ll be posting my thoughts about the new edition of 7th Sea in short order now that I’ve had the time to review the full scope of the rules.  But for those of you who can’t wait, here is what some others have had to say on them:

Also, I already have a few tools ready to go up on the Downloads page when the final PDF drops.  Stay tuned.

Lastly, a word about the summer schedule.  I don’t know about you, but my summer schedule becomes a busy time.  The kids are out of school. The wife is out of school.  Honey-dos and playdates fly left and right.  Its bedlam.  So I expect to be a little bit slow in posting stuff until mid-August.  Until then, I’m shooting for one good post a week.  Let’s see if I can keep up that pace.

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3 thoughts on “The Lure of Simplicity

  1. Gaston's Hat

    Interesting post. I find that although I like the dueling system in H+I, it is a bit too crunchy and detailed for some of my players. And unless players are comfortable with the system, can choose actions quickly, and are prepared to roll and add very quickly or preroll and save the dice rolls, combat can take an hour or more to play out.

    Lately I’ve been moving back towards a “tell me what your character is trying to do” for that player. Then I pick the appropriate maneuver or maneuvers to do what the player said their PC was doing. The next step is to force faster decision making from the players – they can either quickly choose a maneuver or informally tell me what they are trying to do. If after a few seconds they are dithering or undecided, then their PC is pausing during combat and will be limited to reactions (like parry, dodge, and riposte) that round. Given the presence of Fortune Points, Yielding Advantage, and reaction maneuvers I don’t think forcing the pace will be unfairly fatal to the PCs.

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    1. blusponge Post author

      Right. I have something of the same issue with Witch Hunter in that the players don’t use a fraction of the combat rules. They may change their stance on occasion, or use a Wild Assault (usually with my encouragement) or Aim, but they haven’t employed any of their weapon tricks or Power of Faith or any of the myriad of toys at their disposal. By comparison, there is something in the simplicity of roll to hit and narrate the result based on the damage done. Oh, you want to attack with two weapons? Ok, -2 and -4 to your rolls please. You want to bash that guy with your shield? No problem. 1d6 damage if you hit.

      This is why I’m so intrigued by the new 7th Sea and really want to give it a shot. Even the traditionally crunchy parts are super simple. If you are a duelist, spend a raise to do X damage. You got hit? Spend a raise to Parry X damage. Or better yet, Riposte to Parry X damage and do a point to your opponent besides. It’s so easy it practically encourages the player to push the envelope.

      And no, I don’t think forcing your players to react quickly is a bad thing at all, particularly in a swashbuckling game. I mean, in most circumstances, you have plenty of time to consider your next move. I like your idea of limiting their options rather than just skipping over them though. It feels more fair (and a smidge more realistic).

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  2. Pingback: Re-examining All For One: Regime Diabolique | …and a Brace of Pistols

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