Am I getting old or just lazy? – 2014 Edition

In 2009 I already wrote about my aversion of rules-heavy games. In these last 5 years I noticed that I have become even more picky when it comes to rules systems. The trend that I preferred rules light games has continued. Since I am not getting younger, things which were pretty easy to me five or ten years ago are now getting more difficult.

Back in the day, learning new rules wasn’t that big a deal. Nowadays it’s much more difficult. One reason is that certain ways to do things are almost hardwired into my brain, so that it takes me longer to understand new concepts. You might remember my long struggle with Fate.

I also don’t have that much time anymore. The same goes for my players. Learning new rules and then teaching them to my players just takes too much of our precious time. That’s why I try to stick to games which are simple to pick up and play.

Back in 2009 rules-medium games like Savage Worlds were still in my comfort zone, but today I’ve moved further towards lighter rule systems. Savage Worlds in particular has a couple of quirks I just can’t stand anymore. I really liked the card-based initiative back in the day, but nowadays it feels uneccessarily gimmicky. I also don’t need all the tactical option its combat system offers. I prefer quick and mostly narrative combats.

One of my favorite systems is Monte Cook’s Cypher System (which has been used in Numenera and The Strange). It’s very easy to learn, but still offers players a lot of intersting options. What I like in particular is that the system is 100% player-facing and that monsters are basically described by their level. It’s extremely easy to come up with NPCs on the fly. And since I don’t have to roll dice as a GM, I am not tempted to fudge with roll results.

Recently I have often thought about Robin D. Laws’ Gumshoe System. It’s even easier than the Cypher System and works perfect for anything investigation-related. I am pretty sure you could even run a fantasy game with it, or anything else really – as long as the player characters are competent professionals and there’s at least some investigation involved. Gumshoe is mostly player-facing but not to 100%. But that’s easily houseruled.

While I love some of the ideas of Fate, I am slowly moving away from it. In theory everthing sounds perfectly reasonable and simple but on the game table I notice that I just don’t use it correctly – especially in the heat of the moment. I guess my brain is stuck in more traditional thought processes and Fate just works too differently. Fate is definitely a very good game BUT it takes me too much effort to get into the mindset needed to run this game. On the other hand, you could probably wake me at 3 am and I would be able to run Numenera.

As a GM I am pretty good at improvising. I don’t like to prepare a lot beforehand and usually I can come up with a good plot on the fly. What I need are rules systems that support this kind of GMing. The Cypher System does that and I think it might work in Gumshoe, too. I faintly remember that either Robin Laws or Kenneth Hite actually wrote a post about improvisation and the Gumshoe System. A special case is the new D&D 5th Edition. It definitely feels a bit more crunchy than both the Cypher System and Numera, but I’ve played D&D for about twenty to twenty-five years now and so a lot of the D&Disms are probably etched deeply into my brain, so it doesn’t feel as complex as other games.

Overall I still like checking out new rules systems, but I definitely prefer rules-light games which are not too far away from traditional gaming. There are many great indie games out there, but even though a lot of them use pretty easy rules, it often takes a lot of effort to get into the right mindset… and I guess I am getting too old for that. Zwinkerndes Smiley

Michael Wolf is a German games designer and enthusiast best known for his English language role-playing games blog, Stargazer's World, and for creating the free rules-light medieval fantasy adventure game Warrior, Rogue & Mage. He has also worked as an English translator on the German-language Dungeonslayers role-playing game and was part of its editorial team. In addition to his work on Warrior, Rogue & Mage and Dungeonslayers, he has created several self-published games and also performed layout services and published other independent role-playing games such as A Wanderer's Romance, Badass, and the Wyrm System derivative Resolute, Adventurer & Genius, all released through his imprint Stargazer Games. Professionally, he works as a video technician and information technologies specialist. Stargazer's World was started by Michael in August 2008.

4 thoughts on “Am I getting old or just lazy? – 2014 Edition”

  1. I share your experience. Part of it is getting older — we may not have the time, money, or drive to learn another rules set like we did in high school or our 20s, and part of it is that we’ve already run many adequate games with existing systems. In addition, experienced Game Masters often get the itch to tinker with house rules or to design their own systems.

    As I’ve noted previously, I once preferred GURPS and D20, but some of the people in my recent groups have also been leaning toward rules-light systems lately. I like FATE and Gumshoe, and I also think Savage Worlds is decent but not exactly my style.

    That said, over the past few years, my fantasy teams have shifted in preference from the retro-clone Basic Fantasy Role-Playing Game back toward Pathfinder, mainly because of its numerous character options. I like the wealth of support for it, both in print and online, but the focus on tactical combat, hoarding treasure, and resource management can take a toll on our attention spans by higher levels.

    I’m not very familiar with Numenera/Cypher, but I think another G.M. in my groups may run a demo of it. I’m also looking forward to trying D&D5e, which I think may satisfy the desires of retro-style role-players, hardcore fantasy fans, and busy G.M.s. I’m at the point where I want rules to support my style as a storyteller and world-builder, offer gamers options they can use but not abuse, and otherwise facilitate play and stay out of the way….

  2. I am in the same place. The player facing rules are great for what I run on-line.
    I was curious if you have tried Dungeon World? It does a lot of what you seem to be looking for.

  3. Yes and yes.

    I’ve been running Microlite20 with either 5X5 1.0 (with the revised dice rules), SKETCH, or the 2.0 Risus.

    I keep hoping for someone brave enough to play The Ladder.

  4. I think it’s a sign of getting old. I’ve noticed a similar change in preferences — from rules heavy to rules lite games — as I’ve aged. I don’t mind acquiring new RPGs for the simple pleasure of reading through them and mining ideas. (Just look at my bookshelf. Heck, I even picked up Burning Wheel, which has to be one of the densest RPGs I’ve seen.) But the thought of learning some of these well enough to bring to the table and explain to my gaming group is just too much these days. We’re mostly playing D&D 3.5e and Pathfinder — we’ve just learned those systems so well, but they’re so hard the the GM. Lot of burnout issues. I introduced Savage Worlds to my group because it’s easier to run. But I’m not 100 percent thrilled with some of the mechanics.

    I’m still on the fence with Numenera. Not sure I grasp the mindset yet, but it has grown into one of those games I’d consider bringing to the table. Shows a lot of promise for ease of GMing. Your blog might have pushed me over the edge. We’ll see.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.