Saturday, 20 September 2014

Rules Lite vs. Rules Heavy

Today I'm going to talk about the differences between a rules lite RPG vs. a rules heavy RPG. The reason for this is to highlight a very important way that Ample gets played that differs from many mainstream RPGs such as D&D.

In a rules heavy game, character generation produces a complex, detailed list of abilities, skills and capabilities. During play, all a character needs to do when considering their chances of success in a particular pursuit is to look down at their sheet. Many nuances of their character are nutted out in stat form, leaving little to misinterpretation. You have a definitive list of skills that tells a player exactly what that character is capable of. This allows a player and GM to know very precisely what a character can and can't do. The downside to rules heavy characters, for me at least, is that you end up with pages and pages of statistics and points that become easily forgotten, easily looked over. A player needs to constantly refer to their sheet to get an idea of what that character has. Bonuses, penalties and other modifiers from difference sources become forgotten. The game becomes more of a maths exercise than a story telling session.

Rules lite attempts to strip back a character to it's bare bones. Trimming the fat, if you will. The appeal that many old school gamers find with the older editions of D&D is that there were so few rules. The idea was that you had a character, with basic stats, and the rest was implied in your Character Concept. You made a story and this was your character; more than the collection of dots or numbers on a sheet. Sure, you can have a story about your rules heavy character too, but more often than not that story needs to follow what the points say on the sheet, not the other way around.

This, above all else, is what we want in a game of Ample. With 4 basic Attributes, and 9 Core Skills that encompass any number of skill and attribute combinations we can cover pretty much every action imaginable that a character may attempt. The rest is pure story. As we talked about in the Character Concept post, a skill can be expanded upon through tying it to the characters background. So a character has 3 points in the Communication Skill? How did they get so good at communicating? What role did their background or upbringing have in gaining this level of expertise? Did they go through some trial or hardship to gain these skills? Did they spend long hours and nights studying and practicing? These questions tell a story, and they add flavour to a character that can be used during play.

Lets say that the character earned their Communications Skill 3 by being a salesman, an up and coming sales rep of a successful company before the zombie apocalypse occurred. During play the GM knows that this character is comfortable convincing people to see their way of thinking; they're great at talking to small groups of people. Lets take that same character and face them off against a large crowd. Even though the character has an excellent Communications Skill, they've never had to do public speaking like this before. The GM is well within their rights to make this kind of encounter very difficult for the character. On the other hand, the player can mention that their character regularly had to give sales reports to a board of directors, or at the very least a whole department. Already this gives us more story and more character information that we can use. Perhaps the character has a decent foundation of leadership potential to build upon, something highly valued in a post apocalyptic world looking to rebuild society.

These concepts can still be applied to a rules heavy game, but by their very nature the rigidity of a character prevents embellishments that are not supported by character generation or development.