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Rules: Light, Medium, Heavy

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RPGPundit:
Even a term as common as "rules light" is misused with remarkable frequency.  Witness the number of Swine who try to tell me that White Wolf's system is "rules-light". It's certainly not. It's not one iota less complex than D20, and its considerably more "complicated" in the sense of being poorly designed and therefore more difficult to figure out and play smoothly.
 
Speaking of this, let me clear up one item of judgement: there is no qualitative factor to the terms "rules heavy" or "rules light". In other words, "rules heavy" is not better than "rules light" and "rules light" is not better than "rules heavy".  There is a great deal of preference involved in this issue, so for YOU rules heavy might be better, or for YOU rules light might be better, but in and of themselves, there is no inherent betterness in either of these.  The distinction of quality comes in with the difference between "well designed" and "poorly designed".
 
So lets start to define:
 
Rules-light: a system where a strong emphasis is placed on the rules being as minimalist as possible, everything is resolved with a few simple mechanics, and characters are differentiated by their backstory and personalities, not statistics.
 
Rules-heavy: A system where an effort is made to make  sophisticated rules to cover as many specific mechanics as possible, sometimes still in a streamlined way, sometimes not. The idea is for these rules to create a more complete sense of simulation in the rules themselves, rather than just in the play. Characters are usually, but not always, designed in a highly individual point-buy system, and are always given a wide variety of statistics and attributes to flesh out the character's identity and make him different from the other characters.
 
To this we must add a third category: Rules-medium.  There is always an industry leader, a bog-standard to which all other rules are compared. As you saw above, the actual definitions for rules-light and rules-heavy is somewhat abstract, and they are only really definable as "heavy" or "light" in comparison to some kind of landmark.

In this glorious new golden age of gaming, that landmark is D20. D20 represents the middle of the road in rule design. It is neither heavy nor light. How do we know this? Simple: serious adherents of "rules heavy" games always accuse D20 of being "rules light", and serious adherents of "rules light" games always accuse D20 of being "rules heavy".
 
"Its not realistic", say the rules-heavy crowd (and you already know what I think of "realism" if you've been reading my recent entries)!
 
"Its all powergaming!" say the rules-light crowd!
 
"Its not detailed enough" Say the rules-heavy crowd!
 
"Its too restrictive!" say the rules-light crowd!
 
Conclusion: its rules-medium.  There are a couple of other rules-medium games out there besides D20, which are tweaked slightly toward the heavy or slightly toward the light side. In reality, the only absolute is the Industry Leader (D20), everything else is not classifiable into a mere lump criteria, rather its spread out in a kind of spectrum, moving gradually away  in either direction from D20, the center of the gaming universe, the shining sun that lights our way.
 
And now to help you, my gentle readers, I am going to tell you what to think, and give you the list of games, rules light or rules heavy, well designed or poorly designed.  This list is by no means comprehensive, it's just what I could come up with off the top of my head.
 
Rules Heavy and Well Designed: GURPS. (hopefully SR4 will be added to this list)
 
Rules Heavy and Poorly Designed: Rolemaster, Champions, MERP. Shadowrun 3rd.
 
Rules Medium and Well Designed: D20; the BRP system (Call of Cthulhu, mostly; rules-medium leaning toward light). Unknown Armies (rules-medium leaning very much toward light). Warhammer Fantasy 2nd edition (medium, leaning toward heavy).
 
Rules-medium and Poorly Designed: White Wolf rules in all versions (medium, leaning toward heavy). HARP (or "rolemaster junior"), Savage Worlds, the D6 system (that used to be for Star Wars back when the Star Wars RPG sucked because of this system). Nobilis (its diceless, but that DICELESS IS NOT ALWAYS RULES-LIGHT; also, this system sucks massive ass).
 
Rules-light and well designed: Amber Diceless, Over The Edge, Octane.
 
Rules light and Poorly designed: The Window, RISUS, and pretty well anything that ever came out of the Forge.
(note: it is equally possible to create a rules-heavy system that is total crap as it is to create a rules-light system that is total crap, but at least with a rules-heavy system you actually had to work for it.
Crap rules-light systems are a sign of mental lazyness, usually matched with a sick pretentious smugness where you take pride in the fact that your game is a crippled legless freak of nature that couldn't run its way out of a wet paper bag, because the stupid broken pointlessness of your system is supposedly a reflection of how "advanced" of a thinker you are. It certainly wouldn't mean you're a wanker who can't design an rpg worth shit but wants to seem intellectual to impress the almighty king-Swine Ron Edwards and the gang of human microbes that take turns licking his testicles over at the Forge. Surely not.)
 
Finally, I will note that D20 itself can end up leaning, in some of its more altered forms, toward the "lighter" or "heavier" side of things. True20 is certainly fairly light, whereas Silver Age Sentinels D20 is pretty heavy. Ditto with Traveller T20.



RPGPundit July 30th 2005

Mr. Analytical:
Amber isn't well designed... there's a huge hole where most of the rules should be and it uses GM Fiat to smoothe the whole thing over.  It's as heavily house-ruled as OD&D ever was.

I love it to pieces but it's not the best designed of games.  I mean, the experience system is a joke for starters.

Conversely, I think Rolemaster's quite well designed.  Lots of tables but the basic mechanic is quite elegant and critical hit tables are fun.

Mcrow:

--- Quote from: RPGPundit ---
 
So lets start to define:
 
Rules-light: a system where a strong emphasis is placed on the rules being as minimalist as possible, everything is resolved with a few simple mechanics, and characters are differentiated by their backstory and personalities, not statistics.
 
Rules-heavy: A system where an effort is made to make  sophisticated rules to cover as many specific mechanics as possible, sometimes still in a streamlined way, sometimes not. The idea is for these rules to create a more complete sense of simulation in the rules themselves, rather than just in the play. Characters are usually, but not always, designed in a highly individual point-buy system, and are always given a wide variety of statistics and attributes to flesh out the character's identity and make him different from the other characters.
 
To this we must add a third category: Rules-medium.  There is always an industry leader, a bog-standard to which all other rules are compared. As you saw above, the actual definitions for rules-light and rules-heavy is somewhat abstract, and they are only really definable as "heavy" or "light" in comparison to some kind of landmark.
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I can get behind these.

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Rules Heavy and Well Designed: GURPS. (hopefully SR4 will be added to this list)
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I think GURPs fits all three weights. Since the basic mechanic is simple and you can use or leave out most everything else. SR4 seem rules medium to me.

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Rules Heavy and Poorly Designed: Rolemaster, Champions, MERP. Shadowrun 3rd.
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100% agree
 

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Rules Medium and Well Designed: D20; the BRP system (Call of Cthulhu, mostly; rules-medium leaning toward light). Unknown Armies (rules-medium leaning very much toward light). Warhammer Fantasy 2nd edition (medium, leaning toward heavy).
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Unkown Armies being medium? I say easily light.
 
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Rules-medium and Poorly Designed: White Wolf rules in all versions (medium, leaning toward heavy). HARP (or "rolemaster junior"), Savage Worlds, the D6 system (that used to be for Star Wars back when the Star Wars RPG sucked because of this system). Nobilis (its diceless, but that DICELESS IS NOT ALWAYS RULES-LIGHT; also, this system sucks massive ass).
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HARP is a good game and so are SW and D6.
 

--- Quote ---Rules-light and well designed: Amber Diceless, Over The Edge, Octane.
 
Rules light and Poorly designed: The Window, RISUS, and pretty well anything that ever came out of the Forge.
(note: it is equally possible to create a rules-heavy system that is total crap as it is to create a rules-light system that is total crap, but at least with a rules-heavy system you actually had to work for it.
Crap rules-light systems are a sign of mental lazyness, usually matched with a sick pretentious smugness where you take pride in the fact that your game is a crippled legless freak of nature that couldn't run its way out of a wet paper bag, because the stupid broken pointlessness of your system is supposedly a reflection of how "advanced" of a thinker you are. It certainly wouldn't mean you're a wanker who can't design an rpg worth shit but wants to seem intellectual to impress the almighty king-Swine Ron Edwards and the gang of human microbes that take turns licking his testicles over at the Forge. Surely not.)
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these all seem in the right place. I don't like games that leave you wondering if you are playing a game or in drama class.

kryyst:
I love how you somewhat logically qualify light/medium/heavy into categories that most of us would agree with.

Yet then you make blanket statements on what is poor vs what is good.  While I do agree with some of it because they are blazingly obvious versions of poor design others come down to taste.

White Wolf is not poorly designed, at it's heart, it is a fairly eloquent system that gets bloated and bogged down the further you spread out from the core.  it also suffers from gamers that tried (prior to it's latest edition) to make it something that it wasn't - Namely a system that is balanced between the various monsters.

Champions is also far from poorly designed.  It has issues when it comes to combat but it's a brilliantly designed system that has pretty much created the genre of Universal Role Playing games.

D20 on the other hand suffers from the exact same things that make White Wolf - as a whole a poor system.  The core system is fairly balanced but add a book here, a rule there and suddenly it's a piece of shit.  Balance, logic and any potential reason fall out the window with D20.  Every new rule makes a previous one obsolete.   D20's core rules work - fairly well as long as you don't try and make it into something it's not.  But spread out just a little to far from there and it's a poor, poor system.

The Yann Waters:

--- Quote from: RPGPundit ---Nobilis (its diceless, but that DICELESS IS NOT ALWAYS RULES-LIGHT; also, this system sucks massive ass).
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The system of Nobilis in a nutshell, for those unfamiliar with it:

Whenever a PC attempts something that is humanly possible, he automatically succeeds.

If he attempts something that isn't, the difficulty of this miraculous action is compared with the appropriate attribute (most commonly either Aspect for physical and mental feats or Domain for controlling a specific fragment of reality like "water" or "despair"), and the result determines how much the character would have to exert himself in order to pull off whatever it was that he had in mind: the effort's cost in miracle points from the pool associated with that particular attribute, in other words. As long as the difficulty remains equal to or less than the attribute, there is no MP cost and the action can be performed at will, once per round. If the difficulty exceeds the attribute by more than four, the action can only be completed by spending eight MPs and suffering a grievous wound. Between those two extremes, the costs range from one to four points.

Overcoming supernatural opposition is by definition never humanly possible as the miraculous always trumps the mundane, and to counter a miracle directly you'll need another one of at least equal power. In addition, sometimes the opponent may be protected by the Auctoritas, a form of holy authority over his immediate surroundings, in which case any miracle taking place within about three feet of his body must suffer a further increase in difficulty equal to his Spirit attribute or else fail harmlessly.

You can just feel the oppressive weight of the rules, no?

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