Keeping optional rules *optional*

edited June 2007 in Story Games
From another thread...
Posted By: E.T.SmithPosted By: johnzo
When we started our GURPS campaign, I was like "We're using Lite and Magic and that's it, because I am way too old to deal with 400 pages of rules anymore."

But then, the Basic Set kinda crept in during the first session, during an unarmed combat. "Just this one rule lookup," I told myself. And with the nice searchable PDFs that I have, it is really easy to look up other rules too. Now, ten sessions in, we run GURPS with the full advanced combat system, pretty much unflensed, and it runs pretty snappily. (We're in the good part of the GURPS power curve, at about 130 points, so things haven't gotten stupid yet.)
Actually this is the way I feel things should work out, and you'll see I say as sch in the starting post. Start with a basic, easily comprehensible core system, one that everyone can read and comprehend in a few minutes and then embellish it as desired as play progresses. I personally do not enjoy GURPS, but I think its great that SJ Games offers GURPS Lite, and would like to see more games with such an easy, no-cost lead-in

I'm all in favor of the easy, no-cost lead-in, not just because I'm a cheapskate, but because I need to actually play a game before I can tell if it's the right one for me. The problem I have with basic, easily comprehensible core system + lots of optional rules is how do you ensure that those optional rules really stay optional?

I remember when GUPRS 3th edition (I think -- the one before the most recent version) first came out, the group I was playing in at the time was really excited about it. The basic rules took up like two pages in the front of the book and everything else was optional stuff we could pick and choose from as the needs of the campaign required. It all seemed very light and refreshing after the sprawling mess of D&D books we'd been digging through each session.

We started with the best of intentions, but it wasn't more than a couple sessions before we were using pretty much every damned rule in the book. Even going so far as to look up things like how long it takes to dig a hole in the ground, even though none of us really cared how long it took. It just seemed like since there was a rule for something, we might as well follow it.

Now, this was years ago; I'd like to think I've grown up a bit and wouldn't have any trouble these days in not using rules I didn't really need. But is that necessarily true? I mean, when I was running D&D with my last group, all I used were the core rules and a couple of house rules we came up with. But there's a big difference between not buying a dozen supplements and not using 75% of the rules in the book I already bought.

I can see the value of having a middle ground between rules-lite and rules-heavy: a kind of "rules-light until we get to this part, then we'll use all these optional rules to get all tactical and dice roll-y about it", where "this part" might change from campaign to campaign or even session to session. But how do you ensure that you only end up using those optional rules that you really need?

Is this something that just comes down to player attitude, or can optional rules be designed and written in such a way as to reinforce the idea that "no, really, it's OK to ignore these unless you think it's going to be more fun to use them"?

Comments

  • I like Burning Wheel's modules: all the optional rules come in big chunks, and so there's no slippery slope of looking up just hole-digging. You'd either be using the Engineering rules or you wouldn't be using the Engineering rules.
  • edited June 2007
    What the fuck, I don't understand the question. How do you not use a rule? Is that the question? I just...don't use it. Now my head is spinning from the question. How do I not do something? How DO I not do things? I just don't do them. A MYSTARY!!! *faints from dizziness*
  • Attach a cockpunching to the rule. That'd pretty much guarantee I didn't use it.


    *NOTE: This is not a serious reply. Please, no games that require cockpunching.
  • I'd make the complex rules cost points. That is, make them systems and methods for the players to increase their characters' chances of success, and to have more effect on the game world. Then price those systems accordingly, such that players interested in using them will actually learn and keep track of them for you.

    In GURPS terms, you could a fixed list of skills that vaguely cover anything that will be done in the game, and for any given skill that connects to rules with lots of modifiers or other systems, have an advantage that allows. You might need to change it so that system was actually primarily advantageous, though. I don't think it would be right to penalize the player for picking up the system-slack.
  • Posted By: GaerikAttach a cockpunching to the rule. That'd pretty much guarantee I didn't use it.


    *NOTE: This is not a serious reply. Please, no games that require cockpunching.
    Reminds me of the game "Grasp Life By The Balls."
  • Posted By: JDCorleyWhat the fuck, I don't understand the question. How do you not use a rule? Is that the question? I just...don't use it. Now my head is spinning from the question. How do I not do something? How DO I not do things? I just don't do them. A MYSTARY!!! *faints from dizziness*
    I guess what I'm saying is that in my experience, optional rules are sneaky little bastards.

    With regular rules, I don't have any problem. I'll toss them out left and right if I think it's gonna make the game more fun. But optional rules... they're always lurking there on the edges of my subconscious saying, "silly GM, you don't need to make a decision about that, there's a nice convenient optional rule that covers this situation. Wouldn't it be easier to just use it? Give in to the dark side!"

    And next thing you know we're flipping through the book seeing how many cubic feet of damp sand the pirates can dig through per minute.
  • edited June 2007
    I think Josh is onto something there. The thing about GURPS Advanced Combat or a crazy prestige class from czech-language d20 product is that they're just variations on things you understand already. You don't have to learn new fundamentals, you just have to apply new details to the fundamentals. So each little increment of optional rules isn't really that much. It's only by accumulation that they become unwieldy.

    GURPS Supers and GURPS Compendium II both had crazy-ass optionals that messed with the fundamentals of the game -- stun damage, weird extra attack rules, more 'realistic' limb wounding, etc. Nothing of this sort ever got purchase with my group.
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