The Grind Divide

October 14, 2008

I was thinking the other day about how much the activity of a lot of folks’ roleplaying has been built around either grinding in dealing with heavy, long, crunchy mechanics or grinding in the Illusionist technique of delaying then revealing.

Interesting enough, the crunchy mechanic side is where we get the whole myth of “Story vs. System”, with the idea that rules get in the way of story happening, while the whole set of delaying techniques which get used even in “rules light” games don’t get considered for what is basically the same problem: grinding 4 hours of play for 20 minutes of fun.

It’s also interesting to see how folks accustomed to one (or both) in their play react to games or styles of play which don’t operate with either kind of grind tend to either:

a) Be amazed (“We accomplished more in one session than what we’d normally get in 3 months of play!”)

b) Be at a loss as to how to make play go- how to “fill up” time because there’s not a half hour devoted to a single fight scene or playing “Guess what we ought to do next” type play.

On the flip side, it also kind of highlights another hurdle to getting into the hobby- if your friends keep telling you all these awesome stories they’re creating for a few hours a week, and you find out that most of the few hours revolve around juggling crunch or playing the Illusionist guessing game, it’s probably going to turn you off really quickly.



  1. A buddy of mine came over to game with us entirely cold, new in town, having last played 2nd Edition AD&D. The first thing he mentioned as we played The Riddle of Steel, Dogs in the Vineyard and Burning Wheel was shock at how much play we were getting in for three to four hours of play. He could not belive the density of action and content our games had.

  2. Yeah, I think it’s really interesting to see how folks react to seeing it in function. People who are, say, a group who entirely plays oldschool and then picks up these games sometimes are at a loss at how to even make them go, because the core tools that fill up a 4 hour session are antithetical to the point of play.

  3. Once upon time when I was a young gamer it was so that most of our play was grinding of some sort; combats or exploring mostly empty complexes. I tried running a game with something resembling a story and it did not really work; exploration was not something people did a lot in that game and fights started killing credibility as they just happened.

    It just did not occur to me that I could have player characters actually get what they were looking for, or even have a conflict where they could succeed or fail. So obvious, so simple, but it would mean the game would actually end.

  4. Well, it’s a problem central to games where the content is all prepped beforehand- how do you keep it from “running out” during play? You’ll notice a lot of older games will have advice about things like when players come up with a clever solution or magic spell that then “ruins the adventure” (aka, resolves the content that should have taken 3 hours in 10 minutes).

    The modern design doesn’t sweat resolution, because it often either has further conflicts part of the outcome or at least gives tools for the group to create more content during play. Usually this falls into three categories- Flags, Player Narration/Conflict creation, or Tangled Conflicts(R-maps, Towns in Dogs in the Vineyard, etc.)

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