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“How much crunch is too much?”

November 12, 2019

In tabletop RPGs, few things have “one right answer” and most are “well what do you want?” as the real guide.  However, having a better set of questions and guidelines will take you pretty far and save a lot of time and trouble later on.  “How crunchy should a game be?” is a matter of preference, but I have found two things work as a great guideline for any given group or campaign.

Basic Proficiency

“Do the players have an idea of how to do things with the rules to try to get what they want to have happen in play?”

Note this isn’t the same as rules mastery, it means they have a general idea. Think along these lines:

“If I want to do X, I’ll probably need to make a skill roll using these dice.”

“If I really want to win, I should look at spending hero points”

“I can use my ghost powers from my class to help do X thing”

If multiple people in your group can’t reach this level of proficiency within a session or two, the game is probably too crunchy for the group you have.

Effort

Does playing the game feel like work?

“Time flies when you’re having fun” is because the fun factor outweighs the effort, so you don’t notice it.  But when the work outweighs the fun, it feels like a grind and a chore.

Obviously, different players may have different things that feel like work, or different levels that do.  Again, though, if it feels this way for multiple people, it might be the wrong choice for your group.

“Light but not supporting” – a trap

One important thing I want to highlight is that there’s a number of rules light systems that aren’t hard, mechanically, but they also lack rules or support to help you, so you end up doing most of the work of having to do anything from pacing to stakes setting, just that it’s made “invisible” because it’s NOT in the rules.

Again, you can ask those same two questions and with honesty, sometimes, “yeah, I don’t know when to roll the dice” “Wait, how come a single roll does only X this time and when it did Y the last time?” and such become things to consider in a rules light game.

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