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Author Topic: Crunch or No Crunch  (Read 1880 times)
First Oni
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« on: July 09, 2008, 10:31:08 AM »

I was having a discussion with a friend of mine about how the trend of RPGs is going away from games with a lot of crunch (i.e. diceless games). I find myself in the middle, at a happy medium. While i love getting into a character, delving into their personal stories, and creating a great game, i also love rolling dice and using abilities based on the different systems out there. I've always been fascinated with systems and love a well crafted one.

So, i'd love to hear all of your opinions on the matter. Some try to use as little of a system as they can and others might as well be playing the "Game of Calculus RPG". lol. Where do you fall in this spectrum?

-Oni
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Eloy Lasanta, CEO of Third Eye Games
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: July 09, 2008, 10:48:49 AM »

Hi Eloy,

Let me re-direct this thread topic a little bit. Others' opinions are not really very important at the Forge, at least, not in the sense of reactions to a loaded term. You'll get kind of a superficial "pundit salad" that way, with no real ideas being expressed or discussed.

What we all need, from you, is a clear example of play that illustrates exactly what you mean by "crunch." No, it's not obvious, actually. There are some folks who think The Mountain Witch is very crunchy, for instance, even though conflicts are always resolved with a single d6 vs. d6 roll, and a critical hit table is nowhere to be found in its rules. What matters in this thread is exactly what you mean by it so we can all stick with that and not get wrapped up in wrangling about the term.

Again, please do that by describing an example of play, not by trying to define and describe the abstraction. Trust me on this. If you use a play-example, including what game it was, who was playing, what happened, and how the system (the crunchy part as you see it) was involved - then you're going to get a kick-ass discussion.

Best, Ron
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First Oni
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« Reply #2 on: July 09, 2008, 11:03:59 AM »

Oh, i'm sure you're right on that one Ron. However, my inquiries were more into what developers consider "crunchy" in their own words and perhaps some info on how this influences their own game development. It is obvious that one person's opinion of what is crunchy could be different from another quite easily. At the same time, this was more a general conversation and less about any one particular incident of play.

It started with a discussion about what game my personal group likes to play. The Dynamic Gaming System (DGS) created for Apocalypse Prevention, Inc. has a fairly crunchy combat system. Meaning, it is not "i roll to hit", roll, done. Instead, the system gives you many combat choices (from attacking to sweeps to grapples), along with varying bonuses or penalties based on your actions. To me, this is not too crunchy... it's actually just the right amount of crunch (hence why i created it. :-) ), as it allows players to think strategically in battle instead of it being "just another fight". At the same time, i know that this is a little too crunchy for some in my group who wish they'd never have to roll a die during any game if they could help it.

We're currently playing Mage the Awakening, using the nWoD rules... and these (while fun) are way crunch-less. Everything is boiled down into a single roll with no real depth. There's no tactical strategies with the die and the building of your character, IMO. I preferred the oWoD rule set where there was real thought put into your actions.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #3 on: July 10, 2008, 07:20:33 AM »

It seems to me as if you're mixing up two things:

1. rolling dice vs. not rolling dice - the jargon we usually use is "Fortune," meaning any sort of dice or cards or similar

2. having lots of options in a series vs. making one decision and working out the details later

So my first point is that these are not the same things. A game might have major dice-rolling based on very little decisions or options, as with standard combat in Tunnels & Trolls, or HeroQuest for that matter. You already referenced this option with the New World of Darkness, although not really with an example. Or, a game might have little or no dice-rolling but be packed with options moment by moment, as with some applications of the Amber rules, or most especially Polaris. Already, your term "crunch" is a dual-axis thing, and that's just looking at it briefly.

I'd really like to read a deeper version of your two play references. Pick any scene that you actually played in, GM or player, with Apocalypse Prevention, in which something pretty consequential and eventful happened. Do the same with the Mage game. I'm interested in exactly when the latter wasn't as satisfying for you because of the lack of options - what did or didn't your character accomplish, or what did or didn't you get to choose, about what happened?

If you'd prefer to stick with your original thread topic, then I recommend RPG.net where it fits better into that site's purposes, which are primarily social. That's not a bad thing and you can enjoy hundreds of amusing responses. Here, though, I think that you can contribute to many people's improved understanding, including my own, if you dig a little deeper and really explain what you mean.

Best, Ron
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First Oni
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« Reply #4 on: July 10, 2008, 07:31:37 AM »

I'll get some examples together and see if i can explain the idea better. I guess for me, crunch does have many different meanings. Thanks for the feedback and i'll be back soon with more on the topic. :-)
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Jumanji83
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« Reply #5 on: July 14, 2008, 06:41:36 PM »

I'm going to try and answer your former inquiry anyway...

Personally, I'm just not good at most strategy games. I'm pretty good at Quarto!, but that's about it. I get my buttocks kicked at chess, checkers and Risk, so quick, it's not even funny! I just don't have a mind for these things.

So when a game seems to have a big emphasis on combat rules, with several options for strategy and different kind of strikes, and character-building options to make yourself more powerful in combat... I'm bored. And it affects other aspects of the game as well. I do not care for lists. Equipment lists, spell lists, power lists, attributes, skills... A few traits is all I need, because I am less interested in what my characters can do, than why they do it.

The games I purchase and play reflect this. For example, Dogs in the Vineyard, InSpectres, Universalis, Dust Devils, Primetime Adventures, Hero's Banner...

And just so we are clear: this is not a reflection on how my style of play is better than yours. It's what I like to play, and what's good for me might not be good for you.
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First Oni
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« Reply #6 on: July 15, 2008, 05:01:18 AM »

And just so we are clear: this is not a reflection on how my style of play is better than yours. It's what I like to play, and what's good for me might not be good for you.

Of course not. Like i said, I'm in the middle. So i find both the can and the why very important and fun. :-)

-Oni
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Abkajud
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« Reply #7 on: August 14, 2008, 05:32:09 PM »

[The following contains examples of actual play, in the hopes of keeping this thread from being moved.]
I don't object to having rules to observe; in more mainstream RPGs, it's easier to GM when I can use dice-rolling or some other Fortune mechanic to make some of the narration decisions for me.
I recently ran a game of Changeling: the Lost, and I noticed how dysfunctional such concentration of power can be, and how it can make crunch (defined here as "complexity of the game's Fortune mechanic in its entirety") more of a hindrance than a help.
I won't go into much detail about the PCs; suffice it to say they were all playing Changelings, and they were all members of the Washington DC Freehold (a freehold being a regional political jurisdiction in Changeling society).

I think it was when the PCs were investigating a Fetch. I had three PCs playing with me, and two of them took it upon themselves to a) patiently wait and listen when I groped for details and b) offer suggestions for character names, details, and so on (especially when it related to their own characters). Since it was Mandy's fetch (she's one of the PCs), Mandy made sure to offer little suggestions and reminders about what her fetch would be like, what kind of family the fetch might have now, and so on. She did it all in a way that it made me have a much easier time describing the posh suburban landscape where the fetch lived, and to come up with how the fetch and her "family" would interact with the PCs.

It was the third PC, Rob, who made life difficult for me, and made the game's crunch rather obnoxious. He only offered suggestions and content when I mentioned smelting and engineering, a topic he knew far more about than I, and his eagerness to mildly shame me for introducing a subject I was shaky on did nothing to make the game run better.

Crunch has its place, but I find that a system set up to share the narrative load a little more evenly among all participants is a welcome sight indeed compared to *always* being the one to look things up, to "be prepared" for the session, and have it all ride on the GM to keep things moving forward. I erred on the side of keeping things very low on crunch, just so I could focus my energy on the plot without having the additional work of expressing things in game terms. When a PC is being judgmental and unhelpful, it's that much more flustering to have to refer to some obscure chart or table in the appendix of some enormous rulebook. However, I think that sort of unhelpful, "you do it" attitude could, arguably, be characteristic of GM-centered games.

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JoyWriter
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Posts: 469

also known as Josh W


« Reply #8 on: September 28, 2008, 04:58:48 PM »

The condescending expert is a maddening breed, and I wonder whether people run from games with debate mechanics chased by this person! What I mean by debate mechanics is what (in its distorted case) is commonly called rules lawyering, although it can be a setting lawyer or anything else. Given a definitive, pre-arranged reality to work with, those people who can pull out obscure details and use them to stall you can be difficult to deal with.
Debate mechanics exist implicitly in many game groups, and are generally started by someone saying "What?" or "But that's impossible!", in my experience they are caused by large amounts of connected information that must be remembered rather than generated at the table. There is also a chaos theory type effect where irrelevant missteps can cause big effects; someone interrupting your flow. But that's all about how sensitive you are!

So what is a good version of a debate mechanic? Those settings and systems that allow you to use someone calling you up on something in a positive way, say inventing an interesting plot detail that adds character to things. Universalis encourages this by getting people to use their chips to make alternatives, or they will lose them, or more broadly because it only gives consistency with existing facts an advantage, not total veto.
So when someone starts saying "It's not a ___ it's a ____." perhaps you can make it into something useful, trying to find out how that distinction could be relevant to the situation. It's a Jesus type method, giving people the spotlight they are after in a way they didn't expect, and hopefully causing them to self-correct via greater awareness. It's "Go two miles when forced to go one." and it can be massively effective, providing you don't start being condescending yourself! Remember though to stop them going off on a pre-remembered spiel, with something like "I was just asking about ___" etc. Keep it positive, keep finding value, and the contrast will grow.

On another tack, it seems to me that in a situation where the rules largely determine what goes on, then the GM can rely on those tables in other people's hands, providing he knows in general the kinds of results they produce. It sounds to me like you are taking more responsibility than you need to; I consider a "you do it" attitude as not unhelpful but empowering! To some extent it is the opposite of GM centred, because you are spreading the game system roles between more people, which naturally means that things are not as focused on you. Now you may still be the one coordinating and arbitrating final truth, but from a context of greater engagement. Now if the rulebook is shoddy and unhelpful, then it's a bit of a backhanded gift, but if you are protecting your players from elements of the game then perhaps something needs to change. It could just be you need to photocopy some quick reference sheets.
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opsneakie
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« Reply #9 on: October 14, 2008, 01:49:55 AM »

Hey, I've got two play examples for you, one I consider very crunchy, and one not so much.

Firstly, a friend of mine ran a Star Wars game using the West End 2nd edition rules, based with the characters as part o a starfighter squadron in the early days of the Rebellion. He had sheets of maneuvers printed up, lots of very specific skills and abilities required to keep your fighter running, and so on. The game played out very mathematically, almost like a flight simulator (which he had been playing a lot of when designing the game). Now, the West End games system has fairly simple Fortune: roll a pile of d6s and total them, beat the other guy's total to win. However, because of all the maneuvers and the specific amount of stuff that went into the die rolls, and mostly because of the sheer number of die rolls made, the game was basically my definition of crunchy. I think of a crunchy game as one with many many die rolls, especially a lot of complex ones involving weird multipliers or being dependent on other rolls. As an example, there were times in this game when, in a single round, we're rolling: maneuver, dodge, sensors, hit, damage, and our ship's hull. This is how I define crunch.


Conversely, I'll talk a bit about the game I'm running. It's set in a homebrew sci-fi world, and I'm using oWoD. On the surface, these systems are equally crunchy, basically - they're both "roll a pile of dice task resolution" games. The Fortune complexity and amount of Fortune required are basically the same. Both have strange modifiers and penalties and bonuses and all that. Now, I ran my... third session I believe last Friday, and up until most of the way through it, there had been two die rolls made by the players. We went through the first session without ever touching our dice (except to pet/fondle/coo at them a little), and in the second session one PC made a dodge roll and a soak roll. Because I choose to run a game that doesn't require a lot of rolling, the inherent crunch in the system gets reduced drastically, and the result is a game that runs (I think) much more smoothly. I got a great cast of characters, and the roleplaying can carry us through a session (I'm also a big subscriber to "say yes or roll the dice" and similar).

So, as far as crunch goes, I definitely prefer a game that stays fairly loose, at least outside of combats. My characters got into their first combat, but even there we try to keep the rolling to minimum, and keep things moving. I think a crunchier game tends to feel more computational, since more game time is spent rolling dice, calculating totals, and so on, and I always feel like after a certain amount of crunch it should just be computerized so we don't have to deal with it. Personally, I think too much crunch kills games, making them drag and stall when the action needs to be intense. Just my thoughts on the subject.

As far as I'm concerned, the purpose of crunch is to keep the game moving when things get locked up, and to handle the tactical bits like combat.

Crunch  total = (system crunch)x(DM crunch), i guess

-sneakie
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