Part of Mearls’ talk at GAMA was supposed to be about the future of RPGs. He ended up not having a lot of time to get into that (and I’d forgotten about it when I had an opportunity to speak with him, so I utterly failed to follow up on it). Still, he did touch briefly on where he saw the hobby going.
And that is toward simplicity in mechanics. He constantly mentioned Numenera and Fate. Numenera, I think, is the better example. It’s got a crazy, wahoo, Saturday-morning-cartoon meets ‘60s post-apocalyptic fiction meets Dying Earth meets Gamma World as illustrated by Deviant Art setting. It can get pretty dense in sections.
The mechanics, however, are bog-simple. Want to spend points from three stat-pools to boost your roll? Decide, roll, rinse, repeat.
There’s little in the way of tactical minutia to occupy the GM’s frontal lobes. Heck, if you’re playing the game RAW, the GM doesn’t touch the dice during combat. The GM’s principle job is to watch for good points for intrusions, giving the fight context, and creating fun at the table, not adjudicating bonuses, facing, or distance.
Now, this is old hat to the OSR crowd. We’ve been crowing about this for over seven years now. Grognardia launched on March 30, 2008. That’s the same year the Old School Primer was published. And, as some demonstrated to my previous post about what Mearls had to say, a common response ‘round these parts can be largely summed up thusly: “Duh!”
But it’s interesting how slowly but strongly this idea is percolating through the collective consciousness of RPGing. I’m not sure most folks even recognize it yet in D&D. They’re still expecting to find rules for every situation. If it’s not out yet, it’ll be released in a supplement, right?
Only Mearls has said, there won’t be that many supplements. So maybe a free-to-the-web pdf or something?
Or maybe not at all.
Mearls pointed out that, for many designers, D&D sets the tempo. It’s assumed that players have played D&D, so D&D is your baseline for expectations, especially in terms of complexity. People see the rule-for-everything of 3.x or the giant-wall-o’-combat-options from 4e and assume that people coming to their game bring expectations shaped by that sort of thing. And thus you get monstrosities like Shadowrun 5e.
This stuff we’ve been raving about for seven years now is starting to seep out, but kinda below the surface. Have people noticed what’s happened to D&D in 5e? Will it still be seen as a success next year when there aren’t three brand-new core books everyone wants? If it is, will they recognize the value of simplicity? Or are the punch-clock designers too set in their ways, and too deep in their bubble, to notice?
Off the top of my head, I can’t think of any RPGs ripe for a new edition. When we start seeing new editions of games, it’ll be interesting to note if this move toward simplicity is found in them.