Serve up the fun or don’t serve at all

I just finished a draft of an article for Pyramid. I ran into a challenge with it that I thought I’d share.

I had an idea and a gripe. The gripe was, as is frequently the case when I contemplate writing a rules-driven article, that there was a case within the rules that produced some results that challenged willing suspension of disbelief in some circumstances. I won’t say what that particular rule is, since the work is still being revised. It does have to do with weapons – hand weapons in particular.

During the process, I had another idea. This one allowed players and GMs to separate a few quantities used to describe weapons that are currently treated as one thing. Hey, you get to differentiate between certain concepts, and achieve a finer resolution and more detail to make weapons more unique. With certain limitations, this allows the hard-core simulationist crowd to get more satisfying results. Take those limits away, and you get a great cinematic feel.

What could be wrong with that?

When I was done with the draft, it just wasn’t ever going to be fun.


While there were still some great parts of the concept, and even the execution, while reading and revising the article it rapidly became clear that the way it was done would require either the universal adoption of an eclectic house rule (quantifying armor in dice rather than points), or a disturbing amount of math not during character generation, but every time you run a combat.

Unless you’re using a computer and it’s all done for you, there comes a point, sometimes very quickly, where all the extra detail does not help the game.

Dungeons and Dragons used to have rounds that were 30-60 seconds long, and segments that were 5-6 seconds long, if I recall correctly. Nowadays, I think the 5-6 second turn/round/segment/whatever is the official elapsed time. GURPS usefully drives that down to a one second resolution. Depending on what you’re doing, you can do a lot of stuff in one second. In some cases, it’s the length of time between life and a Total Party Kill. In other cases, such as a competitive grappling match, you can go for minutes with no end-game reached.

So what if you took GURPS to tenth-second time increments. How about milliseconds?

Those hands you see? That’s +Peter V. Dell’Orto reaching through the screen to kill me.

And he’d be right. Too much detail stops being useful. It stops being fun.

If rules aren’t enhancing the story, if they’re not increasing immersion, believability, and entertainment, they are bad. They should be redone until they are fun.


In the end, no matter how compelling the concepts I was trying to set down seemed, my execution of them made them not-fun.

At that point, it was time to step back, admit that this battle had been lost, and a new approach was required.

One day, this will be made fun, and that will be a good day. Until then:

“Books are not written – they’re rewritten.”   –Michael Crichton

6 thoughts on “Serve up the fun or don’t serve at all

  1. I assume that seven hours was a few seconds of real time?

    I've never played Phoenix Command. I think, though, I duplicated something like it by parallel evolution where I had target overlays for GURPS. Or maybe that's Millenium's End? I'm not familiar with either.

    1. Yes, I think it was actually 3.6 seconds to be precise, but this was around 6 months ago.

      Phoenix Command is 'fun' if what you want is the exact opposite experience from set-piece battles but to still be playing a war-game; if you want to have an RPG, not so much.

  2. That was *the* main problem I had with RoleMaster. I know a lot of people like it – more power to them – but combat slowed to such a crawl as we had to chart out characters' actions second-by-second. My last straw with that system was when my character was running across a frozen lake to aid her companions in a gunfight, and I spent the next hour or more sitting and waiting because my character was spending the entire melee running to reach the group.

    One of the more common flaws of the stereotypical "Fantasy Heartbreaker" RPG was the notion that more rules equaled a better game system (or, put another way, "more realism" equaled more rules). Many times it seemed like it was an academic exercise, because actually playing the darned things wasn't any fun at all.

  3. I'm with +Devin Parker on this one. For many years I tended to play non-combat characters, too, so imagine how bloody tedious it was to sit during combats which lasted less than a minute game-time but used up an entire 8-hour real-time gaming session.

    In the end I just gave up trying to play the support guy, the medic, the pacifist, the card shark, or whatever other non-combat character was available, and started playing the gun-bunny just to get involved in games which were clearly all about the combat and not remotely about story (especially old World of Darkness, which claimed so hard to be about the story, but would take forever for a single combat round).

  4. The "it takes forever to cross the field" thing is something where I feel both Troo and Devin's pain. One of the reasons I like the short-term fatigue rules I created (and the "roll 1d6 to see if the NPC pauses to catch his breath" table) is that it broadens the scope of what you can reach.

    But yeah, one-second combat time when it's fight-fight-fight-fight-hit-die means that unless the group STARTS together, they're unlikely to be able to provide mutual aid.

    The ranged-combat guys actually have the "help out" edge here . . . assuming they have the points to hit anything!

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