Levels of Play Detail

As you may have noticed in the last few posts, I’ve been hinting at the different levels of detail and how they may come into play at the game table. Some folks tend to focus on things at a very high level and others like lots of detail and focus on the ‘why’ behind things. But it becomes problematic when the GM is at one level and the players are at another or if one player is intensely wrapped up in the minutiae while the others are painting in broad strokes.

I don’t have any answers, but I do have some questions. So let’s look at a few variations.

gaming_diceBare Bones

At the most basic level, we treat it as a cause and effect relationship. My character swings a sword at the target, connects, and does some damage. Or my character casts a spell at the target, connects, and does some damage. There’s no ambiguity here, only X does Y. The benefit is a much faster combat in my experience and every battle is one of attrition. Who does the most damage the quickest to finish off their opponent.

Nothing wrong with this approach at all. We find it in most computer-based RPGs and many newer, rules-light systems. Shoot, even some of the older systems like 1e D&D and Mazes and Perils fall into this category. Wham, blam, thank you ma’am. Works great for dungeon crawls and combat heavy campaigns. Leaves roleplaying to events outside of combat (beyond the snappy patter and famous last words which are present in all games).

More Randomness

Let’s go up one level from there and introduce a bit more randomness. Games like Dungeon Crawl Classics add elements such as “Mercurial Magic” where simply learning a new spell gains some weird twist. The lesson here is that “magic is not without risk.” Consider the idea that casting a simple healing spell may tear a hole in the universe through which some horror might slip through with the intent of slaying the caster or stealing one of their spells forever. Or perhaps a great warrior gets a critical hit and manages to decapitate his foe or is overcome with battle rage and does extra damage.

Random tables to a long way towards spicing things up without adding a ton of overhead to the combat experience. In fact, a bit of randomness can add some flair to a combat that may be a conversation point for years to come.

poofI’m a fan of this approach myself. We used it with a “Random Fate” table in the original Moebius Adventures RPG way back when. The idea there was at character creation you might gain a fear, family trait, or some other weird little thing to add a bit of crunch to your character. Some were beneficial, some were neutral, and others were just a twist of the knife. You never know when that extra little touch can inspire a whole new gear of roleplaying at the table.

If you’re looking at the last few posts around potions and other magic items, I’m pondering creating some random tables that introduce little quirks about some of the items you might pick up as a PC. Who knows the provenance of every ingredient or potion that ends up in a magic shop? Maybe some alchemist likes to randomly turn his victims blue for a few days when they drink a healing potion? Or maybe a priest was having a crisis of faith and his holy water only does half the job it should normally do?

That Personal Touch

Beyond those two levels, there’s many many more…

  • There are those folks who like to add that live action roleplaying (LARP) touch. Perhaps they dress up in costume or add a particular accent when they adopt a persona.
  • Some people like to track every single ingredient and spell component in their pack, measuring the weight down to the ounce.
  • Maybe your GM tracks the expiration date of particular spell ingredients so they fail at a certain critical point in the game.

I’m not a big fan of this level. Some folks are and that’s awesome – but it’s not for me. Too much work. 🙂

What’s your style?

I think the OSR has pushed a lot of games to the bare bones approach again, but games like DCC keep things interesting. I’m a big fan of keeping things interesting. How about you? Leave comments below…

In future posts I may offer some lists of random potion and other item effects. Would you like to see that?

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