If you wonder why I prefer older versions of D&D or others rules lite games to the rules heavy monsters often published today, you only need to read part of Christian’s Exploring The Magnum Opus That Is Ptolus post over at Destination Unknown where he talks about the one house rule playing D&D 3.5 needs….
Playing D&D 3.5 does require the addition of one house rule. It’s no really a rule, but a modification that takes into account 3.5’s design principles. Namely, players have to be on top of the rules. For example, a player cannot simply say, “I grapple the orc.” Because of the many and varied rules, the player needs to state his intentions AND have the PHB open to the page that covers grappling. If they do not have the rules for their spell, special attack or stats for their summoned monster, they get skipped until they do have them.
In my opinion, that’s an awful way to have to play. I can run OD&D without having to crack a book at all with my homemade GM screen — regardless of whether or not the players know the rules. I can even run a relatively rules-heavy old school game, AD&D First Edition with just a good GM Screen 90% of the time. Sure 10% of the time I’m going to have to pull out a book and look something up, but 90% of what players want their character to do I do not even need to crack the book. This would be almost impossible in a game like 3.5 with thousands of pages of fairly complex and strongly-interrelated rules — or at least it would be impossible for me.
When I play or GM an RPG, I want to have fun. Having to look up rules all the time is as boring to me as watching paint dry. Having to have the rulebook open to whatever rules are needed for whatever I want to do would turn me off as much as long combats or railroaded adventures do.
I can, however, see Christian’s point. The rules for WOTC versions of D&D are so complex that you really need to have the rules for what you want to do right in front of you to reference as you do them. 4e seems to have recognized this and tried to fix it by greatly limiting the choices of what to (compared to earlier editions) and using power cards to put the rules for those choices right in front of the player.
I think it would have been better just to make the rules lighter and less complex, but what do I know? The rules for most of the old standbys (D&D, Hero System, GURPS, etc.) seem to have gotten longer, more detailed, and more complex with every edition. Apparently those few people (very few compared to the numbers of people buying RPGs in the early 1980s) still buying major brand tabletop RPGs prefer games with unending volumes of multi-hundred page rules. They can have them. I’ll stay with older editions with rules the average GM can learn well enough to play without constant reference to the rulebooks or rules light games like Microlite20 and its many variations. I can play and run these games without feeling like I have taken on an extra, unpaid full time job.