Today I’ve been contemplating how many different, proactive types of traits can you have on a character sheet before they become overwhelming. Too much and it takes forever to create a character and you get paralysis in the game, too few makes the game seem “too lite” and “dependent on GM fiat”, neither of which are good things to have in an RPG.
A good game should have enough traits of different kinds to make you feel like you can create the character you want and represent him or her well, but not so many that you have to ponder what to use for twenty minutes when it’s your turn to act.
To clarify, what I mean by a “proactive trait” is something on your character sheet that you can use (invoke, gives a bonus or special effect, roll, etc.). Something like health (HP, stress, consequences, conditions…whatever your flavor is) don’t count as they are reactionary – usually not requiring much in the way of purchasing in creation and not something you can typically spend during play. A proactive trait, essentially, is something that you have to think about using or manipulating during play.
This whole thought process began when I was creating the first pregen for the Jadepunk playtest. In Jadepunk, as of this moment, we have 5 traits (aspects, effects, qualities, specialties and equipment) as opposed to the 3 from its Fate Core origins (aspects, skills and stunts; plus extras, if you want to count it as equipment). When I drew up my first character with the system, it felt clunky, but I think that’s more because we don’t have a good system for quickly creating characters, yet. But then I started thinking that it may feel that way because it has so many traits.
Then again, Fate Core is extremely light when compared to other games, like World of Darkness’s 6-ish, depending on what you call a trait there (virtue/vice, attributes, skills, merits/flaws, supernatural ability, willpower), Marvel Heroic RPG’s 6 (affiliations, distinctions, power sets, SFX, specialties and milestones), Savage Worlds’s 5 (attributes, skills, hindrances/edges, equipment and power/trapping), Technoir’s 5 (verbs, adjectives, connections, objects/tags and push dice) and that’s not getting into the well-known complex games like D&D or GURPS.
Still, that’s the first time I’ve ever written up that list (did it as I typed it), and it doesn’t look like 5 is very off. In fact, I love World of Darkness characters – creating them is half the fun for me, as they do such a good job of making the traits evocative to the setting and characters; it has the evocative feel of Fate with the codified trait effects of D&D. When you make a character for that game, every trait says something about your character and you don’t have to guess at when you’ll be able to use it, nor spend a half hour wondering if you created the right effect to represent it.
I suppose it all comes down to how you position the traits on the character sheet, how easily they are created when writing the character and how often they come into play. Still, I’m for keeping things as lean as possible. After all, knowing exactly how many, and which, languages Batman can speak is kind of pointless when it comes up almost never.
What about you guys? When do you feel a game gets too complicated?