I’m coming to realise, the art of simplicity is a subtle one to master. If your game is too simple, you risk boring or alienating your players. If it’s too complex, you risk frustrating or alienating your players.
But the good news is that there’s a Goldilocks zone—not too simple, not too complicated—in which a campaign can thrive and grow. The trick is “getting into the zone”.
For me, simplicity has four main advantages in doing just that:
- It’s Faster: With less to deal with, it’s easier to make choices. Too many options can lead to paralysis. That’s the case whether you are talking about in-game decisions (which adventure to go, door to open or NPC to talk to) as well as the mechanical aspects of the game (what feat or class to take at the next level, which magic item or spell to activate or what combat tactic to use).
- It’s Easy to Add Something: It’s much easier to add something to a simple game than take something away from a complicated game (particularly if the something you are taking away is a player option). Add something new and look like a munificent hero. Take something away and look like a swine trying to ruin your players’ fun. Which option would you prefer?
- It’s More Robust: With fewer “moving parts” and less complexity there is less to go wrong. Complicated games often bog down or collapse under the weight of all the various rules and options. Similarly, there is a point in the plot of a complicated campaign where things just start to grind to a halt because no one really knows what is going on.
- It’s Easier to Grasp: Simple games or campaign are more accessible. They are also easier for players to “get” because they seem less daunting and have fewer barriers to entry. For example, would you prefer to read (and understand) a 300-page hardback or a 64-page softcover before starting the game? Importantly, games that are easier to grasp also require less investment—both in terms of money and time—on the participants’ behalf, which reduces barriers to entry.
Of course, as I said above, if the game is too simple it likely won’t work in the long term.
The 80/20 Rule
This all brings me rather neatly to the 80/20 rule (or the Pareto Principle). Essentially, the 80/20 rule is simple. In any given pursuit—designing an adventure or campaign say—20% of your effort provides 80% of your result. To put it another way. 20% of customers generate 80% of a company’s sales.
If this general principle is true, it means that 20% of your game produces 80% of the possible fun and enjoyment. With this in mind, is there any real point spending loads of time and effort (and perhaps money) trying to nudge the needle upwards to 85% or even 90% fun? That’s a pretty epic diminishing return on investment.
So, for example, following the 80/20 rule—and trying to keep my game in the goldilocks simplicity zone—is there any real point adding in yet another subplot, adventure hook or a new set of rules options? Will my snazzy new battle mat and painted miniatures, new book of monsters or whatever really make my game that much more fun? Or will it just be more stuff to keep track of and drag to the game? Or in the case of new rules and plot hooks is it just more stuff to understand and remember that doesn’t actually bring that much extra fun to the table?
The Big Question
Given the Goldilocks zones of simplicity and the 80/20 rule would I be better off spending my time (my most precious resource) and money elsewhere instead of adding even more bloat to my game in the pursuit of the perfect campaign? If I can spend two hours a week working on my campaign and make my players 80% happy, I’d probably be insane to spend an extra eight hours preparing to make them (say) 90% happy because I could better spend those hours more productively elsewhere.
Perhaps instead, I should spend my time with my family, keeping fit and growing my business?
For me, the answer is pretty clear.
What Do You Think?
What do you think about the Goldilocks zones of simplicity or the 80/20 rule? Let me know, in the comments below.