Base building is not for everyone. For some players, a base-building session is tantamount to hearing, “We’re not gaming tonight. We decided to do taxes instead.” That doesn’t have anything to do with base building as a concept though. Rather, I think it’s got to do with subsystems in general.

I’m coming from an Exalted 2e perspective here. It’s a famously crunchy system in a famously flavorful setting. And while I was happy to learn the ins and outs of combat and how-to-make-a-check-101, I stopped worrying about mechanics once I got to a “good enough” understanding of the game. I was happy with my little slice of knowledge. I was playing and enjoying, and the gates to The Land of Adventure were thrown wide before me. They slammed shut in my face, however, when I tried to learn the social combat rules. And again with the mass combat system. Or (Sol Invicutus help me) the mad beast that is shaping combat. (I’m pretty sure that system is the reason that the Fey are all nuts.) I enjoy a crunchy system as much as the next guy, but I discovered in myself a stubborn resistance to learning these new subsystems. I couldn’t seem to shake it. And the longer I’ve pondered my own reactions, the more I’m convinced they were due to something I’ve termed the “nested system problem.”

When you’re simulating a world on the tabletop, you generally start with a primary resolution mechanic. That might be the dice pool system in Exalted or the d20 in D&D, but you’ve generally got a straightforward way to determine the success or failure of an action. You branch out from there, finding ways to modify those results. Pretty soon you’ve got a sprawling system of feats, spells, charms, and weird-ass knacks spiderwebbing away from a simple central idea. There are health levels, internal and external penalties, essence-powered super powers and similar. But so long as they’re fueling the central “here’s how combat works” and “here’s how out-of-combat works” systems, you can get along with the complexity. It’s when an entirely new spiderweb starts up that I begin to check out.

And that, I think, is why Fighter is being such a grump there in the bowels of FIGHTKEA. He’s languishing under a load of unwelcome rules. It’s a sensation that I know well. Hearing unfamiliar terms like “build points” and “capital” in Pathfinder 1e was enough to furrow my brow and turn the page on my desire to learn downtime rules. Even though it’s not a terribly complicated system, it’s still divorced from my experience of The Land of Adventure: smacking monsters and exploring dangerous ruins. With social rules, base-building rules, and similar systems, I’ll usually fall back on the default resolution mechanic. Roll some dice, make a few checks, and let the ST make an ad hoc calls about what happens. I may be missing out on interesting systems, but I’m also saving myself a lot of time on Pencils & Paychecks. And that’s usually because of simple calculus: I’d rather be adventuring.

What about the rest of you guys? Do you rely on complex systems for base building? Or is your team happy to make do with a few quick checks before getting back to the action? And more generally, do you like “nested systems” in your game, or would you rather keep things lightweight? Sound off with your favorite downtime / mass combat / computer hacking / social combat mini-games in the comments!

 

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