Chrome Heavy RPGs, Why Bother?

Chrome in RPGs is nothing new. As you can see in the below article, back in 2014 it was heavily on my radar as something that overly irritated me. How do I feel two years later?  Well, about the same. There is good chrome and there is bad chrome. I am of the belief that chrome in games such as King Arthur Pendragon falls into the good category as they enhance the overall experience of the game, but do little to bog it down when the action ramps up. I still feel games like Pathfinder, Shadowrun and even 5th edition D&D to some extent exhibit the bad side of chrome. Mechanically bogging the game down and requires additional work on the GM to overcome these effects.

To define it: Chrome is an old Grognard term for added on rules that are purely optional. They “enhance” the game, much like “chroming” out a bike or a car “enhances” the vehicle.

Having options is a good thing, but having too many options like with Pathfinder kills the gaming experience for me. Yeah, yeah I always hear in response, a GM doesn’t have to allow certain things. Try telling that to your player who just spent hard-earned money on a book that they can’t use anything from that book. Doesn’t make for a happy player/GM relationship!

As you will see in the original comments below, there was some confusion as to what chrome is. Chrome is not how crunchy a game system is, but options above and beyond the original rules that are meant to enhance the game, but often times end up hurting it.

~ Modoc

Follow Modoc on G+ or on Twitter

____________________________________Original Article Below_________________________________________

This morning I was having a Facebook conversation with another long-time Game Master about the state of some RPG systems in the year 2014. We both came to the determination that many modern systems with their roots in older systems or older versions are typically way to heavy in the chrome department. Why is it that updated versions of older games like Shadow Run are filled with so much chrome or flavoring that some feel it weighs down the game to the point of it not being worth the effort? That was the argument of the individual I was having the conversation with this morning.

My argument follows the same line of thought as his.  For example, Pathfinder, the bane of my existence, it so loaded with chrome, flavor and optional crap that to me it is just too much crap to make it worth my time and effort. Don’t get me started on how all the chrome and character customization bogs down combat to the point that people celebrate when a combat only took one hour to complete. The problem with lengthy combats is part rules and part hyper character customization. I have said enough on that subject!

Moving on…. As I get older I find that games with less chrome and more of an emphasis on narrative to be what I like these days. I still play Old School D&D and its many clones and derivatives and I find that I play or at least have an interest in many Indie style games too. Topping my interest/to playlist lately are King Arthur’s Pendragon, Dungeon Crawl Classics, Labyrinth Lord and Dungeon World. Some of these are new and some are older systems, but none have hyper amounts of chrome and all play fairly fast and smooth. One could argue that DCC has considerable chrome, but what chrome there is, interestingly enough does not bog down play in any real measurable way, unlike Pathfinder!

Game flavoring should compliment the game in measurable ways! If a potential player or GM has to spend considerable time reading flavor text, is that really complimenting the game or the system? Not to me! flavor text is designed to supplement the rules by showing examples of the rules in action with some flourish, hence the concept of flavor text. Additionally, it should be used to enlighten a player and GM about the game world the system is set in. It should not feel like you are reading a novella. A good example of well-used flavor text is Monte Cook’s Numenera or one of Monte’s older works, Ptolus. Though the later is a huge source book it is well done.

Well, with the icy storm gripping South Carolina today, I have the good fortune to have the day off so I will be spending some of the day reading some rules and basking in the RPG glory that is not Pathfinder.

~ Modoc

Follow Modoc on G+ or on Twitter

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15 Comments Add yours

  1. Soulgeared says:

    You need to explain just in what context you’re using the word Chrome for. Your article was posted in /r/rpg and was met with only confusion as people didn’t know what the hell you were talking about. This lack of clear language made this post a waste of time to read because no one’s exactly sure what you’re complaining about.

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    1. modoc31 says:

      Chrome is an old term that old school wargamers and RPG player should be familiar with. It refers to rules above and beyond the basic rules needed to play a game. Think of it in terms of the all customization rules that exist in Pathfinder or new editions of D&D. Hope that helps.

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  2. Fluency says:

    I take it that by “chrome” you mean unneccesary details or something along those lines. It might be a good idea to explain what you mean by that, since it is a far from common expression.

    The premise of your argument against games like Pathfinder and their level of detail is flawed. All the options available in Pathfinder are optional. The game is not meant to be played with every option in every book available all at once. The options are there for gaming groups to choose from to suit their style and campaign. It’s a toolbox, and it’s meant to be treated as such.

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    1. modoc31 says:

      You are correct on your assumption regarding the meaning of chrome. While not unnecessary detail, it is additional rules above and beyond what is needed to play.

      The argument is not actually flawed. Have you ever met a Pathfinder player that said can I use this book or that one? They want to add in all the customization options they can and then add more later as their character gains levels. From the GM side of the screen it is a pain in the ass!

      This very reason is why I think Pathfinder is bulky, slow and not worth my time any longer. I have sold off all my books, of which I had many. I personally prefer a game system that is less loaded with optional or even required rules above and beyond what is truly needed to play the game. For example, Labyrinth Lord is minimalist, streamlined and simple to play. You are able to let the story drive how your character grows and develops without being rules heavy.

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      1. Soulgeared says:

        >The argument is not actually flawed. Have you ever met a Pathfinder player that said can I use this book or that one? They want to add in all the customization options they can and then add more later as their character gains levels. From the GM side of the screen it is a pain in the ass!

        Maybe stop being such a Yes Man? I just tell my players No. I get where you’re coming from, but it’s like picking on GURPs for it’s crunch level. There’s nothing stopping you from running a PF game with just the core rules, which imo are comprehensive enough if you want to play a D&D game.

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  3. modoc31 says:

    To the point about Pathfinder being comprehensive enough with just the core book, yes I do agree with you on that point. Though there are things mechanically built into the core game I just don’t like, but that’s for another day.

    I am the farthest thing from a Yes Man. I got tired of veteran players coming to the table (real or virtual) asking can I use this book? Can I take this feat? Do you think if I take this feat i can do “X”? I just bought this book, can I play this kind of character? After a while I started declining their requests and when players would get upset and leave the table to never return, the pool of available players beings to dry up. I blame this happening on the sales model Paizo uses. They encourage players to buy more and more books to customize their characters. This puts GMs into a tough position if they choose to limit what players can use, many players feel like they wasted their money on buying a new book they can’t use and will seek groups where they can use all these additional books. Believe it or not, this was happening when I clearly stated up front– “No additional books allowed”. My other argument about Pathfinder, D&D3.5e, et al is the enhanced customization and add-on rules make something like combat take much longer than it should. Combat in a fantasy game is equally as important as story narrative, but it takes far to long! As I commented in the original post, I hear players all the time get excited when one combat only took about an hour. I have observed games (I run conventions) where combats took up far too much of a 4-hour time slot. Why is that? far too many chrome/crunchy rules to implement or in more cases than not, exploit.

    It is those add-on options that add layers to the game for both the player and GM that constitute the chrome I was referring to in my original post. Adding layers up layers of customization which add new rules (Pathfinder) or what might unnecessary complexity (WFRPG, Shadowrun, et al) defeats the purpose of what I am looking for in a game. I personally choose to play games without all of that chrome. About as chrome or crunchy as I get these days is Dungeon Crawl Classics and that rule set is not that crunchy in terms of mechanics and far from chrome being added.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Fluency says:

      I keep forgetting that you americans seem to play rpgs under different circumstances than I am used to.

      From your post I take it you play in a lot of random rpg groups with people you don’t really know? Maybe at your local gaming store or something?

      If I am right, then that explains why you would find all these requests by your players difficult, and why they will outright leave your group unless their demands are met.
      See, where I come from it’s not like this. I play with a group of my three-four closest friends, and we have been playing together for almost ten years now. It’s just us, we don’t play in random groups or seek out other gamers at our FLGS to play with, and we rarely get new people together with us to play.

      So for me, the scenario you are suggesting where people get pissed and leave when you tell them what options will be available in you game is just unthinkable. My frinds would never leave the group if I told them “no psionics” or “only the classes from the core book.” Or something.

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  4. modoc31 says:

    Yes, you are correct that I play with a wide variety of people. I do have one dedicated group that meets monthlt to play Swords & Wizardry, but outside of that the groups are very ad hoc. I try to play at local games shops, conventions, at things like that. The issues I had with Pathfinder and Pathfinder Society in the past are what led to investigate lots of other RPGs.

    So in a way I am thankful for my Pathfinder experience as it has led me to better games that suit my needs and wants much better.

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  5. Ron McClung says:

    I have always called it Bloat. I sold off all my PF and am tempted to do so with D&D 5 (which I enjoy thoroughly but see the Bloat growing). You have a good point here. I do enjoy simpler systems. I am playing Fantasy Age which has one core book, and leaves a lot of the options for you to create. CoC, the same thing. On the flipside, it apparently sells.

    I think there are two issues here. The Bloat and the Culture of Gamers that it produces. This is why I do not like Organized Play – because of the type of culture it produces. I just don’t enjoy a game with players like them. I’ve tried. It’s just not enjoyable. I will stick with my home game group.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. modoc31 says:

      Ron,

      I totally agree with your points. The chrome or bloat as you call it killed Pathfinder for me. I can see the potential for 5e to suffer from some of he same, but I am hopeful it won’t. I am continually gravitating towards what some would call indie games. Primarily because many of them are refreshing and fun to play. They also don’t typically draw the murder-hobos and sadistic rules lawyers that games like Pathfinder draw.

      ~ Modoc

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m a fan of very rules light RPG’s such as Whitebox for a simple reason. It gives me the ability to make shit up on the fly. I don’t have to consult a table and 4 splat books to come to a resolution. I think that’s why I understand people who like story games. It’s a difficult transition though for older DM’s. We want to roll dice too. I’m trying a Cypher system game in a few weeks that I intend to run for a year based on my own setting. I still have reservations about ‘Hard moves’ or they call them “GM Intrusions” but I’m confident on making shit up on the fly. Maybe after 2000 the RPG scene just became such a rule heavy thing and we are seeing the results of it. Two camps. Fuck the rules, and Volume 43 of Pathfinder says I can in fact escape this coffin by temporarily turning myself into mist.

    Ultimately I think as always the DM makes the game, though it’s easier to add to a game than to take away.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. modoc31 says:

      Touche’, I am for lighter systems, but on occasion I have no problem with crunchy mechanics. So long as they work and they are purpose driven. Burning Wheel comes to mind.

      There are two camps, just look on G+ and sometimes there is lots of vitriol between the two. For me, I like games from both camps, but I like what ì like and crap on the stuff I dislike.

      Numenera is fun! The GM intrusion thing will be pretty seamless. Anytime you want to mess with your players or make a situation potentially harder for them, do an imtrusion. You’re already doing to some extent when you GM other systems.

      ~ Modoc

      Liked by 1 person

  7. modoc31 says:

    I was asked on G+ to provide examples of what I feel is good and bad chrome. So, here goes.

    Good Chrome:
    An optional rule that does not place an undue burden on the GM or players to implement while increasing the game experience for everyone. Take for example the unofficial feast rules (coming to Kickstarter this year I believe), they make the courtly feast scenes better by adding in lots of random event options (delivered via cards) for players that choose to participate in the feast beyond the normal rules. There is no undue burden placed on anyone and they actually enhance the overall experience for everyone at the table.

    Bad Chrome:
    Using Pathfinder as our example, look at all the optional supplements that are published by Paizo. Yes, they’re optional and a GM does not have to allow them; though there are many that do. Most (not all) make more work for the player(s) and the GM during the game. I have played in games years ago that had characters heavily customized/optimized (chromed) and I began to see the impacts of this on the GM and the rest of the players at the table. Each little customization the players took for their character usually added a modifier (+/-) and it got the point that it was hard for those folks to keep track of their modifiers for a skill and especially in combat. Nevermind the headaches it caused for the GM. It is at this point that some players started using software to ensure they were getting all of their modifiers applied correctly. I’m sorry, that is beyond overkill. That is the point that chrome negatively impacts everyone at the table.

    I don’t care if you like a particular game or not, that’s totally your prerogative as it is mine, but many players forget that it is not just about them when they sit at the table. Everyone is there to play a game and have fun, but when that turns into excessive downtime, arguing about rules, introducing confusions, or just making everything take longer without bringing enjoyment to everyone at the table there’s a problem. When a pathfinder combat takes an hour or more, who’s really having fun? I theorize most are not.

    ~ Modoc

    Liked by 1 person

  8. faintolist says:

    Nice article; I didn’t know there was a term for all the extra stuff, so that’s good to learn. I do confess, I like Pathfinder quite a bit, although it can most definitely get complicated fast. My two groups are full of people who seem to forget what the “RP” in “RPG” stands for and just want to fight things all the time. I think this is a similar problem to chrome in that it takes the focus off of character development and story, the things I find interesting and fun in RPGS, and puts it on crunchiness and clunky details. Perhaps it is for the unimaginative who cling to something to direct them through each session. After all, many of us are awkward in normal social interactions, and so it is much easier to roll dice and add numbers than it is to try to do improv.

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    1. modoc31 says:

      Faintolist,

      Excellent points! Chrome can add complexity outright with optional rules and situational rules or it can do it discretely. Pathfinder, at its core, it not all that crunchy or complex but can become so pretty quickly with all the optional books. It a GM does not limited what can be used by the players, it can spiral out of control.

      You’re absolutely right that many forget that roleplaying is an integral part of the hobby. Too many just want to roll dice and kill stuff. I get it, but it does become pretty distracting. Some games system lend themselves more to one wide or other and as such, we see more die rolling silliness with more tradition games like D&D, Pathfinder, OSR iterations of D&D, etc.

      ~ Modoc

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