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.
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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.