Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Why Microlite?

It's been a while since I talked preferences and theory about roleplaying games.  Maybe it's time I do it again.  I'm a keen supporter and partisan for Microlite20, or m20, and I'm going to explain my rationale and why I'll probably never really look back in terms of what my preferred system is.  That said, how often will I actually play an m20 game?  Who knows?  The last game I was involved in was a d20 game; D&D house-ruled to be used for the Star Wars setting in a way that largely was superfluous, because it worked very similarly to the (pre-SAGA) official d20 Star Wars game.  That game has now sat fallow for the better part of a year (maybe longer, actually) and we're now looking to reconvene at least a portion of our group, but we'll be playing Call of Cthulhu (as mentioned in my last post) not m20.

That said, for my setting, I recommend m20 exclusively, and although I still have all of the old documents for my Dark Heritage Hack and d20 Modern and even D&D gallimaufry rules-sets, they're only there for posterity's sake.  I don't envision ever dusting them back off again.

This right here from Saturday October 14, 2006, was the birth of Microlite, after (presumably) a period of labor on the evening of the Friday the 13th.  The original posting of the original version of the rules.  It moved, the next day, into it's own thread where it was hashed out, discussed literally ad nauseum, and eventually spawned a movement that lasted for years, and developed I don't know how many variants (two of my own devising, and I never even submitted mine for inclusion in the big collection pdfs.)

Some of the Microlite movement went down a road that is (perhaps) predictable; it became OSR.  Things like Purest Essence, often considered by many to be the apex of m20 development, along with equally popular (it appears) Microlite74, were specifically designed to refer back in many ways both subtle and not to the old school versions of D&D as many had played them.  I've said before (and will probably do so again) that when it comes to my gaming tastes, I'm old fashioned, but I'm not old school.  A number of my preferences were fixed if you will back in the days when I really first engaged with D&D, during the B/X Moldvay days, but there were always a number of aspects of that game which annoyed the crap out of me too.  And the advantage of Microlite is that it caters to the preferences that I have that were fixed based on B/X style play, while minimizing those that I always had issues with.  What are the things that it specifically allows which I like?

  • Speed of play: One of the things that has certainly bothered me the most about playing the "modern" era is how bogged down the game actually gets.  Particularly combat, but not exclusively so.  I can't imagine ever again playing a game where a relatively routine combat operation takes literally several hours to resolve.
  • Flexibility of play: Another aspect of the complexity of the rules is that there is a rule for all kinds of things.  Not in a robust sense, however, because the rules are usually too specific to be easily adopted to unique circumstances that might come up in play.  I prefer—in fact, that's too weak a word; I demand—that any rules system have robust, simple, generic rules that can be easily adopted via GM rulings to any situation that arises during the course of the game.
  • GM Authority: Along those lines, I require a game that respects and defers to the authority of the GM.  A trend, purposefully adopted starting in 3e, at least, was the notion that you couldn't trust GM's to "do it right" and therefore the game had to be designed so that they had no room to "mess it up" and play "incorrectly."  Totalitarian jerks.  A good GM is like any other good leader; you're happy to follow him because you trust his judgement.  Plus, next time around, it might be you in the GM's seat, and you want the same courtesy.
  • Player Authority: The other side of that same coin is that players need to have the flexibility to exercise their "sovereignty" if you will; their control over their character and how he's defined.  As a very specific example of what I'm talking about, I'm a huge fan of the concept and archetype of the ranger—an outdoorsy fighter who's also somewhat sneaky, and survivalist, and "special forces"-like.  But I've almost never like the specific iteration of the archetype as represented by the ranger class.  One way around this is to go the Pathfinder route; i.e., create even more rules, like the archetypes that can be used to adapt the strict classes into one that's more your speed.  Another is, if you have a good GM, you can work with him to adapt the class yourself.  Another is archetypes that aren't like straitjackets in the first place.
  • Ability to play "on the fly" with little preparation, if needed.  Sure, better game sessions happen with better preparation, but when that doesn't happen for whatever reason and you're left running the game without having prepared, can it be done easily?  Along with this, what if the players go on a complete tangent, making your preparation moot anyway?  The rules-heavy complex systems that require multiple books that all need to be referenced during play make this paradigm nearly impossible.
  • Ability to support "theater of the mind" style combat.  I don't necessarily hate battle mats and miniatures, although I don't prefer them, and I recall back in ye olde junior high D&D days whipping out graph paper as a quick and dirty combat representation, but I prefer a game that doesn't require it.
All of these things tend to drive heavily towards a much more simple system; one without unnecessary complications, without exceptions and weird rules subsets, one that is light, flexible, elegant and yet robust.

The B/X system, or the 0e system that B/X was meant to update, were built on this paradigm, and that's where my tastes and preferences were "frozen" so to speak, so all of those elements are still very important to me, and any game that fails to address them fails period.

But of course, B/X and 0e do a number of things that I don't like.  Rather than reiterate them again, I'll refer you to the tag OSR over there on my tags list, and suggest that if you need to, you read those posts again.  

But Microlite really kind of does the best of all worlds.  It provides exactly what I need with regards to the dot-points above.  It's sufficiently compatible (without any undo work) with d20 material that I can actually use d20 material if I want to in an m20 game.  And it's sufficiently flexible that it doesn't need to refer to the fundamental premise of D&D.  In fact, one of the things that I really like about it is that it's very flexible and the same system, with only minor tweaks, can be used in pretty much any genre.  I've already got a customized dark fantasy iteration that borrows from traditional D&D-like m20 as well as Western-themed m20 games, I've got a more D&D-like iteration (in my EBERRON REMIXED tag, and I've got an iteration that hybridizes those two paradigms too (CULT OF UNDEATH).  I've got a customized STAR WARS iteration, and I've got a superhero iteration in use for my Guardians of the Galaxy-like superhero/space opera setting AD ASTRA (which needs more work, by the way.)

In other words, Microlite is flexible enough that I can use it to play anything, and it is compatible enough with the majority of the RPG material that I already own that that's a major plus, and it excels at hitting all of the specific requirements that I have for a game that is customized to play perfectly to my tastes and preferences.  I can't imagine, at this point, ever again recommending any other system for any other game that I personally run or tinker with here on the blog or in person, or anywhere else.

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