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I've been running my primary group through some Traveller lately. Last night after our game, which due to a few factors ended a little early. A few of us comment on how non-stressful it was playing Traveller. From the GM point of view, things have been really stress free when I compare it to other games that I have run. From the players' point of view there was not a lot of character maintenance. That got to thinking and asking the question why does it seem like it's so easy. I've come up with a few theories.

Maybe it's because there are less rules. Even with huge array of material available for Classic Traveller (CT), a lot of it's adventures and background. The combat rules are pretty easy and somewhat deadly, so there's not a lot there to get worried over. This means that combat happens pretty quickly and it generally doesn't turn into some huge mess. For both sides of the table, this is a great boon. You can actually have an adventure and not just run combat sessions.

While I am sure less rules is part of it, I'd submit that perhaps a reason it's less stressful is the system has no classes or levels. Yes, it does have former professions and what skills a character has is related to that but I don't think it's the same thing as a class and level. With classes and levels, a player advances on a somewhat set track. That power level on that track increases as the player gains levels. From a GM perspective, it means that adventures must compensate for this power. From a player's perspective, when they need to generate a new character, you either have suffer at low levels with higher level players or generate a higher level character. Both options are stressful, the lower level characters can't compete with the higher level ones and if you create a higher level character, you don't have as much organic growth as other characters may. In CT, without levels, most players are in the same playing field. Some may have a few more skills, but in general there are no closed options for players. Player can create new characters and bring them in at anytime without fear of them being too weak or powerful. Everyone is pretty equal in survivability or to put it another way, combat is deadly.

Of course, I'd be delinquent if I didn't suggest that it might be the lack of magic. Let's face it for both player and GM, magic is sort of a mixed bag. On the one hand it can be useful as an ally and on the other hand, it can be horrible enemy. From a GM point of view, it can be daunting to handle opposition that has magic. The players' party faces a party goblins with two goblin adepts (shamans). For the players having magic using characters is easy, they only have to keep track of their character. They have time to form strategies on how they will use their magic capabilities. For a GM, there is no suck luxury. I don't know how many times I've been stressed just trying to run an encounter, choosing what spells to cast for the opposition, and keep the game flowing. It's a mean feat. It can be done, but it is very taxing.

I'm sure I'm missing something. What are you thoughts? Why do you think some systems are less stress to run than others?

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Mad Brew's picture

Classed vs. Classless

I think the type of players at the table provide a mulitplier to stress, but the base stress level of a game is probably determined by rules and how intuitive they are (but not necessarily how much/little).

What is really cool is that I also wrote a post about the advantages/disadvantages of designing games with or without classes today (or at least it posted today).

Mad Brew's last blog post... Designing Games with Class

Anarkeith's picture

I switched to a homebrew

I switched to a homebrew ruleset that is d20 based largely to reduce stress on me as a GM. Since then I've run some 4e sessions as well (attracted by the initial simplicity.) 4e looks to me like it is destined to be as complex as 3e--and therefore as stressful.

In my homebrew rules XPs from each session can be used to buy skill increases, so levelling is incremental. So far the power-gamer types seem satisfied with that.

Joshua's picture

I don't think specifics like

I don't think specifics like whether there are classes and levels matter nearly as much as how complicated the rules for them are. In the game I play Fridays, run by a GM who uses the same AD&Dish homebrew she's been running for the past 20+ years, there's no stress associated with being one level or another. The difference between a 5th level fighter and a 1st level fighter is 4 hit dice, and that's it. An MU has to pick another four or so of spells on top of that, big deal. On the other hand, in the 3.5 we sometimes play in the Sunday group, leveling up a single time can take twenty minutes of passing the books around, looking at the feat descriptions, spending points on skills, etc. And that still pales into insignificance next to creating a character for HERO, which has neither classes nor levels. And HERO is fairly high-stress despite having relatively minimal advancement.

Zachary's picture

I think it depends on the

I think it depends on the group. Some folks find having to hand-wave a bunch of stuff very stressful, and some feel a compulsion to follow rules-as-written to the core, which can also be harrowing.

Classic Traveller strikes a pretty good chord with me. I know the rules (though I don’t use CT’s starship combat), and they largely work for me and are familiar. That second part may have as much to do with it as anything, I think.

Iron Regime's picture

It does in my case

The last campaign I ran in 3.5e, and at high single-digit levels, I called it quits. Everything was just too complicated. My current campaign gives me a lot less stress because I use a rules-lite, d20-compatible system I re-engineered from Microlite 20. (http://microlite20.net) That way I can still draw on d20 material, but it becomes a lot easier to implement.

Some thoughts/observations:
- The quicker it is to create PC, NPC, and monster stats, the easier it is to manage on-the-fly additions.
- The smaller and simpler the PC/NPC/monster stat block, the easier it is to run large encounters.
- The less detail you provide to PCs and objects through rules, the more you need to provide through description; otherwise things will not be sufficiently differentiated.

C-rad's picture


Less rules allow for better story, and I agree that depends on if you have buy in from the players that this is the style they want to follow.

Fewer rules means that it is easier to learn them and thus to apply them. In the fantasy games, the rules exist to give everybody a fighting chance, to actually balance the iron wielding fighter with the dread necromancer. Which is kind of silly, I think. Introducing random chance into the mix sometimes ends up with improbable kills, which frustrates the story.

All those monsters are many kinds of response to the challenge of player power and not really an integrated part of a overall story. Traveller have an overarching architecture that challenges can be slotted into and make sense, making for better story.

About bonemaster

bonemaster's picture


Bonemaster (aka Jeff Uurtamo) is a long time RPG gamer. He started playing back in early 1980s. The Bone Scroll is his latest attempt to give something back to the gaming community.


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