Of Material Simplicity

I don’t own any minis. My preferred method is to set a large wipe board down on a table and let players draw on it with me during battles. I use music and a computer in my game, but I’m feeling iffier and iffier about the tunes during play. I know that I want to get all my vital .pdfs in hardback so I won’t have to use the damned Mac. It distracts me from my players. I am a big fan of material simplicity in my games.

Mind you, I have nothing but admiration for the guys (and gals) with 50 large boxes of minis that they have been hand-painting since 1974. I dig it when other people can generate a huge mess on the table with all of their gear and maps and hand-drawn character sheets and whatnot. I tend to feel that a huge mess of stuff is somehow a mark of creativity, of involvement and vitality, especially when it’s a useful mess, a mess that gets added to and taken from and evolves—like a marketplace of the spirit, always trading with itself.

But not for me. My messes are never satisfying. And anything that I consider useless, I find messy. Right now I have my players rolling 3-5d6 ability checks for certain tasks. It’s a good system, and it works. But it means that my players have 5d6 sitting off to one side, waiting, and splattering all over the tiny table we game on when they are in use. So it feels like an encumbrance.

Is there a value in material simplicity? For me, the drive to reduce the ‘necessary materials’ for the game is a drive to find simple and elegant processes through which to enable a great many possibilities. As Rikyu, the great Japanese tea sage once said, ‘If you have one pot, and you can make tea in it, that will do quite well’. And there is that great line quoted elsewhere in the OSR about perfection being reached when there is nothing left to take away. But aside from my own instincts and inclinations, is there a value to simplicity in itself?

Not to be facile, but it often seems that the virtue of an approach is found in its appropriateness to a situation. The issue of method cannot be dealt with separately from the quality of the game that the method enabled. You would probably be wiser to ask, ‘What does my game need?’ rather than ‘Upon what principles shall my game be founded?’ I wouldn’t mention this except for the feeling I get that we can get too tied up on matters of theory and approach when instead we should focus on the experience, the game-in-play. The game is the point, and everything else is a tool, a technique. But as many have discovered, if you were to take away all but what you deemed most essential to the game, perhaps you would find that the game itself has grown larger in your mind as a result.

But 40 hand-painted minis on an enormous tabletop landscape is a thing to behold.

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