Game designer Monte Cook has been writing a column for Wizards of the Coast called Legends and Lore, in which he provides in-depth analyses of Dungeons & Dragons game mechanics (lending credence to the rumor that he’s working on D&D 5e). His most recent one, A Different Way to Slice the Pie, suggests that complexity ought to grow when the players reach higher levels. The example he provides is ignoring Opportunity Attack rules for Level 1 adventures, but introducing them later on.

I’m not sure I like this approach. I have no problem having a simplified set of rules, but to have them tied with character advancement seems somewhat problematic. I think the idea is that a new player who is unfamiliar with the rules would start at Level 1, and as they continue to play and their character gains levels, the player would be ready to learn new rules.

The problem is that it assumes character experience is tied to player experience. So what happens when an experienced D&D player starts a new campaign at Level 1? All those advanced rules they learned, and perhaps liked, are arbitrarily ignored because they are playing a Level 1 character rather than a higher level character. To me, that just doesn’t make any sense.

What I would prefer is for the rules to be like when I run a one-shot at a convention with inexperienced players. Before we start, I tell the players the rules of the system that they have to know, like how to make skill checks and such. After that I get them started and when a situation comes up that would require knowing a different rule, I teach it to them. For instance, when I run Savage Worlds, I tell them how to make skill checks and that Bennies can be used to reroll dice rolls, but I leave the “soaking” rules until someone takes damage. Some rules I completely ignore in one-shots with inexperienced players, like Armor Piercing, because I feel that a simpler game is better for a one-shot. I’ve run both 0 XP (Novice) games up to 60 XP (Heroic) games using this approach and I haven’t had any issues whatsoever.

Sometimes I want the players to be high XP characters, but I don’t think they should have to learn a dozen additional rules in order to play them. Having simplified rules sets is fine, but I really don’t think the right way to go about it is to have the rules tied to a character’s level.

What do you all think?