Maybe it is just my current state of mind, but why do RPG systems seem needlessly complicated sometimes? As I read them I am thinking Oh hey this looks easy it is a nice easy skill+attribute type of thing…wait, what? I have to draw three cards, throw one on the table face up, slap the second on my forehead, then spin around three times while declaring what my character would do in Iambic pentameter? HUH!?
It seems sometimes that game designers, in a rush to innovate perhaps, add one, two or even three subsystems onto what should be a nice, clean system. Maybe I am just too thick headed here, but nothing kills my interest faster then some strange narrative mechanic inserted into the system. I am not bashing on narrative game play or narrative mechanics mind you…just if you want to include one make sure it fits with the primary mechanic. If I am rolling dice to make skill checks, then that dice method should be worked into the narrative element. I shouldn’t have to write stuff on a 3.5 index card if I haven’t been using index cards the entire game. If dice are rolled and I have to switch to a deck of playing cards or, heaven save me, a custom deck of cards….BZZZZZZZ! sorry I am out, peace. There are some games I have read where the game would play fine ( and suit the designers purpose) without the extra element. Some even have circular or redundant narrative mechanics.
Ya know what it feels like? The game designer wrote a nifty game with a nice system but some knob came along and said “This game is good and all, but if you added some type of narrative element it would rock!” Then the game designer hastily smacked some sort of sub system into it. Maybe to seem hip and avant garde?
Let me reiterate that I do like narrative elements…just when done well and for the sake of the game, not for their own sake.
The trouble is with the word narrative. A RPG is not a book, though it can come close, A RPG is a game. We could call them storytelling games, but again it is a game. We can add mechanics to coax more acting out of our players but we cannot bludgeon them with it.