Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Crispy vs Fuzzy Crunch

Crunch is usually considered the opposite of fluff, but crunch is also the rules of the game. How can we have a game without crunch if that would mean a game without rules?

Monte Cook pointed out, when participating in a panel called Crunch Vs. Fluff: FIGHT! (Norwescon, April 2012), that  "Crunch and Fluff formed a false dichotomy that actually hurts game design rather than informs it". He compares the argument with chocolate chips and cookies. Which is more important in making chocolate chip cookies? He mentions:

Like with so many things, it’s interesting to take rpgs apart and look at their parts, but it’s incorrect to then try to say that one part is superior to another. A cookie without chocolate chips is just a plain cookie. Chips without a cookie are just a handful of chocolate chips. Only together do you have a chocolate chip cookie. An rpg without story is a board game (at best). An rpg without mechanics is an anecdote.

I totally agree with this and I'd like to put forward another way of looking at crunch. One that does not stand in opposition to fluff.

If crunch is not the opposite of fluff what do I mean when I say this is a crunchy game or this is not a crunchy game? It can't mean its fluffier since we're working of the premise that crunch and fluff are not opposite. In come the terms crisp and fuzzy.

Crisp refers to a rule set with a lot of rules, modifiers, and values to consider. Fuzzy refers to a rule set which is more open to the GM's interpretation. Crisp refers to rule sets found in games generally considered crunchy and fuzzy refers rule sets found in games generally considered fluffy.

Now if fluff and crunch are two independent values that don't necessarily oppose, then it is possible to have very crunchy and very fluffy games as well as scarcely crunchy and scarcely fluffy games. 

I'd like you to bring to mind the idea of a game with a lot of crunch and a lot of fluff. Our initial judgement might be that it doesn't exist or that it is just too complex. Now lets move the crisp-fuzzy dial. A very crispy-crunchy-fluffy game could very well be a nightmare. A lot of rules, a lot of complexity (crisp) in those rules and a lot of stuff to apply those rules to (fluff). On the other hand a very fuzzy-crunchy-fluffy game would be a rules light one with a lot of world content and who's rules apply to broad aspect of the character's interaction with the world, not only combat.

Please take note of this. In this way of looking at crunch and fluff, crunch is an indicator of how much of the fluff has an actual mechanical model in the game. Games such as D&D and Pathfinder are high fluff, low crunch and very crispy. Why is it high fluff and low crunch when it's generally understood that such games are crunchy games? Well such games have rules for a small aspect of the character's life: combat. Within that realm the rules are very crisp. Lots of modifiers, skills, feats and tables to determine combat. Move away from combat and rules become really fuzzy or nonexistent. Maybe a charisma check here and there a dexterity check at some point, etc. you get the idea. Succeed and the GM narrates the outcome as seen fit. Such games, particularly the new D&D, have a lot of fluff. Aside from the huge amount of world content and campaign settings associated with the D&D brand, the introduction of background and character development add a lot of fluff which unfortunately relates very little through the game's mechanics. Get a few bonuses, some skills, maybe a feat for a whole life's training prior to meeting in a tavern. Most of which are once again related to combat or centered around dungeon crawling.

Looking at things this way a better game would be one with a lot of crunch and a lot of fluff. I like my chocolate chip cookies to be big and have a lot of chips. Now they also have to be kept fresh in a jar. Crisp and fuzzy are like the tightness on the lid. Too little "crisp" and the seal is not airtight and the cookies soon become stale. Too much "crisp" and it's too much of a pain to open and get a cookie every time a want one.

I strongly believe that games should be both fluffy and crunchy. That as a game designer I can provide a lot of world content I've researched and developed as well as rules to convert that into a meaningful in world effect. The debate then centers around crispness and fuzziness and their effect on game speed. It is here that I see Indie games with a lot of potential to make groundbreaking changes. Develop simple yet powerful game mechanics with a broad application to the world's fluff (not only one aspect such as combat). We all know backgrounds are great and character skills are a must and character development is really cool. Challenge is how to write this down in a way that doesn't get too crispy? That doesn't require an endless stream of number, modifiers and tables to represent. Above all that it doesn't take too much time to resolve. On the other hand it can't be too fuzzy that it becomes too ambiguous on the tabletop, to open to each player's interpretation and this leads to lack of challenge. A lot of work goes into developing a game. I want to sell "a flavor". If the game is too fuzzy and way to open to the player's interpretation then they'll play what they feel like playing and not what I wanted to convey. That's the point of crunch. To convey the world as the game designer envisions it. Too much crisp and the game becomes to hard and slow to play, too much fuzziness and the game begins to lose its flavor. The stale cookies in the poorly sealed cookie jar.

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