Thursday, January 10, 2013

Book Keeping

One of the big differences I've seen between old systems and new systems is the presence of  book keeping and the amount there is to it. For example, the Dresden Files RPG has you make a dice roll to see if you can aquire something, or how much resources you have available. An older system like Shadowrun gives you a specific amount of money and asks you to spend a very specific amount of cash for gear. Today, I want to talk about that.

Old School Book Keeping
One of the things I'm finding I have a better appreciation for in Shadowrun now that I'm older is the book keeping. Now, I've never been a huge fan of book keeping (more on this later) but as a sometime thing I am enjoying it. Players have the amount of ammunition they own on their sheets. In a firefight the street sammy doesn't just go through 2 magazines of ammunition that are not accounted for or casually replaced later, he goes through 24 of his 150 rounds of ammunition that he owns, and before he can replace them he needs his money and to go to the store. The same is true for every other resource in the game too.

New School Book Keeping
The new way of doing things is a lot more forgiving. Ammo and other important expenditures is counted, or can be counted, but normally only in important situations. For example, the street sammy tracks his bullets during a big firefight, but outside of those situations it may be a secondary or even tertiary concern. Drama is more important. You're just as likely to track ammo as to have the GM offer you a point and tell you your gun runs empty and needs to be reloaded.

The question then comes down to which do you prefer? I mean, sometimes you just want the old school flavor but there is such a thing as too much book keeping - though what that means is different person to person and group to group. And honestly, for this reason, I tend to prefer systems with very low bookkeeping. Why? Because book keeping can be added to any game easily enough. In fact, if you have a player who likes book keeping they've probably added it to your game on their own.

Truth is, as said, it is easy to do so. Take a look at the new school description. There is no reason that that game can't have players tracking their bullets, how much they shoot, how much they have in magazines, and how much they have loose. Because of that the player can know when they have to reload - or the GM - and you can let those situations come about naturally.

But doesn't it work the other way too? Can't you just hand wave the book keeping in those other systems? Well, you can. I know that my group for D&D often did for encumberance provided the load wasn't too crazy. However, when it comes to other situations - like combat - a lot of the game balance is based around book keeping. The strength of one gun over another could be the amount of ammo it can hold, or how few shots it shoots for doing the same damage. It's something to consider.

Your Thoughts?
I'm curious as to everyone else's thoughts on this subject. Do you like a lot of book keeping? A little? How in depth do you go?


  1. I'm always looking for a middle ground myself. I like knowing that players need to worry about small things when it is dramatically necessary, but not to the point that it gets dull and tedious for them to worry about such things all the time. Last time I was talking about it, I was more looking at the problem of spending money in games rather than bullets, but I think it boils down to the same thing.

  2. Money, bullets, depending on the game it all seems to be the same thing from the Out Of Character perspective. Sadly, I haven't found an easy mid-ground way to do it aside from doing it. Though, there is always trusting your players to do it honestly which - depending on group - will work out better for some than others, even with a trustworthy group.

  3. I think over time I've grown tired of minutiae, and want a lot of that stuff to get out of the way so my group can spend more time enjoying the story.

    I posted my approach a while back:

    But basically, I no longer worry about normal ammunition, food, water, etc., unless the specific adventure benefits from it (like when gremlins are stealing your noms). Silly gremlins. Silly, AWESOME gremlins.

    I used to worry about all these things and we enjoyed it at the time, so I'm ok playing in a group that wants to track every ounce of feather dust - it's just a personal preference as GM.

    I actually always wanted to play a wizard in a 2e full-M-Component tracking campaign, but it never happened.

  4. This also depends the rarity of the resources, the style of game, and repercussions on balance. Is it something that the character can easily find or make? Don't worry about it. Is it valuable and hard to come by - track it. In D&D, I don't count how many normal arrows somebody has. Once the party has a bag of holding, I assume they've got all common mundane equipment. But I make them keep track of potions and magic arrows and alchemical items and such. Part of this is that I like playing a high-fanasty style and dealing with the little stuff is a pain.

    On the other hand, gritty campaigns should have bookkeeping. The party never has enough resources to get by. In a gritty post-apocalypse game, finding two bullets and and a dried out onion can be a major haul.

    Lastly, is this resource tied to the balance of the game? In Shadowrun, a lot of options for character advancement are tied to money. Technological characters need money to upgrade their gear.

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