Mattie Ross: Some bully shot! That was four hundred yards, at least!
LeBoeuf: Well, the Sharp's carbine is a...
[just then a rock is brought down on his head]
...and this happens:
"If I ever meet one of you Texas waddies that says he never drank from a horse track I think I will shake his hand and give him a Daniel Webster cigar."
...and both of these moments of dialogue are brought to you by the same phenomenon--worldbuilding of the hairsplitting variety.
They revolve around the characters making fine distinctions that matter in their world--in the first one LaBoeuf is talking about the difference between his weapon and every other weapon (which has been a comic subplot all along) and in the second Cogburn is making fun of LaBoeuf's character class (ditto a subplot all along). Because Cogburn's a bounty hunter (fighter) and LaBoeuf is a Texas Ranger (paladin).
These are both things that--in a Western tabletop RPG--could totally happen, and for the same reasons. Players are discussing events on the ground that need to to get done and that in turn has them talking about the fine distinctions that define the world and that in turn makes the story seem more real and fun.
So fine details and distinctions are fun right? Especially if they have mechanical weight which makes them come up in the game automatically? ("You're a burglar, burgle something" "What the fuck do we have a cleric of Loviatar for? We need fucking healing dammit."
But then so ok at the top there there's the famous polearm picture which is like an example of the opposite. Like jesus Gary a polearm is a polearm can we just say it does d10 and has extra reach and move on with our lives? Do we need to define the Sharp's Guisarme vs the Colt Semiautomatic Ear Spoon?
So that got me thinking about when something is playable depth and when it is just like kill me now.
The first thing I thought of was Noisms 20 scorpions which I love as background (what world should not have at least 20 kinds of scorpions?) and I hate as monsters. Or I would if I wrote them all up--because I am not going to get to use all 20. If I write them up, they won't all come up, and way more importantly, even if they do, that 4th 5th 6th 7th encounter is, in the end, in danger of being mundane anyway--we're fighting more scorpions? Really? Again?
Monster speciation often sucks. Because monsters are supposed to be eerie and unique and the image in the players' minds should be memorable and new and, for me anyway, going "Well now this is a red hydra" is just kinda...meh. Wasted opportunity.
Same problem with character generation options. With too many options, it gets annoying and intimidating to give new players a gazillion options and, as an experienced player, in variety-packed systems I often feel like I am just making a character concept up out of whole cloth and then doing a lot of homework afterward to make the system fit it. I get the point of the whole customization thing, but too often it seems like rather than giving me ideas, it just sends me checking to see if my own ideas are doable in there. The crunch behind each distinction isn't helping, just slowing shit down.
And so the bill-guisarme--at least during character generation--I want weapons to be simple enough that by just picking weapon A (which fits my idea and gets character gen over with) I am not screwing myself because weapon B does what I want better.
I like that there is a Sharp's carbine but I don't like having to look for the Sharp's carbine.
So what's a kind of speciation that works? I think that Noisms idea about different breeds of dog was neat and the dog table I made after I read it works pretty well at the table.
Why? So I'm thinking:
-It isn't something players have to sift through. It's random. So you just roll and that's your dog, write the numbers down. Nobody has to read that whole table--the richness built into the system is not a burden on the player.
The Warhammer random career system works the same way--richness without burden. And this is why the polearms and their speed factors keep not getting used by generations of players--the players don't get to find out about the difference between a glaive and a spetum, they have to. Or at least get the feeling they might die if they don't.
-You're not fighting all these dogs on this table. This isn't a table that suggests that in the campaign you'll be fighting a Demon Dog one week and then a Hell Hound and then a Devil Dog and then a Moon Dog and then a Shadow Mastiff and you'll start to wonder why you have the most boring GM ever. The dog is just there, it's a characteristic of the setting, but it's not foregrounded. It's not a monster. The variation on last week is not the whole idea for this week's fun. But if one does become a monster--like it goes rabid and you go "Well that's an Azumchefe climbing dog, so hiding in the tree won't help!" then that's a neat moment in the game--the background distinctions have weight and generate plot.
Monster speciation can be cool if the variety of monsters are all part of the some overall idea. Like: "You fought pink ooze, but this week it's orange ooze!" is just a lack of imagination, but "When you set pink ooze on fire it turns into orange ooze, which can talk!" is fun. Devil Dog and then Doom Dog and then Danger Dog is boring but Northern Goblins at war with Lava Goblins is fun. In other words, if you're gonna do variations on the same thing, make the fact that they are variations part of the setting.
-They come up a lot, so you're going to use them. Kimberly's character, for instance, has a dog whose name is "Sueno #7". This table has already generated more time worth of in-game dialogue than the time it took to write. It isn't "99 Magic Hats". Dogs are a normal part of the setting and a good idea, tactically. They're gonna come up.
-You can tell Dog A is different from Dog B because of mechanical differences you have to actually talk about during a game to bring into effect. Every time you want your dog to climb, you have to point out he's an Azumchefee Climbing Dog. It's not like a fauchard where you just write down some numbers and never have to bring it up again.
So when thinking about places to add variety to a setting, I'm wondering what other things fit this profile...
Horses, for sure.
Religions maybe--giving someone a random horse or dog is fine, you'd need few enough religions at least in the beginning that choosing wouldn't be a pain in the ass.
Fighting styles? Same problem as religions, really. You can see where splatbooks come from doing this...
Monsters in hierarchies, definitely. Like if you can put in the effort to make Right-Handed Hobgoblins do one whole thing and Left-Handed Hobgoblins do another thing and they interact in an interesting way, that'll be worth your time when you bring it into play.