Design Journal – Complexity Budget and Cognitive Load

Design Journal – Complexity Budget and Cognitive Load

Glenn and Mike at Rule of Carnage have a very interesting discussion about the demands a game makes upon its players, specifically the Complexity budget and Cognitive Load.

Complexity Budget: How much innovation, newness or learning is needed to be accommodated before you can begin to play a game.

Cognitive Load: the various things you need to think about and hold in your head while actually playing the game.

This topic strikes right at the heart of my own design considerations for the WIP Mass Combat supplement I am developing. It occurs to me that the complexity Budget is the number one consideration for those FRP gamers that are not including mass combat in their role-playing game sessions.

Game Masters have a lot to think about already, and learning a complex and nuanced new system to add on is a bit too much to ask for many gamers who are already pressed for time in creating the setting and managing all of the various actors and actions.

Any mass combat system that is added to an FRP game must be intuitive in execution through the use of common parlance/mechanics or a very simple and limited grammar of in-game terminology. Or, ideally, both.

Beastman Commander and HeroesFor example, an Attack characteristic versus a Defense characteristic, leading to possible death/damage/routing, with a Save to prevent some or all of the negative effects.

Players also have a lot going on, with various character statistics and abilities, so the cognitive load should be managed via transparent mechanics that support ease and speed of play.

BTW, this was the big weakness of the Conan 2d20 system for Mass Combat, it was just too complex in terms of a new vocabulary and a very non-traditional method of distributing individual troops into operational units.

Without further ado, the video:

I would love to hear your thoughts, please leave a Comment below.

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