Recently I’ve noticed a bit of forum discussion about rules-lite D&D. What’s weird to me isn’t that anyone would want to play a rules-lite rpg; I intend to write a rules-lite fantasy heartbreaker someday. No, what’s weird to me is the term ‘rules-lite D&D.’ In my experience, it’s an oxymoron.
I’m not really qualified to talk about OD&D, 1e, or the half dozen early pseudo-editions, but I did start gaming during the 2e era so I know a bit about it. Coincidentally, a lot of recent rules-lite discussion has been focused on 2e. To be fair, 2e does have its simple points. If you’re looking to do nothing from level 1 to 20 except roll a d20 and a damage die, and have no significant build decisions to make other than “which weapon do I hack with?”, then 2e’s fighter’s got ya covered.
But overall, even without getting into all the splat books, there’s quite a bit of clunkiness right in the core books. There’re weird pop-up rules like percentile strength, there’re different tables for everything including ability scores and XP progressions, and then there’s the sheer variety of byzantine mechanics themselves. Sometimes you roll a d20, sometimes you roll percentile, and sometimes other dice. Sometimes rolling high is good, sometimes rolling high is bad. And yes, there’s thac0. It’s not that this stuff is rocket science, but there are clearly simpler ways to resolve in-game events.
I guess that, like native English speakers, gamers who learn D&D first tend to become blinded to its complexities no matter how obvious they appear to outsiders. It’s a shame though, because I’m sure there are better rules-lite rpgs on the market which would be much easier to learn for new players than any edition of D&D.