Christoph at Free Spacer has a post wondering if technical aids (iPad apps, for instance) will lead to sprawling game rules. In general, my optimism is almost Pollyanna-ish, but I agree that this is something worth considering.
Pencil and paper RPG rules have opposed forces acting on them:
an urge towards simulation creates complicated rules, and
irritation with recordkeeping pares them down.
This iterative process (theoretically) removes dud rules that don’t pull their weight. It’s responsible for a lot of the evolution of the D&D ruleset. (Of course, “dud” is relative: some may argue that the 1e harlot table added to the depth of the game world, and the pared-down 4e skill list doesn’t provide enough scope for epic-level rope use.)
The pressure for simplicity separates paper games from video games, where there is no real cost to over-writing your code. It’s easier to write complicated than elegant code!
Christoph mentions the D&D Character Builder as an example of technology as an anti-streamlining force, and he’s right. Character generation may not be more complicated in 4th Edition than in 3rd, but it’s certainly no simpler. Since the D&D developers all use the Character Builder, there is really no pressure on them to simplify character-creation rules.
That’s what human technology does – it removes pressures, and lets things grow. Whenever people invent a new tool – fire, agriculture, DDI Character Builder – they come to depend upon it.
I like simple rules. I’d like to spend less than an hour creating a D&D character. Even a level 20 character. ON PAPER. The goal of a madman, perhaps? or a visionary?
Even though you said “madman”, you have to admit: this mad dream I have? the dream of my PC being killed, and being able to roll up a new guy in time for the next encounter? It’s a dream you’d like to wake up to.
There’s a lot of stuff at work in D&D, not the least of which is that as you get more proficient with the rules, more feats and powers come out that drag out the character creation process further by providing a TON of options. I’m not sure if this is that different from earlier editions; 3.5 had a wealth of powers and options available and there was no character builder to help sort things out.
Also, it is worth considering that D&D is kind of designed to be played at level 1; for a pro like us using the character builder I bet we could slap a character together in 5-10 minutes. Maybe 20 minutes on paper.
I suggest an experiment: try creating a level 20 character for a class you’ve played before using just the PHB 1! Or try making a character using JUST Heroes of the Fallen Lands. OR, don’t think very hard when making choices. I bet you could make a thoroughly mediocre character in no time!