Customization vs Complexity: the Eternal Battle

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Last week’s blog mentioned we’d continue talking about autocomplete, but we’ve postponed that to next week to coincide with the expected release of some of the features resulting from it. This week, I wanted to focus instead on a more high level dilemma we regularly get back to when deciding what features to implement and how to add them.

The core of the dilemma is best described as ‘customization’ vs ‘complexity’. In simple terms, when adding features, the more options we offer to users to make the system suit their particular needs, the more complicated the system becomes to use, and the higher the barrier for users to make their own content.

As a current example, consider spellcasting for Pathfinder characters — a feature we added to the Pathfinder system just this week. For each character class in your campaign, you can configure the details of that class’ spellcasting abilities so they show up correctly on your sheet, including spells per day, spells known, if applicable, and the save DC of your spells. Each can be fully customized.

So if you made a homebrew spellcasting class and want to add it to the game, you can simply go to the configuration page, add in the details of your spell and the sheet will have full support! However, we cannot always anticipate every houserule you might come up with. Suppose, for example, that you get an extra spells per day for each feat you have — no other class in the core book does this, and so there is no option to support this. You’re stuck adding them manually, which is a shame of course. If only there was an option to configure this!

The thing is, the more such options are available the more complicated the sheet becomes. At the extreme, class configuration could allow you to program the sheet, giving you maximum flexibility to implement whatever odd houserules you can come up with… at the cost that only programmers can use it. On the other extreme, a blank page is extremely simple (and fully customizable), but offers no added benefit whatsoever.

Clearly the answer lies somewhere in the middle, and finding the right balance between the forces of customization and complexity is an eternal struggle. Sometimes there is a great answer, which is both simple and allows for a lot of freedom. Other times, there is no ideal solution and we have to choose the lesser of two evils.

Whenever we make choices like these, we always keep in the back of our head that we might have to change it up. Your feedback is important to that, and so we love to hear your thoughts on specific options and features, as well as anything you feel is missing. If you reach out in our forum, we’d much appreciate it, and while you are there, why not check out this week’s changelog? There’s several very nice new features for Pathfinder which we hinted, as well as some technical improvements you should see the fruits of very soon!