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Author Topic: Purpose of rules  (Read 7981 times)
Bankuei
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« on: January 16, 2002, 12:16:02 AM »

Inspired by the Shared Power thread, I started thinking, in every roleplaying game I've seen(except Rune), the rules were all intended with the idea that the GM is supposed to break or ignor them when suitable, but the players are not necessarily given that option.   Sure, the rules usually say,"Ignor them when you want to", but look at the standard use of them.

Players are forced to record their characters abilities, whereas the GM is not.  Players are looked down upon for cheating with dice, while the GM is expected to fudge.  How can you share power when one group is assigned a serious level of rules to follow and the other is freed of them?  The GM isn't even assigned different but equally restricting rules.

This situation is the perfect way to destroy any sort of mechanics, since the GM has the "backstage rewrite" option, to alter stats, plot points, or character motivations since they haven't been revealed to the players yet, and therefore doesn't exist yet.  Karma is useless as the GM has the option of changing stats, Fortune is useless since the GM can fudge dice, Drama is useless since the GM can constantly alter motivations or character concepts.

This isn't saying that GM necessarily has competitive interests in mind, or will abuse their freedom, or even that the benevolent dictatorship hasn't produced great games before, or the need/no need for dictatorship(go see Power Sharing), but how many people have thought about the relationship the rules play on the players that isn't in effect on the GM, or even that certain rules are expected to be ignored.  

What is the purpose of the rules in regards to actually dictating what occurs?  Are they designed for player vs. player conflict?  An accepted means of limiting Player control within a game?  With the GM as an "above the law" participant in a game, what purpose do the rules serve to them?  

Chris
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hardcoremoose
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« Reply #1 on: January 16, 2002, 12:36:27 AM »

Hey Chris,

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that if a particular game instructs its players to "ignore the rules when they get in the way", that game is probably experiencing a GNS identity crisis.  And if a GM feels the need to "fudge" results too often, the system is either incapable of meeting its own goals, or the goals of the players differ from what the game is intended.

Not that fudging will never happen, but games whose mechanics support its GNS preference and goals, coupled with players who share those preferences and goals, should minimize that.  I say "should", of course, because although my experience with things like FitM have been very productive and yielded positive results, I'm still so new at most of this that I wouldn't dare make an empirical statement of fact about it.

Nonetheless, very simple things - like explicit FitM - do cut down on fudging of dice because they allow the players to do what they want to do without sacrificing challenge, conflict, adversity, verisimilitude, or what have you.

What are the purpose of rules?  Depends on the game and what it's trying to accomplish.  Gamist games are probably easiest to understand, and probably the most often fudged (by people without a true gamist bent): the rules are there to facilitate the challenge, and to fairly arbitrate what the pcs can do in relation to that challenge.  In narrativist games, I kind of see rules and mechanics as sort of an imaginative kickstart - they help provide direction, create conflict, drive adversity at the players, and illustrate the PCs protagonism (among other things, I'm sure).

I'll defer any discussion of simulationism to Mike Holmes or Marco or whoever wants to take up that call.

- Scott
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #2 on: January 16, 2002, 06:08:34 AM »

Hi there,

I'm with Scott. "Confucius say, 'If game need house-rules, is broken game.'" [That's a quote from a friend, from a discussion back in 1994 or so about Magic.] My discussion of system-breakdown and social-contract-breakdown in a recent thread of Paganini's correlates with this outlook.

That is not to say that Drama methods cannot be part of a game, such that outcomes can be verbally delivered without other factors, or that Fortune or Karma outcomes can be verbally modified. These methods could themselves be rules, and are, in many games.

Now to forestall some possible misunderstandings.

It all comes down to what we mean by "rules." Ian O'Rourke surprised a number of us on the Forge by his assumption that the term "rules" only pertained to the direct and literal resolution mechanics. In this discussion, I am using rules to mean "what the game says about how to play, in any way, shape, or form." [Thus the Three Precepts of The Window are "rules," which, in this case, have an identity-crisis with its resolution system "rules."]

So, taking any and all material in a game text about how to play, from the crunchiest Strike Rank mechanic to the implication that you're going into a monster-infested dungeon, to off-the-cuff statements about "Of course, the GM can override dice rolls in the interests of [whatever]," ... all are rules, to me. Call'em guidelines if you want, doesn't matter. I'm talking about those.

I'm a hard-liner about these things. In my view, if they don't all make frigging sense with one another and promote coherence of play (in the sense that I defined in my essay), such that the likelihood of having fun is increased, then the game is, at best, problematic, and, more likely, just plain fucked.

Best,
Ron
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Paganini
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« Reply #3 on: January 16, 2002, 08:32:18 AM »

Quote from: Bankuei

Players are forced to record their characters abilities, whereas the GM is not.  Players are looked down upon for cheating with dice, while the GM is expected to fudge.  How can you share power when one group is assigned a serious level of rules to follow and the other is freed of them?  The GM isn't even assigned different but equally restricting rules.


I think you'll find that this sort of application of the "ignore rules if you want to" idea is not commonly looked on with favor. I know lots of simulationists and gamists who *hate* the idea of GM fudging the rules. After all, the act of choosing a game implicitly indicates the decision to abide by the rules it contains. If you're just going to break the rules and do whatever you want, why play with a system at all?

IME, what this sort of thing actually (usually) involves is the throwing out of rules before the game starts. I saw a quote from the Project A-Ko RPG once that goes like this: "If a rule annoys you, ignore it." I like that... you shouldn't have to be annoyed while you're playing, so you can trash rules you don't like. This is not the same thing as fudging the system as you play.

By trashing certain rules up front, you're simply amending your social contract from "we'll abide by all rules" to "we'll abide by these specific rules," or even "we'll abide by all rules except for these specific rules that we've replaced with house rules."
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Paganini
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« Reply #4 on: January 16, 2002, 08:43:16 AM »

Quote from: Ron

I'm with Scott. "Confucius say, 'If game need house-rules, is broken game.'" [That's a quote from a friend, from a discussion back in 1994 or so about Magic.]


Note that the the neccesity of house rules in a game will vary from group to group... that means, frex, that D&D3E might be broken for one group - the system does not do what they want without using house rules - but not broken for another group - they use every rule exactly as writen with no changes or additions.

I'd like to make the point that the brokenness of a game is not neccesarily a good reason for not playing that game. It's often easier to fix a broken game than it is to design an entirely new game. Witness the recent Dying Earth discussion. Everyone who's played it seems to think that it's marvelous in tone, and that the core system is exactly right for Vance's work. The complaints involve the magic system, and too many crunchy details. So, should you throw out a game that is in many respects perfect for its stated goal, just because the magic system is broken? I would say no, not if it's easy to add a fix to the system (as someone proposed in that thread).

So, you might correctly say that a game is broken for your group, because it needs house rules, and yet still go ahead and make those house rules, because after you make the rules, the game is no longer broken for your group. Does that make sense?

Of course, this has nothing to do with the GNS identity crisis in The Window, which is what I'm going to ask about next. :)

Quote from: Ron

Thus the Three Precepts of The Window are "rules," which, in this case, have an identity-crisis with its resolution system "rules."


This is interesting... I've always been a fan of the Window, just because it was my first introduction to a different style of gaming. I'd never read anything like it before. I've since moved on to other things, because I don't like the underlying math in the system. I'd like to hear more detail about how it has an identity crisis between the precepts and the resolution system.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #5 on: January 16, 2002, 09:01:06 AM »

Paganini wrote,
"I'd like to make the point that the brokenness of a game is not neccesarily a good reason for not playing that game. It's often easier to fix a broken game than it is to design an entirely new game. [snip good example] So, should you throw out a game that is in many respects perfect for its stated goal, just because the magic system is broken? I would say no, not if it's easy to add a fix to the system (as someone proposed in that thread)."

I totally agree with you. My frustration arises from what is, essentially, shoddy workmanship that has cost me or anyone else money, and from the widespread distribution of such shoddiness. I also think that in many games that the "fix" is far more laborious and requires more session-to-session maintenance than in others, and those would be the games I'd call "fucked."

Best,
Ron

P.S. As for The Window, let's do another thread. Probably in the GNS forum, I'd think. Start it up as you see fit.
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Paganini
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« Reply #6 on: January 16, 2002, 09:44:16 AM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards

I totally agree with you. My frustration arises from what is, essentially, shoddy workmanship that has cost me or anyone else money, and from the widespread distribution of such shoddiness. I also think that in many games that the "fix" is far more laborious and requires more session-to-session maintenance than in others, and those would be the games I'd call "fucked."


Agreement, although I think I'd use less... pointed... terms. :)

Quote

P.S. As for The Window, let's do another thread. Probably in the GNS forum, I'd think. Start it up as you see fit.


Gonna do it right now.
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Gordon C. Landis
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« Reply #7 on: January 16, 2002, 01:44:03 PM »

Bit of a tangent here, but still (best as I can tell) on-topic - I think "rules" also fit into the economic situation of RPGs nowadays, where the generally-accepted wisdom is you need to keep selling add-on product.  Sure, adding more and more setting is good, but what you need in order to REALLY hook the consumer is more and more RULES (alternate explanation - you need setting AND rules so you can hook both Gamists and Simulationists).  That may come off as a bit disparaging, and I guess I do mean it to be - but only a bit.  Looked at as "raw materials" for manufacturing your own game/gameworld, this method has produced some great stuff over the years.

My concern is that by making "raw materials" that masquerade as complete solutions, you actually aggravate the "house rule" problem.  By "pretending" (or not realizing, failing  . . whatever) to provide a complete solution that, in reality, requires house rule patching to provide an enjoyable experience for folks, you make the patch process more difficult/problematic.  If you were up front and direct about the raw material nature of your product, it would be clear that house rules were needed to complete it, and you'd have a chance at clarity as to where they fit into the system, how they are communicated, and etc.  Sorcerors' lack of an "established" definition of Humanity is an example here - to play the game, you need a defintion.  The game doesn't provide one.  Therefore, Humanity must always be "house ruled", but since the game's is up front about it, that becomes a strength rather than a weakness.

AS AN EXAMPLE (please, the Forge is the last place I want to get into a debate on the DETAILS of  WotC/d20), it's an openly stated goal of the d20/OGL system (in at least one of its' forms) to leverage the "add-on's" produced by third party suppliers into Player's Handbook sales for WotC.  But neither the Player's Handbook nor its' d20-licence equivalent, the System Reference Document available on-line, are true raw materials books, providing a detailed breakdown of the basic components of the system.  In fact, the license (again, in at least one of its' forms) forbids you from altering those things.  What's the problem?  None, really - obviously lots of folks are able to make this work for them.  But  . . .

It seems like there's a formula much more likely to produce good GAMES (if not neccessarily good income) - make the "base document" a true Raw Material.  Explain what your analysis and playtesting revealed about, e.g., "balancing" Classes, and let folks use that to make their own.  Provide a real "build your own d20 game" toolkit.  Economically, this might be absurd.  Hell, the whole thing might be absurd.

But that's where I went when thinking about rules, how they work, why they get house revisions, and etc.

Gordon
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Bankuei
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« Reply #8 on: January 16, 2002, 02:58:16 PM »

Back in the Sorcerer thread this exact topic of rules being used as an excuse for supplements or "booster packs" of classes, skills, spells, & powers is something I brought up, and that Sorcerer stands out as being one of the few games that don't follow that design theory.  The theory of not giving players the skinny from the beginning to push out supplements has kept Palladium games doing business for a long time.

In this case, though, my specific interest is in the difference between having rules for the players, different or subset rules for the GM, and of course, the ability(granted within the game or the social contract) for one to be able to ignor the rules as opposed to the others.

Chris
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Bailey
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« Reply #9 on: January 16, 2002, 05:21:05 PM »

Players should be able to edit the rules in the exact same way that the GM does, though I must admit to being gamist in this regard, by consensus.

The rules exist as a contract with the group.  They agree to play in X setting with X rules in a game that explores X theme.  Changing the rules without notice is a violation of the contract.  However, the contract is negotiable by anyone involved.

The gambling house rules for Tinker's Damn are fun, but they require everyone to be on the same page for the game to work.
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Paganini
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« Reply #10 on: January 16, 2002, 08:24:39 PM »

Quote from: Gordon C. Landis

It seems like there's a formula much more likely to produce good GAMES (if not neccessarily good income) - make the "base document" a true Raw Material.  Explain what your analysis and playtesting revealed about, e.g., "balancing" Classes, and let folks use that to make their own.  Provide a real "build your own d20 game" toolkit.  Economically, this might be absurd.  Hell, the whole thing might be absurd.


It sounds a lot like you're describing FUDGE or Epiphany. FUDGE has a fairly large following, so I wouldn't call it absurd. I actually prefer Epiphany, although it seems to have been less successful. Part of that may be that the rules are unclearly writen.
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Gordon C. Landis
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« Reply #11 on: January 16, 2002, 11:46:57 PM »

Quote from: Bankuei

Back in the Sorcerer thread this exact topic of rules being used as an excuse for supplements [. . . ]

Ah . . . perhaps that explains why it was on my mind.
Quote from: Bankuei

In this case, though, my specific interest is in the difference between having rules for the players, different or subset rules for the GM, and of course, the ability(granted within the game or the social contract) for one to be able to ignor the rules as opposed to the others.

Got you.  I'd say that in THEORY, allowing different rules (and rules about how "serious" to take the rules) for player and GM is OK.  The player and the GM can have different kinds of roles/activities within the game, so having different rules for different roles doesn't strike me as a fundamentally broken idea.

In PRACTICE, the way general "GM can fudge - but not the players" rules have been implemented has tended to support the "control of everything" (including story creation) by the GM, and thus is bad for Narrativism (and probably other play preference).

hmm . . . I'll think on this a bit more.  Maybe "good" and "bad" (good/bad in the context of goal, of course) ways to allow different rules for different roles can be identified?

Gordon
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Gordon C. Landis
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« Reply #12 on: January 16, 2002, 11:53:03 PM »

Quote from: Paganini

It sounds a lot like you're describing FUDGE or Epiphany. FUDGE has a fairly large following, so I wouldn't call it absurd. I actually prefer Epiphany, although it seems to have been less successful. Part of that may be that the rules are unclearly writen.

Yeah, Fudge is definetly a step in this direction.  I don't know Epiphany - looks like time for a Google search . . .

Gordon
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Paganini
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« Reply #13 on: January 17, 2002, 07:42:26 AM »

Quote from: Gordon C. Landis

Yeah, Fudge is definetly a step in this direction.  I don't know Epiphany - looks like time for a Google search . . .


Epiphany is from BTRC: http://www.btrc.net">http://www.btrc.net

It's very nicely done, IMO. You can get it from Hyperbooks for about $10. The game is intended to be open-ended set in Hyperboria. It has a very interesting randomless mechanic that can be placed with dice if you feel like it.

The open-ended ness comes into play because only the most basic things are defined. The goal of the game was to have the net community create material for it, which would then become "official" and archived on the main Epiphany website.
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Bailey
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« Reply #14 on: January 17, 2002, 03:38:58 PM »

Quote from: Gordon C. Landis

Got you.  I'd say that in THEORY, allowing different rules (and rules about how "serious" to take the rules) for player and GM is OK.  The player and the GM can have different kinds of roles/activities within the game, so having different rules for different roles doesn't strike me as a fundamentally broken idea.

In PRACTICE, the way general "GM can fudge - but not the players" rules have been implemented has tended to support the "control of everything" (including story creation) by the GM, and thus is bad for Narrativism (and probably other play preference).


This sort of control is what having a GM is about.  If you don't want someone to have the authority you shouldn't have a GM.
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