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Setting as Rules

Started by Valamir, June 08, 2005, 03:22:55 PM

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Quote from: ContracycleIts this sort of point of view that makes me think that certain setting elements are tantamount to system. If introducing elements into setting implies or compels, overtly or covertly, a certain form of play, then it governs behaviour just as much as a rule does.

You'd get no disagreement from me on that.  I've always been a fan of rules that tie into the setting so completely that you couldn't imagine using them for a different setting.  That happens when the setting elements become so inextricably linked to the rules that they become rules...and when the rules become so inextricably linked to the setting that they become setting.

The widely held assumption that you have setting over in that box and rules over in this box and you can mix and match them however you like so you can play a given setting with d20, or play it with GURPS, or play it with FUDGE, or whatever is IMO a horribly broken paradigm.

I think its broken for exactly the reason you mention.  Elements of setting can be so highly realized that they become, essentially rules.  So if you design setting in one box and mechanics in another you simply wind up with two sets of (quite likely) incompatable rules.  By acknowledging that setting elements drive play the same way that rules can, one must conclude that both should be designed hand in hand to work together.


That's very fitting with Vincent's recent post on Anyway regarding rules and system.

Setting elements that become rules are those that inform principled decisions, i.e., even though there's no written rule in the book that things always have to be this way, the group makes decisions consistently in accordance with the setting.

And I think we've all had actual play experiences of group discussions that establish events in the SIS based on setting principles.

Ben Lehman

I agree, rather strongly.

I've expressed my opinions about this in this old thread:">Wait, what matters again?


Ron Edwards

I agree too, consistent with my claim that the Master in My Life with Master is effectively the Setting.



Most certainly everyone agrees to an extent, because it is more beautiful, natural, and elegant that way.

But, to what extent should rules and settings over lap?

Personally, I think the setting should set the tone that matches the rules, that creates a mindset consistent with the rules. Rules should enforce the setting.

They should be quite integral, but they should still be able to be analyzed seperately.

Callan S.

A. Dwarves get +2 to hit elves (a rule)

B. Dwarves hate elves (setting)

Rules reward/punish you for certain choices. Setting leaves it up to group to reward or punish you.

Setting adds either the richness of exploration or the tyranny of structurelessness. Or both.

Rules (assuming they are abided by) help remove the tyranny part, as in as much as Bob would like to have play go his way, rule X stands in his way.
Philosopher Gamer


I used to believe very strongly in Universal rules systems that could be adapted for any genre or setting.  But after my experiences with GURPs and the Hero system, I've now started to see that I'd rather see the setting become the rules as well.

However, I think there's a danger in this mode of design.  It can become too stereotyped and risks becoming a caricature because the setting can only be defined so much within the rules.  Anything which is rigidly defined is at risk of this unless the setting explicitly declares that there are exceptions to the rules.


"Universal," I think, is a very misleading term. Just because the main core of the D20 system stays essentially the same, every individual setting makes changes (minute or earth-shaking) to the system where there is a disparity between them. A rather decent example would be the drastic overhaul of the magic system used in the D20 conversion of Robert Jordan's "The Wheel of Time." The magic system for D&D didn't fit the setting, so they redesigned it around what the setting required. The Unisystem needed a dramatic touch for it to work with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, ergo, Drama Points.

I agree that there are milieux that are served best with systems indecipherable from the setting. The following is a horrible example.

Due to a long history of mutual racism, dwarves hate elves and elves hate dwarves. As such, the vast majority of military training among the dwarves is focused on fighting elves. Elves have learned evasion techniques that effectively foil dwarven pursuit. Therefore, dwarves recieve a +2 bonus to strike an elf, but elves recieve a +2 bonus to hide checks against dwarven opponents. The rules enforce the setting. The setting presents reasons for the rules.

Should they be studied seperately? If you're a masochist, I guess. I mean, rules are there to simulate how things work (I refrain from addressing, specifically, reality). Setting determines how things work, and provides a framework for why.

M. J. Young

I think I said several years back that setting was part of system; I'm not sure I would say it the same way now (as I think that statement predates the Lumpley Principle, so I'd have to consider it carefully), but in concept it remains my view.

I realized it significantly in working with Multiverser, because it became quite clear that every change in setting was a change in system--the game plays differently when you change the world. That's probably so with other generic/universal games, but it was intentionally built in to Multiverser--the introduction specifically says that the rules change, and part of exploration is discovering how they change.

This is not the same thing as having a system designed to support a specific setting (valuable though that is); it is rather the recognition that the two are entwined and cannot be separated without changing both. (This was also recognized in the Multiverser rules, which provided interfacing rules so that a player character could become a player character in another game, essentially adopting the rules of that other game as the core of the rules which govern action in that world. The reason for it was to preserve the feel of such game worlds, which could only be done by preserving the bulk of the system.)

But I don't really see any dissenting opinions here.

--M. J. Young

Mike Holmes

I'll put a slight dissent in here. I think we all agree on what setting is, and, as one of the elements of exploration, how it influences system. I think it's the term "rules" that is the undefined and problematic one here. If Ralph is saying, don't have two systems, well, that seems obvious (and it's no surprise that this thread is noncontroversial).

If he's saying something else, then that needs to be clarified.

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Callan S.

As I noted, rules help kill of cults of personality and the tyranny of structurelessness. Helps kill them where everyone involved didn't really want this to happen, but found no system they relied on such cult methods to 'get the game going' or 'its the best for everyone if I take control'. Illusionism starts from these seeds too.

In one of Tony's capes posts, he talks about how lizard men attack and one player has them killing villagers, rather than capturing them.

Tony notes how he really does not want this to happen. And rightly notes that in the old days it'd break down to a lot of crappy arguements and bitterness.

But in that session, the rules allowed him to change killing to capturing without any such bitterness. And damn, I just can't find the thread right now  (Tony?).

When applied to narration, rules are basically an arbitration tool. Which is why setting and rule set should match, since if your arbitration tool is designed around dungeons but your play is courtley intrigue, it is not going to help remove unwanted (by everyone) cults of personality.
Philosopher Gamer


Time out, are we talking about LS "system"?

If so, setting is part of system, as checking against setting is part of approving new entries into the SiS. It's one more thing to appeal to when approving or rejecting a contribution, as much as die rolls, results tables and character sheets. Heck, it's virutally the substrata of the SiS. It constrains, defines and imparts meaning as much as anything else in play.

So, errm, yes, system, always.
Pete Darby


[Capes] The power of explicit conflicts is the thread Callan is referring to.

Mike, I read "rules" as referring to such things as DFK mechanics, credibility distribution, etc.  Do you interpret it differently?

After checking the provisional glossary and finding the following definition, I agree that a little clarification might be called for, since the strict, jargonny definition of the word is a little broad.

   Textual instruction about (a) anything and everything concerning role-playing this particular game, or (b) specifically Techniques and Ephemera. Used in this sense, Rules are distinct from the System actually employed during play, although it may be used as a reference or justification for it.

Ron, I'm not sure what you mean about MLwM.  Can you explain a little, or can somebody point me in the direction of an earlier discussion?

Mike Holmes

Quote from: MarhaultMike, I read "rules" as referring to such things as DFK mechanics, credibility distribution, etc.  Do you interpret it differently?
Well it can mean that. But in this case, he's saying that "setting is rules." So that's what I'm looking to clarify. Basically, is he using meaning a or meaning b from the glossary here?

If he's using A, then he's saying have one coherent system (which is non-controversial). If it's B then he's saying the the mechanics and the setting are the same - or at least should mesh in some way as to make them indistinct? I'm pretty sure he means A, tho.

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