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Author Topic: Unspoken rules - boardgames to miniatures to role play games  (Read 2188 times)
MatrixGamer
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« on: October 25, 2005, 07:31:50 AM »

A quote by Vincent got me thinking about implied rules.

Over time, repetition makes a body of informal procedures, mere hit-or-miss guesses, into an unspoken and unwritten, but reliable, overall process. I'm talking about your situation creation rules evolving, over eight years of trial and error, into unwritten, unarticulated, unacknowledged mechanics.

"The GM creates and plays all the NPCs" isn't a rule; it's the public face of a whole bunch of informal rules, all kept and maintained by the GM and the players - and probably never, ever, ever talked about. These are informal rules like "whenever possible, have Severin mess with Damwild's stuff, not just Soraya's" and "don't pitch situations involving romance to Vincent, they'll dud" and "remember to consider the NPC's family's reactions." I consider these rules to be rules. I consider "mechanics" vs. "rules" vs. "guidelines" to be all the same kind of thing - what matters are the real procedures of play.

I want to look at the implied rules that come to role play games from the beginnings of the hobby game market in the 1950's and before. Then I'd like to discuss how we use these rules and break them to create different effects. I'll start with pre- hobby game implied rules and move up to D+D.

Chess, Tafl, Checkers, and Alquerque are all movement attack games. Players take turns moving a single piece in a prescribed manner. IMPLIED RULE: Take turns, follow specific movement/attack rules, there is a winner and loser.

Nine Men's Morris, Fox and Geese, Goats and Tigers, and Chinese Checkers are movement games that are preceded by a placement game. IMPLIED RULE: Take turns, place one toke a turn, move/attack in a specific way, there is a winner and loser.

Backgammon, Sennet, Snakes and Ladders, and Parcheesi are random movement race games with simple attack/defense rules. IMPLIED RULE: Roll dice to see how far you get to move, land on an opponent (or a ladder in Snakes and Ladders) and the person goes back. There is a winner and a loser.

HG Wells's Little Wars is a toy soldier game using a marble shooter to knock over figures. IMPLIED RULE: Take turns, move all your figures a set distance. If they fall over they are dead. There is a winner and a loser.

THE DAWN OF THE HOBBY

TACTICS II is a game of moving and shooting. IMPLIED RULE: Take turns, move in prescribed ways, compare combat and defense numbers to find a ratio that can be applied to a chart, roll a die to determin the outcome. There is a winner and a loser.

DON FEATHERSTONE MINIATURES GAMES FROM THE 60S are move and shoot games where players write their orders and move simultaneously. Players take on the role of commanders. IMPLIED RULE: Movement is simultaneous, players act as their commanders would act, figures move and attack in prescribed ways, dice rolls and charts are used to determin outcomes. There is a winner and loser. When applied to skirmish games players were running figures that represented individual people. These games were played in "campaigns" during which commander's "abilities" could change. Players role played characters on both sides of the conflict.

DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS is a skirmish war game where player's acting out of their character's role takes center stage. IMPLIED RULE: Movement and combat are prescribed, dice are rolled to determin outcomes, players role play their character(initially a commander in fantasy miniatures games), there is less of a winner and loser (unless you count getting rich and gaining "experience" as winning.) The referee (as the DM/GM was called in the first books) was give the job of making up the game world and running everyone in it. The players were all on one side - pitted against the referee's premade adventure.


The history of gaming from there is well documented (you probably know it better than I do).

My first impression of this review is that D+D could be as incomplete a game as it is (which the little books in the white box were) because people understood all these unspoken rules from all the games that proceeded them. Role playing per se slowly oozed it's way into the games ten or more years before D+D so it was not a big step for the gamers of the 60's to make.

Other implied rules of all these games are that there is a host who puts on the game. This person either provides the playing pieces or makes up the game world to be played in. The host also provides the place for the game to be played in and has responsibility to make it a pleasant experience. (All of which is described in the Big Model).

Those are the implied rules that I see, so how do we break them and why?

I can only speak for my games. Engle Matrix Games initial difference was to drop the use of numbers to describe characters/units/nations. The next difference was to use verbal arguments about what happens next in the place of prescribed procedures for determining outcomes. The rules of EMGs (and there are very few of them) are just procedures for deciding which arguments succeed. Arguments can trigger secondary rounds of arguments for "Conflict" and to avoid "Trouble" but this was more to slow down the flow of events so games were not "too fast". What I want in a game is a set of rules that does not prejudge any course of action so I am free to create and pursue any strategy I want. If a story happens along the way that is fine - but it was not one of my original design parameters.

I came up through Featherstone games and early role playing so I still hold to the assumptions that a game can involve taking turns, be simultaneous, have set procedures to determin outcomes and that there can be a winner or loser.

It's important to note that telling a story, exploring internal conflicts and getting in to the motivations the the character were not implied rules or even desired in 1974. All such thoughts are later developments (which some of you have contributed to the hobby as implied rules).

So what do you do - Vincent's "actual play" mentioned above - how does it break or stretch old implied rules, and what effects do you want it to accomplish?

Chris Engle
Hamster Press = Engle Matrix Games
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Chris Engle
Hamster Press = Engle Matrix Games
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Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #1 on: October 25, 2005, 09:45:57 AM »

I'm a bit confused. Many of the things you list as "implied rules" are explicitly set forth in the rules of the games mentioned: e.g. in Tactics II, how to alternate taking turns, how to compare combat strengths and read the combat results table, and the "victory conditions" that say who wins and who loses are are spelled out in the rulebook. What's "implied" here?
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MatrixGamer
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« Reply #2 on: October 25, 2005, 10:24:50 AM »

You are right. They do say these things in the rules. Tactics II made that rule and many board games that followed it carried it on as a "that's how these games are played" rule. They also say it in their rule books but players did not have to read those rules because they looked at the board an knew "Oh that's a combat factor/defense factor/movement factor". They unthinkingly subsummed a way of playing.

One thing I see in the list of games I mentioned is how each one adds one or two new rules while building on all the givens from the previous games. I'm wondering how we do this in our games and how we tweak these assumptions.

For example: Until around 2000 I always resolved Matrix Game arguments simultaneously. This was clearly a hold over from years of playing miniautres games. Writing orders was normal for me. Then I had a role player run a game for me at GenCon and he naturally fell into going around the table - in a round robin. Role play games often do this because speaking simultaneously just doesn't work logistically. Now I'm using the round robin rule as the basic game in my rules because I think it is easier for people to wrap their brains around. 3000 years of game rules have programed us to think in a certain way.

So consider my examples as trend setters. Implied are all the games that followed them and copied the mold.

Chris Engle
Hamster Press = Engle Matrix Games
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Chris Engle
Hamster Press = Engle Matrix Games
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Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #3 on: October 25, 2005, 11:19:08 AM »

Ah. So not so much "implied but unstated" as "assumed and unchallenged."
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #4 on: October 25, 2005, 11:54:01 AM »

OK, I'll set aside my quibble that perhaps HG Well's rules were the advent of modern wargaming, or that perhaps it goes back to the Prussian miniatures tradition, or even earlier. I get your point that the hobby as a culture probably can be seen to start with Tactics II, there being little continuity with older wargames before that (and the popularity of Tactics II probably only arising because of the increase in free time in the post WWII years). Because that's what we're talking about here, cultural norms.

Quote
It's important to note that telling a story, exploring internal conflicts and getting in to the motivations the the character were not implied rules or even desired in 1974. All such thoughts are later developments (which some of you have contributed to the hobby as implied rules).
This may be technically accurate, but "later" is not much later. That is, almost immediately you have people drifting to the story and internal conflict sorts of play. Gygax himself introduced this stuff to his play early on (and as I understand it, this is largely where he splits with Arneson on design direction).

To be clear, there were people doing various forms of freeform RPGing before D&D (party LARPing, for instance), and some of these people immediately took to D&D as a way to play this way with more structured rules. So it was probably something like a week after the introduction of D&D that you could say that some RPG cultures started to be about these things. Including possibly Gygax's group from the start (I know some of the people who played, I'll ask em when I have the chance - one player likes to relate stories about his harelipped character).

See Ron's discussion of the Cargo Cults. What happened is that, essentially, lots of cultures sprang up, each with much less similarity to each other than the wargamers (though they have a couple of distinct cultures themselves). What's fascinating was to note when they'd come together at game conventions, and end up playing the same game of D&D with entirely different agendas. This is where the old "role-playing" vs "roll-playing" dichotomy springs up as a way to classify these cultures.

So, yes, largely Creative Agenda is a cultural matter. You play the way your clan taught you.

Mike
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MatrixGamer
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« Reply #5 on: October 26, 2005, 10:41:26 AM »

I think I'll frame this as a more explicite question.

I'm no expert in Narrativist games but am interested in them so...

What kind of or how many of these inherited ways of running a game do various Narravist games use?

This is to those of you who've written these games, to reflect on you're influences (be they 3000 years old or from last week) and air them.

Chris Engle
Hamster Press = Engle Matrix Games
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Chris Engle
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #6 on: October 26, 2005, 11:31:05 AM »

Too many ways to list. Unless I misunderstand the question. That is, if I had to hazard a guess, there are probably hundreds or even thousands of narrativism carrying cultures.

Keep in mind, again, that when I say RPGs are fragmented in terms of culture, there are people who've played with nobody else besides their friends for the last 30 years. And for these people, they only know the way to play that their group has come up with. They are in such isloation, that they're often shocked to find other groups playing like they do, or playing unlike like they do. Especially the latter.

What one might hear from such an individual when they find out that you, too, play RPGs:
"Wait, your group guys play D&D like a game? But it's all about creating a story! You don't use all the rules in the books, do you? You do? That's crazy, they just get in the way of telling a story! Sometimes we go entire sessions without rolling a die. What's that? You also play other RPGs? Yeah, I've heard of some, but I didn't think hardly anyone played them. They're not any different than D&D, really, are they? They are? I can't see how, the system doesn't matter anyway - in the end the only thing that matters is the quality of the GM and players."

For one well documented example, compare the "West Coast" Runequest scene vs the "England" Runequest scene, both emerging right around when Runequest came out, 1978. Ron may have to correct me, because I'm just recalling his observations, but essentially the California players were very much into story, and the English players were more into simulation. Grossly speaking, and IIRC. And these are relatively macro-sized communities compared to the "just me and the guys" groups. That is, there were probably isolated communities in California playing simmy, and groups in England playing more narrativism.

So my overall point is that RPGs early on were of such a nature that they tended to be played by isolated groups who had to do a lot of text interpretation to be able to figure out how to play. Those interpretations neccessarily differed, and so each group had it's own tradition of play. Ron was in more than one such culture. Before ever hitting the Forge, I'd been a passing member of more than one of these cultures, like the Vampire players I encountered in College who had horrible cases of the Prima Donnas (though the cultures that I was in charge of were always pretty simmy or even gamist).

How many macro-cultures, really big ones, supported narrativism before the Forge? I can't think of any. Though how about the online freeformers? They probably count.

Mike
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MatrixGamer
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« Reply #7 on: October 26, 2005, 12:35:40 PM »

I see your point. None of us can speak for a culture in general. I'm a Muslim - but do I speak for Islam as a whole - no.

Individual game authors could speak of their influences. My original post pretty well describes my influences for instance. I've subsumed many old rules. When writing I have to force myself to stop doing that but instead to be more explicit about what my rules are - since my cargo cult is pretty small.

I realize that many Forge authors are very busy and may not want to do this but if you have the inclination I'd like to hear your stories.

Chris Engle
Hamster Press = Engle Matrix Games
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Chris Engle
Hamster Press = Engle Matrix Games
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