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Archive => RPG Theory => Topic started by: wyrdlyng on February 19, 2003, 10:30:36 PM



Title: Overly rules dependent?
Post by: wyrdlyng on February 19, 2003, 10:30:36 PM
[I think this is where this should go. If not then please feel free to plop it where appropriate.]

I was reading posts on another board and found a sentence by a poster refering to the desire for rules for action figures. This part of the post made me stop and think. [I'm not including the poster or the forum as it's not pertinent to this discussion or the one I was reading.]

When I was a kid, I would spend hours setting up little battles with my action figures, but I would get bored soon after because I couldn't 'live out the battles'.

I stopped there and thought for a moment. The sheer thought of being unable to enjoy playing with something simply because there were no formalized rules, especially when you're a kid, just seemed to shock me.

So, here's my questions.

Are we (I am refering to the collective we of gamers) overly dependent on rules? I have seen numerous posts in multiple boards where people wished that there were rules for "X" movie or "Y" TV show so that they could play in that setting, indicating to me, at least, that they felt that they couldn't play X or Y without formalized rules.

Or are gamers somehow predisposed to crave the structure that rules in games provide for us? Is there some common "compulsion" revolving around rules which draws us to gaming?


Title: Overly rules dependent?
Post by: clehrich on February 19, 2003, 10:52:48 PM
Quote
The sheer thought of being unable to enjoy playing with something simply because there were no formalized rules, especially when you're a kid, just seemed to shock me. ... Are we ...  overly dependent on rules?

I really don't think that's necessarily the case.  One can hardly generalize about all gamers, of course, but I just don't see this as a necessary correlate of there being lots of rules in lots of games.

At one time (maybe it's still true; I rarely read big-press games any more) it seems like every game had to have a thing along the lines of, "Remember when you were kids and played cops and robbers?  And remember how that tended to break down into 'got you,' 'nuh-uh,' 'uh-huh,' and so on?  Well, RPG's are just like that, but we have rules to prevent that sort of thing."

I think this is fundamentally misguided.  I suppose it's possible to design such rules (the semi-LARP Assassin would be an example), but that's really not what well-designed RPG rules are for.  If we've learned one thing from GNS, it's that gaming isn't simply cops-and-robbers; different games and gamers have widely divergent purposes, goals, and interests.  Good mechanics should facilitate groups to do what they would really like to do, and furthermore should give them new avenues and ways to explore their own gaming experience.

This cops-and-robbers notion amounts to a conception that rules are basically about constriction of play possibilities in the name of fairness.  That is, if it's necessary to have rules to prevent fights, then you sacrifice some potential fun in order not to fight.  But rules needn't be constrictive.

To bring it back to where you started, let's consider the possibility that our group of players can have fun doing lots of things: playing Monopoly, or watching a movie, or just hanging out shooting the bull.  Some of these things have rules, some have only implicit social rules.  But gaming is not simply "fun with rules."  When the group decides to play an RPG instead of playing around freeform (hanging out), they do so because RPG's offer them opportunities that are not present in other forms of fun.

So are we overly dependent on rules?  Only if we are fully capable of doing all the same things, to an equal extent and with equal ease, without them.  And I really doubt that.


Title: Overly rules dependent?
Post by: Comte on February 20, 2003, 01:09:19 AM
I feel that a signifigant porportion of the gaming populaiton is a bit to dependent upon the rules of the game.  This is the main complaint I have with the D20 system.  In order to play this game you need two books which are as large as many other "whole products" in order to play the game properly.  When I call somehthing a whole product what I mean is a game that has both rules, setting information, and gamemaster information all in one go.  The number of rules for the d20 system is mindboggling and when you start throwing in supliments it can become more complicated than many of the wargames that are out on the market today.  Now this in of itself isn't so bad.  A talented game master can take these sets of rules whip up a creative game world and use the rules are a baisis to encourage players to think on thier own and try new things in combat and in the game.  The core d20 rules actualy leave quite a bit of room for creativity on everyone's parts.

Then comes the sourcebooks.  This is where the real problem lies, when you have 2 monthly magazines spitting out rules and games sessions at you, and a slew of new rule books that cover virtualy everything lazyness sets in.  This is the curse of the game master.  By haveing everything handed to you, you have no need to create anything yourself.  When you do create anything yourself you end up lapseing into lazyness because everything else is handed to you.  Case and point I once had a 2d0 D&D GM who came up with a fairly creative game world.  It involved adventureing on the outer planes and the PC's were trying to figgure out why they got there and how to get home.  Within 2 game sessions, we were down to useing stock adventures and we were on a go kill the big foozle type adventure.  It is just to tempting to go buy the latest issue of dungeon magazine than to sit and write something yourself.

THis isn't to slam anyone who writes/uses premade adventures mind you.  They have thier place, someone with a diffrent writeing style can change up the structure of an adventure and be a breeze of fresh air into a stagnat campain.  What I am saying though that relying on these constasnt stree of source books and fully written adventures makes is lazyness.  It causes the campain to become forced and generaly unfun.

Sorry to pick on D20 but it is an easy target and after seeing the Book of Vile Darkness something snapped inside of me.  Evil should not have a book of rules associated with it.  Anyway, this sort of handed to dependence is typical of today's society paticularly in america.  When I am bored I turn on the tv, when I am lonely I pick up the phone.  By having more rules we can use less imagination.  The death of imagination spell pain for roleplaying.  THis could turn into an interesting dystopia novel.  

Anyway the indie game world has difficulty putting out enough rules for thier games to cover as much ground as D20 dose.  As a result the players and game masters are forced to use thier imaginations far more often when it comes to resolveing conflicts or comeing up with new ideas.  Often times my players have asked me if they could do something with the game, I take thier charecter sheet write down a new skill for it and say start putting points into it.  Then my deadline is when he feels he is ready to start useing the skill.  More often than not this is a collective colaboration on both our parts that results in a richer game world for everyone involved.  

So to answer the original question of are we getting to wrapped up in our rules, look at D20 and look at Rifts, heck even look at vampire and say no.  If you can then yay for you.  Personaly I think we are.  When I don't feel like cross refrenceing bullet charts in the middle of the game I'll throw the rules out the window and just have some fun.  I've had players who simply can't function once the rules have been shut off.  They don't know what to do, it is kinda sad.  Still there is hope.  There are several gamer who honestly love the rules of the game.  I've seen players like this who knows every rule to the game, be excelent roleplayers and not be a rule lawyer.  I've met one person like this.  I've also only met one person who was positively paraliyzed by the fact that the rules have been turned off for a bit because the GM has a headache.  In between I have met every combonation of the two.  I like to beleive that for every person who got in for the rules, there is one who got in for the story possibilitys and creativity.


Title: Overly rules dependent?
Post by: Ron Edwards on February 20, 2003, 07:09:13 AM
Hi there,

This is an interesting thread so far.

As the responses have indicated, the topic can be approached from lots and lots of angles. One of the problems is that both "rules" and "players" can mean different things to different people, so it might help if posters can be clear about what they mean by the terms.

In this case, by "players," I mean "potential customers" from a pool of already-active customers at game stores. The angle I'll take is the idea that "rules," in many RPG customers' terms, means ... licensed stuff about a property that they already like.

Therefore, I interpret many people's call for "rules for Cool New Show X" to mean, "I'm a fan of X and will buy anything with X on it, so please publish some!" I also interpret their behavior, based partly on observation, as not really focused on the role-playing at all. They'll buy the game or supplement, fondle it, consider themselves happy to own it along with their X t-shirt or video collection, and daydream about playing it some time.

If they play it two things might happen: (1) it plays poorly, in which case they shift back to "owning pleasure" and don't trouble themselves about it; (2) it plays well, in which case they play it to whatever extent they desire while they are still excited about X, but no longer.

My point for these interpretations of "rules" and "players" is that the commercial and subcultural context is the ruling factor.

However, as I said, there are many angles and interpretations of the terms, so everyone, feel free to specify your own.

Best,
Ron


Title: Re: Overly rules dependent?
Post by: Alan on February 20, 2003, 07:30:06 AM
Quote from: wyrdlyng

Are we (I am refering to the collective we of gamers) overly dependent on rules?


In the last six months, in exploring Indie and narrativist games, I've shifted from playing with lots of rules to simpler systems.  This may be associated with moving away from simulationist style play.  

What I've realized is that systems like D&D3e and Hero generate a lot of table activity from combat and combat rules.  Without this, the GM has to have more material ready in a given session.  I think I got dependant on this.

But I recall that, when I played in these systems, the long rules-generated simulations usually bore me.  So, I suspect my players tolerated the same boredom and the change is good.


Title: Overly rules dependent?
Post by: Ben Morgan on February 20, 2003, 09:21:48 AM
There's something about my gaming style that I had initially discovered several years ago, but didn't put much thought into. Now that I'm running a game again on a fairly consistent basis after a nearly two-year hiatus, I've re-discovered this little fact.

I need rules to be there so that I can ignore them.

When I finally got some people together a couple of months ago and we seriously sat down and talked about what game we wanted to run, my brother suggested Cyberpunk, because the setting and system elements were familiar to most everyone involved, or at least fairly accessible to those who weren't (my yardstick for Cyberpunk these days is the movie Strange Days). I said "alright, I'll run it, but I'm gonna run it MY way."

I proceeded to come up with eight pages of rules revisions, including a completely new character generation system and a brand new system for tracking damage and injury. Once in the game started, however, most of my carefully crafted rules went right out the window. Because they just bogged things down. I was comfortable with making stuff up as long as I had a table printed out in front of me that every time I looked at it I said "I really don't feel like puzzling out how to use this."


I'm pretty sure this is probably a case of incoherent system design on my part. The rules I'd come up with were mainly for stuff that I really ended up not wanting to focus on in-game (mostly combat stuff), so it was kind of like coming up with long detailed rules in Monopoly for proper etiquette when applying for a bank loan, and then throwing them out the window once the game started.

But I'm also pretty sure I'm not alone. It's been stated before: there are a lot of people that will swear by d20 (or previously, AD&D), for example, and claim that everything else sucks donkey ass, but at the same time, they won't run the game with the rules as printed (because it's "broken"). There's always some table or chart of set of rules that they tinker with, modify, or just toss.


Title: Overly rules dependent?
Post by: Valamir on February 20, 2003, 10:07:27 AM
I hear you Ben.  I think alot of house rules are not really replacement rules.  They are pre-thought-out guidelines for how to wing it.

In other words there's a particular aspect of the game that just doesn't feel right to you, call it weapon vs armor penetration rules.  You don't like 'em.  But you're not comfortable just winging it because then your're working without a net.  So you spend hours and hours and pages and pages coming up with superior weapon vs armor pen rules.  But when its time to play you wind up just winging it...why.  Because the PROCESS of writing those rules allowed you to articulate what precisely it was that the current rules didn't do "right" and come up with an alternate way of thinking about them.  Armed with this analysis you now have something to base your "winging" on.  The house rules provide the net.

I think ALOT of house rules actually serve this purpose.  I've gamed with many D&Ders who had a stack of 3 ring binders full of house rules.  Few of them actually referred to them during play to look something up, and its highly unlikely that every single rule found there-in was completely memorized and used precisely correctly on every occassion.  Rather, the GM figured out the jist of what he wanted during the rules writing process and from there on out was comfortable just adjucating as needed without the need to look things up.


Title: Overly rules dependent?
Post by: Walt Freitag on February 20, 2003, 10:15:53 AM
That's a really interesting observation, Ralph.

I've seen the same phenomenon, though I've also seen GMs with steel file boxes full of rules on index cards being constantly flipped through and referred to during play. Perhaps it's possible to correlate the type of drift with the frequency of house-rule references during play.

- Walt


Title: Overly rules dependent?
Post by: wyrdlyng on February 20, 2003, 11:20:57 AM
It seems to me that we've split into two branches here. They're similar but not quite the same. Let me hit them separately.

Quote from: Comte
By having more rules we can use less imagination.

I've had players who simply can't function once the rules have been shut off. They don't know what to do, it is kinda sad.


This is a large part of what I was trying to get at. The shutting down because there are no rules syndrome. Rather than trying to come up with a solution they avoid the issue.

Quote from: Ron Edwards
Therefore, I interpret many people's call for "rules for Cool New Show X" to mean, "I'm a fan of X and will buy anything with X on it, so please publish some!"


That's part of it but I am asking why some people feel that they can't play in that world/setting without official rules with a licensed deal. I know that this doesn't apply to all gamers. Some gamers will just make something up or adapt another system. Most people on these boards will do so, but I'm talking about the majority who won't. They'll just have this nagging desire and wait until someone publishes a licensed game. Then they seem to have "permission" to play in this world/setting. It's this phenomenon that baffles me. Why do people feel that they need someone to "allow" them to play what they want by making rules for them?


Quote from: Ben Morgan
I need rules to be there so that I can ignore them.


Quote from: Valamir
But when its time to play you wind up just winging it...why. Because the PROCESS of writing those rules allowed you to articulate what precisely it was that the current rules didn't do "right" and come up with an alternate way of thinking about them. Armed with this analysis you now have something to base your "winging" on. The house rules provide the net.


Here's the other phenomenon. The creation of something which becomes superfluous just in order to play a concept. If you're going to end up not using the rules that you have created then what is it that compels you to create them in the first place? Is this a common ritual with gamers? If so, why do we feel the need to overly complicate in order to simplify? Are we obsessed with the structure provided by rules? Do we do this because we feel that we have to in order to make it right?

So we have two takes on rules. The first is rules as a crutch for imagination and the second is rules as an OCD-like ritual. These two phenomena are what I really mean by being dependent on rules.

Just in case: OCD = Obsessive Compulsive Disorder


Title: Overly rules dependent?
Post by: Mike Holmes on February 20, 2003, 12:55:14 PM
This is so totally wrong, and obviated by the original post. Alex, you point out that as kids we are disapointed because we can't play out the battles with our action figures. Is that because we have been inculcated at that point that we need rules? I see kids playing out battles all the time. I did. Thing is, that after a while, just saying "Galactron swoops in and kills Bolzor" loses it's lustre. For one of several reasons. I ran into this as a kid. Basically, it boils down to the fact that there's something that rules themsleves provide.

I keep marvelling at all the people who suddenly come to the conclusion that you don't need rules to play RPGs (or something similar to RPGs if your definition includes rules). It's not exactly a new observation. People have been doing consensual storytelling since waaaaay before RPGs with rules were even a phenomenon. Hell, that's what Cops and Robbers is. Funny thing is that, as adults we can accept the responsibility to say, "Damn, ya got me." To that extent, since about five minutes after the advent of RPGs somebody has been saying, "But what do you need rules for if you have imagination?"

The real question is why did it take them so long to come up with the rules for organized consensual storytelling?

Know what? You can play Monoploly without rules, too. Doesn't sound like any fun to me, but it can be done.

The point of the rules is whatever the point of the rules is. In D&D you have a tactical challenge to see if you can create a character who can progress in power, and become a mighty hero in doing so. How's that any different from the goal in Chess of proving your ability by winning? Or shall we play chess sans rules as well?

In GURPS, you get to portray a character in an objective-seeming world of someone else's design, thus getting the vicaroius thrill of that seeming objectivity. How is this different fromte thrill of playing a Computer Sim? Shall we have flight simulators that don't display anything and force us to use our imaginations instead?

In Sorcerer, you get to participate in a complex process that drives players to look at certain moral issues as pertains to characters of their own design, thus creating moral issues relevant to the game structue. How is this different from say Improv theatre? Shall we do our improv all by ourselves at home (as opposed to the strucctures of a theatre and an audience)?


If you still can't see how rules can be fun, I can only point to the door, and say, hey, there's a ton of Freeformers out there playing with "just their imaginations", and having lots of fun. Go find them.

Dependant on rules? We're the people who like rules. Yes, if wanting air is to be dependant on it, then, by golly, call be a gamer crack whore. And a happy one at that.

Mike


Title: Overly rules dependent?
Post by: Bankuei on February 20, 2003, 01:48:32 PM
Interesting thread so far.  What I think is very important to check out, is :

1)What is the players(people wanting to play), intended goal?

And

2)Do the rules fufill that?

Of course, this is pretty much what Ron says in GNS, but the issue at hand is that some folks have become so enamored of the rules that they forgot long ago what the goal of play was.  

Take for instance the people who play D&D to have a "heroic fantasy" game, and find themselves taking cover, tactically analyzing each action(how many attacks of opp?, etc?), and acting in very unheroic ways, instead of jumping off the bridge, catching the dragon in midflight and fighting it while racing 'tween the spires of the city?

And so, somewhere in the back of their head, they remember the goal, vaguely, but can't bring it into focus, or communicate it, but they do know the rules as they stand, do not provide it.  So they argue about rules, make house rules upon rules, and some, are fortunate enough to find the place where they can fufill their intended goal through play.  Others, never do, either because they expect someone else to make the rules for them, or else cannot clearly identify what their goal is, and what form of rules would serve it.

What rules do provide, is a guideline that can be communicated (comparatively) easy to others, so that you can share in the experience of play.  While anyone can play "freeform", not everyone can easily communicate the ebb and flow of play with a given group, but with rules, that ebb and flow can be shared(everyone "knows" what D&D play is like), amongst several people.

Are we overly dependant on rules?  For those who forget their goal of play, whatever it is that they enjoy, or are seeking to experience, the answer is yes, those guys get lost in the rules, because they forgot what it is that makes the game fun for them.  For everyone else, they either have rules that work for them, or are making rules that will work for them.

Instead of gamers, I'd say the adult populace in general is overly dependant on rules.  I recall as a child having hours and hours of fun playing with dominoes, cards, checkers, or whatever, to some form of rules that I had made up myself.  I can't recall any of those games really, but some point after being taught enough rules, instead of my first reaction being, "Oh, this looks like fun!  It must work like this!" to being, "Where are the rules at?"

Quote
Why do people feel that they need someone to "allow" them to play what they want by making rules for them? ....Are we obsessed with the structure provided by rules?


This is the conditioning I'm speaking of, particularly since in our society, we are extremely trained on the obedience to authority/permission to do anything from childhood.  When the rules become more important than the purpose behind them, its simply conditioning at work.

But here's an interesting thing to consider:  During character creation, do you visualize your character first, or do you build them based off of the rules, and then visualize them?  I'd say the first tends to lead to strong character concepts, but the second is more common amongst gamers...Does the rules serve the imagination, or does the imagination serve the rules?  

I'd say that conditioning in general is no greater amongst gamers than the rest of the adult populace, simply a matter of where people allow it to rule or override their own thoughts.

Chris


Title: Overly rules dependent?
Post by: Cassidy on February 20, 2003, 02:21:55 PM
Quote from: wyrdlyng
Why do people feel that they need someone to "allow" them to play what they want by making rules for them?

Are we obsessed with the structure provided by rules? Do we do this because we feel that we have to in order to make it right?


I am sure that the "rules" are the most significant aspect of the whole RPG experience for some players.

I've met players (as I am sure everyone has) who can quote rules text verbatim and know the page numbers where XYZ rule is stipulated. I suppose they like the structure that rules provide, they like exploring the rules, exploring the system. That's why they play. More power to them.

Why are some players so into the rules? I don't know it could be any number of reasons. It's really no different from a player who uses RPG's to explore aspects of their character or is into creating stories. I guess they do it because thats really what they like to do.

It's no suprise that they won't feel like playing a game with no established rules. Why would they bother, there wouldn't be anything to interest them.


Title: Overly rules dependent?
Post by: lumpley on February 20, 2003, 02:33:38 PM
People use game rules for two things.  1) To resolve breakdowns in consensus.  2) To spur (by which I mean constrain) their imaginations.  Any gamer or game group is gonna do both of these, to whatever degree meets their individual needs.

If somebody writes house rules to get #2, and the simple act of writing them gives them all the #2 they need, great!  Mission accomplished.  I don't think it's copulsive or conditioned at all; writing rules as a way to order your thinking seems perfectly legitimate to me.

Mike digs #2 in a big way; I don't know how he takes his #1.  I hate -- hate -- #1, and am increasingly open to #2.  (A convert, even.)  Other gamers presumably are my opposite: they see #1 as rules' real value, and #2 as needless limitations.  "Crutches."  The point is: whatever.  Different strokes.  We all use rules for the same things, just more (or less) of them.

-Vincent, feeling a bit ranty.


Title: Overly rules dependent?
Post by: Mike Holmes on February 20, 2003, 02:40:08 PM
I think a lot of people's biases are coming into the argument. It's like they're saying, "Well, I don't have fun with these sorts of rules, so the people who are having fun must be deluded, conditioned, deendant."

You know, I don't care if y'all think that I'm a degenerate for loving, craving, needing rules. Give me one good reason why it's a bad thing? One way in which the rules detract from my creativity instead of increasing my creativity, or stop me from having fun. Seriously. If someone can do that, I'll rethink the whole dependance issue. People don't "forget" why they came to play. In fact the opposite is true, they change games so that they conform to what the players like.

Are some people playing the wrong games, using rules that don't do what they want? Yep, that's GNS. But it's not because they forgot something, it's because they've never been educated in the first place. How can that be their fault?

Y'know, I could just as easily say that those who don't like rules are "freedom freaks" who just don't understand the value of structure. Anyone who doesn't like rules is just undisciplined, and needs to buckle down.

Can't we just agree that some people like rules and others do not? And let each go their own way? Why must we project our biases on others?

Mike


Title: Overly rules dependent?
Post by: Gordon C. Landis on February 20, 2003, 03:29:07 PM
hmmm . . .

Game rules are a tool.  Period.  They can be used and misused for anything.

I remember playing Chutes and Ladders or something with my niece when she was 5 or 6.  She'd make up rules left and right to get whatever she wanted.  If she wanted to bounce her piece all over the board, she'd justify it by saying "I rolled five dots so I have to bounce five times."  And when I rolled a five she'd say, "no, on your turn you have to bounce TEN times with a five - start bouncing!"  I don't think rules-creation is something conditioned or imposed - it's just something we do.

Nor do I think there's one answer to the question of over-dependance on rules - yup, that can happen.  But a good rule(set) can also be wonderfully helpful in (e.g.) getting that "Twilight Zone" feel into your game.  Can you get that "Twilight Zone" feel in other ways?  Sure.  But does that mean getting it from some rules is bad?  Not to my thinking.

That said - rules as a justification of various dysfunctional behaviors (GM ego-boost via player-suppression, snarky player vs. player conflict, etc.) is something I remember seing all too often.  Rules as THAT kind of crutch I don't have much toleration for, and it does happen.  But I don't think taking the rules away is really going to solve the problem . . .

I guess I see the real question as "what are you using the rules for?"  At all levels - game design, social interaction, during actual play.  Everywhere.   Answer/be aware of that, and you'll likely benefit.  For some, the answer will leave LOTS of rules in existence, while for others, there might only be a few core guidelines left.  

Gordon


Title: Overly rules dependent?
Post by: clehrich on February 20, 2003, 07:35:55 PM
Now hold on a minute.  In the initial post, and my immediate response to it, I took it for granted that the question what how much, not whether.  Does anyone here still think that rules don't matter, just flat, plain, are not necessary?  Rules of any kind?

1. Please read System Does Matter, and then we can talk specifics.

2. If we accept that some sort of system is helpful (not "necessary or else X"), then on what basis can "rules" be eliminated as some sort of unnecessary silliness?

(rant on)

3. Lots of people like to chatter on about how storytelling is an ancient practice and it's all about people getting together and whatnot, and it doesn't have rules.  Okay, go read a stack of careful analyses of actual mythology in action among the cultures who live with these things, not as primitive TV but as actual myth.  It's got rules.  Lots of rules.  And they're very complex, and flexible, and effective, and they allow myth to do whatever the hell the people want them to do.  But it's done through rules.  If you want to tell stories around the campfire in a sharing sort of way, go for it, but recognize that you are in the minority.  It's not that somehow these days we've all gotten so dependent on structure.  Structure is the way life, and stories, and meaning happen.  You want to be an anarchist?  Okay, but you're not getting back to basics --- you're a modernist radical.

4. Oh, and Ron?  You somewhere remarked (I'm sure a lot more than once) that you really hate the distinction rules-heavy and rules-lite, and I seem to recall I disagreed.  If this is what happens because of that distinction, call me a gaming-rules-crack-whore like Mike.

(rant off)


Title: Overly rules dependent?
Post by: M. J. Young on February 20, 2003, 08:30:31 PM
First, I want to say a hearty amen to Mike's posts. I like rules. The give structure to what we're doing.

Having said that, let me get anecdotal.

Years ago there was a computer network service called Quantum Link, built for Commodore users. It was the model for AOL, and had the same emphasis on chat rooms. One of those chat rooms that developed was called the Red Dragon Inn, or RDI. If you stopped into the RDI you would find a wizard in the corner, a bard serving drinks at the bar, a sorceress chatting with a fighter and a cleric, some barbarian sharpening his axe in the corner, and in general a sort of free-form role playing as a context for online socializing. But from time to time some guy would come in, draw his megablaster and start shooting up the place, and the barbarian would throw something at him, and there would be this huge fight with magic and machines going head to head. Now, maybe that was within everyone's expectations; it wasn't within mine. I never expected aliens or space marines to show up at the Red Dragon Inn. But it was free-form, and people could be and do whatever they chose. Oh, but your free-form doesn't allow aliens and space marines to come into the Red Dragon Inn and start shooting up the wizards and barbarians? That's because you've got rules. I'm sorry, but that's the reason. You may not have articulated them, but they're there.

I'd been running OAD&D for most of a decade, and had a current group of teenagers who'd been at it for at least several months, maybe something over a year, approaching what I'd call mid-level (~5) characters (O.K., advancement wasn't too quick), when I was adding a new player to the group, a guy who had been playing and running games as long as I had. I wanted to avoid the "new PC automatic party member" syndrome, so we created a couple of characters for him to play. One was an insane high level gnome illusionist; he'd played a lot of illusionists over the years, so he was pretty familiar with the class. I'd had few in my games, so I wasn't. Engaging the party, he started playing games with them, and threw some complex illusion that had detailed rules in the game book as to what would happen. Now, he was very much a seat-of-the-pants referee, and he expected that the effects would happen quickly and that he would be doing a lot of other things at the same time. I was a much more by-the-book referee, and particularly with a spell I'd never seen before I was going to pay attention to the rules. The spell, with its round-by-round checks, slowed the action considerably. It also limited what he could do, because checks had to be made round-by-round for each of the party members and each of their animals (they were in the "everyone has a pet" phase, with cats, dogs, and birds, in addition to a couple of mules for pack animals), so he had to wait for the results of his action to be determined before he could do the next thing. I don't think he'd realized how limiting the spell would be in terms of action and game flow when he chose it. On the other hand, I think the way he'd have run it, the illusionist would have wound up far more powerful than the book intended. In this case, although the players were certainly overmatched, the rules were designed to prevent them from being completely overpowered, and ignoring them would have been unfair to them.

I've got a player in my Multiverser forum game who likes to push the envelope of what he can do. In his current world, he's finding psionics fairly easy, and is working on a lot of different mental powers in a lot of different situations. Thing is, he's not particularly good at most of them yet--amateur levels of skill--but he is good at bluster and posturing. In tonight's game, he announced that he was going to mentally put six security officers to sleep, steel the weapon and communication device from the nearest, issue a demand that the evil interplanetary federation surrender within twenty-four hours, then telekinetically start throwing things around, ripping apart the area of the enclosed city in which he was standing, tear a hole in the ceiling, and fly out into the outside world. It's not the first time he's dared to string together so many potent actions in one post. About half way through--when he was at the ripping and throwing part--he botched. Botches are in the game for a reason. They prevent player characters from becoming completely omnipotent. Now, you can argue that the rule spoiled the creativity, because it would have been wonderful to see him tear up the floor and the wall and the ceiling, then rip a hole in the dome and fly away--but I would argue in response that if the player character could do whatever the player wanted, and the player was completely unfettered and could never fail unless he chose to fail, the game would get very dull indeed. It happens that when I tossed together my botch list and rolled the die, he got a rather simple botch (creation of a gravity well in the floor in front of him) which he will probably easily escape. But without those botches I could really go home and let him write stories of how he defeated everyone and everything and never had any problems.

The rules are that which gives form and framework to the game and the story. They always exist, even in freeform, as long as people are able to play together. It is the rules that enable us to play together. They may be articulated or assumed. They may be complex or simple. They may be contradictory. There may be elaborate rules about rules. Before I was a lawyer, I had a system of precedent established in my OAD&D game: if there was something which was not clear in the rules, the DM (me) made a decision, and the decision was written down, and became the rule thereafter. The rules provide reliability in this way: we know that what worked before will work again, because there are rules.

As to people thinking that they need to have a licensed rules set before they can play some particular product (Buffy, Star Trek), I wouldn't know about that. One of the aspects promoted about Multiverser is that you can use it to run those things; the game encourages that kind of plagiarism for home use. So maybe that's different, but the people who play my game tend to look at everything as fodder for games.

--M. J. Young


Title: Overly rules dependent?
Post by: Walt Freitag on February 20, 2003, 09:07:16 PM
Quote from: M. J.
But without those botches I could really go home and let him write stories of how he defeated everyone and everything and never had any problems.


I was planning to post the following comment before I read M. J.'s post; now it can just be a generalization of the point M. J. already made.

Rules are what makes it possible to fail. The possibility of failure is what makes the activity a game.

You can play without rules, but you can't play a game without rules. The issue of reaching consensus between participants is secondary. All by yourself, you can go out and have a great time throwing snowballs at trees. That's play. The moment you think to yourself, "let's see if I can hit the maple tree from here with a snowball in one shot," you've got a rule. You've got the possibility of failure. You've got a game.

- Walt


Title: Overly rules dependent?
Post by: Bankuei on February 20, 2003, 10:23:02 PM
Quote
I think a lot of people's biases are coming into the argument. It's like they're saying, "Well, I don't have fun with these sorts of rules, so the people who are having fun must be deluded, conditioned, deendant."


Sorry Mike, perhaps I've miscommunicated my point.  I like rules.  I'm a system junkie just like many people here.  But just like Gordon said, rules are a tool, and if they don't do the job, I'm dropping them without a second thought.  

My point about conditioning is that most folks have been conditioned to require permission/approval from outside sources to do anything.  This includes mods, or simply, not playing what everyone else is playing.  

Conditioned folks are the ones who make rules that aren't necessary for their goals in play, or else continue to tweak rules that are fundamentally unable to provide to their needs.  For example, no amount of rules will overcome social contract issues, yet there exists a lot of rules(actual rules, not just guidelines) in an attempt to correct the issue.  Many people don't believe that there is more than one way to play.  One can simply look at the issues of railroading vs. protagonistic play to see perfect examples where someone's conditioned belief prevents them from seeing that other forms of play are even possible.  I'm sure you've met many in trying to explain Universalis.

All in all, my point is that gamers are not more conditioned than any other group, and that rules are not the cause of conditioning, but rather a scapegoat that gets used by conditioning, just as videogames become the scapegoat during school shootings.  Conditioning, like insanity, is equally spread across many groups, it just differs in how it comes out.

Chris


Title: Overly rules dependent?
Post by: Ron Edwards on February 21, 2003, 06:56:58 AM
Hi there,

I hope everyone reads Chris' most recent post carefully. I was just about to close this thread, until he posted that.

My concern is that "rules!" "no rules!" is a juvenile, empty discussion. I trust that everyone here knows that this thread was not begun as such a thing, and cannot be allowed to become one.

I'd hoped to achieve that common understanding with my first post, but I'll put it even more bluntly here: Do not refer merely to "rules" without defining what you are talking about - very clearly. Do not refer merely to "people" or "players" without also defining what you are talking about.

That ought to do it.

Best,
Ron


Title: Overly rules dependent?
Post by: Mike Holmes on February 21, 2003, 09:32:59 AM
Ron's right. Chris (Lerich), and MJ, when I say rules, I mean something beyond the social contract. Freeform can be defined as no (or very few) rules beyond the social contract.

People can fail without rules. That, or they cannot succeed without rules, either. In a freeform, I can just say, "Bob misses". I would restate your point as, "you cannot fail in an objective or otherwise externally meaningful way." But that's just not at all important to some people. Some people do not want to play a "game". They simply want to imagine consensually. And there's nothing wrong with that.

It's just not what I want most of the time. Interestingly, though, I've done it, and had a great time. I love to "prove" that I'm a better consensual storyteller by having my characters fail regularly in all sorts of entertaining fashions.

Chris (Bankuei), sure there are demented people out there. The question was, "Are we too dependant on rules?" not "Are demented folks dependant on rules?" "We", as a rule, are pretty sensible people, and are doing exactly what we want. Yes, I've had trouble explaining Universalis, at which point I discovered the solution - I no longer refer to it as a RPG. It's not a dependance on rules that causes the problem with Universalis, it's a problem with the perception of what an RPG must be. Since that's defined by D&D, and certain kinds of rules for most people, it's no surprise that my definition and theirs doesn't match up.

But as soon as it's not an RPG, then they have no problem accepting the many, many different rules that are in Universalis. Further, I've seen lots of people who understand freeform, even after playing lots of RPGs with lots of rules. There simply isn't a phenomenon here to talk about.

Now if you want to talk about lack of education on what RPGs are or can be, we can talk. But I fail to see how that has anything to do with a purported dependance on Rules. We all have a dependance on rules, if you include the social level. Just different rules for different people.

Mike


Title: Overly rules dependent?
Post by: Gordon C. Landis on February 21, 2003, 01:46:47 PM
I'm looking for a "point" in ths thread, and I'm not sure where to find it - but going back to the original post, I can now see it as a warning about the danger of getting wrapped up in rules-issues, in such a way that the play-issues are entirely eclipsed by the rules-issue focus.

I take "rules" in that first post, and in my description, to refer to a structured, formalized set of "how to" information, either contained in the text of the game or generated (in various degrees of formality) by the play group as a whole.

So, in the context of "traps and pitfalls that rules-focus can lead to" - what can we say about the warning?  For someone to whom the rules-issues are the play-issue - someone whose enjoyment comes entirely from "playing around" with the rules themselves - there's no need to be warned, they're entirely happy with that kind of play.

But if you actually do have an agenda for your play that goes beyond just manipulating the rules, the warning is a good one - for many people (including me, from time to time), it is pretty seductive to focus on the rules, to get lost in the interesting twists and implications of a tweak here and a mod there, and end up spending all your time playing with the rules INSTEAD of pursing your "real" agenda.

Now this is tricky, because rules really can be made to serve your agenda - in fact, I think just about everyone here would agree that in a broad sense some kind of rules are fundamental to even being able to persue that agenda at all.  So it's not always wrong to focus on rules - as clehrich said, it's a matter of "how much" (and, I'd add, "precisely in what manner"), not "whether."

But the warning that seems to me implicit in the thread-starter is valid in (at least) this way - rules-focus isn't always going to get you what you want out of play.  Ron pointed out another - thinking you need official/licensed rules in order to play (e.g.) Star Wars provides an interesting market opportunity for certain kinds of product, but is usually not really about a general role-playing agenda at all.

I'd change the title of this thread to "Too rules focused?" and say yes, that can happen, and here are a few ways how - and (hopefully) here're some ways to avoid it.  For me, remembering that my agenda has nothing DIRECTLY to do with the rules is often very helpful.  And it is sometimes all-too-easy to forget that.

Gordon


Title: Overly rules dependent?
Post by: Mike Holmes on February 21, 2003, 02:11:20 PM
Quote from: Gordon C. Landis
But if you actually do have an agenda for your play that goes beyond just manipulating the rules, the warning is a good one - for many people (including me, from time to time), it is pretty seductive to focus on the rules, to get lost in the interesting twists and implications of a tweak here and a mod there, and end up spending all your time playing with the rules INSTEAD of pursing your "real" agenda.


I'm not seeing this.

Let's say I have a goal of building a shed. Along the way, I find that tinkering with my powertools beocomes an interesting side distraction. So I stop and tinker some. Sure it takes me longer to build the shed. But I'm doing what I thought was interesting/important at the time. Why is that bad?

Now, if there are others about who need that shed built, and built soon, that's another issue entirely. But that just goes to incompatible play goals, and has nothing to do with whether or not the person taking his time with the rules is right or wrong.

Mike


Title: Overly rules dependent?
Post by: Gordon C. Landis on February 21, 2003, 02:46:09 PM
Quote from: Mike Holmes
Quote from: Gordon C. Landis
But if you actually do have an agenda for your play that goes beyond just manipulating the rules, the warning is a good one - for many people (including me, from time to time), it is pretty seductive to focus on the rules, to get lost in the interesting twists and implications of a tweak here and a mod there, and end up spending all your time playing with the rules INSTEAD of pursing your "real" agenda.


I'm not seeing this.


Mike,

How about this - if tinkering with powertools and building the shed are entirely equally enjoyable acts, there's no issue.  But if what you really want is to build that shed, and you end up tinkering with the tools just because you get sucked into it, or to avoid the heavy-lifting that it takes to build the shed, or so that your tools look prettier than your neighbors . . . well, you've lost track of the shed-building goal, haven't you?  If it adds 20 minutes to your build time, no big deal.  But what if it's 20 hours?  And you tinkered with powertools you're not even going to use in building the shed?  Hey, if you're happy with it, you're happy with it - if it affects no one else (or only people who agree with you are involved), no one can say adding 20 hours to the shed project was bad but you.

But personally (and back into RPGs), I find the number of times I've seen people debate/discuss RPG rules INSTEAD of playing the game to be incredible.  And damned if I don't get sucked in myself sometimes - the rules are an interesting puzzle to work on.  

But really, I'd rather be playing.

Gordon