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Author Topic: principled play Vs. lawful play and the "players contract"  (Read 11463 times)
Tyler.Tinsley
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Posts: 52


« on: July 29, 2009, 07:01:59 AM »

I'm trying a little experiment with my latest project and it's helped me clear up some issues I have been having. On a lark I thought it would be a good idea to actually write a "players contract" for the game I'm working on. The term "players contract" is something I hear tossed around and wondered if by putting these loose ideals down in writing making players read and sign a contract agreeing to them would effect the play experience.

Well I had a whole lot of difficulty coming up with the terms of the contract and it's still a work in progress but in trying to write it realized a few things.

Game rules are laws (old news I know), "player/gm advice" are principles. however most people skip the advice sections in rule books. it's my belief that principles are a far better tool then law.

The player contract as I'm writing it is a clear and defining statement of the principles for the game, how players should approach it and ultimately what purpose the game serves. It's a very direct means to address issues of principled play and from the first test seems like a very good way to make sure every player at the table is aware of these principles.

For players who would otherwise avoid "gimmicky" rules the contract provides the minor incentive in that it's printed with the rule book and will serve as a reminder of all the people you have played the game with, or maybe people sentimental enough to enjoy that sort of thing already follow gimmicky rules, I don't know.

here are a few things I'm thinking about in regards to player contracts.

Each game should likely have it's own unique contract.

How much can a game lean on a clearly stated set of principles (how few actual rules does the game need to have)?

What tools have other genres of games used to enforce principled play (warmachine's page five could be a good example, sportsmans prize support ect)

so what do you guys think about all this jibber jabber?
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HeTeleports
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Posts: 66

The name's Youssef.


« Reply #1 on: July 29, 2009, 08:45:47 AM »

Just to fine-tune some of those thoughts (which sound intriguing),
you should probably read this:

http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=9782.0
The Infamous Five.
There are a few articles at the top of the page worth looking at, but direct your reading eye towards anything labeled "Social Contract."

Then, come back and tell me (because I'm interested) what you drafted so far.

Also, what kinds of things have you knowingly omitted in your written contract?
The reason I ask: I've been steeped in legal documents (buy/sell and mortgage contracts, especially), and absolutely nothing gets omitted. Almost to the point of absurdity. No game contract should read like a legal contract.
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Luke
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« Reply #2 on: July 29, 2009, 08:51:44 AM »

I think a "clearly stated set of principles" is another way of saying "system."

System isn't just about the dice.
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Tyler.Tinsley
Member

Posts: 52


« Reply #3 on: July 29, 2009, 06:45:46 PM »

Just to fine-tune some of those thoughts (which sound intriguing),
you should probably read this:

http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=9782.0
The Infamous Five.
There are a few articles at the top of the page worth looking at, but direct your reading eye towards anything labeled "Social Contract." mind pointing it out for me?

Thanks for the link! thats some good stuff in there. i dug around a little bit but had trubble find the articals that talked about "Social Contract." mind pointing a few out for me?


Then, come back and tell me (because I'm interested) what you drafted so far.

Also, what kinds of things have you knowingly omitted in your written contract?
The reason I ask: I've been steeped in legal documents (buy/sell and mortgage contracts, especially), and absolutely nothing gets omitted. Almost to the point of absurdity. No game contract should read like a legal contract.

i agree fully, here is the working draft

Player Contract
We the signed agree to

-challenge and be challenged in the pursuit of greater awesome.
-boldly explore the fantastic while suspending disbelief.
-create a tale worth remembering and retelling.
-grow and reach greater friendship.

These require a little explanation as to why these terms fit this game.

"-challenge and be challenged in the pursuit of greater awesome." The game's central mechanic lets players challenge any narrative spoken by another player. This term encourages players to challenge others and to accept it when other players challenge them.

"-boldly explore the fantastic while suspending disbelief." the game is intended to create situations of complete and total fantastic absurdity. This term encourages players to indulge that impulse.

"-create a tale worth remembering and retelling." The games components and rules automatically record key story points and make sure each player leaves with a memento of playing the game. This term encourages players to think forward and make sure there is something of value to remember after playing, it's the guiding principle of what should be considered "awesome"

"-grow and reach greater friendship." fancy way of saying DON'T BE A DICK! the rules are fairly open ended if someone wanted to grief the game it would be very very easy to do so.

I think a "clearly stated set of principles" is another way of saying "system."

System isn't just about the dice.
This is very very true. However what are players more likely to look up during play? The rules regarding dice and numbers or the principle of their actions?

The contract is just a simple reminder, a summation of the most important details often lost in hundreds of pages of rules and from my experience rarely told directly/correctly by the people who have read the rules to the players being taught.

maybe it lacks subtly?
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JoyWriter
Member

Posts: 469

also known as Josh W


« Reply #4 on: July 29, 2009, 06:58:12 PM »

I think there's definitely something to be said for stating your game identity in the positive rather than negative sense: "You are meant to do ___" rather than "Whatever you do don't do _____" also I think it's quite good to say, "for this game the other players need you to do ____", both because this flags up people's responsibility for each other's fun, and for the actual game designer writing it, it reminds you to insure that you haven't made the various parts of the game too independent.

A big part of inspiring people to play relates to what you might call principles, in that people get the idea they are supposed to be killing dragons or solving mysteries or dealing with grief or making political alliances. Once they know that they can work from there.

So yeah, this is just another way to think about "system", but a good one! And making summaries that people can look at quickly is good for all kinds of things. Imagine if you added page number notes and made this the contents page for the book!

I think your contract is a little stuffy/daft, depending on if you take it seriously or not, and I suspect some of the contract structure takes away from it's readability. I prefer something influenced by proverbs from the bible: "do ___ not ____" or something. Basically I'd make putting the principles out clearly (so people obviously agree with them or not) the priority, before any stuff about "the undersigned" or any other fake legal structures.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #5 on: July 29, 2009, 08:29:08 PM »

Hello Tyler,

I think one issue is that usually all parties are in good will, and in good will try and forfil all of these points, but in doing so one of them gives something that just looks wacked out and alien to the point they look like they are giving an act of bad will (jeez, I seem to end up in that spot on forums often enough, actually).

It's funny how quickly, if there's any uncertainty about someones intentions, people will quickly assume the worst. No one wants to be a sucker.

Which is why I suggest adding a clause that everyone agrees to be a sucker (or however you want to put it). They will try to read good intent into everything, and hell, it's recognised amongst the group that it'd be so easy for one person to abuse that so no one has to feel like a full on sucker if it happens. Cause really the worst bit of being a sucker is feeling no one understands your position - so this clause helps everyone understand everyone elses position in trying to read good intent into everything anyone does in the group.
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Tyler.Tinsley
Member

Posts: 52


« Reply #6 on: July 31, 2009, 03:01:55 AM »

I like the sucker clause, how would you put it into words?

Oh I forgot to include my pondering about "principled play Vs. lawful play"

My game design background is from board and card games, when I started to work with RPGs I realized one of the largest differences was a great tolerance for exploitable rules, or stated differently RPG players are expected to understand what is appropriate behavior for the game they are playing.

Board games present a very limited scope of choices and are valued when there are as few rules that can be exploited as possible (in this case exploiting a rule means playing against the purpose/principles of the game) in other words board games are designed to stand up to "lawful play", Where the hard rules of the game naturally lead to the expected experience. board game rules would shy away from including behavior directions like "a player who cannot win should not take action to influence the eventual winner of the game." instead the rules of the game would be expected to prevent king making situations if they are undesirable. Games that do allow undesirable player behavior are often called "broken".

Role playing games seem to demand player behavior should be guided by more then the hard rules, a kind of "principled play". I think most people understand what that means. basically some "rules" are open to interpretation so they can cover a wide verity of player behaviors. Game authors have used various means to express their games principles. Some use the atmosphere of the art and prose in the book, some directly state it in the rule book posing as hard rules or advice, and some would pose as generic and deny more specific/useful principles.

A result of this difference is how player groups form and function.

I will play board games with just about anyone, however I'm more picky about who I want to play role playing games with or even what combination of people I like to have at the table. Much of the discussion I hear from role players is about problem players or how hard it is to find the right group to play with.

I think both approaches have merit and both have draw backs. I think the most sucessful games use both, rely to heavily on one and you will lose the benefits of the other. I guess the player contract is born from my background designing lawful games, forcing players to read and sign a contract forces an awareness of the principles of play that are acceptable for that game. It's a tool that i will use in some incarnation for any game that i feel needs to emphasize principle.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #7 on: August 02, 2009, 04:09:34 PM »

That's some important stuff that doesn't get talked about much in roleplay culture - I think mostly because it seems alot of roleplayers have decided all rules are principles, as you put it, rather than laws. I was in a discussion recently that seem to have mutated the idea of agreement, to something similar to if I stuff something under my shirt and walk out of a store without being molested, it's moment to moment assent. The RP example was a group of players who had agreed the GM gets final say on something, but amongst themselves without the GM, agreed to treat something as true that they had agreed the GM decides - the idea that if they go unmolested by the GM over it, it's moment to moment assent. There isn't much discussion about laws and principles in RP culture, because the majority seem to treat everything as an interpretable principle.

Quote
I will play board games with just about anyone, however I'm more picky about who I want to play role playing games with or even what combination of people I like to have at the table.
Personally I want that board game quality of play with just about anyone, and I thought roleplay culture and design was just in a mess and hadn't gotten there. But it seems alot of RP culture want that clique culture to stay, and revel in it.

On the sucker clause:

Well, you have to put it into words you'd agree with. Here are some words I'd agree with
Quote
We all agree to see good intentions in what other people contribute - even if at times other people contributions seem alien or 'damaging to fun'. But the heart of the session is finding the little differences between us and enjoying those - that is the fun. More fun on top of that is great, but even if that's reduced by a strange contribution, appreciate that's a reflection of the other person. Your finding out about how they think and feel - this is fun! This is a core fun!

Also, admittely, some people could do something without good intention. You either decide to expose yourself to some risk of that, or you cannot play this game. And basically everyone there with good will appreciates that it takes some guts for you all to expose yourself to that risk - you all know none of you are being a sucker, your taking a risk for that specific fun
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Tyler.Tinsley
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Posts: 52


« Reply #8 on: August 05, 2009, 10:40:29 AM »

Here is a thought

In board gaming very few players are open to "house rules", preferring to play by the rules or to find a game that suits them better. it seems role players are far more open to playing off of "RAW" even to the point of explicitly stating in many rule books that players can and should do what feels right.

In your opinion what does this difference mean?

Does it mean there are significantly different cultures and backgrounds at play among the two groups? or does it mean RPG design has yet to advance to a point where games can be reliably counted on by the consumer?

is the personal preference clause printed in so many roulebooks a crutch?

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Callan S.
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« Reply #9 on: August 05, 2009, 08:13:59 PM »

Me? I think that people were exposed to badly written formal rules from an early age and in the desperation of youth (aren't we all a little desperate when young?) took it that 'getting it to work' was part of it actually working (as contradictory as that sentence is). This bread things like constructive denial, but without the self recognition of that denial.

So you've got a culture that, essentially, wants products that can't be reliably counted on. The flaws and the personal preference clause are all fodder for a socio political machination at the table for individuals to try and grab hold of a social activity and shape it as they want their group to behave. That last bit is hardly exclusive to RP - my partners previous book group had similar situations of power manipulation, from her accounts. I've heard the same about wedding planning and such like. Many people revel in structures with ambiguity about power and authority.

Then you have what are essentially religous visionaries, which is basically the same as above but more brrrr - they see 'how it is' in the unreliable text. No, they don't see a cool way of doing things that isn't really there but it inspired them to the cool idea - it's 'really there'. I use the term religous, because they tend to rely on the idea that if you state something exists, and no one can prove it doesn't, then that proves it does exist. Sometimes I think the fundimentalist christians reacted so much to D&D, not because of any devil worship, but because they sensed it muscling in on their turf.

Hoo boy, and now I sound a little ranty! I think there is evidence the personal preference clause is a crutch. But openly saying it tends to bring in one of the above parties. So I'd recommend not letting go of the idea if you get a bunch of dismissals straight away.

What does RAW stand for, again? Smiley
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JoyWriter
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Posts: 469

also known as Josh W


« Reply #10 on: August 06, 2009, 05:23:50 PM »

This thread was always on the borders between the "first thoughts" and "actual play" forums here, because it referred to techniques based on quite a general insight about games, which is probably better treated in actual play, both because the forum rules require examples, which help in this kind of communication, and because it will get on the radar of helpful and clever people who are into discussing this stuff.

With that in mind, here's my response to some of the more general stuff:

Transcending a rules structure doesn't require a rules structure to be bad. Yes the fact that they were bad forced people to overcome them, but it could be said that since the formal rules grew out of the experience, and then people budded off those rules into forming their own experiences, the rules being rubbish just clued people up to there being more to "this thing" than was in the book. Now that's a different history for you!

Now before I go any further Callan, I should probably unveil that I'm the same Josh W that you've been chatting to on the blogs, because seen as we are talking about some of the same stuff it could be weird otherwise!

The weakness you recognise in the informal rules are obviously true; if we take off the restrictions of lawyerly "Rules As Written" play, then we open up more opportunity for abusing other players, but RAW is a dodgy concept in itself because the more hardcore use of the concept means equating an rpg rules text with a computer language, ignoring that all such languages only exist as computer languages because they have a standardised interpreter! The same thing does not exist for human beings, our interpretation is always more complex and enigmatic than that, opperating more by contradiction: "So the rules work like this...[play contradicts written rules]...Ok maybe it's this instead" do you recognise that process from your own play? Setting up a hypothetical situation, going with it and seeing if it breaks? I've done it by checking play's correspondence to the rules text as we go, or by looking back afterwards and saying "oh we did that wrong". So interpreting "rules as written" means deciding if your interpretation as you've played it is identical with the existing rules text. I suspect this can be made rigorous, but that is going into "natural language processing".

Basically, your concern as to what can happen with an ambiguous text is actually what happens with every single text! The ability to change the rules is actually protection from the kind of people you mention, those who see no flexibility in the text, because it avoids the issue they so adamantly hold to, that their way is "the right way". Now as I say, it may be possible to construct a rigorous foolproof "rules as written" means of interpreting games texts, by following the distinctions they make, and it may be possible to write texts to better allow those techniques. But until then we will have people who "rules lawyer".

So on one side we have the person who uses the rules and their interpretation method to take control of the game, and on the other side there are those who just like to use "influence" of a more nebulous and social kind. We need to deal with both, unless we don't mind them doing it of course, but personally I'm too close to being either of those people myself to just let it lie; I restrain myself from changing rules mid-game for personal competitive advantage, and I'd rather like it if they stuck by that too.

But at this point I think we need to tie back together this preventative negative stuff with the stuff I mentioned before; if this is not a game about manipulating rules structures for competitive advantage, if this is not a game about political "setting the agenda" via social means, with "who's rules you use" as the score marker.

So what is it about?

Well it's about that other thing, you know, the exploration, the thing "creative agendas" are supposed to reveal. The reason we keep building games is because we want to find a way of creating stuff and imagining stuff together that is awesome in a way we intuitively get but want to nail down, and make reproducible. The "you can change the rules" clause is a recognition of what people who are reaching for that will do anyway: Tomorrow they will want to play a different game that is like yours but better! Technically I think it is a crutch that games may always need, if you still want people to be "playing your game", because the insights and experiences that they gain playing your game may well allow them to make a better game than you, just because your game has helped them. It's a crutch like inheritance is a crutch, it helps your game keep going, if only in name.

Now having said all that about the development and change of rpgs, I think that there are a certain group of people who like bending rule systems like mad. I am one of them! I used to love the Char-op boards on the D&D site even as I ran and played in campaigns of ever-evolving rules. Different challenge. Now if you just love manipulating rules systems, and to be honest finding optimum and innovative strategies can be very close to hacking the rules of the game, you will need the rules to stay still long enough for you to get a grasp on them. Or if they do change, then that itself becomes a tactical arena, with each player trying to create a rules system that they can pull in their direction more than the other persons playing. That's a fun game, but it's a different game.

I think that's about all I can reasonably put in one post, except I will add one last question: Callan, do you see any contradiction between enjoying the differences between people, and trying to standardise your experience?
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Callan S.
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« Reply #11 on: August 07, 2009, 02:18:02 PM »

This is a political machination I'll avoid as well, where I answered the OP legitimately, then somone else responds to me (not to the OP) contentiously, then I respond, back and forth and after awhile it looks like I'm just a big post hog. Everyone who responded to me (and not the OP/not on topic themselves) to begin with forgets how they participated in starting that off. Then whatever I've said can be written off as forum hog stuff (ah, storygamers...). Kind of prompting the other guy into being something that's dismissable (and thus the ideas are protected from critique because all critics are converted into forum hogs). I'm not saying this is being done conciously, but right now it is falling in exactly that direction regardless. Perhaps start a post in actual play?

On 'standardising the experience' I'm not sure anything productive happens if both parties can't humour some idea they may be wrong (we all have to put some amount of effort into trying to disprove our own hypotheses - no one else can do all of it for us - as far as I know). You sound certain I've said 'standardising the experience' and so I hesitate to enter into what looks unproductive ground.
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JoyWriter
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also known as Josh W


« Reply #12 on: August 07, 2009, 07:05:06 PM »

You sound certain I've said 'standardising the experience' and so I hesitate to enter into what looks unproductive ground.
Um yep, maybe that was over-harsh! I believe the moral of the story is not to post on sensitive issues late at night! What I was trying to go for was the concept of a "boardgame quality experience". I got the impression from what you said previously that the quality of a boardgame, one of the things that made it good for you, was in some fundimental way related to it's formality, to it's unchanging structure that can be learned and worked with.

Based on that assumption, which may be wrong, I then considered the contrast between the standardisation of experience such rules produce and the objective for rules to allow communication between people. I can see space to avoid contradiction; in Chess or Go the formal system provides a common language that allows you to recognise the opposing player if you are good enough, but I wanted to see if you had considered it.

Laying my cards on the table, I think that there is an inherent uncertainty involved with making rules for people, because of their variability. The closer the rules are to fit, (and that includes their suitability as a means of communication of personal difference) the more capacity they must have to be adjusted, but there will still be a level of structure required if they are to act as another channel of communication. So that question wasn't a trap! Just a too-rhetorical invitation to a useful discussion, which I thought would be fine because you ended your last post with a rhetorical question of your own.

I'll see what I can do on the new thread front.

Tyler, I've tried to respond to you as well, with an intentionally contrasting view, hopefully that was useful. I've tried to frame the issue in terms of what people get out of it, in a positive sense, with system manipulation and optimum strategy on one side, and this more hard to describe goals that we are aiming at on the other. For the latter, I think we need rules change, because all rpgs are in beta! Adding a clause to recognise that just means that people will play a different game while giving you free advertising for the inspiration!
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Tyler.Tinsley
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Posts: 52


« Reply #13 on: August 08, 2009, 08:56:57 AM »

oh no worries, compared to a few other places i post this is a very tidy and polite community.

on topic:

I think the key here is to understand the difference between a principle and a rule, and to use both to create a complete game. In my thought it's a misunderstanding to think that they are one and the same, and to me it stems from the central untruth that has held role playing games back for so long.

Player's are not game designers. Game design is a remarkable skill that covers a wide breadth of disciplines, it's unreasonable to expect someone to be good at this skill without experience. Much of why people buy games is because it is quite hard to make a good one. In a board or miniatures game it's the designers job to take a strong set of fun principles and turn them into a set of rules that exercise those principles in play.

It's the designer's job to use principles, to expect normal people to be able to translate principles into functioning law is ludicrous, law is a very tricky and hamfisted tool but it is a critical component to presenting a complete game. To speak openly I don't know why hobby RPG's are usually so grievously incomplete. But I'm fairly sure it has nothing to do with RPG's needing a certain amount of incompleteness in order to function. I know they don't need to be incomplete because I have played RPG's that were complete. Games like werewolf or even scholastic's old star wars adventure sets are examples of what I consider a complete RPG's.

However it is still very important for players to know a games principles upfront! This lets them know if it's something they are going to enjoy or how they should approach the game at hand. The "contract" is a means to those ends. Some games have other rituals or means to communicate the principals, if these principles are communicated effectively they can cover and guide a wide range of player behavior, making the laws easy to follow and helping players see the reason behind them. In this way they work together to make a complete game.

I forget if I said it here (forge) but the rpg industry is a vastly different landscape then what I have experienced in traditional gaming markets (both hobby and mass), given that some of my very best experiences gaming have been with RPG's it feels so backwards for these games to be served by such anemic economy and fan base. I feel creating complete games is a step to improving the situation.
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JoyWriter
Member

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also known as Josh W


« Reply #14 on: August 08, 2009, 12:37:46 PM »

I'd say modern white wolf games have a lot what I'd call the good kind of incompleteness; there are loads of elements that are not nailed down, and are left for you to decide, and I'd like to make the distinction that they are complete in terms of functioning well, ie they don't decide everything but they decide what you want well.

But in my experience, we hacked the hell out of vampire when playing it! Maybe it's because we had two novice games designers in the group, but we found we wanted something different and made a system for the setting we thought was better. Even though it's incredibly simple, our GM at the time couldn't get his head round it (the dice pool probs threw him off) so we turned its resolution system into something more like heroquest.

It's the designer's job to use principles, to expect normal people to be able to translate principles into functioning law is ludicrous, law is a very tricky and hamfisted tool but it is a critical component to presenting a complete game.

Hmm, have you changed your definition of principle here? When you are going "principle vs law = GM advice vs rules" I can totally get behind that, but I don't quite get this bit.

If you are saying the GM advice is "challenge the players" and the law is "here are the limits to stop challenges would be absurd", then I can see that making the limits would be about time, experience and testing, pretty hard. But if you get given example challenges and encourage the GM to shift them a bit, making something similar but different within the heuristics given, then the game designer has helped the GM make a fully functioning part of the rules, the rules for a new challenge. That seems totally legit to me, extrapolating from a case to make a new bit of rules, expanding the game appropriately.

I think that is part of what makes rpgs such a radical form of entertainment, they naturally encourage the people playing to become producers as well as consumers. On the other hand if they do that job badly, they put too much strain on players (and particularly on the GM). I'd put a different spin on it, saying that rpgs are always unfinished, but that is no excuse for not giving players a clear base to start with, and scaffolding pushing out from the standard core to help them produce new parts. Stuff like options to adjust the rules structure in predefined ways, or templates and design patterns for further adaptions.
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