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Author Topic: Overly rules dependent?  (Read 10319 times)

Posts: 193

« 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?

Alex Hunter
Email | Web

Posts: 1557

« Reply #1 on: February 19, 2003, 10:52:48 PM »

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.

Chris Lehrich

Posts: 129

« Reply #2 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.

"I think where I am not, therefore I am where I do not think.
What one ought to say is: I am not whereever I am the plaything of my thought; I think of what I am where I do not think to think."
Ron Edwards
Global Moderator
Posts: 16490

« Reply #3 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.


Posts: 1012

« Reply #4 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.

- Alan

A Writer's Blog: http://www.alanbarclay.com
Ben Morgan

Posts: 307

« Reply #5 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.

-----[Ben Morgan]-----[ad1066@gmail.com]-----
"I cast a spell! I wanna cast... Magic... Missile!"  -- Galstaff, Sorcerer of Light

Posts: 5574

« Reply #6 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.

Walt Freitag

Posts: 1039

« Reply #7 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

Wandering in the diasporosphere

Posts: 193

« Reply #8 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

Alex Hunter
Email | Web
Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters

Posts: 10459

« Reply #9 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.


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« Reply #10 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?


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?"

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.


Posts: 165

« Reply #11 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.
Posts: 3453

« Reply #12 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.
Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters

Posts: 10459

« Reply #13 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?


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Gordon C. Landis

Posts: 1024

I am Custom-Built Games

« Reply #14 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.  


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