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Author Topic: Never Enough Rules:Manifesto of a rules-lite convert  (Read 4253 times)
b_bankhead
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« on: February 20, 2003, 05:33:23 PM »

Taken together the two actual rulebooks (PHB &GMG) of 3ED&D are about half the length of Lord of  the Ring or Atlas Shrugged.  This mind you is for a GAME.  Yet this isnt enough rules.  Demonstrably this is the case, people are buying lots of D&D books that are piles of more rules for this,that and the other thing. I have seen players of D&D carting around stacks of rulebooks up to a foot high and still regularly buy more rules.

   Although D&D has evovled into this easy to hit targets, its not the only one. There are plenty of people buying hundreds and hundreds of pages of rules, only to go out and buy more.
   Why do they do this?  BECAUSE THEY DON'T HAVE ENOUGH RULES!  They really don't.
Creator of FUDGE ,Stephen Sullivan, tells about the time in his futuristic rpg game when his players,being pursued, broke into a dentist's office, being unarmed they began looking for something to serve as a weapon.  As Sullivan pointed out there is no rpg rule book on the planet that covers making weapons out of the stuff in a 22nd century dentists office.

Indeed, it doesn't matter what genre you game in, the ingenious players are going to do something that is the equivalent kicking in the dentist's door, then what?

All gamers accept the premise that you will eventually do something not covered in the rules.
Yet most gamers act as though its possible to have enough rules to cover everything,

Learning complex rules sets is, in my opinion, one of the major stumbling blocks of this hobby. It diminishes the potential pool of people to recruit into gaming to those motivated to read and learn hundreds of pages of text and numbers, they add to the amount of research and bookkeeping necessary for the gamemaster. One of the biggest negative reactions I have encountered when trying to introduce non-gamers into the hobby is to the sheer size of the rules sets.  A lot of people just dont want to put in that kind of work. (Actually I dont anymore either,see below)

  And why should they? After all after memorizing all that stuff you'll still have to memorize more. Gamers keep buying rules because they don't have enough.  But I have learned one valuable lesson in 25 years in this hobby , a lesson that has become the guiding beacon of my gaming philosophy:

 IT IS NOT POSSIBLE TO HAVE ENOUGH RULES.

   Read the forgoing over again and mull it's implications. Since it is not possible to have enough rules the obvious corrollary is that ALL RULES SETS INHERENTLY HAVE TOO FEW RULES.  That goes for Hero 5 ed., Rolemaster,3eD&D and all the rules heavy systems you can come up with.

  So if you need rules and inherently never have enough then you will have to create more. So really what a rules system needs, beyond covering the most common aspects of its setting, is to have a META SYSTEM FOR EXTENDING THE RULES.

      I learned this many years ago with Megatraveler.
The basic Traveler rules set was beset by the disease of rules proliferation.  Want to get your ATV out of the muck, there's one rule for that, want to repair your laser rifle?, there's a completley disimilar rule for that, and so on, a real confusing morass.

  The with Megatravler, the Digest group came out with the Universal task profile.  The UTP was a consistent format for plugging in the various elements involved in determining the outcome out of an event into a highly consistent structure for resolving them.  The UTP was a rule for making rules.

And that for me is one of the keys to designing a good rules set. Not how many rules does it have, but how many can it make?
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M. J. Young
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« Reply #1 on: February 20, 2003, 09:57:39 PM »

I respectfully disagree on several points.

Quote from: B. Bankhead
As Sullivan pointed out there is no rpg rule book on the planet that covers making weapons out of the stuff in a 22nd century dentists office.


This depends on what you mean. I think that Multiverser does have rules which cover making weapons out of whatever you find wherever you are; in fact, I dare say that it has rules to cover several different approaches to this, such as
    [*]The improvised weapon approach in which you will look at what's available and try to select something to use as is as a weapon.
    [*]The A-Team approach in which you will take apart whatever is there and use the pieces to make something you already know how to make and use.
    [*]The new technology approach in which you take the time to figure out what the things are and what they do, and then use this new knowledge to devise weapons-grade applications to the extent that parts are available.[/list:u]
    The rules don't ever mention a 22nd century dentists office. For that matter, I don't think they mention a 13th century tavern, but the same principles would apply. The point is, Multiverser rules are about how to do things in a very general sense, which although in one sense complex (over five hundred pages in the referee's rules) are in another sense very simple (most of it is source material for understanding differences between universes).

    I am convinced that the system does provide "rules for everything".

    Also, there are no rules supplements. There are adventure supplements, which fall somewhere between a GURPS worldbook and a D&D module. They provide setting information, but they also provide adventure information within that setting; the amount of setting information is aimed at that which is necessary for the sort of adventure intended. Unlike GURPS, setting information does not include rules. It includes descriptions of places, characters, creatures, sometimes equipment, and how these fit with the existing rules. You might learn quite a bit about how to run games (referee advice) and how to adapt settings to play from our world books, but you won't find rules in them, only applications.

    Quote from: Then he
    Learning complex rules sets is, in my opinion, one of the major stumbling blocks of this hobby. It diminishes the potential pool of people to recruit into gaming to those motivated to read and learn hundreds of pages of text and numbers, they add to the amount of research and bookkeeping necessary for the gamemaster. One of the biggest negative reactions I have encountered when trying to introduce non-gamers into the hobby is to the sheer size of the rules sets. A lot of people just dont want to put in that kind of work.


    This always mystifies me. When we started playing BD&D, I don't think any of the players read the rules. It never even occurred to us that they would. We'd played hundreds of games. One member of the group read the rules, and then explained how to play to everyone else. That's still how we learn to play games at home--when we bought Malarkey, one member of the family read the rules, and explained to the rest of us what we had to do. That's how we learned all our role playing games. I don't believe I've read any RPG book that I did not intend to run as referee, certainly not before playing.

    There is nothing in the Multiverser Referee's Rules that the players need to know, beyond what the referee will tell them. There is no player's rule book. This is what the player needs to know in most games: this is who you are, this is where you are, this is what you have, this is how it works. In Multiverser, that's immensely simplified: you're you, you don't know where you are, you have the objects and abilities you've listed, and since you brought them from your own home we'll assume you know how they work. I would love to see you reading the referee's rules; it tells me you're planning to run the game for someone else. If you just want to play, you don't need to read the rules. Where did anyone get the idea that you did? Seriously, what other kinds of games have you ever played where you started by having everyone involved read the rules, each on his own? I can't think of a single game that didn't begin with one person explaining how to play. Why does everyone make this different in role playing? (And yes, I played some wargames, and we did those that way, too, although because of the complexity of system we did a lot of referring to the rules--but even there, we usually "referred to the rules" by asking the one guy who read them to explain a particular point, and letting him look it up if he didn't have the answer, since he had already read the rules and had some idea of where to look.)

    Quote from: Then he
    IT IS NOT POSSIBLE TO HAVE ENOUGH RULES

    Sure it is. You just need good design that creates core rules that apply broadly enough that everything you can do in the game would fit under those core rules. The problem arises only when everything you attempt to do has to become a special case. But seriously, what's the difference between repairing a steam engine and repairing a warp drive?
      [*]They don't work the same way; but then, few players actually know or care how a steam engine works, and anyone who claims to actually know how a warp drive works needs to see a doctor, so for play purposes this isn't a difference.
      [*]One involves a significantly more complex technology than the other; granted, but we'll certainly assume that anyone who attempts to repair either has sufficient understanding of the technology required.
      [*]An exploding warp drive is a bigger explosion than an exploding steam engine. Do we really need the details for this, or can we merely point out that the size of the explosion of an engine will be commensurate with the size and power output of the engine?[/list:u]
      Most things in life really seem to work much the same way. "Special cases" are a way of trying to make something more different than it needs to be. For technological devices, we find that design, build, modify, repair, sabotage, and operate are a full list of skills for any of them; they do what they do, and you don't need a heck of a lot of rules to cover that.

      Quote from: He further
      Since it is not possible to have enough rules the obvious corrollary is that ALL RULES SETS INHERENTLY HAVE TOO FEW RULES.

      Having rejected the premise, I reject the conclusion.

      Quote from: Finally, he
      And that for me is one of the keys to designing a good rules set. Not how many rules does it have, but how many can it make?

      I suppose it may depend on what you mean by making rules. If you mean that a system which provides general guidelines for how weapons work then has to create the rules for how any specific weapon works, that seems perhaps a tautology. But I don't see the specific weapon values as necessarily special case rules. That is, I could decide right now that I'm going to give these sci-fi security forces kinetic blasters with repeat factor 5, damage level damaging, ranges 10:25:50:100:1/1 feet, ten shots per power pack, thirty-second reload time, and they are now fully functional. I don't think I've added any rules to the system; I've merely defined a newly created object within the existing rules. You could argue that I've created rules to operate this weapon, and in a sense you'd be correct--but certainly not in any useful sense.

      --M. J. Young
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      Valamir
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      « Reply #2 on: February 21, 2003, 05:13:27 AM »

      Sorry MJ...but what in your post is actually disagreeing with his point.  In fact, not only are you 100% AGREEING with him, but your also pointing to Multiverser as an example of exactly what he was saying.

      To recap:

      He is saying it is impossible to have rules that cover every conceivable situation like making weapons from dentist equipment (or an infinite number of other such possibiliities) so instead you should have meta rules that allow for rules about making weapons out of dentist to be created when needed.

      You are saying the Multiverser doesn't have rules for making weapons out of dentist equipment rather it has a meta rule that allows for rules about making weapons out of dentist equipment to be created when needed.

      Where's this "respectfully disagree" stuff coming from?
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      Thierry Michel
      Member

      Posts: 177


      « Reply #3 on: February 21, 2003, 05:47:27 AM »

      Quote from: b_bankhead


       IT IS NOT POSSIBLE TO HAVE ENOUGH RULES.
      [...]
      ALL RULES SETS INHERENTLY HAVE TOO FEW RULES.
      [...]
      META SYSTEM FOR EXTENDING THE RULES.


      and therefore the reasoning swings back in the other direction. Let's have meta-meta rules etc. until we're down to one rule. The rule.

      ONE RULE !

      one rule to find them all and in the darkness..

      Ahem. Let's not get carried away.
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      quozl
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      « Reply #4 on: February 21, 2003, 06:00:06 AM »

      Quote from: Thierry Michel
      ...and therefore the reasoning swings back in the other direction. Let's have meta-meta rules etc. until we're down to one rule.


      This sounds ideal to me.  Which games already do this?
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      Le Joueur
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      « Reply #5 on: February 21, 2003, 06:39:52 AM »

      Guys,

      Have you ever heard of using hyperbole to make a reductio ad absurdum argument?

      You look at 'what people are saying' and then say 'what if we took that to the illogical conclusion.'  This is where the argument 'starts.'

      Above we see a thesis based upon the magnification of 'this game needs a rule for...."  In hyperbole, that means that no game has enough rules; that's an exaggeration to make a point.

      That point is, while you could keep adding and keep adding and keep adding to a set of rules, perhaps there's another way.  This article takes you up to that point and turns you loose.

      To attack the hyperbole is to miss the point.  We're supposed to discuss 'what are rules that let you make rules?'  Let's skip the 'some games have enough rules' argument, because that is surely and only a matter of opinion ('this game has enough rules for me').

      So, what about 'game structures' that let you orchestrate unexpected situations in a 'rule-like' fashion?  How have they been done?  How would you do them?  Is it a matter of 'situation interpretation' material fitting everything to an 'uber-resolution' metric¹ or should there be recursive 'make up a rule' rules?  Are there yet other approaches that these?  Discuss....

      Fang Langford

      ¹ This is the tack I'm taking.
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      Ron Edwards
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      « Reply #6 on: February 21, 2003, 06:59:44 AM »

      Hi there,

      Fang's right. I request that anyone participating in this thread take his thoughts into account very seriously.

      I am not at all sympathetic to the two recent threads, including this one, about "rules" in the abstract. I caution everyone to be clear about what they are talking about, and also to recognize that what one person means by "rules" is not what another person means.

      Best,
      Ron
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      Thierry Michel
      Member

      Posts: 177


      « Reply #7 on: February 21, 2003, 08:52:54 AM »

      Quote from: Le Joueur
      To attack the hyperbole is to miss the point.  We're supposed to discuss 'what are rules that let you make rules?'


      what about the traditional meta-rule  (explicit or implicit):

       all that is not covered by the present rules is GM fiat ?
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      Mike Holmes
      Acts of Evil Playtesters
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      « Reply #8 on: February 21, 2003, 09:55:06 AM »

      I think that this is merely all opinion again.

      People have made some interesting little points. First, there is almost always some catchall rule that covers anything else not covered, and it's usually "GMs choice". So, there are almost always enough rules.

      The question is simply at what point are the "rule-making" rules, too bland? For some people, the rule "do what thou wilt" is enough rules. These freeformers* have the "one rule" that was referred to. Presumably, if proliferation of rules is a bad thing, then Certainly the freeformers have discovered the ultimate solution. But as Fang points out, I'm arguing to the absurd.

      Certainly there is some point at which you can stop reducing the numberof rules and be satisfied with the complexity at that point.

      Well, see, the problem is that the point at which this is true is different for each player. Some like Freeform. Some like games like D&D, or with even more specific rules than that (somebody come up with the ultimate example for me of a game that has lots of specific rules). Many are somewhere in between.

      So, what we see here is one person's opinion that most games are at a level that are more complex than he prefers. OK. I prefer more complex.

      Brian (it is Brian, isn't it) does being up one salient point. Those who are willing to accept a huge amount of rules are fringe. But this is just Ron's point from vbefore. Yes, if you are marketing to the "crowd", the optimum point is probably somewhere more complicated than Freeform (who needs to buy the rules, we all already know them), and less complicated than D&D. So that's a good point. There could be argument about where the "sweet spot" exists exactly, but I'd hazard that there is no one level that will capture the majority of potential customers. So, I'm not sure that it's all that important to try.

      There is a particular beauty to "rules that create rules". I like them myself, and felt exactly the same relief reading the Megatraveller UTP that Brian did. And I'd like to believe that many players or potential players see this as we do. But that doesn't preclude the idea that somebody out there might prefer separate rules for everything. Their kink is not our kink (TKINOK). But you can't criticise somebody for feeling the way they do, and prefering what they prefer.

      Mike

      *I use the term Freeformers to refer to those who play (often online) with no other rules than "play nice". As opposed to the mostly Australian school of LARP which often has lots of additional rules.
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      Le Joueur
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      « Reply #9 on: February 21, 2003, 10:55:58 AM »

      Personally, I'm curious to see what we can classify out of 'Meta-Rules' beyond 'GM Fiat' and the two I already listed.

      Are there any other datapoints?  I'm all ears.

      Fang Langford
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      clehrich
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      « Reply #10 on: February 21, 2003, 11:44:55 AM »

      Mike's point about a "sweet spot" is well-taken.  To put it in different terms, you want a balance between (1) too few rules, where you are unable to resolve efficiently whatever situations arise, and (2) too many rules, where efficient resolution is hindered by the need to get out the charts.  I think this has been called search-time and handling-time; the idea is to keep this time appropriately balanced to the goals of play.

      So how do you decide where the "sweet spot" is?  Well, in the abstract, you need to do two things.  

      First, you need to determine which kinds of activities are focal to play; for these activities, you need a strong supporting structure.  Thus in a very combat-heavy game, you want a combat system that can rapidly and clearly resolve all sorts of fairly specific issues.  On the other hand, that same game may not need a lot of detail about travel times, or encumbrance, or whatever.

      Second, you need to determine what sort of support you need; that is, you need to figure out what sort of combat (to keep the same example) you want to have happen, and what types of detail are going to be focal to play.  Is it the atmosphere of a tense, deadly firefight that you want, or is it the details of .44 magnum hollow-point ammunition as opposed to .22 rifle ammunition?

      To put it fairly succinctly, you need to think about your GNS priorities.  I mean, isn't this really a very big part of what GNS is about, in the first place?  If we want to debate how many rules, which kinds of rules, can you have too much or too little detail, isn't this central to the whole GNS thing?

      It really seems to me that the statement "You can never have enough rules" boils down to "Perfect simulationism is not possible."  When I say perfect, I mean perfect --- not workable, playable, enjoyable, but perfect.  You can't design a system that accounts for every single possibility, such that there is no need for any meta-mechanics.  Again, this has all been said in a GNS context.

      If we take that same statement to refer to all rules, all conceptions of meta-rules included, then we're just saying that no set of play parameters is all-encompassing, in which case every game must have issues or problems that cannot be resolved by any means.  This is manifestly not true, because if it were, the game would end as soon as the situation arose.1[/color]  That formulation seems sufficiently pointless that I very much doubt it's what b_bankhead had in mind.

      --------------
      Fang has brought up what seems to me a way to redirect this thread valuably:
      Quote
      I'm curious to see what we can classify out of 'Meta-Rules' beyond 'GM Fiat' and the two I already listed.

      To summarize, Fang proposes three kinds of Meta-Rules:
        [*]GM Fiat.  I would expand this to include meta-rules that allow fiats by non-GMs.
        [*]Genre Expectation (I think this is what Fang's referring to), in which the nature of the setting tells you what sorts of overarching mechanics should be applicable to the situation
        [*]Recursive "make up a rule" rules, where presumably the theory is that a situation that arises in play must be something for which a consistent ruling is required, since if it's come up once, it could come up again.  You use these recursive rules to develop a new rule, which is then activated every time this situation arises.[/list:u]
        Are there other possibilities?

        1. One could, of course, argue that certain extreme violations of the social contract are not resolvable, i.e. that any situation which does in fact end the game is one that cannot be resolved by the game, but that seems to me to push things a bit far.
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        Chris Lehrich
        Mike Holmes
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        « Reply #11 on: February 21, 2003, 01:12:01 PM »

        Good post, Chris. That's exactly my design theory all wrapped up in one tight space. Now if I can only get good at the application...

        I will say however that the "sweet spot" is a marketing idea. For a particular individual it can be anywhere at all. For example, for a particular person, perhaps the point of play is to come up with as close to a perfect simulation as possible. In that case, no amount of rules is ever enough because the point of participating is to come up with more.

        Sounds crazy? Like I said, its all preference. Nobody is forcing you to play with that guy, or even to play the games he likes.

        Mike
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        clehrich
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        « Reply #12 on: February 21, 2003, 02:17:56 PM »

        Quote
        Sounds crazy? Like I said, its all preference. Nobody is forcing you to play with that guy, or even to play the games he likes.

        Crazy?  Hell no, I'm entirely in agreement.  I take your point about "sweet spot" in marketing, though.  Of course, that then points to the whole question of marketing a GNS perspective by being explicit about it, which is a topic that was at least recently running somewhere else.  Hmm.  It all seems to come back to the same basic issues....
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        Chris Lehrich
        Mike Holmes
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        « Reply #13 on: February 21, 2003, 02:23:55 PM »

        Quote from: clehrich
        Hmm.  It all seems to come back to the same basic issues....

        Aina-so?

        That's south-side Milwakeean for "Isn't that so?", a colloquial way to agree.

        Mike
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