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D&D General D&D's Evolution: Rulings, Rules, and "System Matters"

Jay Murphy1

Meterion, Mastermind of Time !
If the novel writing is so much more difficult, why are 16 years old and younger still doing it? The entire point was that you can't dismiss the efforts of professionals because of extraordinary young people.



Yes



Yes



I agree, even though I consider both attempts a failure, the RPG writing was vastly more difficult. In the novel I just had to tell a good story, my major downfall was motivation and trying to get the entire novel in my head at the same time, something it seems my writing is ill-suited for as I have been finding much greater success in a different format. With the RPG we had to consider many many different factors of balance, math, growth, tone, statistical averages, story, setting, historical events, ect ect. It was a massive and overwhelming project.



And? Christopher Paoloni and Gordon Korman had numerous examples of novels to use as models too. Again, do you find that writers should not be considered to have a profession just because young people made highly successful novels? Do you think that the skill level is so low that you could do better than the 16 year old who made a system that penetrated the market to a degree that you are talking about it now as a counter to Dungeon and Dragons?

I don't make a policy of downplaying the successes of others, I find it much more appropriate to celebrate those successes.
I'm saying writing a roleplaying game isn't all that difficult.
 

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Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
I'm saying writing a roleplaying game isn't all that difficult.

It's certainly easier to argue this point on an internet forum than to spend time creating your own game!

I have always found it noticeable that there seems to be a great overlap in the circles of the Venn diagrams of those who spend a lot of time complaining about the details of published game systems, and those who believe that only official materials are worth playing.


...I kid, kind of. But there is certainly a divide between those who prefer a more ad hoc and DIY ethos, and those who prefer to run things "off the shelf."
 


Aldarc

Legend
It's certainly easier to argue this point on an internet forum than to spend time creating your own game!

I have always found it noticeable that there seems to be a great overlap in the circles of the Venn diagrams of those who spend a lot of time complaining about the details of published game systems, and those who believe that only official materials are worth playing.


...I kid, kind of. But there is certainly a divide between those who prefer a more ad hoc and DIY ethos, and those who prefer to run things "off the shelf."
IMHO, the DIY approach is great if you really only plan on playing with your own table. However, it creates some trouble when it comes to deriving a common language to discuss with others in the community. Some people run heavily homebrew and modified versions of various editions of D&D to the point where it's incredibly difficult to even say whether it's really the same game, which makes it difficult to discuss their game experiences. This is one reason why notions of "canon" and "official" are often an important topic for fan communities. Even if they are complaining about official rules, it's still a "language" that they share in common as part of their community.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
IMHO, the DIY approach is great if you really only plan on playing with your own table. However, it creates some trouble when it comes to deriving a common language to discuss with others in the community. Some people run heavily homebrew and modified versions of various editions of D&D to the point where it's incredibly difficult to even say whether it's really the same game, which makes it difficult to discuss their game experiences. This is one reason why notions of "canon" and "official" are often an important topic for fan communities. Even if they are complaining about official rules, it's still a "language" that they share in common as part of their community.

I don't disagree with any of this. Well put. :)

I think that, for the most part, people talk past each other when it comes to the subject. I think that the following two things are true:

1. Creating a coherent rule set (and accompanying body of lore) that is useable to people you don't know, understandable to people you don't know, internally consistent, and fun, is a difficult task.

2. Creating a fun RPG to play with people you know is easy. Heck, kids do it all the time.
 

pemerton

Legend
IMHO, the DIY approach is great if you really only plan on playing with your own table. However, it creates some trouble when it comes to deriving a common language to discuss with others in the community.

<snip>

This is one reason why notions of "canon" and "official" are often an important topic for fan communities. Even if they are complaining about official rules, it's still a "language" that they share in common as part of their community.
I'm not really into "canon" - I don't need my fiction to be knowable in advance to other RPGers. When I've wanted to explain it to them, I've generally found myself able to do so.

My relationship with "official" is more complicated. I have no problem with introducing new game material where it is warranted - on the weekend I ran a session of Agon using the island I wrote up for "Not the Iron DM"; in my 4e D&D campaign I used plenty of game elements (eg creatures) that I made up myself; as a Rolemaster GM I authored my own systems for initiative, PC building, etc (which is practically compulsory for a serious RM GM).

But I do find quite a bit of "homebrewed" material that I encounter is not very well designed. In the context of D&D, this mostly consists in it being mathematically out-of-whack with the core game system. Or otherwise not showing a great degree of awareness of the "aesthetics" of the system. Outside of D&D, one encounters much less material "homebrewed" or otherwise, but there can also be issues there: eg in the Prince Valiant episode book there are plenty of NPCs who do not conform to the character building rules but with no obvious reason for this, and which therefore sit in tension with Greg Stafford's own advice in the core rulebook and his painstaking reconstruction of such characters as Arthur, Guinevere, Lancelot and others in accordance with those rules.

There can also be material that is designed without much thought to its effect on the dynamics or experience of play. Vincent Baker tackles this directly in his advice on custom moves in Apocalypse World, and John Harper has also written about it. This particular sort of poor design can also be found in "official" material eg a lot of the 4e adventures published by WotC.

I guess the upshot is that, for me, "official" is not about having a common language; but screening material with a slightly sceptical eye is about the particular qualities of the gaming experience.
 

Chaosmancer

Legend
I'm not really into "canon" - I don't need my fiction to be knowable in advance to other RPGers. When I've wanted to explain it to them, I've generally found myself able to do so.

My relationship with "official" is more complicated. I have no problem with introducing new game material where it is warranted - on the weekend I ran a session of Agon using the island I wrote up for "Not the Iron DM"; in my 4e D&D campaign I used plenty of game elements (eg creatures) that I made up myself; as a Rolemaster GM I authored my own systems for initiative, PC building, etc (which is practically compulsory for a serious RM GM).

But I do find quite a bit of "homebrewed" material that I encounter is not very well designed. In the context of D&D, this mostly consists in it being mathematically out-of-whack with the core game system. Or otherwise not showing a great degree of awareness of the "aesthetics" of the system. Outside of D&D, one encounters much less material "homebrewed" or otherwise, but there can also be issues there: eg in the Prince Valiant episode book there are plenty of NPCs who do not conform to the character building rules but with no obvious reason for this, and which therefore sit in tension with Greg Stafford's own advice in the core rulebook and his painstaking reconstruction of such characters as Arthur, Guinevere, Lancelot and others in accordance with those rules.

There can also be material that is designed without much thought to its effect on the dynamics or experience of play. Vincent Baker tackles this directly in his advice on custom moves in Apocalypse World, and John Harper has also written about it. This particular sort of poor design can also be found in "official" material eg a lot of the 4e adventures published by WotC.

I guess the upshot is that, for me, "official" is not about having a common language; but screening material with a slightly sceptical eye is about the particular qualities of the gaming experience.

I think you are missing the point that was being made.

I could have a discussion with you about the canon version of Dis. We have both some idea of it. I can't have a discussion with you about "the island" because I've never encountered that material.

We could have a discussion about Action Surge. We couldn't discuss my homebrewed Icon of War ability for Fighters, because you haven't read it.

That is the point about "canon" and "official" in creating shared language. Not that such things should be considered "important" for the home game, but that they allow us to discuss between vast distances, because we have both seen that material
 


Jay Murphy1

Meterion, Mastermind of Time !
This one was slapped together in an evening by another person
Chaosium was just house ruled DnD with a percentile skill system and is one of the most successful game companies out there. The concept of a roleplaying game took an incredibly talented and created person to discover, but once revealed even 11 year olds get the game and run it.
 
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Jay Murphy1

Meterion, Mastermind of Time !
"Writing a roleplaying game isn't that difficult."

No, it's not. Writing a good roleplaying game is difficult, and publishing it even moreso.
Highly disagree. publishing a rpg is as easy as offering PDFs and POD copies. Drivethru or Lulu will print it and ship it and collect the money. The creator doesn't have to do anything.
 

pemerton

Legend
I think you are missing the point that was being made.

I could have a discussion with you about the canon version of Dis. We have both some idea of it. I can't have a discussion with you about "the island" because I've never encountered that material.

We could have a discussion about Action Surge. We couldn't discuss my homebrewed Icon of War ability for Fighters, because you haven't read it.

That is the point about "canon" and "official" in creating shared language. Not that such things should be considered "important" for the home game, but that they allow us to discuss between vast distances, because we have both seen that material
Well, you and I can't discuss the "official" (ie published) rules for battles in Prince Valiant I don't think, because I seem to be the only ENworlder to have read and played it.

So yes, it's true that if you and I have both read something we can talk about it. But that doesn't depend on further notions like "official" or "canon".
 


I don't disagree with any of this. Well put. :)

I think that, for the most part, people talk past each other when it comes to the subject. I think that the following two things are true:

1. Creating a coherent rule set (and accompanying body of lore) that is useable to people you don't know, understandable to people you don't know, internally consistent, and fun, is a difficult task.

2. Creating a fun RPG to play with people you know is easy. Heck, kids do it all the time.
A decent summary. But it does seem to imply a question: If it's so easy that "kids do it all the time," why do we pay any money at all for a game system?

It would seem to me that, if one is ponying up real money for it, one must want a product that, to some extent, just works "off the shelf," as you put it earlier. Which, if true, would mean there's no absolute divide between "everything is DIY, figure all of it out yourself" and "everything is prewritten, just plug-n-chug." Instead, we'd have a spectrum, with one end defined as "I want a real real basic skeleton that just works 'off the shelf,' and otherwise a system that embraces being filled in by me/my group," and the other defined as, "I want a fairly comprehensive system where most things I'd want to do will just work 'off the shelf,' and any remaining holes can be filled in by me/my group."

And presented that way, the two sound nearly indistinguishable. Both want a reliable core, and the ability to address gaps when they appear. One just wants to have the feeling of most everything being "under my control so I can make sure it fits," while the other wants to have the feeling of most everything being "already handled so I can focus on running the game." (Obviously not everyone fits into either bucket, but those seem to be the vast majority of the two sides.)
 

Chaosmancer

Legend
Highly disagree. publishing a rpg is as easy as offering PDFs and POD copies. Drivethru or Lulu will print it and ship it and collect the money. The creator doesn't have to do anything.

Which is why major publishers don't go to events like Gencon to sell physical products. Except they do.

So, do you have a point beyond trying to discredit an entire profession? Because I'm sure I could find some art made by an 11 yr old, or maybe find an audio clip of some child composer. You know, football can be played by 16 yr olds, so professional athletes could also be considered a waste of time. Heck, I drive a car, what's the point of NASCAR?

I mean, we can toss examples back and forth and try and make people's livelihoods seem like lies and wastes of time, but I don't see why we would want to do that. So, what's your larger point?
 

Chaosmancer

Legend
Well, you and I can't discuss the "official" (ie published) rules for battles in Prince Valiant I don't think, because I seem to be the only ENworlder to have read and played it.

So yes, it's true that if you and I have both read something we can talk about it. But that doesn't depend on further notions like "official" or "canon".

True, but it does help. If I said I had read Prince Valiant (I haven't) then you would assume I read the official rules, not a homebrewed system by the same name.

Again, no judgement values, the only point is that having official rules allows for a discussion about official rules with other people across the globe. That is a value.
 

pemerton

Legend
True, but it does help. If I said I had read Prince Valiant (I haven't) then you would assume I read the official rules, not a homebrewed system by the same name.

Again, no judgement values, the only point is that having official rules allows for a discussion about official rules with other people across the globe. That is a value.
In your first para, would would matter would not be the status of the rules as official, but clarifying what it was that you had read.

Official rules are useful where uniformity of resolution and adjudication matters - eg competitive sports played across multiple venues and leagues.

But I think they are overrated in RPGing.

In my 4e D&D game, we didn't have issues with "weapliments" that plagued some tables because it was obvious from the get-go (both in terms of flavour and mechanical effectiveness) which feats would work with a dagger used as a weapon, and which would work with it used as an implement. WotC finally released errata that gave effect to our house rules, but that didn't change anything about what was happening at our table.

Or from the other side: what makes Greg Stafford's rules for Prince Valiant a masterpiece of RPG design is not that they are official but that they work incredibly well. Which goes back to the other current sub-theme of this thread: designing a good RPG is not easy. Designers like Stafford, and Vincent Baker, and Robin Laws, can come up with ideas that are far from commonplace.
 

Chaosmancer

Legend
In your first para, would would matter would not be the status of the rules as official, but clarifying what it was that you had read.

Official rules are useful where uniformity of resolution and adjudication matters - eg competitive sports played across multiple venues and leagues.

But I think they are overrated in RPGing.

I agree with your first paragraph, but I think that "official" having that uniformity and coming from the publishing company makes it easier to confirm and more likely to have read than any homebrew rules.

For example, If I wanted to talk about the crafting rules for DnD 5e, I can reference Xanathars and PHB with some expectation that a person who plays 5e owns the PHB and has at least a familiarity with Xanathars. I really can't assume that about the work of Kibblestasty, whose crafting system I've been working to integrate, because it does somethings I like.

Again, it is a matter of a shared baseline, and yes, I can confirm if you have read the homebrew material and then once we are both familiar with it we can discuss it, but that process is more difficult than assuming that you have read the "official" rules to a game you are playing.

In my 4e D&D game, we didn't have issues with "weapliments" that plagued some tables because it was obvious from the get-go (both in terms of flavour and mechanical effectiveness) which feats would work with a dagger used as a weapon, and which would work with it used as an implement. WotC finally released errata that gave effect to our house rules, but that didn't change anything about what was happening at our table.

Or from the other side: what makes Greg Stafford's rules for Prince Valiant a masterpiece of RPG design is not that they are official but that they work incredibly well. Which goes back to the other current sub-theme of this thread: designing a good RPG is not easy. Designers like Stafford, and Vincent Baker, and Robin Laws, can come up with ideas that are far from commonplace.

I don't disagree with any of this. Again, I place no inherent value in official rules being better or worse than the homebrew material. I have encountered many homebrews I find superior. I myself have homebrewed extensively. But solely on the grounds of a shared baseline, my personal homebrew is not something that can be brought into a rigorous debate, because I'm the only one familiar with it. No one else is discussing the rules in the context of my homebrew, so it makes it incredibly difficult to make them part of the discussion from the beginning. Much easier to simply stick with the official rules, make sure an understanding is reached, and then branch out from that shared understanding to include things like personal homebrew.
 

Aldarc

Legend
I'm not really into "canon" - I don't need my fiction to be knowable in advance to other RPGers. When I've wanted to explain it to them, I've generally found myself able to do so.

My relationship with "official" is more complicated. I have no problem with introducing new game material where it is warranted - on the weekend I ran a session of Agon using the island I wrote up for "Not the Iron DM"; in my 4e D&D campaign I used plenty of game elements (eg creatures) that I made up myself; as a Rolemaster GM I authored my own systems for initiative, PC building, etc (which is practically compulsory for a serious RM GM).
Thankfully my point that I am trying to make is not dependent on pemerton's relationship to either "canon" or "official."
 

Aldarc

Legend
I don't disagree with any of this. Well put. :)

I think that, for the most part, people talk past each other when it comes to the subject. I think that the following two things are true:

1. Creating a coherent rule set (and accompanying body of lore) that is useable to people you don't know, understandable to people you don't know, internally consistent, and fun, is a difficult task.

2. Creating a fun RPG to play with people you know is easy. Heck, kids do it all the time.
Going back to this, I think one of the difficult issues with designing a system, much as you allude to in point 1, involves creating something that is not sustained by the creator. Sometimes the creator IS the heavy machinery that is running things rather than the system itself. I think that some games are great IF you have the right person to run them, because they rely on a particular facilitator to keep the game running as it should. So when they get that system in the hands of others, people sometimes are frustrated that it's not working as intended despite following the rules and system as written. It turns out that the system isn't all that great without the Creator's heart to keep blood pumping.

I think that is one reason why I have heard so often from game designers nowadays that game designers shouldn't just run the game they created, but also play the games and have other people run them as well as other tables and groups. You don't necessarily know how much of an RPG is the system or the designer/GM who is doing the heavy sustain work.
 

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