• COMING SOON! -- Level Up: Advanced 5th Edition! Level up your 5E game! The standalone advanced 5E tabletop RPG adds depth and diversity to the game you love!
log in or register to remove this ad

 

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

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Yeah I think a hard analogy of kriegsspiel : free kriegsspiel :: DnD : OSR/Rules lite/FKR games doesn't work for reasons people have pointed out. Mostly, that 19th c. wargames are different than modern roleplaying games--the goals and purposes of both are different, and the cultural context in which both are played is vastly different. Though I would wager that wargames weren't just played in order to learn how to fight a war, but also for fun. Certainly by the Braunstein days people are playing to have fun and as a social activity.

But I don't think the intention of FKR is to make a strict analogy? Rather it is to notice out a dynamic that is present in the wargaming--the role of rules vs/and the role of the referee--and see how and where it has resonance for modern games. In particular, it seems to be OSR people who are interested in that resonance, and in the same spirit that drew them back to OD&D and even pre-OD&D era play styles. That is, you can have the discussion of rules vs referee discretion even before getting to thinking about FKR, which I think functionally is just another step in the OD&D direction.

To give a practical example, I have all these dnd-inspired rulesets on my shelf/hard drive: 5e and other official editions, retroclones, black hack, white hack, into the odd, maze rats, cairn, worlds without number etc. And I often stress over which ruleset is best, which will my players enjoy, which is easiest to teach. But in the end, if I'm doing a dungeon crawl, does it really matter? So in that way, FKR is actually an intervention into the OSR scene that has been proliferating rulesets, and asks, does it matter? And if so, when and where does it matter what rules you use.

What I think is interesting is OSR people digging down to an FKR ideal of "play worlds, not rules," and ending up in storygame land on the other side of the rpg world. In terms of trust, maybe it becomes a little bit less trust in just the gm, and more trust of everyone at the table in everyone else, and the way that a story emerges collectively, guided but not determined by the gm.

Anyway, this conversation has gotten unexpectedly heated. You guys are nerds. 😋 💚
The fun thing is that this has already been well covered in the argument about rules light vs rules heavy, it's just tried to bring in a reference to a famous wargame to provide cover.
 

log in or register to remove this ad


Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
I understand your intention isn't advocacy. However, also from the OP

So a question might obviously arise- if it was all so simple, if it was all just some FK "rulings not rules" with a neutral referee, why do we see the explosion of rules? Why do we see Gygax, at the beginning of 1e, insist that the standardized rules are to be followed? I am sure others might have their own reasons and speculations, but I would put it simply- money. There is very little commercial return in telling people, "Make up stuff. Then a referee will tell you if it's okay. Maybe roll some dice." On the other hand ... selling rules? And more rules? There ... there you get into the serious money.


You can say you aren't advocating for one style over the other, but if you see no benefit in rules and see the existence of increasing rules as only being because the game designers wish to make a profit, then you are making a very strong statement against a game run by rules. If you truly believe that the reason rules have increased beyond "Make up stuff. Then a referee will tell you if it's okay. Maybe roll some dice." is only because of profit, then you are saying that people who use a different approach are being mislead about the value they see in rules.
So do you realize that giving an opinion on why he think there was an explosion in rules is 1) not advocacy of any kind and 2) doesn't show anything that says or implies that rules have no other value.

@Snarf Zagyg is simply giving his opinion why he thinks those rules were written. You're reading into his post things that he has not said or done.
 

GreyLord

Hero
Late last night, I ran across an interesting and excellent post by @Malmuria which helped crystalize some thoughts I had been having recently about D&D's evolution. Just to make this clear- you can blame Malmuria for this short essay. Repeat- you can blame Malmuria. Unless you really like what I'm writing, in which case I don't stand on the shoulders of giants, and I thought of this all on my lonesome! That's right- I am a firm believer in the "other guy" theory of life; all credit goes to me, and the other guy takes the fall.

Anyway, I am going to be assuming familiarity with concepts like Free Kriegsspiel and the distinction between rulings and rules for purposes of this post. I also highly recommend reading Worlds Not Rules to get a good overview.

1. What if everything you ever wanted ... came in a rocket can? The Free Kriegsspiel roots of D&D.

Dave Arneson was prepared for Wesley's Braunstein game. It was a simple scenario ... a banana republic in the throws of revolution. Arneson would receive his points for distributing leaflets. But Arneson convinced other players, using his fake CIA badge, that he was an undercover agent and easily "won" the scenario by stealing all of the money of the country, boarding a helicopter, and casually throwing down all the leaflets on the riots and burning embers below.

To understand D&D, you have to first understand the wargaming culture of the 60s and 70s, and the nature of rulings as opposed to rules. Specifically, this dichotomy was already explored and known ... in the latter part of the 1800s. Back then, there was a German wargame (of course it was German) known as Kriegsspiel. As these things go, the game became more complex over time, and an umpire was required to help interpret the rules and to make decisions given the opposing sides might not be aware of everything going on. Over time, there was a gradual realization- the rules were so complex that they were slowing the game down for no good reason (additional rules that had minimal benefit), additional rules kept getting added to allow for more realism yet never could accurately simulate the battles, the rules constrained the umpires' decision making, and most importantly, no one wanted to be an umpire because the whole system was too complicated to learn.

Hmmm.... this seems familiar, somehow?

Anyway, because of all of these issues, a new system was devised. And by "new system", I mean, effectively, no system. Free Kriegsspiel ("FK") got rid of all of the rules and cruft of Kriegsspiel and simply let a neutral referee make rulings. This was popular, because the players didn't have to learn complicated rules, and because the referee could use their own applied experience instead of complicated rules that often wouldn't match what happened in combat.

And from there, we fast-forward a century later. You have numerous wargamers- the famous ones today like Gygax and Arneson, but also the less well-known like David Wesley. All of them were familiar with this backdrop of neutral referees making rulings. Of FK. So the original major turning point was Wesley's Braunstein games- the first one, and most importantly, the fourth one. When one of his players, Dave Arneson, used his imagination and played a "role" in order to win the scenario. Something that inspired Arneson so much that he chose to continue running this style of game himself, in a little place called Blackmoor.

Here, again, we can understand the FK basis for this proto-D&D. Instead of a modern country in the throws of revolution, Arneson transposed the ideas to a fantasy world. And from that point on, he would listen to players, and make rulings as needed. If someone was a vampire, they were a vampire. If someone hunted them, they were a vampire hunter (a cleric). If he needed combat rules, he would borrow them from various places, including some rules he saw from an acquaintance- a certain Gary Gygax.


2. When God gives you lemons, you need to find a new God. The Codification of D&D.

This story is so well known by now (albeit contentious) it hardly bears repeating, but here goes- Arneson had previously worked with Gygax, and knew that Gygax had contacts to help him commercialize this new "thing" he was doing. What started as a collaboration grew contentious, as (depending on your sourcing) either Arneson's more free-wheeling style wasn't conducive to a written product and led to clashes and frustration with Gygax and others at the nascent TSR, or Gygax began to freeze him out over time.

The main thing is the result- OD&D. OD&D is a fundamentally bizarre product in many ways, mostly because it's almost unplayable (and it was pretty pretty expensive too!). Simply put, the original written product is simply a codification of the FK-style rulings that had accumulated over time along with some additional material. In order to "play" the original OD&D, you had to have knowledge of the hobby, wargaming, and a desire to make the game work. Perhaps most fundamentally, you had to accept an FK-style system; a neutral referee empowered to make all decisions. The rules didn't cover everything, and it was assumed that the referee would make rulings as needed. In fact, in Men & Magic, we don't even see the term Dungeon Master- it is still "players," and "referee."

So a question might obviously arise- if it was all so simple, if it was all just some FK "rulings not rules" with a neutral referee, why do we see the explosion of rules? Why do we see Gygax, at the beginning of 1e, insist that the standardized rules are to be followed? I am sure others might have their own reasons and speculations, but I would put it simply- money. There is very little commercial return in telling people, "Make up stuff. Then a referee will tell you if it's okay. Maybe roll some dice." On the other hand ... selling rules? And more rules? There ... there you get into the serious money.

Still, any cursory examination of AD&D (1e) will show you that it is a system that was not designed; it is a system that grew over time as various rulings were made, and various systems and subsystems were added. I often think that the original PHB+DMG could be compared to working for a dysfunctional company:
Monday: Everyone has a d6, right? Let's use d6 for everything! Maybe 2d6 for a few things. Oh, and 3d6 for abilities. Because that will make it easy. Design it all around the d6.
Tuesday: Woah! You see this? It's a d20. Everything we said about the d6? Fuhgeddabouddit! d20 for everything! It's so cool!
Wednesday: Hey- did you know if you take a d10, and roll it twice, you get a d100? I think it's time for percentiles! Let's put some percentiles in- how about we start with strength? Finished with that yet?
Thursday: Surveys say ... TABLES! That's right. Apparently, we are about to miss out on the table revolution. It's time for the ... PIVOT-TO-TABLES. More table. If you can think of something, it needs to be in a table! How far can critters tunnel per day? TABLE! Random harlots? TABLE! What? No, that one won't come back to bite us.
Friday: Throw out all the other stuff, because we need grappling and psionics! Don't worry if it doesn't fit in with anything else. Also? Surveys say that the kids love Poochie and Bards. Pick one and put it an appendix.

Anyway, D&D through 1e and 2e became a kind of Frankenstein of both FK philosophy (rulings, not rules, with a neutral referee that can make any ruling to account for anything the players want) along with incredibly detailed rules that prescribed what players could and couldn't do- of course, subject to the referee's rulings. On the one hand, this allowed for D&D to be a "big tent" style of game; you could have people that played it and dispensed with large portions of the ruleset and played it in manner very similar to a FK-style "rules lite" game. Or you could have people playing it with weapon v. AC modifiers and miniatures and try to adhere as much as possible to RAW.

Of course, the downside of all of this was both the lack of clarity in the rules, with many "base" rules being seen as optional, and the incredibly variability of DMs- the amount of power that a "neutral referee" could have inevitably meant that some referees would abuse that power, play favorites, or behave in an adversarial manner.

Eventually, these issues led to more modern forms of D&D (3e). Which tried to be have more unified rules, yet added additional rules for realism, and had more rules that tried to constrain the DM. Past is prologue.


3. RPG Theory has what plants crave- it has electrolytes! System Matters and Worlds, not Rules.

There is a recurrent debate that I have seen here regarding "system matters." I don't really want to get into it, primarily because I am reasonable certain people in the comments will re-create that debate for you. Very simply (and I will again quote Malmuria)-
But {Apocalypse World} a fairly influential example of "system matters"--the rules and mechanics are telling you what the game is about. Similarly, basic dnd has save vs dragon breath and save vs spells; that's also a game that tells you what it's about. There might be charm effects in basic dnd, but there is not "save vs seduction," and so the game doesn't account for that roleplay space. AW, on the other hand, lists seduction as a basic move.

At a certain general level, this makes sense. A game that has a lot of rules and mechanics about riding dragons, for example, will likely have "dragon riding" as a likely play scenario! Or, to use an analogy (because analogies always go over well at enworld!) you probably don't want to use a regular screwdriver on a phillips head screw- perhaps you can, but the tool you use matters. It makes a difference.

But that's not always the case; early D&D (for example) either implicitly or explicitly left open space assuming that neutral referees would be making decisions based on the input of players- the FK model of play. The absence of rules in some areas was not an absence, so much as it was the presence of the assumption of the FK model. Many of the earliest debates in D&D were that the codification of abilities would preclude the employment of those abilities; in effect, the creation of additional rules might stop adjudication by ruling, and transmogrify D&D from a "FK" system to more of a rigid Kriegsspeil system. To use a concrete example- some of the early pushback on the thief was from the perspective that if you gave the thief specific skills (like hide in shadows) that meant that other characters couldn't do that. This debate would continue and repeat over and over again- such as with the later use of the skill system / non-weapon proficiencies.


4. Conclusion. Play D&D and you’ll win at everything forever. You’ll win at running, football, arson, weddings, and art! You’ll even win at irony!

The reason for this post is I was reflecting on what I see as a certain tension, if not irony, that underlies a few discussions. D&D, from the beginning to 5e's emphasis on "rulings, not rules," is a game that cries out to be FK, to be a game of players doing whatever they want with a neutral referee providing the results ... yet ends up encumbered by rules, cruft, and debates about RAW. As a reaction to this, you have many excellent games that arose from a different context- but instead of using the high-trust model of FK, they instead use various ways (either through explicit rules or norms) to create FK-like experiences that bind the referee.

This isn't meant as a slam on any particular approach, or even advocacy for any approach. But I am putting out the topic in case people find it interesting!

Note: I may choose NOT to participate depending on where the thread goes. But please feel free to carry on!

Well, to my mind, this kind of encapsulates the difference between Old School Play and Modern gaming approaches in some ways.

It's not completely or absolute, but describes many of the differences of the approach between Old School and New School approaches to DMing and gaming (if one ascribes to the idea that you can do an OS style of DMing for Modern games like 3e, 4e, and 5e if one wishes).
 

Neutral between the entities that they're emulating (the world, the monsters, whatever) and the entities they aren't emulating (the players and their characters) in other words, the GM is playing the orcs, but isn't cheating in their favor, and in theory they may kind of want the players to win, they aren't cheating in the player's favor either, so the simulation is unbiased by a desired outcome, but instead plays to its logical conclusions based off the actions of both entities.

That’s a good summary, and one I can largely get behind. It’s kind of about neutrality to the outcome which is something I tend to want.

Do you think this is more easily achieved if a GM is using a pre-published scenario versus something of their own making?

Would you expect this idea of neutrality to be extended beyond just the NPC/PC axis you’ve cited to incorporate things like pacing or drama and the like?

That said, imagine you have two referees, both running narrative heavy games-
A is a neutral referee.
B is a "fan of the players" referee.

In both cases, I think that there will likely be certain choices made that help advance the narrative; but in the case of A, there will be no "thumb on the scale" for the players- the referee will attempt to say yes with actions that are consistent with the fiction, negotiate risk and uncertainty, and say no to those actions inconsistent to the fiction. This is a different position (IMO) than B, who would be looking to not just advance narratives, but to do so in ways that likely feature the players in certain aspects.

Well, being a fan of the PCs as it’s typically cited in principles of play doesn’t mean you’re going to rule in their favor. It’s more about caring about what happens to them. Being interested in what they do and what happens to them.

It’s also often coupled with another principle if “make their lives not boring” and similar sentiments, so I don’t think being a fan is a compromise of neutrality in that sense.

When a player sees their proposed actions fail or go awry, when a similar set of actions described by another player worked out seamlessly, that's not going to feel very neutral.

This I get, but I’d say it’s more about consistency than neutrality. But I agree with you that this can be important.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
? Provide cover for what?
Not sure, the OP appears to be disclaiming any point whatsoever, but my reading would suggest an argument that putting all authority into the GM for freeform decision making in D&D as being a better approach than rules. Admittedly, it's not well formed, and certainly not well argued, but this does seem to be the bush that is being beat around.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Well, being a fan of the PCs as it’s typically cited in principles of play doesn’t mean you’re going to rule in their favor. It’s more about caring about what happens to them. Being interested in what they do and what happens to them.

It’s also often coupled with another principle if “make their lives not boring” and similar sentiments, so I don’t think being a fan is a compromise of neutrality in that sense.

I don't necessarily disagree, but I also think that if the principle that you are using is, "Be a fan," then you are going to have difficulty being neutral.

For an example of this, try having a rational discussion with a fan of ... oh, anything. :)

That said, I do think that the outcomes aren't that different; my experience with FKR and similar systems seems to indicate that typical free-play heuristics often used in FKR are very similar at times to the principle of being a fan of the characters the players control in the fiction.
 

Not sure, the OP appears to be disclaiming any point whatsoever, but my reading would suggest an argument that putting all authority into the GM for freeform decision making in D&D as being a better approach than rules. Admittedly, it's not well formed, and certainly not well argued, but this does seem to be the bush that is being beat around.

As I mentioned above, I'm a fan of rules lite systems, but it's led (for me) to a lot of comparing systems. That is, you start with the ruleset you want, and then you build your setting. Or, you try to match ruleset and setting. So you might start with a ruleset, even 5e, and try to hack it to make it a sci-fi game, or you might pick up Stars Without Number, because it's already a ruleset created for the purpose of running an osr sci fi game.

To me, "play worlds not rules" suggests that you start with the setting/genre, and then you build a ruleset around that as needed. The provocation there, such as it is, is to say that when you do that, actually, you might need a lot fewer rules than you think. As you and others point out, maybe this is only tangentially at best related to Free Kriegspiel wargaming, and if so, fine but I do think the switch in the order of operations (not "ruleset, then setting/genre" but rather "setting/genre, then ruleset) is interesting.
 

That’s a good summary, and one I can largely get behind. It’s kind of about neutrality to the outcome which is something I tend to want.

Do you think this is more easily achieved if a GM is using a pre-published scenario versus something of their own making?

Would you expect this idea of neutrality to be extended beyond just the NPC/PC axis you’ve cited to incorporate things like pacing or drama and the like?
I don't especially think the scenario matters simply because I rarely if ever run them, I think its largely a goal and a mentality to approach both writing and running content with-- like one somewhat off topic example, I try to design my adventuring spaces independently of my group, such that a different group could approach it in a different way, and without planning a particular pacing or experience, I would expect it infect everything, although I'm at the point where I'm trying to move away from structuring my game like a literary story.
 

Here is an interesting question though. If you are in a "ruleless" system, like is being discussed in Free Kriegspiel models, then "cheating" would seem to be an impossible measure.

So, how do you run truly neutrally if there are no rules for what one side can or can't do? Especially when you control one side.
You have criteria and ettiquette, its a little more flexible than rules, but it can fulfill the same role-- the biggest 'cheat' in that context is overriding agency, controlling a character's thoughts and actions (god-moding), and much like Sanderson's rules of magic insist that magic can only be a solution if its well explained so as to make an application of magic a clever solution, there's still an expectation things must be 'earned' in the dramatic sense.
 

pemerton

Legend
Seriously what the heck is this- "you now claim to be able to extol to me and others the virtues of Cthulhu Dark and comparable RPGs." It's one thing to misunderstand people; it's truly bizarre that you are actively being a jerk to someone for having the temerity for enjoying a system and praising its elegant rules that you also like!
From my point of view the shoe is rather on the other foot.

From my point of view, it seems that you thought it was good fun to take the piss out of people who like Cthulhu Dark until something happened that made you like it. Now it's a cool thing you're excited about, but those people who liked it before still apparently don't get what's great about it - because they aren't 100% signed onto the Free Kriegsspiel Revolution?

I like Cthulhu Dark. I also like Burning Wheel. I am still looking forward to the chance to GM (MC) Apocalypse World. And I don't especially care for 5e D&D. I don't need to locate my personal preferences in some grand theory of the historical trajectories of RPG design.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
From my point of view the shoe is rather on the other foot.

Thankfully, your point of view is thoroughly incorrect.

But you probably already knew that when you looked back at the quote.

Seriously- what is wrong with you? If this is how you treat someone who agrees with you on something, I'd hate to see what happens if you track down the 10 other people who have played Prince Valiant ... and didn't like it.
 

I don't necessarily disagree, but I also think that if the principle that you are using is, "Be a fan," then you are going to have difficulty being neutral.

For an example of this, try having a rational discussion with a fan of ... oh, anything. :)

That said, I do think that the outcomes aren't that different; my experience with FKR and similar systems seems to indicate that typical free-play heuristics often used in FKR are very similar at times to the principle of being a fan of the characters the players control in the fiction.

Fans certainly can be irrational at times, but not always. I don’t think the principle of “being a fan” as we’re talking about in relation to roleplaying is telling us to be some kind of soccer hooligan.

It’s telling us to be a fan in the same way that we root for John McClane in Die Hard. Yes, we care about the character and we’re pulling for him to save Holly and kill Hans.

But it doesn’t mean we don’t want to see him walk across broken glass and get shot in order to do it.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Fans certainly can be irrational at times, but not always. I don’t think the principle of “being a fan” as we’re talking about in relation to roleplaying is telling us to be some kind of soccer hooligan.

It’s telling us to be a fan in the same way that we root for John McClane in Die Hard. Yes, we care about the character and we’re pulling for him to save Holly and kill Hans.

But it doesn’t mean we don’t want to see him walk across broken glass and get shot in order to do it.

Yes, and if you're "pulling for the character," then you're unlikely to be adjudicating in a neutral manner.

Again, I think that the difference in the end is smaller, but ... it is a difference.
 

Yes, and if you're "pulling for the character," then you're unlikely to be adjudicating in a neutral manner.

Again, I think that the difference in the end is smaller, but ... it is a difference.

Oh no I agree in that sense. This is why I’m not so worried about neutrality.

I don’t think that a GM needs to put his fingers on the scale during play to be a fan. Nor do I think that he must guarantee success.

Just the possibility of it. Which is kind of why I see the neutrality angle as overstated.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Oh no I agree in that sense. This is why I’m not so worried about neutrality.

I don’t think that a GM needs to put his fingers on the scale during play to be a fan. Nor do I think that he must guarantee success.

Just the possibility of it. Which is kind of why I see the neutrality angle as overstated.

I agree; I think that neutral refereeing is actually more fetishized in games that are rules-heavy in general.
 

Oh no I agree in that sense. This is why I’m not so worried about neutrality.

I don’t think that a GM needs to put his fingers on the scale during play to be a fan. Nor do I think that he must guarantee success.

Just the possibility of it. Which is kind of why I see the neutrality angle as overstated.

I've not read a ton of this thread (I just skimmed some posts working backwards), but I wanted to address this recent line of posts leading up to your last.

So far as I know "be a fan" (in those exact words...its elsewhere aplenty in TTRPGs) of characters began in VB's Apocalypse World. It 100 % isn't about putting a thumb on the scales. In fact, when integrated with the agenda of play and the other principles and best practices, there_can_be_no_question that it is, in fact, not about thumbs and scales.

Here is what it means (directly from the text):

1) Make their lives "not boring" (interesting).

2) The best way to make their lives interesting is by making it consequential. How do you make it consequential (I'm glad you asked)?

3a) Take what they (the players) and the game gives you and use what you find interesting about the PCs. Play there (provoke them).

3b) Make the world respond hard to their actions. When they (the PCs) make waves, let them topple an already unstable situation and make waves right back.





That's it. Be curious, be interested, and be interesting. Nothing more. No thumbs on scales either way.

What it really means is "don't make play thematically/premise-absent" and your table time should be spent on conflicts that matter to the protagonists and the participants at the table. Play there. Don't spend table time on conflict-neutral stuff or Setting Solitaire etc. Its "thumb on the scales of table time on provocative and consequential (interesting and conflict-charged)." That is how a GM is a fan of the PCs (not in terms of story outcomes by in framing and of type/kind of obstacles and post action/conflict resolution evolution of fiction).

I doubt you feel like I've had my thumb on the scales for the PCs you've played in my games!
 

pemerton

Legend
So the idea of a neutral GM comes up a lot, and it’s one that always sticks out to me. I’ve very rarely felt it was all that necessary nor all that common.

<snip>

I ask because in kriegspiel games, there were opposing participants, so a neutral ref makes sense. But carrying over that idea to RPGs seems…less direct? Less one for one or like for like? Not sure what word I’m looking for here, but I hope I’m being clear.
That’s a good summary, and one I can largely get behind. It’s kind of about neutrality to the outcome which is something I tend to want.

<snip>

Would you expect this idea of neutrality to be extended beyond just the NPC/PC axis you’ve cited to incorporate things like pacing or drama and the like?

<snip>

being a fan of the PCs as it’s typically cited in principles of play doesn’t mean you’re going to rule in their favor. It’s more about caring about what happens to them. Being interested in what they do and what happens to them.
Which is kind of why I see the neutrality angle as overstated.
I think the notion of neutrality is actually pretty fundamental in analyses of the "GM" role in RPGing. I don't know how common it has been historically, though I would guess that it was more common (at least in proportionate terms) 40 years ago than today.

But conceptually it's been pretty fundamental to understandings of RPGing. And I think it's legacy is felt in many ways even when the reasons underpinning it have been left behind.

I'm not sure I can summarise all the ways in which neutral refereeing can and should manifest itself in those RPGs where it matters. But here are some of the key ones:

* The setting/situation/scenario is established, and set-in-stone, prior to play;

* Action resolution is (ideally, and hopefully in actuality also) a "model" or reflection of how things would really unfold were these events really happening;

* The influence of the players' desires on action resolution is fully exhausted once the PC's action has been declared (and hence can be disregarded by the referee, provided the action declaration has been properly interpreted);

* The influence of the players' desires on setting and situation design does not extend beyond informally telling the referee what sort of stuff might be fun (and for the truly austere even that might be stretching things, because it risks the players recognising the influence of their expressed desires on the fiction as they engage that fiction via their PCs).​

There are well-known adventure modules that, as presented, speak to this sort of neutral refereeing: KotB, Hidden Shrine of Tomachan, Tomb of Horrors, White Plume Mountain, etc.

Different sorts of departures from neutrality produce different sorts of RPGing experiences which I think are broadly recognisable across the spectrum of the hobby. Eg non-neutral establishing of the scenario during play is part of scene-framing play (engage the players via the hooks on their PCs), and PbtA-ish "fiction first" play (make their lives interesting!), and "storytelling" play (use control over secret backstory to make sure the important scenes come online). A really early statement of this sort of non-neutrality - which contradicts some of the other statements in the rulebooks - is found in Classic Traveller Book 3 (1977, p 19): "The referee is always free to impose encounters to further the cause of the adventure being played; in many cases, he actually has a responsibility to do so." That's not neutral!

Non-neutral action resolution processes abandon "objective" DCs (eg Apocalypse World and Dungeon World, which have no difficulties; HeroQuest revised, where difficulties are set via a pacing-based feedback loop) or various sorts of "fiat" resolution (eg Prince Valiant storyteller certificates). Or they allow factors like commitment, morale, relationship to victim, etc all factor into the resolution process (Prince Valiant, HeroWars/Queset and The Riddle of Steel all have this). GM decides based on what makes for a good story (ie the White Wolf "golden rule") is also a version of non-neutral action resolution procedures.

Action resolution where the influence of player desires extends beyond the declaration phase include all sorts of fate point systems (where these can be spent down the track), plus BW's intent-and-task resolution (narration of failures should focus on intent), or some PbtA moves (where eg the player gets to ask certain questions).

The influence of player desire extending in formal ways into setting and situation design can be scene in the AD&D OA Yakuza contact rules, or the Classic Traveller Streetwise rules, or BW's Circles rules. A more subtle, perhaps borderline, case is found in Classic Traveller Book 3 (1977, p 8): "the referee should always feel free to impose worlds which have been deliberately (rather than randomly) generated. Often such planets will be devised specifically to reward or torment players." That's not very neutral either.

When you look at how often discussions about these various departures from neutrality seem to misfire, or become very heated very quickly around what is really RPGing, I think you are seeing the legacy of the neutrality ideal, itself inherited from wargaming.
 

Aldarc

Legend
I suspect that while AW was based on Baker's wife preference, Baker's own frame of reference colored how he percieved and addressed that need. My observation has been that the way 'play to find out what happens' is understood as a result of procedural narrative generation and interpretation, conflicts heavily with the authorial spirit freeform traditionally employs (where the 'what happens' you're discovering comes from the other players, and mechanics exist, if at all, to resolve uncertainty and conflict not drive the story- thats on the players.)
Based on past conversation, I suspect our respective biases regards PbtA will not produce a fruitful conversation.

I will point out that Meguey Baker was the co-designer I alluded to in regards to Apocalpyse World, so it is not as if she was somehow voiceless or her own needs for freeform RP were solely understood in terms of Vincent Baker's own preferences in this design process.
 

Based on past conversation, I suspect our respective biases regards PbtA will not produce a fruitful conversation.

I will point out that Meguey Baker was the co-designer I alluded to in regards to Apocalpyse World, so it is not as if she was somehow voiceless or her own needs for freeform RP were solely understood in terms of Vincent Baker's own preferences in this design process.
I wasn't aware of that, though it doesn't materially change my commentary of how the act of translation affected it.
 

Level Up!

An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top