D&D General FKR: How Fewer Rules Can Make D&D Better

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Some might call that genre emulation rather than simulation, but I still think it's a good point. I might put it more that - what are the proper referents for simulation, and what counts as sufficiently well simulated?

I apologize for not getting back to you - I've been very occupied recently. That said, I wanted to address this issue in a general way before addressing the issues more specifically.

First, I think I need to explain why I don't participate in many of these conversations any more (and this is not directed at you, by the way!). One of the recurring issues I see is what I call the "Texas Two Step," when it comes to jargon, and despite devoting several posts to the issues with it, it just keeps happening. Let's use "simulation" as an example.

"Simulation" was first widely used in the threefold model (GDS). While it has various definitions, I'll just crib the one from wikipedia which is close enough for our purposes-
Simulation is concerned with the internal consistency of events that unfold in the game world, and ensuring that they are only caused by in-game factors - that is, eliminating metagame concerns (such as drama and game). Simulation is not necessarily concerned with simulating reality; it could be a simulation of any fictional world, cosmology or scenario, according to its own rules.

Notice that this is jargon. It has a specified technical meaning that arose in the context of RPGs, and it was about goals. It was trying to set it off against the "G" and "D" components.

The trouble is that while this is jargon, it also has specific connotations that people are familiar with in the real world. For example, when someone says that a pilot has 1,000 hours in a Boeing 737 simulator, a person who hears that assumes that the machine is designed to simulate the reality of flying a Boeing 737- not just some fictional world. In common parlance, simulations usually reflect our reality.

So this is where the Texas Two Step comes in, over and over and over again.

Zeno: I like playing that RPG because I like Lord of the Rings.

Achilles: Well, we all know that is a simulationist RPG. You like simulations! (Using the JARGON)

Zeno: Um, sure. I like the way the game immerses me in the feeling of Middle Earth, and the fiction of Tolkien.

Achilles: HA! How dare you say that? Don't you know that game doesn't accurately simulate the economics of Middle Earth? For that matter, how can a world exist on the same technology for thousands of years? It's not a simulation! (Using the COMMON VERNACULAR)


Unfortunately, this happens repeatedly- people that deliberately conflate jargon with more widely-understood meaning in order to berate people for differing preferences. It's the Texas Two Step- first, get people to use jargon, then use the non-jargon meaning to criticize them, and then go back to defending the jargon. Rinse, repeat.

So when I say that FKR is "simulation," I only mean that by default, it doesn't really do a great job of advancing G goals (because it relies on minimal game mechanics) or D goals (because D goals are usually created through emergent play), and instead is concerned with in-game consistency with a fictional world. And I don't say that to exclude other goals, or to say that others don't have success with it- just to relay my own experiences running it.


Okay .... now, addressing the following specifically-

If I thought that simulation depended on structured referents and relationships (i.e. models), and I believed that those were not internalizable, then it would seem I should not think that FKR can achieve simulation. Going from the other direction, if I think that FKR can achieve simulation, and I think that simulation depends on models, then it would seem that I ought to think models can be internalized.

I think that this is an interesting way of summarizing the push-pull that FKR illustrates. There are those that have spoken eloquently in this thread about why they prefer and enjoy rules for purposes of simulation. There is nothing wrong with that- to use an obvious example, having a common set of written and known rules is great when you have groups that are not familiar with each other and with the shared fiction. Because these models aren't internalized, or because these models are internalized differently, then FKR will probably be harder to run.

On the other hand, when internal models are close in alignment, and/or there is trust that differences in alignment can be resolved equitably by the participants, the advantages of running with a lite rulebook can shine- from speed to engagement.


I hope this answers the questions you were asking, albeit in a roundabout manner.
 

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overgeeked

B/X Known World
I apologize for not getting back to you - I've been very occupied recently. That said, I wanted to address this issue in a general way before addressing the issues more specifically.

First, I think I need to explain why I don't participate in many of these conversations any more (and this is not directed at you, by the way!). One of the recurring issues I see is what I call the "Texas Two Step," when it comes to jargon, and despite devoting several posts to the issues with it, it just keeps happening. Let's use "simulation" as an example.

"Simulation" was first widely used in the threefold model (GDS). While it has various definitions, I'll just crib the one from wikipedia which is close enough for our purposes-
Simulation is concerned with the internal consistency of events that unfold in the game world, and ensuring that they are only caused by in-game factors - that is, eliminating metagame concerns (such as drama and game). Simulation is not necessarily concerned with simulating reality; it could be a simulation of any fictional world, cosmology or scenario, according to its own rules.

Notice that this is jargon. It has a specified technical meaning that arose in the context of RPGs, and it was about goals. It was trying to set it off against the "G" and "D" components.

The trouble is that while this is jargon, it also has specific connotations that people are familiar with in the real world. For example, when someone says that a pilot has 1,000 hours in a Boeing 737 simulator, a person who hears that assumes that the machine is designed to simulate the reality of flying a Boeing 737- not just some fictional world. In common parlance, simulations usually reflect our reality.

So this is where the Texas Two Step comes in, over and over and over again.

Zeno: I like playing that RPG because I like Lord of the Rings.

Achilles: Well, we all know that is a simulationist RPG. You like simulations! (Using the JARGON)

Zeno: Um, sure. I like the way the game immerses me in the feeling of Middle Earth, and the fiction of Tolkien.

Achilles: HA! How dare you say that? Don't you know that game doesn't accurately simulate the economics of Middle Earth? For that matter, how can a world exist on the same technology for thousands of years? It's not a simulation! (Using the COMMON VERNACULAR)


Unfortunately, this happens repeatedly- people that deliberately conflate jargon with more widely-understood meaning in order to berate people for differing preferences. It's the Texas Two Step- first, get people to use jargon, then use the non-jargon meaning to criticize them, and then go back to defending the jargon. Rinse, repeat.

So when I say that FKR is "simulation," I only mean that by default, it doesn't really do a great job of advancing G goals (because it relies on minimal game mechanics) or D goals (because D goals are usually created through emergent play), and instead is concerned with in-game consistency with a fictional world. And I don't say that to exclude other goals, or to say that others don't have success with it- just to relay my own experiences running it.


Okay .... now, addressing the following specifically-



I think that this is an interesting way of summarizing the push-pull that FKR illustrates. There are those that have spoken eloquently in this thread about why they prefer and enjoy rules for purposes of simulation. There is nothing wrong with that- to use an obvious example, having a common set of written and known rules is great when you have groups that are not familiar with each other and with the shared fiction. Because these models aren't internalized, or because these models are internalized differently, then FKR will probably be harder to run.

On the other hand, when internal models are close in alignment, and/or there is trust that differences in alignment can be resolved equitably by the participants, the advantages of running with a lite rulebook can shine- from speed to engagement.


I hope this answers the questions you were asking, albeit in a roundabout manner.
And of course there's the perennial "people are talking about things I don't like" threadcrapping. It makes it pointless to bother trying to talk about things because threads without the little "+" will inevitably be bombed by people who hate FKR and refuse to simply let other people talk about things they like.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
And of course there's the perennial "people are talking about things I don't like" threadcrapping. It makes it pointless to bother trying to talk about things because threads without the little "+" will inevitably be bombed by people who hate FKR and refuse to simply let other people talk about things they like.

I'm not terribly bothered by people who engage in good-faith to understand it, and find that it's not for them. Not everything is for everyone, all the time. Heck, as I outlined in the OP, I really have enjoyed running FKR games, but I run and play other games as well- and those other games are better suited to do some things than FKR.

But it does bug me a little when people feel the need to keep saying that it doesn't work. After a while, you get tired of all the posts that say, "Yes yes yes ... I know that you keep saying that FKR is fun in practice, but allow me to explain to you why your games can't work in theory." ;)
 

EzekielRaiden

Follower of the Way
GDS.

I believe the G is Gaming or Gamist, the S is Simulation, but what is the D in GDS?
Drama. It's not equivalent to the N ("Narrativism") of GNS, but it has broadly similar philosophical commitments, AIUI.

Drama.

Later on, this was replaced by "N" by others. Same idea.

edit- ninja'd
I would argue they are actually distinct, but mostly because the two models (IMO) squabble over where to put what I have called "Emulation." To GDS, it belongs in the Drama category AIUI, with Sim being purely "process sim." To GNS, it belongs in the Sim category, being labelled "genre sim" as contrasted with "process sim." Hence why I say I have found it productive to separate it into its own category. It has certain overlaps with both things people refer to as "narrative" or "dramatic" or "storytelling" play, and yet also other overlap with things people refer to as "simulation," both in technical/jargon senses and in colloquial/casual senses.

I hope this answers the questions you were asking, albeit in a roundabout manner.
I think the core question remains unresolved. Asked, in reverse order to how @clearstream put it: If this works, why doesn't all simulation work this way? If it doesn't, why call it simulation? Your final two sentences (prior to the quoted one, I mean) just touch on this, but I think it bears spooling out.

FKR works for simulation if, and I would argue only if, one of the following (more or less mutually-exclusive) conditions is met:
  1. All, or very nearly all, of the participants are already in quite strong agreement on the fundamental elements of the imagined space, so no difficulty or ambiguity will ever arise. Essentially, the group already has their "groundedness," needing (near-)zero effort to build it.
  2. The group is already highly tactful and cooperative, so no system is needed to resolve ambiguities. Any that arise are either resolved or dismissed without issue. Here, "groundedness" sediments over time because disruption of the imagined space can't really occur.
  3. One central authority calls all of the shots and everyone agrees to abide by their commands, even if they personally disagree with those commands. Unlike the previous, disruption can occur, but is silenced quickly, though in the best cases it is dealt with later/"off screen."
  4. The group agrees to building new rules (often called "rulings," but they are indistinguishable from custom-built rules) ad hoc, thus when disruptions do occur, they produce new system that smooths things back to where they were.
In summary, these are "we all think the same, so we don't need rules"; "we all get along consistently, so we don't need rules"; "we have one authority we will obey, so we don't need rules"; and "we agree to build rules we need when we need them, not before." Or, if you want pithy single words, Unanimity, Harmony, Authority, or Accretion. "Trust," in the sense of presupposing consistency, knowledge, and lack of bias, is only required for #3, Authority. #1, Unanimity, is great when it works, because it means all the work is already done for you and it's effectively impossible to have issues; the main problem, then, is that it can rarely last, because (at least in my experience) it's exceedingly rare for 4+ people to all have exactly the same thoughts, beliefs, and ideas all the time about everything over a long period of time. So #1, being only meta-stable, usually collapses into one of the other three in short order. (Though several have noted FKR is better for short-term games--which would allow #1 to hold better sway, because there isn't time for it to become unstable.)

#4, Accretion, seems to be in conflict with FKR philosophically, unless it's really really strident about only developing new rules ("consistent rulings") when said rules are absolutely essential. While absolute commitment to "no system," if you will, is about as required as "no myth" is for PbtA gaming (meaning, it's not, but some folks will insist it is), I have yet to see anyone argue that at least minimizing system isn't part of FKR. Even folks above who have mentioned that system-avoidance is not critical to FKR usually at least add that avoiding player-facing system is, but Accretion only works because it IS player-facing, that's how it resolves disputes.

Thus, we are left with either #2, Harmony, or #3, Authority, as consistently reliable resolution processes for proper FKR simulation play. #2 is endangered by certain behaviors, usually coming from players: being power-hungry, grubbing for every possible advantage, engaging in bad faith, etc. #3 is endangered by other behaviors, usually coming from GMs: being dictatorial, unreasonable, inconsistent, biased, etc. Note that I use this phrasing intentionally. It is not that these things are axiomatically going to have such issues. Small groups really can form long-term stable social ties that can overcome personal grievances and desires (it's the only way we survive that terrible, wonderful institution called "family.") Individual authorities with absolute control can, in fact, use it with caution, perspicacity, and good grace (see: Cincinnatus.) But for someone asking, "Wait, how does this work, exactly? And if it does work, why doesn't everyone do that?" such concerns need to be mentioned.

TL;DR: People don't all do FKR because, over the long haul, it requires strong social bonds or full deference to a single authority that all participants will continually see as consistent, unbiased, and well-informed. When it works, it works; but it does not always work. Crunchy simulation systems tend to be better for (a) long-term play, (b) play where you have no (edit: or minimal) preexisting social bonds with the other participants, or (c) play where disagreements are reasonably likely to occur and would benefit from neutral, external resolution processes.
 
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Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
TL;DR: People don't all do FKR because, over the long haul, it requires strong social bonds or full deference to a single authority that all participants will continually see as consistent, unbiased, and well-informed. When it works, it works; but it does not always work. Crunchy simulation systems tend to be better for (a) long-term play, (b) play where you have no preexisting social bonds with the other participants, or (c) play where disagreements are reasonably likely to occur and would benefit from neutral, external resolution processes.

Your points are all well-taken; I don't disagree with any of them, although I might quibble a little. I do think that that while the four points you list are accurate, I don't think that they are mutually exclusive. For example, many FKR tables might operate with all four elements in place; to the extent that one, or more, is not firmly in place, then there is greater need for the others to step up.

All that said, I think that one issue that is often overlooked in theory but that happens in practice is, for lack of a better term, the participants. By this, I will go back to the old saying about Everway- that it would have been a success, if only Jonathan Tweet could DM every game.

Different people have different skill levels and different comfort levels- and that can also vary over time. I watched a so-called FKR session on-line (I won't embarrass the person by linking to it) and it was ... painful to me. It was basically just a terrible AD&D session. One of the problems with discussing FKR in a real sense beyond the basics is that you keep ending up at the same point - that because so much is crowded into the second-order design (what is happening at the table) it is difficult to discuss a lot of the issues when we are so used to discussing rules design.

Or, put another way, this is why Gygax and Arneson had such a falling out over producing a written ruleset. ;)
 

EzekielRaiden

Follower of the Way
Your points are all well-taken; I don't disagree with any of them, although I might quibble a little. I do think that that while the four points you list are accurate, I don't think that they are mutually exclusive. For example, many FKR tables might operate with all four elements in place; to the extent that one, or more, is not firmly in place, then there is greater need for the others to step up.
I consider them exclusive because, more or less, you wouldn't bother with some of them if others are present, and if you do need to bother, then...I don't really think the previous was present, it just seemed to be because you had never actually run into an issue before. Which is the fundamental instability of #1 (and, to a much lesser extent, #2): "we simply have lucked into never having a conflict" is indistinguishable from "we don't have conflicts, period" up until the moment your luck runs out.

As soon as a problem has arisen, you don't have #1 anymore. As soon as "talk it out" fails to produce a resolution, your group has proven it cannot resolve problems at least some of the time purely through discussion, and needs some other backstop. It's a question of where the buck stops, not what can potentially be used at some point ever.

All that said, I think that one issue that is often overlooked in theory but that happens in practice is, for lack of a better term, the participants. By this, I will go back to the old saying about Everway- that it would have been a success, if only Jonathan Tweet could DM every game.

Different people have different skill levels and different comfort levels- and that can also vary over time. I watched a so-called FKR session on-line (I won't embarrass the person by linking to it) and it was ... painful to me. It was basically just a terrible AD&D session.
Sure. This is why I take such issue with things like Finch's god-awful Quick Primer for Old School Gaming. Because if you cast the alternative in the worst light possible, and your proposal in the best light possible, you can always get a situation where something sounds absolutely amazing and enchanting. Separately, it also gets at my personal concerns with FKR--that I, personally, think rather a majority of GMs are not actually possessed of the mindset, skills, and knowledge required for effective FKR play...and that, very unfortunately, GMs that really shouldn't do FKR are going to be immensely tempted to do so. It's not that they are bad GMs, in some sort of moral failing or the like; it's just that the requirements for effective GMing in an FKR environment are stringent, and in a world where GMs are always in short supply, a lot of them simply aren't up to the task.

One of the problems with discussing FKR in a real sense beyond the basics is that you keep ending up at the same point - that because so much is crowded into the second-order design (what is happening at the table) it is difficult to discuss a lot of the issues when we are so used to discussing rules design.

Or, put another way, this is why Gygax and Arneson had such a falling out over producing a written ruleset. ;)
I mean, I would personally say that the actual issue is that there is little to discuss. You are speaking of intuition. Something that cannot, even in principle, be put into words, because it isn't a procedure or a process or a principle. It's a feeling, a reflex, a value (in the ethics sense, not the numbers sense.) How do you explain the difference between "cool" and "warm" colors to the blind? Or the legal definition of obscenity, which has actual Supreme Court opinion using the completely undefinable phrase "I know it when I see it"?

You can nibble around the edges by discussing specific case-by-case things, but the whole point of (as you phrase it) "second-order design" is that it isn't designed. By definition, it can't be; it is intentionally not a plan or structure prepared in advance, and instead entirely made of improvisation and ad hoc response. All you can really do is discuss the skills required, maybe some stuff about mindset and framing. Then go over example situations to hope that they will provide useful guidance (or practice, if you ask for responses rather than identifying potential good responses first.)

"First-order design" is simply much, much more discussable, because it is, in fact, design. Part of the point of doing first-order design is that it can be communicated, that two totally disconnected groups can achieve comparable, connected experiences because of that ability to communicate it.
 

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