Jon Peterson: Does System Matter?

D&D historian Jon Peterson asks the question on his blog as he does a deep dive into how early tabletop RPG enthusiasts wrestled with the same thing.

Based around the concept that 'D&D can do anything, so why learn a new system?', the conversation examines whether the system itself affects the playstyle of those playing it. Some systems are custom-designed to create a certain atmosphere (see Dread's suspenseful Jenga-tower narrative game), and Call of Cthulhu certainly discourages the D&D style of play, despite a d20 version in early 2000s.


AnE#37-simbalist-system.jpg
 

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Russ Morrissey

Russ Morrissey

dragoner

solisrpg.com
Yes, except when talking about the process, and mechanics, it is about personal preference as well as to what the "endgame" is. Which in turn can sort of falsify the system matters argument, at least in the scientific sense. There could be concrete examples either way, such as the use of communicators not being there in Prince Valiant.
 

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pemerton

Legend
What I want to get out this episode of RPGing is a preference.

What techniques, processes of play, resolution methods, etc will achieve that preference is not primarily a matter of preference. Like any other question of means to ends it's about cause-and-effect relationships.

In the context of RPGing, those cause-and-effect relationships are fairly complicated, and not all of them are under the control of the participants. (Eg most people can't control their personality, except within very narrow limits.) A fortiori not all of them are under the control of the GM.

But to go tack to the example of a gritty futuristic sci-fi horror scenario, here are some relevant cause-and-effect relationships:

* If everything is decided by GM fiat, and some of that involves PCs being attacked by or even eaten by Aliens, the players may feel they've been hosed by the GM;

* If the players have an unlimited depth of resources, including by having their PCs call in assistance via their communicators, the horror and maybe also the grittiness will be undermined;

* Related to the previous point, if the players do not fear their PCs' encounter(s) with the Alien(s), the horror and grittiness will be undermined;

* If the challenge posed by the Aliens becomes primarily a tactical one, the grittiness might be preserved but we're no longer doing horror.​

These are all system things. Some systems give the GM extreme authority over framing; some give the players a lot of de facto authority over framing (eg the role of detection magic in classic D&D, or of similar psionic abilities in some sci-fi games); some make at least aspects of framing a matter for surprise mechanics; etc.

Different systems give the players different degrees of ability to establish and leverage "off screen" resources. Thinking of this primarily through the lens of genre (eg sci-fi PCs have access to communicators) tends to obscure the practical RPGing issue, which is about the interplay between the established fiction, the implicit fiction, and player authority.

The "feel" of encounters between PCs and hostile creatures will be affected by how things are framed, what resources the players have access to, and how resolution works. For instance, if shooting and biting and the like have a strong "sudden death" aspect to them, and if retreating is low-cost in terms of player resources, the likelihood of such encounters - once framed - turning tactical is reduced. To name specific RPGs, Classic Traveller produces a very different result here from 4e D&D.

These are the sorts of things I have in mind when I say that system matters.
 

dragoner

solisrpg.com
I don't necessarily disagree with any of that, and in fact agree with it, system can indeed matter depending on what one wants. Note that I am avoiding the GNS argument from the OP as well. The thing is that when looking at the situation from the perspective of Karl Popper's principle of falsifiability:

Falsifiability - Karl Popper's Basic Scientific Principle

"The idea is that no theory is completely correct, but if it can be shown both to be falsifiable and supported with evidence that shows it's true, it can be accepted as truth."

Such as fighting with Cthulhu mythos creatures from Deities and Demigods using AD&D was very different than playing CoC. I mean we actively felt we would defeat the mythos creatures in AD&D, and knew that with CoC we would die or go insane.

Classic Traveller could be odd, in that some people played it with characters as disposable, which isn't necessarily how I played it. Early D&D as well, could be very deadly, if you played it that way. Except there is a preferential playstyle there, playing very deadly or not.

That sort of bleeds into the second issue of what system someone originally played affecting their playstyle. The answer can be yes, except that people can learn something different. Depends on their preference if they want something different or want something the same. Which in that endgame, it is cool, do what you like.
 

pemerton

Legend
dragoner said:
Yes, except when talking about the process, and mechanics, it is about personal preference as well as to what the "endgame" is. Which in turn can sort of falsify the system matters argument, at least in the scientific sense.
dragoner said:
I don't necessarily disagree with any of that, and in fact agree with it, system can indeed matter depending on what one wants. Note that I am avoiding the GNS argument from the OP as well. The thing is that when looking at the situation from the perspective of Karl Popper's principle of falsifiability:

Falsifiability - Karl Popper's Basic Scientific Principle

"The idea is that no theory is completely correct, but if it can be shown both to be falsifiable and supported with evidence that shows it's true, it can be accepted as truth."
I'm familiar with Popper's notion of falsifiability, although the quote you have provided isn't quite accurate - Popper does not think there is such a thing as a theory being supported with evidence, because he is a sceptic about induction (basically on Humean grounds) and so denies that any finite set of consistent data-points can support the truth of a universal generalisation. He thus adopts falsifiability as a non-induction-dependent principle for the formation of scientific knowledge.

As an account of the formation of scientific knowledge, I don't agree with Popper's notion - basically for the reasons put forward by AJ Ayer. But in any event system matters isn't a scientific theory of anything, any more than would be a painter's claim that brushes matter or oil vs watercolour vs acrylic matters. It's not a theory, it's just an assertion. And if the question is is "system matters" a falsifiable assertion, the answer is yes. It would certainly be refuted by showing that no change in processes, techniques and/or mechanics of play was ever associated with a change in RPGing experience. And it would arguably be refuted if the changes in experience associated with changes in processes, techniques and/or mechanics were arbitrary or unpredictable.

But as it happens the evidence that changes in the processes, techniques and/or mechanics of play produce broadly predictable changes in the RPGing experience is overwhelming. The evidence I have in mind is both evidence from my own experience, and evidence from others' posting. I'm not going to try and rehearse all that evidence in this post, but here is the single clearest bit of it that I know: in an essay written in 2003, about 5 years before 4e D&D was published, Ron Edwards identified virtually all of the features of the 4e system that would make it so controversial among a wide number of RPGers who were looking for a play experience different from the one delivered by 4e:

  • Common use of player Author Stance (Pawn or non-Pawn) to set up the arena for conflict. This isn't an issue of whether Author (or any) Stance is employed at all, but rather when and for what.
  • Fortune-in-the-middle during resolution, to whatever degree - the point is that Exploration as such can be deferred, rather than established at every point during play in a linear fashion.
  • More generally, Exploration overall is negotiated in a casual fashion through ongoing dialogue, using system for input (which may be constraining), rather than explicitly delivered by system per se.

(By exploration Edwards means establishing the content of the shared fiction. In his essay Edwards describes these three features as departures from "Simulationist-facilitating design" - whether his label is the best one, or an accurate one, doesn't change the fact that these are design features that are not typical in systems like RQ and RM, were not present in most of the mechanical features that 3E D&D added to AD&D, and where they remain in D&D are treated as embarrassments rather than embraced by many D&D players.)

dragoner said:
Classic Traveller could be odd, in that some people played it with characters as disposable, which isn't necessarily how I played it. Early D&D as well, could be very deadly, if you played it that way.
If you look at the play of tables that treat PCs as disposable, and those that don't, I think there is a reasonable chance that you will see them adopting different expectations about, and practices in respect of, the processes of play - eg who exercises what sort of control over certain key aspects of the shared fiction. One point at which you would expect to see those differences is at the point of introducing new PCs into the immediate situation. But I think you might expect to see it at other points also.

dragoner said:
That sort of bleeds into the second issue of what system someone originally played affecting their playstyle. The answer can be yes, except that people can learn something different.
I agree that this is a different topic - a second issue - from the one addressed by the phrase system matters as coined by Ron Edwards, although as the Peterson blog notes it's a topic on which Edwards also expressed a view.

I would say that there is strong evidence that many RPGers, who are very familiar with one particular set of processes, techniques and mechanics and who have little exposure to other such sets, can struggle to understand how those others are used to produce satisfactory RPGing experiences. Again, I'm not going to rehearse all the evidence but here are a couple of choice examples:

* The Alexandrian notoriously characterised 4e D&D as a skirmish miniatures game punctuated by improv storytelling. This suggests an inability to appreciate how RPGs work that exemplify the second two of the dot points I quoted above: he can't tell the difference between (i) improv storytelling, and (ii) RPGing that uses FitM techniques and uses system to constrain but not deliver the shared fiction (this would include not only 4e D&D but Over the Edge, Maelstrom Storytelling, HeroWars/Quest, much of PbtA, and interestingly enough some elements of Classic Traveller like the rules for performing difficult manoeuvres in a vacc suit).​
* On ENWorld, if you start talking about a RPG in which the content of the shared fiction is systematically shaped by player action declarations in ways that go beyond the immediate causal impact of the PC on his/her immediate environment (eg the question is X present in the PC's immediate environment is settled by the result of a Do I notice/encounter X? check made by the player) you will almost certainly have one or more posters respond by talking about Schroedinger's X. They will find it very hard to comprehend that the shared fiction in a RPG might be established in a different way from GM decides and that the orientation of the participants to that fiction might be different from the players' goal is to learn what the GM has decided the shared fiction shall be. And if the discussion continues for more than a post or two, it is almost certain that the unfamiliar technique will be described by the incredulous poster as if it were no different from improv storytelling.​

Notice that the evidence I am adducing is not of bloggers or posters expressing their own preferences (eg for non-FitM mechanics, or for GM-driven RPGing). Rather, it is an apparent inability to appreciate that other approaches to RPGing might deliver an experience that is recognisably RPGing rather than simply improv storytelling.

Notice also that the tendencies I've just described exits notwithstanding that some relatively early RPGs contain elements that exemplify FitM resolution (eg the Classic Traveller vacc suit rules I already mentioned) and contain the use of Do I notice/encounter X? checks to determine whether or not X is part of the immediate environment of the PC (this is how Streetwise works in the 1977 edition of Classic Traveller). To me, this suggests that these expectations about how RPGing works are not shaped primarily by written RPG texts, nor by playing in accordance with the procedures set out in those texts, but rather by a shared set of play expectations and play experiences that exist somewhat independently of particular texts and their canonical presentations of play procedures. We could call this a widespread culture of RPGing. Although I agree with you that the two issues - does system matter? and does system exposure shape RPGing expectations? are separate ones, I think they can be related in the following fashion: one way to reduce the dominance of a widespread culture of RPGing, and thereby to increase the variety of RPGing experiences, is to encourage a careful attention to the canonical presentation of play procedures, and then playing in accordance with them and observing how this affects the play experience.

This is what at least parts of the OSR have done with respect to early forms of Gygaxian/Moldvay-ian/"skilled play" D&D; and this is what the Forge did more generally. It is a way of generating, by empirical demonstration, the knowledge that system matters.
 
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Emerikol

Adventurer
I play that the rules are the physics of the world because I prefer the total immersion as character approach. As a result system very much does matter. That doesn't mean there is only one system for any particular genre. You may want to play different sorts of games.

And I fully support the notion that during 1e AD&D a lot of social interaction was going on in the game. Not a lot of rolling of dice or checking skills/proficiencies was going on though. The social aspects of the game were essentially you as in the real you. So you were a variant of yourself where you could be smarter but only off camera, and you could be far better at fighting and of course wielding magic. That is not a terrible way to play but it's also limited. Some people may want to venture beyond themselves.

For me that has some issues with immersion. You have a PC that acts like a jerk but still wants his roll to be modified by a really good diplomacy skill. So I prefer to keep a lot of those skill checks behind the screen and leave it a bit open ended. Again that is my preference and not a prescription for anyone else.
 

I play that the rules are the physics of the world because I prefer the total immersion as character approach. As a result system very much does matter. That doesn't mean there is only one system for any particular genre. You may want to play different sorts of games.
Meanwhile I find little more anti-immersive than interrupting the roleplaying to calculate the physics effects using a semi-abstract system. System matters but so does familiarity and so does the person using the system.
 

Emerikol

Adventurer
Meanwhile I find little more anti-immersive than interrupting the roleplaying to calculate the physics effects using a semi-abstract system. System matters but so does familiarity and so does the person using the system.
Okay so maybe I used a term you are not familiar with in my statement. When I say the rules are the physics of the world, that means the characters as well as the players are aware of the rules at least in the abstract. In 1e for example, wizards knew there were nine levels of spells. They may have had different names for those levels but they knew there were gradations. In the same regard, the rules as applied to the characters applies generally to the people of the world. So a fighter is not a unique rules concept only for PCs. Fighters exist in the world as NPCs and use the same rules.

Now, the rulesets could vary greatly and still be what the world understands to be true. In a GURPS fantasy world or a D&D fantasy world, the people could understand basically how magic works but that understanding would be different. It would be different for the fighter types too. High fantasy is not low fantasy.

The difference in views is there are those who think the PCs are different from the rest of the NPC world and that the characters do not grasp the rules as the way things are in game. The players understand the rules but when inside the character's head they would not have an awareness of those rules.

It's a nuance but it affects playstyle a lot. It does affect some rules writing.
 

Emerikol

Adventurer
But as it happens the evidence that changes in the processes, techniques and/or mechanics of play produce broadly predictable changes in the RPGing experience is overwhelming. The evidence I have in mind is both evidence from my own experience, and evidence from others' posting. I'm not going to try and rehearse all that evidence in this post, but here is the single clearest bit of it that I know: in an essay written in 2003, about 5 years before 4e D&D was published, Ron Edwards identified virtually all of the features of the 4e system that would make it so controversial among a wide number of RPGers who were looking for a play experience different from the one delivered by 4e:
..... removed for brevity....

We've all had these discussions for a long time about role playing and what it means. I probably lean more towards the Alexandrian's take as you know but being a game, I am rational enough to realize if a group is having fun then it is a success for that group.

What I've found is that the failure to develop a common language we can all use effectively at describing our games has led to system being a stand-in. Meaning some games lend themselves to certain playstyles and perhaps by default that is the assumption when playing those games. That is not to say a game like D&D couldn't be played in a variety of different ways.

This may be as much as anything part of the reason for the OSR. It's not that people want old clunky rules. They want a playstyle that they grew up playing and enjoyed. It's the GM creates the world and actual player skill matters. As you mentioned in your post.
 

Okay so maybe I used a term you are not familiar with in my statement.
You did not. I just happen to find different things immersive to those you do. In particular
  • Every second you spend negotiating with the rules is a second you spend having had your immersion thrown out
  • Every time you are stopped in the middle of an action rather than at a handover point by the rules is a time you are thrown out of the game.
Apocalypse World, for what it's worth, is amazing at this second one. I roll when if I was playing freeform I'd be handing over narration anyway.
When I say the rules are the physics of the world, that means the characters as well as the players are aware of the rules at least in the abstract.
To which, as far as my immersion goes so what?

I know my quadratic equations and am aware of how they work. This doesn't mean I literally calculate the math every time I catch a ball. However if I were to try and roleplay in the real world using rules as physics of the world this is what it would make me do. If I'm playing a sniper and want to calculate trajectories mathematically, sure. But for most people in most situations calculating trajectories is almost entirely unlike what I would do in real life. The real world has a physics model. But that doesn't mean that I'm thinking about how real world physics works in abstract terms in order to engage with it.
The difference in views is there are those who think the PCs are different from the rest of the NPC world and that the characters do not grasp the rules as the way things are in game. The players understand the rules but when inside the character's head they would not have an awareness of those rules.

It's a nuance but it affects playstyle a lot. It does affect some rules writing.
No. That's not the difference. The difference is whether the rules are a physics engine that bind the world or whether the rules are a user interface that let you engage with the world as fluidly as possible. Whether the rules are about calculating the trajectory of the ball, or whether they are about enabling you to track it into your hands (or not).

And the immersion question is also about whether you find it more immersive for you through your character to be able to interface with the game setting or whether you are more concerned by abstract questions of how other characters that you are not actually playing do so.

And do you really, sincerely, think that DMs roll all NPC action behind the screen?
 

Emerikol

Adventurer
You did not. I just happen to find different things immersive to those you do. In particular
  • Every second you spend negotiating with the rules is a second you spend having had your immersion thrown out
  • Every time you are stopped in the middle of an action rather than at a handover point by the rules is a time you are thrown out of the game.
Apocalypse World, for what it's worth, is amazing at this second one. I roll when if I was playing freeform I'd be handing over narration anyway.

To which, as far as my immersion goes so what?

I know my quadratic equations and am aware of how they work. This doesn't mean I literally calculate the math every time I catch a ball. However if I were to try and roleplay in the real world using rules as physics of the world this is what it would make me do. If I'm playing a sniper and want to calculate trajectories mathematically, sure. But for most people in most situations calculating trajectories is almost entirely unlike what I would do in real life. The real world has a physics model. But that doesn't mean that I'm thinking about how real world physics works in abstract terms in order to engage with it.

No. That's not the difference. The difference is whether the rules are a physics engine that bind the world or whether the rules are a user interface that let you engage with the world as fluidly as possible. Whether the rules are about calculating the trajectory of the ball, or whether they are about enabling you to track it into your hands (or not).

And the immersion question is also about whether you find it more immersive for you through your character to be able to interface with the game setting or whether you are more concerned by abstract questions of how other characters that you are not actually playing do so.

And do you really, sincerely, think that DMs roll all NPC action behind the screen?
First I think we are talking completely past each other. I really don't think you are using rules as physics of the world the way I am and your responses keep showing that that is true.

For the purposes of this particular discussion (only):
I don't care about how much math is involved. Whether is would use a complex equation (never in reality) or whether it's a very easily computable value is irrelevant to my point.

The question I was discussing was rules as in world knowledge. Do NPC's know that there are nine levels of spells in a D&D world? Do they generally understand that high level fighters can wade through low level fighters with relative ease? These are not things we know in our world. They are known in the D&D world. At least from my viewpoint. Other perspectives might argue differently and say that for them that knowledge is not known in game world.

And immersion is immersion. It is a person thing. I can't argue that your claim that something bothers your immersion is wrong. Nor can you argue that mine is wrong. The whole point of this discussion is -- does system matter? I think it matters because typically systems cater to some degree to all the different playstyles. The more general it is the more it tries to cater to more viewpoints. I absolutely though think that D&D 5e does not cater to someone wanting an OSR style game. You can try to bend it that way of course but I think it is more trouble than it is worth given so many good OSR games.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
First I think we are talking completely past each other. I really don't think you are using rules as physics of the world the way I am and your responses keep showing that that is true.

For the purposes of this particular discussion (only):
I don't care about how much math is involved. Whether is would use a complex equation (never in reality) or whether it's a very easily computable value is irrelevant to my point.

The question I was discussing was rules as in world knowledge. Do NPC's know that there are nine levels of spells in a D&D world? Do they generally understand that high level fighters can wade through low level fighters with relative ease? These are not things we know in our world. They are known in the D&D world. At least from my viewpoint. Other perspectives might argue differently and say that for them that knowledge is not known in game world.

And immersion is immersion. It is a person thing. I can't argue that your claim that something bothers your immersion is wrong. Nor can you argue that mine is wrong. The whole point of this discussion is -- does system matter? I think it matters because typically systems cater to some degree to all the different playstyles. The more general it is the more it tries to cater to more viewpoints. I absolutely though think that D&D 5e does not cater to someone wanting an OSR style game. You can try to bend it that way of course but I think it is more trouble than it is worth given so many good OSR games.
When I play 5e, most of the rule conventions aren't known. No one knows what a Fighter class is, or what a Wizard class is, and there's zero fictional weight to level. Spells, being odd, usually do, but that's more a matter of convience -- I mean, a 3rd level slot fireball is different from a 6th level slot fireball in effect, but they're the same spell. In fiction, it's not easy to tease this out. Further, NPCs may or may not use PC class rules, and this is part of the core assumptions of 5e.

The fictional world being aware of the game rules has little to do with system, and is more a function of worldbuilding.
 

pemerton

Legend
Immersion is a mental state of some sort.

Categorising mental states is notoriously difficult! There are cognitive states, volitional states, emotional states, etc and of course many of these overlap and interact in incredibly complex ways.

Being immersed in a fiction seems to be most often a description of a type of "withdrawal" from the ordinary processes of paying attention to and responding to the world around; because instead one's cognitive focus is on an imaginary situation, and that is what one is emotionally responding to.

In the context of a RPG, as well as that sort of immersion there can be other sorts too. For instance, there can be volitional immersion whereby I as a player want the same things that my character wants. And this can itself take different forms: I might volitionally immerse by way of imaginative projection of myself into the character's situation, so that (metaphorically speaking) I "become" that other person; or, I might volitionally immerse by setting up the game in such a way that my real-world motivations as a player align with the motivations of my character in the fiction. The impression I get from Gygax's rulebooks is that his table favoured that second form of volitional immersion.

My own approach to immersion, which I suspect is similar to @Neonchameleon's, is to imaginatively project into the character/situation, and then to rely on the system - the processes of play, the resolution techniques, etc - to support and sustain rather than interfere with or contradict that imaginative projection. This has multiple aspects to it, and I think they're fairly complicated to analyse, but a couple are: (i) the system shouldn't generate incentives for me as a player that push against the motivations I am embracing via imaginative projection; (ii) the system shouldn't throw up situations that repeatedly contradict the true beliefs I am projecting myself into.

An example of a system satisfying (i): the 4e paladin at-will attack Valiant Strike makes the paladin stronger (ie to-hit bonuses) when surrounded by foes. The system therefore supports rather than undercuts the motivations that are part of being a paladin - ie to valiantly enter the fray!

And further thoughts on (ii): the notion of true beliefs is central to how I've stated it. If my character's beliefs are meant to be up for grabs, than of course the system needs to (potentially) challenge them. But (to go back to the paladin example) if I am playing a character who is, in truth, divinely inspired, and if that is part of what the character knows - and this is true for any D&D cleric or paladin - then the system will undermine immersion into this character's situation if it repeatedly throws up situations that contradict that knowledge of the workings of providence. Classic D&D has a tendency to do this, which is consistent with its sword-and-sorcery inspirations but inconsistent with having clerics and paladins (as opposed to warlocks and sorcerers). 4e D&D, on the other hand, is very good at not doing this.
 

innerdude

Legend
Okay so maybe I used a term you are not familiar with in my statement. When I say the rules are the physics of the world, that means the characters as well as the players are aware of the rules at least in the abstract. In 1e for example, wizards knew there were nine levels of spells. They may have had different names for those levels but they knew there were gradations. In the same regard, the rules as applied to the characters applies generally to the people of the world. So a fighter is not a unique rules concept only for PCs. Fighters exist in the world as NPCs and use the same rules.

Now, the rulesets could vary greatly and still be what the world understands to be true. In a GURPS fantasy world or a D&D fantasy world, the people could understand basically how magic works but that understanding would be different. It would be different for the fighter types too. High fantasy is not low fantasy.

The difference in views is there are those who think the PCs are different from the rest of the NPC world and that the characters do not grasp the rules as the way things are in game. The players understand the rules but when inside the character's head they would not have an awareness of those rules.

The problem with rules as physics is that there are mountains of underlying assumptions in terms of process/playstyle that sit beneath that basic idea.

The basis for the idea of rules as physics does not really stem from some idealized method of "immersive" experience. The pursuit of rules as physics is overwhelmingly tied to a particular idea of rules arbitration, which is, "RPG rules are more fair and easier to arbitrate if they are based, as much as possible, on 'realistic' and 'plausible' cause/effect interactions as we understand them. As such, rules as physics is one of the shortest, best paths for the rules to meet these criteria."

But what kind of gameplay mindset assumes this as the default?
  • "Because GMs are the ultimate arbiters of everything, the game needs to be as easy to adjudicate as possible."
  • "Rules as physics should lead to fewer arguments about 'what happened here and when,' because the GM can just point to the rules and say, 'Look, physics!'"
  • "Players have less room for complaint, because everything that happens in the game is the natural result of inputs A, B, C, and D, which naturally lead to outputs W, X, Y, and Z. If the players couldn't understand what the natural result would be, it's clearly because they didn't read the rules enough."

Interestingly, I actually find that systems that emphasize rules as physics (GURPS being the absolute poster child, D&D 3.5 being a lesser example but still on the continuum), tend to have the opposite effect on immersion. The greater the "realism" of the system, the greater the reliance on players to engage in "skilled play" to make the experience tolerable (or even work at all). Players become heavily invested in eking out every possible advantage, modifier, and statistic; "immersion" of character is secondary.

Ultimately, rules as physics is a shorthand for much, much more---stuff that's largely unspoken, assumed, and rarely discussed as being part of the "process."


The more I read it, the more this quote by Vincent Baker stands out as speaking to a very important truth:

"Mechanics might model the stuff of the game world, that's another topic, but they don't exist to do so. They exist to ease and constrain real-world social negotiation between the players at the table. That's their sole and crucial function."

Rules as physics contains a huge swath of embedded assumptions about the nature of play. When you start from the baseline assumption that "rules are the physics of the world," you are necessarily constraining the kinds of inputs that are "allowed" to be reflected/respected in the resulting fiction.

It's a nuance but it affects playstyle a lot. It does affect some rules writing.

It's not just a nuance. It's a fundamental assumption about what the purpose of play is in the first place.
 
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And further thoughts on (ii): the notion of true beliefs is central to how I've stated it. If my character's beliefs are meant to be up for grabs, than of course the system needs to (potentially) challenge them. But (to go back to the paladin example) if I am playing a character who is, in truth, divinely inspired, and if that is part of what the character knows - and this is true for any D&D cleric or paladin - then the system will undermine immersion into this character's situation if it repeatedly throws up situations that contradict that knowledge of the workings of providence. Classic D&D has a tendency to do this, which is consistent with its sword-and-sorcery inspirations but inconsistent with having clerics and paladins (as opposed to warlocks and sorcerers). 4e D&D, on the other hand, is very good at not doing this.

@pemerton Sorry, but I'm not following this part. Can you expand on the differences you see for clerics & paladins between 4th ed. on the one hand and the older editions on the other? And the role of (in game) providence in the differences?

cheers. :)
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
@pemerton Sorry, but I'm not following this part. Can you expand on the differences you see for clerics & paladins between 4th ed. on the one hand and the older editions on the other? And the role of (in game) providence in the differences?

cheers. :)
Not @pemerton, but, simply put, in 4e clerics and paladins can call on their beliefs and/or divinity and it works when they do so. This is part of the power structure allowing players to leverage the fiction. In other versions of D&D, such things are either weak or up to the GM to determine the effects. The notable difference is the spells, but that's the only kind of divine invocation that's usually reliable.

This also assumes you're using 4e resolutions in a way that's similar to Story Now techniques -- that the players can call for a change in the fiction based on their action declaration for their character, and a success means that change happens (within genre and existing fictional constraints, of course). If you're instead using the more traditional approach to action resolution in 4e, which you can do, then there is a loss of divine reliability.
 


Emerikol

Adventurer
When I play 5e, most of the rule conventions aren't known. No one knows what a Fighter class is, or what a Wizard class is, and there's zero fictional weight to level. Spells, being odd, usually do, but that's more a matter of convience -- I mean, a 3rd level slot fireball is different from a 6th level slot fireball in effect, but they're the same spell. In fiction, it's not easy to tease this out. Further, NPCs may or may not use PC class rules, and this is part of the core assumptions of 5e.

The fictional world being aware of the game rules has little to do with system, and is more a function of worldbuilding.
Ahhh I at least found someone I can discuss this with who actually understands the term. Sorry but many (not all) of you responding above whiffed.

So we can at least agree that rules as physics of the world is something either desired or not desired by players. Now the question is the intersection of system vs that desire.

I think too we should not get too focused on names. The concept of class as a term in the world is likely not something a fighter would know because the fighter is pretty generic. I think it's not at all difficult though to imagine a wizard, druid, or cleric stating in game that they are a wizard, druid, or cleric. They would not likely say my "class is wizard" for example. They would say "I am a wizard". In my games it would not be that unusual for someone to state they are a fighter either for that matter but I can see that class as the generic catch all.

And yes I also see that even in 3rd edition they had NPC classes. So not everyone has a class in the world. Many do NPCs do though. They expert class is fine for a baker but not so good for a wizard. I never used the Adept or any of the other NPC classes. You need a way to represent skill in the game outside a class.

Either way systems encourage certain styles of play. So my intent was not to debate styles of play. I think my style is great for me and I have great fun using it. So tough if anyone doesn't like that. ;-). I do think system matters if you prefer certain styles of play. If the things the PC has to manage (like surges or HD) don't feel right (a subjective concept I agree), then the game is not ideal for you.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Ahhh I at least found someone I can discuss this with who actually understands the term. Sorry but many (not all) of you responding above whiffed.
That's mostly on you, though, for using a highly idiosyncratic definition of "rules as physics." This has been a term of art used in discussion of game analysis for awhile and is more commonly understood as preferring the rules to model the physics of the world rather than how you've used it, which is that the fictional world understands the game rules as it's reality.
So we can at least agree that rules as physics of the world is something either desired or not desired by players. Now the question is the intersection of system vs that desire.

I think too we should not get too focused on names. The concept of class as a term in the world is likely not something a fighter would know because the fighter is pretty generic. I think it's not at all difficult though to imagine a wizard, druid, or cleric stating in game that they are a wizard, druid, or cleric. They would not likely say my "class is wizard" for example. They would say "I am a wizard". In my games it would not be that unusual for someone to state they are a fighter either for that matter but I can see that class as the generic catch all.

And yes I also see that even in 3rd edition they had NPC classes. So not everyone has a class in the world. Many do NPCs do though. They expert class is fine for a baker but not so good for a wizard. I never used the Adept or any of the other NPC classes. You need a way to represent skill in the game outside a class.

Either way systems encourage certain styles of play. So my intent was not to debate styles of play. I think my style is great for me and I have great fun using it. So tough if anyone doesn't like that. ;-). I do think system matters if you prefer certain styles of play. If the things the PC has to manage (like surges or HD) don't feel right (a subjective concept I agree), then the game is not ideal for you.
Perfectly fine approach, but it's not at all what's meant by "system matters." As I said above, this is a matter of how you design the fictional world rather than a function of the system. In thinking on it, I'm having trouble with pulling out a function of system that lends itself to this approach. I started thinking that more simulationist systems would do so, but that doesn't work, really, as this approach rarely crops up in more modern or more sci-fi systems, even in highly simulationist systems. It seems to really be a function of games where the lore is built into the systems (WoD) or D&D-esque games. I think it's really just a matter of worldbuilding, and not really a system function outside of the cases where a system has been tightly coupled to the worldbuilding or the premise is distant enough that it's easy to assume this kind of fictional understanding because the effort to encompass more is not worth the effort. I think this is the case with D&D, where it can sometimes be easier for the players to engage the lore with the assumption that the rules are understood as reality rather than add work to expand the lore so that the rules are not definitional of reality.

I had a poll a number of years ago where I asked a similar question -- do the classes have concrete meaning in your games? The answers were divided fairly equality between all the time, none of the time, and some of the time. Here's the link, if you're interested.
 

Emerikol

Adventurer
That's mostly on you, though, for using a highly idiosyncratic definition of "rules as physics." This has been a term of art used in discussion of game analysis for awhile and is more commonly understood as preferring the rules to model the physics of the world rather than how you've used it, which is that the fictional world understands the game rules as it's reality.

Perfectly fine approach, but it's not at all what's meant by "system matters." As I said above, this is a matter of how you design the fictional world rather than a function of the system. In thinking on it, I'm having trouble with pulling out a function of system that lends itself to this approach. I started thinking that more simulationist systems would do so, but that doesn't work, really, as this approach rarely crops up in more modern or more sci-fi systems, even in highly simulationist systems. It seems to really be a function of games where the lore is built into the systems (WoD) or D&D-esque games. I think it's really just a matter of worldbuilding, and not really a system function outside of the cases where a system has been tightly coupled to the worldbuilding or the premise is distant enough that it's easy to assume this kind of fictional understanding because the effort to encompass more is not worth the effort. I think this is the case with D&D, where it can sometimes be easier for the players to engage the lore with the assumption that the rules are understood as reality rather than add work to expand the lore so that the rules are not definitional of reality.

I had a poll a number of years ago where I asked a similar question -- do the classes have concrete meaning in your games? The answers were divided fairly equality between all the time, none of the time, and some of the time. Here's the link, if you're interested.
It's kind of funny I went to look at the poll and saw that I had voted in it already. I voted yes. :).

As for the first paragraph, if the rules are the physics of the world then the inevitable conclusion is that at least from an observational perspective the people in that world know those rules. I may not know that gravity is the right term but I know if I throw a rock up it will come down. What I was objecting to was the notion that it revolved around the nature of those rules in terms of complexity or math or whatever. That aspect doesn't matter. You could have a super rules lite game where the rules that did exist were known in the world. So it's not a straight line and the whole complex math line was a red herring. And of course when I say "known", I mean the cause and effect nature of them.

Perhaps a better example is in order.
Let's suppose two excellent sword fighters in real life have a 2% chance of wounding the other in any given 10 second exchange.
Let's suppose in the game the chance is 25%.

The people of the world will understand that difference. Not precisely but they will understand that fights are far more swift and deadly than they would be in our world. And I made up that example so don't argue it just change the numbers it doesn't matter. Those numbers are likely different.

Another example, when a gargantuan reptilian creature swats you with his tail, in our world you would likely go bouncing across the ground and not get back up. In most versions of D&D, you would get back up and perhaps go slay that dragon with a sword.

So the point is games are not reality. Games lay down different ground rules. The world either reflects those ground rules or ignores them entirely and pretends things are like our world despite facts to the contrary in the world. The rules might even only apply to PCs and the rest of the world is more normal (well as normal as possible given magic).

A system will matter for people who play a certain style where they see the way things working as the truth of their world. For example, what are surges and what are HD? What are their analogy in the game world. If you think as I do you have to rectify that and for some they do and for others they don't. It still must be rectified. For still others who don't play with rules as physics they have no need to rectify it because it was never the truth of the world to begin with.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
It's kind of funny I went to look at the poll and saw that I had voted in it already. I voted yes. :).

As for the first paragraph, if the rules are the physics of the world then the inevitable conclusion is that at least from an observational perspective the people in that world know those rules. I may not know that gravity is the right term but I know if I throw a rock up it will come down. What I was objecting to was the notion that it revolved around the nature of those rules in terms of complexity or math or whatever. That aspect doesn't matter. You could have a super rules lite game where the rules that did exist were known in the world. So it's not a straight line and the whole complex math line was a red herring. And of course when I say "known", I mean the cause and effect nature of them.
Except... if you accept that what's modeled in the game session is not the general way things are always modeled in the reality, this breaks down quickly. I don't apply the combat rules to everything off camera when I run 5e -- and I have stories of fights, heck I've run fights, that haven't used the combat mechanics (I ran a fight about 2 years ago that was part of a skill challenges, and that fight didn't involve the normal combat rules, but rather skill uses and narrative techniques, and I did this because it was embedded in a larger plot -- it was the diversionary gladiator fight during an attempt to lure and capture a notorious and dangerous criminal)! So, yeah, this requires leaning into the concept and isn't a function of having rules.

More to the point, some games, like Blades in the Dark, actively fight against this concept. The rules there do no modeling of reliable physics because they sit at the level of narrative rather than task resolution. You might make a check in one moment to determine who what happens next in a knife fight, and then make that same check to see what happens during a gang war clash!

So, no, I'm not sure I can agree that this is a logical outcome of having rules rather than a choice of approach.
Perhaps a better example is in order.
Let's suppose two excellent sword fighters in real life have a 2% chance of wounding the other in any given 10 second exchange.
Let's suppose in the game the chance is 25%.

The people of the world will understand that difference. Not precisely but they will understand that fights are far more swift and deadly than they would be in our world. And I made up that example so don't argue it just change the numbers it doesn't matter. Those numbers are likely different.
Except that... it doesn't have to work this way nor does it mean that such things, which are parsed out for us as players so that they're simplified, are actually observable with any such granularity in the game world. This, however, does move you much more closely to the understood version of rules as physics than what you've argued above. This is saying that the rules are the model of the physics in the world, rather than a game resolution mechanic, and are universal in all cases throughout the world. This, however, is not a system function, but a worldbuilding function.
Another example, when a gargantuan reptilian creature swats you with his tail, in our world you would likely go bouncing across the ground and not get back up. In most versions of D&D, you would get back up and perhaps go slay that dragon with a sword.

So the point is games are not reality. Games lay down different ground rules. The world either reflects those ground rules or ignores them entirely and pretends things are like our world despite facts to the contrary in the world. The rules might even only apply to PCs and the rest of the world is more normal (well as normal as possible given magic).

A system will matter for people who play a certain style where they see the way things working as the truth of their world. For example, what are surges and what are HD? What are their analogy in the game world. If you think as I do you have to rectify that and for some they do and for others they don't. It still must be rectified. For still others who don't play with rules as physics they have no need to rectify it because it was never the truth of the world to begin with.
This is really what confuses me about this argument. On the one hand, you clearly suggest that not being thrown by a massive creature swatting you is non-realistic (for a given value of realism), but then say that good modelling of physical processes is important to people that prefer this approach! D&D is a poor physics engine, at the best of times, but it's often held out as an example of where this approach is applied. What it seems like to me is that there's an amalgamation of understandings and preferences that have accreted over time, or perhaps been taught when a player is first introduced to the game, that results in a hodge-podge of when it matters and when it doesn't. Nothing at all wrong with this! If you have fun, it's the right way, I just have difficulty grasping holding D&D out as an exemplar of rules as phsyics, especially with the core of the combat system being a metagame mechanic (hitpoints, talking about hitpoints)!
 

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