Rules Aren't Important

overgeeked

B/X Known World
Unless you feel they are.

But, broadly speaking, the "rules" are just some stuff someone thought up at the moment. They probably aren't even particularly well thought out, even if designed by a famous game designer. You should absolutely feel free to change them to suit your game. Most game designers are even self-aware enough to put in variations of rule 0, giving you explicit permission to do so.

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Windrunner

Explorer
Strongly disagree.

1) A good DM has analyzed the situation, compared stats (any stealth skills v. Passive Perception, etc.) and decided an Ogre is standing in the road. (edit -- no surprise round).

2) Good players expect a good DM to know and apply the rules correctly. The players are running, in their minds, a menu of options to respond. As a player for over 40 years and a DM for almost as long, Good players and good play happens when the players can understand the common underlying structure (rules) and make decisions based on that. Otherwise, it's chaos. Even checkers breaks if you suddenly and unexpectedly let a piece move in a direction other than diagonal.

I know people love storytelling and will talk glowingly of how they think rules get in the way. In my experience, every great session was how the shared rules made for truly great storytelling. And my worst sessions were when players stopped caring and trying because they had no idea what any results would be. Finally, we talk about player agency. That happens within the rules. Railroading occurs when the story is more important than player agency. In fact, without agency, losses are unfair and "wins" don't feel earned.
 


CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
Here on the Internet, this issue quickly sifts people into two groups:

A) Rules are Everything. The rules determine success or failure, the rules determine wins and losses, the rules separate possibility from impossibility. Without law, there is only chaos.

B) Rules are Nothing. The DM determines success or failure, the DM determines wins and losses, the DM mandates possibility from impossibility. Fun is creative interpretation.

The truth, of course, is in the middle. Players tend to drift toward Group A, and DMs tend to drift toward Group B, but very few of us are at the far ends of that spectrum. Creative interpretation of established rules is The Way.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
1) A good DM has analyzed the situation, compared stats (any stealth skills v. Passive Perception, etc.) and decided an Ogre is standing in the road. (edit -- no surprise round).
I disagree. A good referee will do whatever the truth of the fiction dictates. Note I do not mean story or plot when I say fiction. By fiction I mean the established events, characters, locations, etc that exist in the game world. The existence of the ogre in the road at that particular moment is established by the fiction, i.e. the referee knows that ogre was walking across that road at that time...or, to make life easier, that's what the random encounter table coughed up.
2) Good players expect a good DM to know and apply the rules correctly.
That assumes there is an objectively correct way to run the rules. There isn't. It's all interpretation.
The players are running, in their minds, a menu of options to respond.
Exactly. And that's a problem. They have a limited list of rules-provided options for their characters to do as if RPGs were a boardgame or video game. RPGs are neither. RPGs have a thing commonly referred to as tactical infinity. The characters can try literally anything the player can think of. They're not limited to that artificial menu in their head or in the rules.
As a player for over 40 years and a DM for almost as long, Good players and good play happens when the players can understand the common underlying structure (rules) and make decisions based on that.
I've been playing and running RPGs just as long as you have, and I agree with your statement here, except for the word rules. Replace the word rules with something like setting, genre, etc and we're in complete agreement. The rules are guidelines that point to the setting, genre, etc...they're not the setting, genre, etc. As said, the map isn't the territory. The rules are the map. The setting is the territory.
Otherwise, it's chaos.
The world is chaos. For people who want their RPGs to more accurately mirror how the world works, chaos in this sense is good.
Even checkers breaks if you suddenly and unexpectedly let a piece move in a direction other than diagonal.
Importantly, RPGs are not boardgames. The characters in RPGs are not limited in the same way as pieces on a chess board.
I know people love storytelling and will talk glowingly of how they think rules get in the way. In my experience, every great session was how the shared rules made for truly great storytelling. And my worst sessions were when players stopped caring and trying because they had no idea what any results would be. Finally, we talk about player agency. That happens within the rules. Railroading occurs when the story is more important than player agency. In fact, without agency, losses are unfair and "wins" don't feel earned.
You're assuming I mean story and plot when I say fiction. That's not the case. I agree that player agency is king. Whatever story RPGs happen to have should be emergent from play, not enforced by the referee. I happen to see the rules as artificially limiting player agency. Characters can try anything. They're not limited to what the rules cover.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
Here on the Internet, this issue quickly sifts people into two groups:

A) Rules are Everything. The rules determine success or failure, the rules determine wins and losses, the rules separate possibility from impossibility. Without law, there is only chaos.

B) Rules are Nothing. The DM determines success or failure, the DM determines wins and losses, the DM mandates possibility from impossibility. Fun is creative interpretation.

The truth, of course, is in the middle. Players tend to drift toward Group A, and DMs tend to drift toward Group B, but very few of us are at the far ends of that spectrum. Creative interpretation of established rules is The Way.
How about C) Play Worlds, Not Rules. The fiction of the world determines success or failure, the fiction of the world determines wins and losses, the fiction of the world mandates possibility from impossibility. Fun is creative interpretation.

The players (referee included) can determine these things by accessing their shared knowledge of the genre and setting. Tactical infinity and invisible rulebooks.
 


James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
Of course, I don't know about you, but I've seen the downside of tactical infinity many, many times over the years. Player decides they want to try something that doesn't have precise rules. The DM, on the spot and uncertain of setting an overpowered precedent, makes the risk much higher than the reward of the action.

Player either falls flat on their face, or gets very little benefit out of their creativity. Having been stung, they resolve to only perform actions they know what the risk/reward ratio is ahead of time. Which is usually, "I attack with my weapon".
 



Exactly. And that's a problem. They have a limited list of rules-provided options for their characters to do as if RPGs were a boardgame or video game. RPGs are neither. RPGs have a thing commonly referred to as tactical infinity. The characters can try literally anything the player can think of. They're not limited to that artificial menu in their head or in the rules.
Sure they are. The limitation is, in your vernacular, the fiction.
 

Reynard

Legend
While I agree with @overgeeked in a philosophical sense, practically speaking I am disinterested in that sort of game. I don't necessarily like too many rules -- Savage Worlds is about my sweet spot -- but I feel a good sturdy set of rules enables play that results in fun. This is especially true when considering the positive (IMO) impact of randomness that comes from the interaction of rules and dice. If everything flows from the fiction, you lose that.
 

J.Quondam

CR 1/8
Rules are a cudgel with which a GM beats players into submission.
The Fiction is also such a cudgel, and so is Lore, and so is the Most High Neutrality of the Dice.
ALL is a cudgel to beat one's Lessers into creative submission.
That is the sole Purpose of the Game, for that is what is Fun in Life.
 



overgeeked

B/X Known World
Of course, I don't know about you, but I've seen the downside of tactical infinity many, many times over the years. Player decides they want to try something that doesn't have precise rules. The DM, on the spot and uncertain of setting an overpowered precedent, makes the risk much higher than the reward of the action.

Player either falls flat on their face, or gets very little benefit out of their creativity. Having been stung, they resolve to only perform actions they know what the risk/reward ratio is ahead of time. Which is usually, "I attack with my weapon".
Yes, I've seen referees make bad calls. Worrying about precedent is not something that should factor into it. Making a bad call now shouldn't mean making the same bad call forever. Be honest enough to admit you made a bad call and that it doesn't set precedent.
Sure they are. The limitation is, in your vernacular, the fiction.
The limitations placed on characters by the rules are a tiny subset of the limitations placed on characters by the fiction. That's a problem.
While I agree with @overgeeked in a philosophical sense, practically speaking I am disinterested in that sort of game. I don't necessarily like too many rules -- Savage Worlds is about my sweet spot -- but I feel a good sturdy set of rules enables play that results in fun. This is especially true when considering the positive (IMO) impact of randomness that comes from the interaction of rules and dice. If everything flows from the fiction, you lose that.
It's not binary. There's still uncertainty and there's still the opportunity to use dice to resolve uncertain things.
 

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