Rules Aren't Important

overgeeked

B/X Known World
So basically you don't want people treating their tabletop roleplaying game like a game.

That's a position I guess.
Sigh. No.

It's the other end of the spectrum from railroading and frustrated novelist DMs. If the DM is going to force their pre-ordained story on the players, they should just stop playing an RPG and go write a novel because the RPG medium is capable of doing so much more than that. Likewise, if the players are just going to button smash their way through the game, they should just stop playing an RPG and go play a boardgame or video game because the RPG medium is capable of doing so much more than that.

My goal with RPGs is immersion. Anything that gets in the way of that is bad for play. Like many of the rules. They produce nonsense results that are immersion breaking. Like say fall damage being ridiculous.
If one chooses to define railroading as in part negating a player's choice I do not see how changing the rules on them or not allowing them to know what the rules are around the choices they are making can be anything other than railroading even if you don't have a predefined narrative you are insisting your game follow.
You're assuming things that aren't the case.
In the real world I might have a reasonable sense of whether something is doable or not. In the game it seems reasonable to have a similar sense of the possibilities.
I agree completely. The trouble is the game doesn't give the player a "reasonable sense" and it entirely skips the "might." The game gives the player certainty of outcome. Here's a button, if I press it, this happens every time all the time. To mirror the real world the game shouldn't do that, but it does. If the referee tells the player what the DC is, then the player knows with perfect certainty exactly what their chance of success is, which is not mirrored in the real world.
If people can make reasonable choices in the real world they should be able to do so in the game. Given that in the real world there's vastly more information available through your senses than any GM can convey ever I think it's reasonable to allow the game rules to serve as basis for reasonable choices.
I disagree. The rules get in the way of making realistic choices because most gamers game the system they're playing instead of focusing on the fiction, setting, and world those rules are meant to (badly) represent.
 

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If the rules can just be ignored, the GM can do whatever they want. That doesn't seem conducive to gameplay nor to collaborative story.

I've been able to play some sessions of Wanderhome recently. This is an interesting game because there are hardly any mechanics, and certainly no resolution mechanic. The "rulebook" is 300 ish pages long though, and consists mostly of world and character-building prompts (all of which have little to no mechanical weight). The only mechanics are a couple pages on a token system in which you can gain or spend tokens via yet more prompts; in my first session playing it it hardly came up. It also can be run with or without a GM; we've been playing it GM-less. When you play GM-less people just take turn playing NPCs or "the world" in an unstructured manner. There's no dice or other randomization tool.

It's an interesting case study in what an RPG can do to facilitate role play and collaborative story-making without rules. The book provides a rich yet still vague setting and some inspiration for making characters, and the players just talk through what happens next.
 

Sigh. No.

It's the other end of the spectrum from railroading and frustrated novelist DMs. If the DM is going to force their pre-ordained story on the players, they should just stop playing an RPG and go write a novel because the RPG medium is capable of doing so much more than that. Likewise, if the players are just going to button smash their way through the game, they should just stop playing an RPG and go play a boardgame or video game because the RPG medium is capable of doing so much more than that.

My goal with RPGs is immersion. Anything that gets in the way of that is bad for play. Like many of the rules. They produce nonsense results that are immersion breaking. Like say fall damage being ridiculous.

You're assuming things that aren't the case.

I agree completely. The trouble is the game doesn't give the player a "reasonable sense" and it entirely skips the "might." The game gives the player certainty of outcome. Here's a button, if I press it, this happens every time all the time. To mirror the real world the game shouldn't do that, but it does. If the referee tells the player what the DC is, then the player knows with perfect certainty exactly what their chance of success is, which is not mirrored in the real world.

I disagree. The rules get in the way of making realistic choices because most gamers game the system they're playing instead of focusing on the fiction, setting, and world those rules are meant to (badly) represent.
I have never seen players like the ones you are describing and among other TRPGs I have run 5e well into Tier 4. But that's not super relevant.

I don't get immersion the way you purport to or the way you describe your goal as being. I get immersion in the story though.

I had a whole post in my head about getting people at my table and giving John Spirit of the Century and Bill the Alien TRPG and Emily Haunted West and Rich Blades in the Dark. I'd sit down to run using my D&D 5e books and nothing could possibly go wrong because the rules don't matter. That would both be taking your point well past absurd and missing your point so I'll go in a different direction instead.

I think that the most important thing about a TRPG is whether the people at the table think they have spent their time well.

I think the primary thing most people will use to determine if they have spent their time well will be the story that emerges from play and whether they engage with it.

I think most people will engage with the emergent story more thoroughly if they believe their decisions make any difference to the story and whether they are reasonable and reasonably intelligent.

I think most people will find it easier to make reasonable and reasonably intelligent decisions the better they understand the situation in which they're making those decisions.

I think the rules of the game being played are part of the situation in which the decisions are being made and I think most people will understand the situation better as they come to better understand the rules.

If I were to hazard a guess I'd guess that last point is where we have an irreducible disagreement.
 

hawkeyefan

Legend
I'd add that there's not a singular chef in an RPG. It's the table as a whole that's cooking. But sure.

The rules can be ignored and the referee can do whatever they want.

Can the players just do whatever they want?

No. Generally, no they can't. They may be able to try anything within the capabilities of their characters and the bounds of the fiction, but they can't just do anything. What can they do? What can't they do? Same questions for the GM.

There's an imbalance of authority in most RPGs. Intentionally so. The rules of the game tell us who gets to determine what and when.

The rules are also there to help make sure that the greater authority granted to the GM is used effectively and consistently. This is why I think having clearly defined GM principles is a great thing.... it helps set proper expectations. I don't need to spend many sessions to have a good idea of the GM's reasoning, I will know the principles that guide him right from the start.

If you mean gameplay as in "strictly following the rules" then clearly not. But I'd say that getting the rules out of the way makes it infinitely easier to be collaborative.

Not at all. The rules tell me as a player how I am allowed to collaborate. The rules tell me what the GM can deny or what he must allow or what is determined with dice or some other method. Given the asymmetric authority among participants, rules are absolutely vital to play.

What say do I have as a player? We only know this because of the rules.

That the referee gets to just ignore and/or change the rules is also part of the rules. Most of them anyway.

Not exactly. I think most rules do point out that things can be changed to suit, but almost always when there is a specific purpose to do so, and not just at the GM's whim.

You've said your goal is immersion, but I don't see how that can be when the GM can just change things on the fly on a whim.

This is why, absent a specific reason to make such a change, this kind of "we don't need rules" attitude is a red flag.

The rules say you can't do X. The referee says you can do X. Which is offering more freedom and which is offering less?

The rules say you can do X. The referee says you cannot. Which is offering more freedom?

It's not much of a point, either way.

Now, if you wanted to make an argument that a game doesn't need an abundance of rules, or that complex rules don't always make a better game, or that too many game mechanics can interfere with what you find important in play... then I think you'd have more of a point.

But stated as broadly as you have here, that rules are unimportant... I think it's way off base.
 

hawkeyefan

Legend
I've been able to play some sessions of Wanderhome recently. This is an interesting game because there are hardly any mechanics, and certainly no resolution mechanic. The "rulebook" is 300 ish pages long though, and consists mostly of world and character-building prompts (all of which have little to no mechanical weight). The only mechanics are a couple pages on a token system in which you can gain or spend tokens via yet more prompts; in my first session playing it it hardly came up. It also can be run with or without a GM; we've been playing it GM-less. When you play GM-less people just take turn playing NPCs or "the world" in an unstructured manner. There's no dice or other randomization tool.

It's an interesting case study in what an RPG can do to facilitate role play and collaborative story-making without rules. The book provides a rich yet still vague setting and some inspiration for making characters, and the players just talk through what happens next.

I've not played Wanderhome, and my knowledge of it is limited to it being based on Avery Alder's Belonging Outside Belonging system.

As such, I expect that it has rules. Perhaps not the kind of things we tend to think of when we think of RPGs.... stats and hit points and armor class and so on. But it has rules about who's in charge of what, who decides what and when, and so on. I believe the Belonging system has Moves that players make, much like PbtA games. Not sure if that's still the case in Wanderhome.

Saying that rules are vital is not the same as saying that more rules is better. Or that specific rules are better than broad ones. There can be games that are rules light and are great games. There can also be games that benefit from some complex elements. There are games that mix both effectively.

But whatever game we're talking about, chances are the amount of rules and the types of rules that were decided upon were not, as the OP suggests: "just some stuff someone thought up at the moment. They probably aren't even particularly well thought out". Quite the opposite. They were designed to produce a specific play experience. Very likely quite a lot of thought was put into them over a potentially long period of time.

The rules ARE the game.

So the designers of Wanderhome didn't accidentally come up with their choice of system, and then mistakenly tweak it to suit their goals. No, they thought about what the goal of the game was meant to be, and then they picked rules that suited that goal and their themes and overall aesthetic. They created the game deliberately.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
I think the rules of the game being played are part of the situation in which the decisions are being made
Yes, absolutely. There's the "reality" of the situation being presented and the distorting lens of the rules. I'm saying you need to remove the distortion to see the situation better. Most gamers focus on the distortion of the rules instead of the situation.
I think most people will understand the situation better as they come to better understand the rules.
Only in as much as the rules accurately represent the situation at hand. I've been doing this almost 40 years and I haven't found any rules system that in any way represents things well. The more gamey the game is, the more in your face the game mechanics are, the less immersion you can have. The less immersion you have, the less you understand the situation. The rules are not the situation. The rules are a distorted and abstract representation of the situation in the fiction.
If I were to hazard a guess I'd guess that last point is where we have an irreducible disagreement.
You'd be right.
 

Yes, absolutely. There's the "reality" of the situation being presented and the distorting lens of the rules. I'm saying you need to remove the distortion to see the situation better. Most gamers focus on the distortion of the rules instead of the situation.
Maybe my problem is that I've worn glasses for most of my life but I think the rules bring clarity to the situation and what the PCs can do about it.
Only in as much as the rules accurately represent the situation at hand. I've been doing this almost 40 years and I haven't found any rules system that in any way represents things well. The more gamey the game is, the more in your face the game mechanics are, the less immersion you can have. The less immersion you have, the less you understand the situation. The rules are not the situation. The rules are a distorted and abstract representation of the situation in the fiction.
I've been doing TRPGs for about as long as you have and I've found that I can experience a flow state while gaming that is about as close to immersion in the game as I get. Turns out that the more game-stuff there is the easier it is for me to get lost in that and experience that flow. Shockingly different people experience things differently.
You'd be right.
That's usually the way to bet.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
The rules ARE the game.
No, they aren’t. Look at the rules to hockey. They tell you that to score a goal you have to get the puck across the goal line and they tell you a few ways getting the puck across the goal line don’t count as goals. But there’s nothing about how to get the puck across the goal line. You have a stick and can’t touch the puck, so you can figure it out. Slap shot, wrister, behind the net, doesn’t matter. The game is the play.
 


hawkeyefan

Legend
No, they aren’t. Look at the rules to hockey. They tell you that to score a goal you have to get the puck across the goal line and they tell you a few ways getting the puck across the goal line don’t count as goals. But there’s nothing about how to get the puck across the goal line. You have a stick and can’t touch the puck, so you can figure it out. Slap shot, wrister, behind the net, doesn’t matter. The game is the play.

You can’t have the game without the rules. They’re what defines the game.
 

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