D&D General Rules, Rulings and Second Order Design: D&D and AD&D Examined

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
I generally find that 5e has a good balance of rules and freedom, possibly getting close to optimal as far as a D&D chassis goes. To me, it feels like how I thought D&D should play back when I first started and all the inconsistencies and nitpicky details in AD&D bugged me, even though I loved the game. In practice, this means that there is more weight given to "second-order design," so that the game feels cooperative - the DM and players are working together. That said, I really want to try Dungeon World, because having read the rules it potentially offers an even more satisfying balance of shared storytelling.

However, one thing I note is that 5e is still a pretty granular game when it comes to combat. In fact, the rules are easily detailed enough that it can still be played much like OD&D: as a miniatures-based war-game. I rather think that 5e intentionally went back to more of an OD&D philosophy in that regard, striving to free up DM and player cooperative storytelling outside of combat while keeping tactical play quite tightly constrained. I'm a miniatures and terrain enthusiast, so for me this is a huge plus (I am resisting the urge to post a photo of the battle map from our last game).

For me, the D&D rules scratch three itches, in fact:

1. They are constrained enough to run a skirmish-level wargame - first order.
2. They are open-ended enough to work decently with cooperative roleplay (though I think other systems are better) - second order.
3. They are enjoyable to read and play around with in their own right - ???

I don't think there has been much discussion yet of 3, but I strongly feel that for a certain type of gamer, like me, there is huge enjoyment in just reading rules and thinking about the game. Maybe rolling up different characters, or imagining the kinds of stories I could run. I don't think this falls into either the first or second order category, but is rather a marriage of an aesthetic and logical experience. And enjoyment of rules for their own sake is widespread - who here has not backed a Kickstarter or bought a rule book mostly just to read through and perhaps find inspiration, even knowing full well that you might not ever play the game?

I wanted to get back to this point. I once wrote a post about a similar topic-

In effect, the success of D&D as a mass market game is because it is not just a product of rules, but a comingling of the rules, norms, community, and history. In effect, the success of D&D is that it implicitly allows for a multitude of gameplay; that it does not speak to (or constrain) second-order design, and, moreover, explicitly allows a diversity of play in fundamental ways, even to the level of whether you play ToTM or grid.

That said, the question of aesthetic enjoyment of gaming materials is also an interesting one. The art, the lore, the dice, the minis .... those are all things that people can appreciate even if they aren't currently playing the game.

But I am curious about your last point. While I think that I've enjoyed the lore of RPGs, I am struggling to think of ways in which I've appreciated the rules of an RPG for their own sake. I've certainly been intrigued by different rules, but I don't know that I would ever buy a TTRPG just for an aesthetic appreciation of the rules qua rules. Did you have something specific in mind?
 

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Pedantic

Legend
But I am curious about your last point. While I think that I've enjoyed the lore of RPGs, I am struggling to think of ways in which I've appreciated the rules of an RPG for their own sake. I've certainly been intrigued by different rules, but I don't know that I would ever buy a TTRPG just for an aesthetic appreciation of the rules qua rules. Did you have something specific in mind?
I do that all the time! A good example outside of TTRPGs is probably something like 18xx games in the board game space. They are all fundamentally similar, you buy shares in train companies, whoever owns the majority of the company makes decisions about its operation, and profits are divided amongst shareholders. There are over a hundred games that differ in lots of largely subtle ways (full-capitalization, vs. partial capitalization, slightly different auction styles for the initial private company draft, different sets of railroad tiles with varying degrees of restriction), and the ways in which those relatively small changes produce different board states, or even, just how the feel to use mechanically is part of the genre's appeal.

In TTRPGs, appreciating what a rule does, how it shapes incentives or how it models a specific thing, or perhaps how it elegantly uses a particular mechanic to reenforce the themes of what it's representing is very common. I ran across a binder of untouched 3.5 characters I built out at various levels to see how the features might come together just the other day. I've been trying to find various takes on skill systems from d20 derivative games from the early 00s to review, in an attempt to come up with a skill model I think is sufficiently comprehensive for my purposes for some time now.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
In TTRPGs, appreciating what a rule does, how it shapes incentives or how it models a specific thing, or perhaps how it elegantly uses a particular mechanic to reenforce the themes of what it's representing is very common. I ran across a binder of untouched 3.5 characters I built out at various levels to see how the features might come together just the other day. I've been trying to find various takes on skill systems from d20 derivative games from the early 00s to review, in an attempt to come up with a skill model I think is sufficiently comprehensive for my purposes for some time now.

So, I totally get what you're saying here. I have appreciated different approached to rules. Heck, there are many times that I ponder the difference between the TSR-era and WoTC-era saving throws.

But I guess my question was a little more narrow. There have been times I have purchased RPGs solely because of the art, or the lore, or because it "looked cool" (the materials). But I can't think of a time I bought an RPG because of an aesthetic appreciation of the rules. I can appreciate good rules, of course, but I can't think of a time when that was the selling point of the RPG.
 

"I consider one game better than another because of playability and enjoyability."

That's from Jake Jaquet.
Not mentioned by Jake Jaquet anywhere you quote: "Fun". Because he did not mention "fun" in anything he wrote in that conversation.
Instead he mentions the two different concepts of "playability and enjoyability" and makes a deliberate distinction between the two. A distinction between the two that you erase.

No these are not synonyms for each other. Something can be enjoyable without being fun; I consider a nice, long, relaxing soak in a hot tub to be enjoyable - but fun isn't a word I would associate with it. And in the RPG space I don't consider e.g. Montsegur 1244 to be fun; it's dark, intense, and cathartic. It's a tragedy not a comedy. But it's highly enjoyable. (And this is entirely ignoring the idea of having fun because the rules aren't playable).

So when you imply that playability and enjoyability mean the same thing as fun you are actively misrepresenting the points that were being made. I would say that Jaquet was right when he said that playability and enjoyability were important - but "fun" is neither more nor less than one single one of the possible types of enjoyability.
In order to understand what's actually being discussed, you have to understand the genesis of the conversation. This isn't the first time that this poster has (repeatedly!) insisted that fun doesn't matter.
[Citation needed] Because I've been on these boards for years and have had many conversations with @EzekielRaiden and never seen any such thing. And I think I'd have noticed it.

What on the other hand I have noticed from them is that they understandably thinks that "fun" has so many meanings to so many different people that talking about "fun" on its own has less nuance and usefulness than giving something a star rating.
On the other hand, I've repeatedly stated that understanding what makes something fun is always worth investigating. So, what is this discussion really about?

This goes back to something I often quote- the settled law of Judge John Hodgman:
People like what they like. You can’t force someone to like something. You can expose them to a piece of work, but if they don’t like it, that’s the way it is. You can’t talk them out of it.
This is of course a massive overexaggeration. You can't force someone to like something - but I have found a number of things I've liked when I have understood what they are trying to do that I didn't understand before. Socrates, talking out of his hat, claimed that the unexamined life was not worth living - but the examined life should be more worth living.
Socrates once said that the unexamined life is not worth living; despite that admonition, there exist countless people that will continue to lead those lives. For various reasons, there are people that will insist that, because of reasons, the fact that a person can truthfully discuss their experience about something is somehow invalid. On a forum like this, discussing gaming, that reason might be ... oh, fun!

"Why do you play (this game that I personally don't like)"?
"Because it's fun!"
"Well, it can't be fun, because of X, Y, and Z. Obviously, there's something wrong with you."
And yes, you can cherry pick how conversations go wrong.

Rarer, but something that can be useful is "What about it did you find fun?"
It's completely missing the forest for the trees. If people actually cared about what goes into the design of the game, they'd be going in with a good-faith effort to try and understand why the person enjoys the game- not trying to argue with a person that their preferences can't be "fun."
Let's reverse this. "If people actively cared about sharing their love of the game they'd be going in with a good-faith effort to communicate which parts of the game they found fun." Because nothing is perfect and nothing is worthless. And different people are different.

And if would-be designers actively cared about designing good games and communicating their designs they would never say something as bland and inane as claiming to be designing for fun. Instead they'd be communicating what type of fun they were trying to create and who the target audience was. And how they were doing that.
In the end, fun (playability and enjoyability, or however you want to call it) is the design goal for most designers- at least, the ones that are designing games for people to play, and not just thought experiments. There are great and valid discussions about how to get there- more rules or less rules. What types of dice mechanics might be more enjoyable. The type of market you want to appeal to (not everyone finds the same things fun, and games designed for mass markets generally have to be designed differently).

But the reason that this is a so-called conversation is not because I don't discuss those intermediate steps- far from it. I simply refuse to accede to agree that repetitive arguments wherein people are told that their enjoyment of a game is somehow "lesser" for lack of examination is correct.
And no, peoples' enjoyment isn't lesser for lack of examination. But their ability to usefully contribute to the conversation is. "I found it fun" is a thumbs up, nothing more.
 

DEFCON 1

Legend
Supporter
No, again, the reason we are here is because you decided to intervene in a separate discussion to explain to me what I was really having the discussion about.

I explained to you that, no, this was actually just a continuation of a discussion that has been repeatedly raised over the course of several years. That the discussion is not actually about design goals, but about whether people should be allowed to express their preferences for different styles of play, and different games.
You might believe that your posts were about "whether people should be allowed to express their preferences for different styles of play, and different games"... but the fact almost no one is talking about that in these 7 pages might be an indication that your thesis statement was not that clear. And the fact that your responses to people like @EzekielRaiden did not mention this point until like way way later in the thread and instead were just you disagreeing with what they brought up and saying "No, see, you just don't understand" to me is an indication that you were not successful in the point you were trying to make.

And on top of that... you honestly can't think you can use your initial post talking about "first-level design" and "second-level design" and not expect people to think you are actually talking about game design, can you? There is no one-to-one connection between those things and "whether people should be allowed to express their preferences for different styles of play". Being allowed to express your preferences without being told you are wrong, and the difference between first and second level design are not the same discussion or argument.
 

Pedantic

Legend
So, I totally get what you're saying here. I have appreciated different approached to rules. Heck, there are many times that I ponder the difference between the TSR-era and WoTC-era saving throws.

But I guess my question was a little more narrow. There have been times I have purchased RPGs solely because of the art, or the lore, or because it "looked cool" (the materials). But I can't think of a time I bought an RPG because of an aesthetic appreciation of the rules. I can appreciate good rules, of course, but I can't think of a time when that was the selling point of the RPG.
My responses here are mostly negative in that I have pointedly not purchased a number of TTRPGs because they make rules choices I don't care for. The best counter-example I can think of is Scott Gearin's Alabaster patreon, a tiny initiative I think I'm literally one of a handful of supporters of. I actually don't particularly care for the setting, nor what little art he's done for it, but the design is an outgrowth of work he did back on the Fantasy Craft forums reworking some core systems to what I felt was a much better and more elegant model (i.e. taking attributes and reworking them to distribute roughly equivalent mechanical impact between all of them).

I happily send him money every month in hopes that his particular rules design sensibilities see a little more light.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
My responses here are mostly negative in that I have pointedly not purchased a number of TTRPGs because they make rules choices I don't care for. The best counter-example I can think of is Scott Gearin's Alabaster patreon, a tiny initiative I think I'm literally one of a handful of supporters of. I actually don't particularly care for the setting, nor what little art he's done for it, but the design is an outgrowth of work he did back on the Fantasy Craft forums reworking some core systems to what I felt was a much better and more elegant model (i.e. taking attributes and reworking them to distribute roughly equivalent mechanical impact between all of them).

I happily send him money every month in hopes that his particular rules design sensibilities see a little more light.

On that, I again agree. There have been many games that I have not purchased because of their rules. Heck, there have been many games that I have regretted purchasing because of their rules (something I think anyone who ever bought Cyborg Commando would agree with).

I guess what I was getting to was something I read in @Clint_L post that I was trying to unpack; that is to say, is there some level of aesthetic enjoyment of rules that you can enjoy in and of themselves that would make you purchase the game (and not play it). Again, while I can think of that in terms of art and lore, I have trouble imagining that in terms of the rules.
 

Clint_L

Hero
But I am curious about your last point. While I think that I've enjoyed the lore of RPGs, I am struggling to think of ways in which I've appreciated the rules of an RPG for their own sake. I've certainly been intrigued by different rules, but I don't know that I would ever buy a TTRPG just for an aesthetic appreciation of the rules qua rules. Did you have something specific in mind?
The first thing that came to mind, for me, was reading the MM over and over when I was a teenager. And not just for the descriptions and the saucy drawings of gynosphinxes and succubi, but for the stats. I would muse endlessly over the ways those could be used in an encounter, or the likelihood of a particular magic item being generated through the creature's treasure type(s), etc. How the experience would contribute to progression, and so on.

I would also make character after character, even though they were never going to be played. Many of my current students also do this. Just to explore the rules and, in a way, play the game in my mind, imagining what that character could possibly get up to with X attributes and skills, given the rule set.

And I have bought many RPGs not because I had particular plans to play them but because I enjoy thinking about them - looking at the ways in which different designers have approached problems through their rules. The most recent example is Dungeon World - I don't really have anyone to play it with, but I loved reading through the rules and thinking about the implications, working out some probabilities for how a typical encounter might play out, that kind of thing.

This is why I brought up logic specifically - rules are always a kind of math, and rules have their own logical aesthetic that I enjoy.
 

Pedantic

Legend
I feel like I'm missing something about the "second-order" design principle that's being brought up here regularly. Is there something unique about it conceptually aside from when and where it occurs that makes it different from designing rules?

My immediate view of not designing a system, and then making decisions about it as an individual in the moment, is just that you're moving the design task to a different place/time and setting some constraints on the tools and time available to the designer (they must come up with a solution rapidly, they can't test their solution before deploying it, etc.), but I feel like I'm missing something unique that proponents are seeing in that.

The obvious benefit I'm seeing is that when you build the plane as you're flying it, you can ensure the design covers the exact situations/needs of the game as they arise, but I don't necessarily believe that's unique, particularly given that you can also use design as a tool to shape what will come up at a table to begin with.

The thing about rules is that they are descriptive as much as proscriptive. You can go from a transcript of play to writing a set of rules that would have (or are likely to have) produced that transcript. I'm struggling to conceptualize how not to do design work; it's a bit like being asked to look at a text and see the letters without reading it.
 


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