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

Pedantic

Legend
Kinda. Let me go back and use a few different examples that might help make this more easy-to-understand.

Going back to the FKR idea, imagine the most free-wheeling FKR game ever. Say, Perfected.
We both roll dice. If you roll high, your view of reality prevails. If I roll high, my view of reality prevails. If we're close, we negotiate.

Those are the rules of the game. That's it. I would say that this game has almost nothing to say about the second-order design, and, in fact, the diversity of play that would spring forth from the rules (the first-order design) is pretty obvious.

Without getting into the "what even is a game?" discourse, I think I understand the proposal in this specific case just fine. This is just stripped down cooperative storytelling, there is no resolution of actions that isn't established by the players themselves. I can imagine some secondary procedures that might emerge (say, maybe I start a description unfinished, with the intent that the other player will fill in what comes next), but there isn't a ton of space for more rules. I'd quibble about whether this is a comparable class of activity to what I'm generally doing when I play a TTRPG, but I think that about a lot of stuff that lives under the broad umbrella.

On other hand, take D&D. As I keep noting, there are areas in which D&D has explicitly not required a given approach. ToTM or Theater of the Mind (or hybrid) is the easiest example. There, the designers of the game are punting on something that, for most games, would be fundamental to the play.

But I wouldn't say that there is anything inconsistent about it. Most games from the 70s, as I've noted before, arose out of consistent second-order design as applied to OD&D. Even the earliest superhero game was just the DM's notes from an OD&D campaign that travelled between worlds.
So this is the area I'm prodding at. What's different, really, about moving the design questions away from the people publishing sourcebooks, to the person at the table? There's different people doing the work in both cases and in different environments, but the process, and any insights into how design might work still hold in both environments. I could take a system that leaves a lot of this in the air and start applying my own sensibilities, and whatever I produce could essentially be republished as a sourcebook of new rules.

I don't know that I see a virtue in intentionally pushing that work down the line from your initial product, so I'm looking for a trait that separates doing the design work there, from doing it before the first book comes out that creates one. I might just be looking in the wrong place. I'm trying to find a way to understand praise/critique of rules that push for second-order design, because so much of it seems to be built on future, second-order designs that don't actually exist yet, or aren't available to anyone else in the discussion to review.
 

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Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Without getting into the "what even is a game?" discourse, I think I understand the proposal in this specific case just fine. This is just stripped down cooperative storytelling, there is no resolution of actions that isn't established by the players themselves. I can imagine some secondary procedures that might emerge (say, maybe I start a description unfinished, with the intent that the other player will fill in what comes next), but there isn't a ton of space for more rules. I'd quibble about whether this is a comparable class of activity to what I'm generally doing when I play a TTRPG, but I think that about a lot of stuff that lives under the broad umbrella.


So this is the area I'm prodding at. What's different, really, about moving the design questions away from the people publishing sourcebooks, to the person at the table? There's different people doing the work in both cases and in different environments, but the process, and any insights into how design might work still hold in both environments. I could take a system that leaves a lot of this in the air and start applying my own sensibilities, and whatever I produce could essentially be republished as a sourcebook of new rules.

I don't know that I see a virtue in intentionally pushing that work down the line from your initial product, so I'm looking for a trait that separates doing the design work there, from doing it before the first book comes out that creates one. I might just be looking in the wrong place. I'm trying to find a way to understand praise/critique of rules that push for second-order design, because so much of it seems to be built on future, second-order designs that don't actually exist yet, or aren't available to anyone else in the discussion to review.

So I appreciate what you're saying, and that you come at this from a boardgames perspective, and I'm going to make a final post before calling it a night.

This is an imperfect analogy, but perhaps is will help. Imagine you're trying to make a game for kids. You might have a perfect idea for what they should do. And you'll design a game around it. Or, perhaps you want to design something that you know that kids will do ... whatever they want with. And so you make ... legos. You provide the blocks, knowing that they'll make things you never planned.

It's similar (not the same, but similar). Originally, the game was very much a hobbyist game, and it was assumed that the rules were just guidelines, to be modified and changed as needed. There was an expectation that you couldn't control second-order design. In a certain way, this spirit carried through with D&D. Of course, nothing last forever. Over time, especially (and with slightly different points of emphasis) this changed with 3e and 4e. But this idea that the game would be modified was still extant in the community with 5e.

I'm not trying to glorify this. There are many great games that try, through various methods, to control for and constrain second-order design. On the other hand, some games (and explicitly 5e) acknowledge second-order design but remain fully agnostic regarding certain aspects of it. For some people, this is a continuing source of frustration; for others, it is a source of strength. Still others don't fully understand it and continually look to what the RAW proscribe as "the way the game must be played." I think, though, that it's a category error to say that this abdication of responsibility is either good design, or bad design, but to instead examine what it means.
 

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.
I very rarely understand what Snarf is talking about. I rely on other peoples' comments to try and interpret what it's all about. In this case, it seems to be something to do with there being a disconnect between how the designer intends a game to be played, and how it is actually played. In which case, I would respond:

1) Yes, it happens.

2) No, it doesn't matter.
 

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