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

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Supporter
I definitely agree on the pendulum swing between desire for more rules and desire for less. I see this both in my own wants as a gamer over time and in my own design. It is like you get saturated with more rules or more thorough and intrusive systems, and desire a return to simplicity, but the simplicity can wear thin after a time and you want greater rules clarity. For me this has been a constant thing that you could almost set to a clock. I find it especially so with D&D. For example I recall 3E really feeling like this answer, bur getting burned out on the complexity and suddenly finding the white box, with all its lack of clarity but room for imagination around things like spell descriptions enthralling. I could point to a similar experience with D&D and basic. I also find in design I tend to make my lightest games following the heavier ones. It is like there is an inbuilt need to strip things down to the basics after a while.

Yes, exactly! Although I would recommend at least 10,000 more words and at least one more admonition from Mama Snarf to make the same point.

More often than not in the RPG sphere (and in other areas in real life), people start with a simple concept. Over time, as situations arise, that simple concept doesn't seem to cover all the situations you want it to, and you begin to add additional rules, because rules do have additional salutary benefits- they provide a shared framework for the participants. They can give you the default approaches to common issues. They can offload some cognitive stress from the "decider" (whether that's a single decider or a collaborative exercise) by implementing a "best practice" that will always be used. And so on.

Eventually, however, the accumulation of all of those additional rules leads you to question the purpose of them at all, and to want to go back to the simplicity you started with. And the cycle begins anew. While this isn't true for everyone or everything all the time, it certainly seems to be an oft-repeated cycle that we've seen in this area.
 

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So, on this, I think we just have a fundamental disagreement. I am, for lack of a better term, simply not interested in the "good rules" v. "bad rules" divide, and don't think it's actually germane to the topic.

Think of it in two steps.
1. Should there be a rule?
2. Is the rule a good rule?
The problem with this process is: if the rule is a bad rule, maybe you shouldn't have it. You can't always tell until you actually play with the rule.

Which is why we are where we are with stealth: it's basically impossible to write clear rules that will work in all cases, so the designers of 5e decided to basically not write rules so much as a framework for rulings and let it happen at the second-order level.

Finally, I think it would be interesting if someone (but not me, because PLEASE!) wanted to explore the issue of how game designers use first-order design (the rules or the formal design of the game system) to solve the actual design problem that they are designing for- the second-order design issue, which is to say, the experiential game that emerges as an indirect outcome from the rules.
This is where levels of detail can make a difference - sometimes a "rule" in the book is really just a framework for rulings, which means you can kind of predict how it will play out because it'll be a skill check, and those can only get used so many ways.

Framing is what you're talking about here, and the way the book is written can doo a lot of it, often unintentionally (I'm looking at you, 20 pages of gun rules in a game ostensibly about vampire politics).

"What is framing in ttrpgs?" is another thread, though.
 

MGibster

Legend
Let me tell you a tale of second design and a game called Battletech! In the late 80s, a friend of mine introduced me to the wonderful world of Battletech. For those of you who are unfamiliar, Battletech as a science fiction game set about 1,200 years into a future where mankind has reached the stars and wars are waged by giant robots piloted by trained warriors. It's all kinds of awesome. So in one game, my friend shows me the laserbomb! It was a bomb whose interior was a mirrored finish that reflected some sort of energy that bounced around inside until broken open upon impact whereupon it would wipe out everything within 25 maps. Not hexes, but maps! Wow! And then there were the "smoked" mechs. These were mechs that were hard to spot because of a special dark paint used on them that made them difficult to target.

Once I got my hands on the boxed set I quickly realized none of those things were in the game. He just made it up and ran with it. Suddenly the game felt a bit different, but better. His laserbomb and "smoked" mechs were stupid. Nobody tell me I can't get a Krensky Fried Chicken or an UrbanBurger though.


Urbieburger.JPG
 

Oofta

Legend
Put me down solidly in the "don't make more rules than you need" camp. I think it's one of the reasons 5E has seen such unexpected runaway success. As the interview stated in the OP, no game is going to be a realistic simulation. Fireball spells don't exist, so it doesn't matter how we implement them. Hit points are another great example. There is no possible way we're ever going to simulate every aspect of even a boxing match, much less a generic system that covers every type of damage possible. Yet, combat at least emulates the feel of an action movie fight scene. It's a terrible system, just better or at least not any worse than some of the other systems out there. You're always going to have trade-offs.

Then we have the more nebulous areas whether that's social interactions or things like stealth. For the former, I don't want concrete influence points, reputation or any kind of tracking numbers at all. At least not officially. If I'm playing, I don't want to be thinking in terms of "This will give me 10 influence points for this alliance which makes me trusted." As a DM I want more flexibility and want to do things based on what makes the most sense logically given the agendas and motivations of the parties involved.

When it comes to stealth, I want guidelines and suggestions instead of rules. The situations where stealth apply are so varied that rules either over-simplify things or make assumptions that are frequently illogical. This is an area I know they struggled with coming up with the rules for 5E. I remember an interview with Crawford about how he had worked out concrete rules for stealth that would have taken an entire page. But they realized (correctly, I think) that no set of rules could ever be comprehensive. It's always going to be up to the DM whether you can hide or not, whether they've set up a scenario where stealth is even possible.

I think the parts of the game that are left up to the GM is just as important as what parts of the game have hard-coded rules. If i want to play a board game I'll play a board game. If I want to play a more locked-down edition of D&D that is more likely to look similar from one table to the next I'll look at 3 or 4E. There's never going to be a perfect balance between the specificity of rules that we need, what works for one person won't work for another, but for the most part the balance they struck in 5E works for me.
 

And yet, it isn't! One can argue that it's subjective (as are most things in design!) but I can tell you something....

If I didn't have fun when I played an RPG, I'm unlikely to play it again. It's not like I'm getting paid to do it. It's why we differentiate work and, um, fun.

So I would probably put fun as pretty much the top priority.

Now, if you have a different priority when playing, like pain, then that's cool. I'm not here to kink shame! But most people, when spending free time playing recreational games, are trying to have fun!

But that doesn't tell you diddly-squat about what to do. Hence why it is useless as a design goal. Because it doesn't actually tell you anything about what to do. At absolute best, it only tells you whether you've succeeded in what you intended to do. At worst, it literally doesn't tell you anything, and you're left completely mystified why the thing you attempted didn't work (or, sometimes, did work!)
Designing/playing for fun is like cooking for taste. It tells me that other factors such as texture, health, speed, and presentation on the plate are secondary. But the key thing about "designing for fun" is the same as "cooking for taste"; what different people find fun is different, just as what different people find tastes good is different. If cooking for one or two of my friends I'm breaking out the jalapenos, or possibly even the ghost chillis that I can barely stand - while I'm not unsealing the ghost chilli pot with some of my other friends in the same room. And likewise when "designing for fun" (or for any other purpose) I try to use something like the Magic: the Gathering psychographic profiles (although in reality mine are all named after people I've GM'd for).

And one of the real strengths of designing for a class based game (and why I dislike "level buy multiclassing") is that I can design different classes to different profiles. (On a tangent this was one of 4e's mistakes; too few profiles). I've currently two players who will take every option they can for more randomness and two who never take the random options because in both cases that's because that's what they find fun. So I'm making optional gambling mechanics - and some of the class options have more randomness than others. And some want simplicity others tactics. So classes let me do both.
 

Like how Kite Man makes chili? When he was with Poison Ivy, he made it without meat cause Ivy didn't like eating meat. For his next girlfriend, he removed onions from his recipe cause she didn't like onions.

Maybe we should all be more like Kite Man.
Designing/playing for fun is like cooking for taste. It tells me that other factors such as texture, health, speed, and presentation on the plate are secondary. But the key thing about "designing for fun" is the same as "cooking for taste"; what different people find fun is different, just as what different people find tastes good is different. If cooking for one or two of my friends I'm breaking out the jalapenos, or possibly even the ghost chillis that I can barely stand - while I'm not unsealing the ghost chilli pot with some of my other friends in the same room. And likewise when "designing for fun" (or for any other purpose) I try to use something like the Magic: the Gathering psychographic profiles (although in reality mine are all named after people I've GM'd for).

And one of the real strengths of designing for a class based game (and why I dislike "level buy multiclassing") is that I can design different classes to different profiles. (On a tangent this was one of 4e's mistakes; too few profiles). I've currently two players who will take every option they can for more randomness and two who never take the random options because in both cases that's because that's what they find fun. So I'm making optional gambling mechanics - and some of the class options have more randomness than others. And some want simplicity others tactics. So classes let me do both.
 

tomBitonti

Adventurer
We do have to respect that Board Games live in a different space. By their nature, board games are meant to be limited experiences, they prescribe a preset list of actions, with the expectation that the players follow the rules to the letter.
Take Gloomhaven for example, one of the most popular boardgames in recent years (and commonly called the "Dnd of board game"). I have played Gloomhaven, being a board game addict myself. I love the mechanics of the game, I appreciate some of its intricacies, and I think for players that have never played dnd or its equivalent, its a neat "stepping stone" into that world.

But personally I would never play Gloomhaven over dnd. When you are used to a more imagination based freeform game for your roleplaying, going to a completely codified constraint game is very.....well.....constraining.

Upon reading the first paragraph I was ironically drawn to thinking about a recent review, by the good folks at shutupandsitdown of Frosthaven, the successor to Gloomhaven. A point that I was drawn to was that Gloomhaven has a lot of rules holes. Enough that in a typical game some player decisions must be made to fill in a missing case. The comparison lamented that Frosthaven had filled in these rules gaps, to the detriment of the game.

it seems that while not typical, board games can be less than fully specified.

Another example is Mah Jong, with its myriad scoring variations. Or Poker, or even Bridge, with its bidding variations.

My take away is that a lot of games, including both board games and role playing, do well by having a solid shared core, plus a space that is to be filled by local variation. Then, a game should be neither be over specified (have too many rules) nor should it be under specified (have too few rules).

As a corollary, a game design should be aware of what aspects of play should be well defined and what aspects of play should be left unspecified — in the core rules.

TomB
 

MGibster

Legend
There is no possible way we're ever going to simulate every aspect of even a boxing match, much less a generic system that covers every type of damage possible. Yet, combat at least emulates the feel of an action movie fight scene. It's a terrible system, just better or at least not any worse than some of the other systems out there. You're always going to have trade-offs.
And for me, this is the meat of it. What are we trying to accomplish with these particular set of rules? The Gumshoe system used for games like Mutant City Blues and Trail of Cthulhu are designed for a different type of game than you will find with whatever the D&D system is called. I tend to judge a game based on what the authors' were trying to accomplish. Even if I don't like a game, if it provides the kind of game experience it's supposed to deliver then it's a good game. (Broadly speaking, let's not bring in certain games.) To keep up with the culinary theme, I don't like meatloaf. But if you make a meatloaf that's moist, holds together well, and tastes good (for a meatloaf), then you've made a good meatloaf.
 

And of course some tables will ignore that rule (as is the nature of dnd), but I think those areas are ones that really should get some solid codification.

And there are a number of these:
  • Stealth
  • Finding Traps
  • The group having to get over a large chasm
  • The group searching a room for treasure and secret doors.
  • The group chasing after someone
etc
We may add some dozen of parameters and clarifications to handle those situations, the expected result will be the same, most of the time we want the party to succeed.

Overall we get fooled by simple trick. Want to give the illusion of accuracy and realism, ask to roll 2 separated checks for a task.
But once you ask more than 4 rolls, the players catch the trick and feel more to be in front of a bureaucratic process.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Supporter
And for me, this is the meat of it. What are we trying to accomplish with these particular set of rules? The Gumshoe system used for games like Mutant City Blues and Trail of Cthulhu are designed for a different type of game than you will find with whatever the D&D system is called. I tend to judge a game based on what the authors' were trying to accomplish. Even if I don't like a game, if it provides the kind of game experience it's supposed to deliver then it's a good game. (Broadly speaking, let's not bring in certain games.) To keep up with the culinary theme, I don't like meatloaf. But if you make a meatloaf that's moist, holds together well, and tastes good (for a meatloaf), then you've made a good meatloaf.

Well, but see you have to understand that there are only three eating agendas.

There are those that like Spicy Foods.
There that like umami-rich, meaty, Neutral foods.
And there are those that like Gooey sweet foods.

Now, I know what you're thinking. Snarf, I happen to like Korean Spicy Chicken! Well, you're wrong. You can only cook for ONE agenda. If you're cooking for more than one eating agenda, you're cooking it wrong. You might say that you like it, but I have just proven that you don't.

Q. To the E. To the D.
 

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