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5E Why are vague rules praised?

Derren

Adventurer
Something I encountered several times now is that when there is a discussion about a rule because there are multiple ways to interpret it or that it offers no help at all for the DM to adjudicate it someone comes and praises the rule as being intentionally vague so that the DM can interpret it.

My question is why? Why is it a good thing if a rule is vague or even not usable without houseruling or when the books give the DM no guideline, suggestion or other help in resolving something?
The idea probably is that this somehow empowers the DM, but why does a DM need vague rules to be empowered? He can already change anything he wants. And if the intention is to have the DM rule by himself, why make it a vague rule instead of a suggestion with helpful guidelines on what to look out for and how this ruling fits into the game world?
That would be a lot more helpful than to make a vague rule or a table with entries so vague that they do not help at all (the latest example being Carousing and not having any suggestion about what getting arrested actually means of being able to build strongholds and trade posts with no explanation what they represent and how they can be used in game).
 

doctorhook

Adventurer
I agree with you in certain ways, but it would be helpful if you provided more examples of exactly what you mean. (The excerpt about carousing isn't a good choice, as it's only a fluffy downtime rule, the kind of thing intended to be flexed, bent, and broken for each character as appropriate.)
 
Something I encountered several times now is that when there is a discussion about a rule because there are multiple ways to interpret it or that it offers no help at all for the DM to adjudicate it someone comes and praises the rule as being intentionally vague so that the DM can interpret it.

My question is why? Why is it a good thing if a rule is vague or even not usable without houseruling or when the books give the DM no guideline, suggestion or other help in resolving something?
The idea probably is that this somehow empowers the DM, but why does a DM need vague rules to be empowered? He can already change anything he wants. And if the intention is to have the DM rule by himself, why make it a vague rule instead of a suggestion with helpful guidelines on what to look out for and how this ruling fits into the game world?
That would be a lot more helpful than to make a vague rule or a table with entries so vague that they do not help at all (the latest example being Carousing and not having any suggestion about what getting arrested actually means of being able to build strongholds and trade posts with no explanation what they represent and how they can be used in game).
The reason is probably twofold:
1. People were fed up having to house rule tons of little things in previous editions. I know from personal experience that there were a lot of things in 3.5 that were set in stone that we houseruled anyway because they were silly or didn't make much sense. This has gone back to AD&D as well, where things like losing experience when crafting magic items was like "eh? what?" and even with it hard coded we still got rid of it. Having the rule be somewhat vague gets rid of some of these annoyances by letting the leader of the group (the DM) be the one to interpret it how they want the session to go. Which brings me to the second point.
2. All DMs have different ways of running campaigns, and in essence, D&D itself. Most of the rules should be hard coded of course, as without them the game would just be an interesting way to play "imagination", but for some rules that the DM may want to change, it's good to have it be vague. Consider for instance, a rule that the DM wants to change but is hardcoded to the letter within the rules. The Player comes in with the expectation that he'll be able to do something, and the DM says "nope, sorry, it's my way". For a very strictly worded rule this can be frustrating to the player. For a somewhat vaguely worded rule it can alleviate some of the frustrations by having multiple interpretations.
 

Blackwarder

Villager
I haven't encountered a rule yet that was so vague to require houserulling.

IME, the fact that the rules aren't spelled out like an algorithm but take into account that the DM and players have a shred of common sense and common group expectation help the rules fade into the background while playing, it takes a bit of getting used to if you come from 3e or 4e but when it happens the game just flows.

Warder
 

Joe Liker

Villager
Some rules are about things that should always require DM adjudication anyway (such as stealth), but there are instances in the PH of spells that could be worded much better without taking up more space (barkskin).

In general, there is a line between vague and overly-granular, but that line itself is indistinct and impossible to pin down. What is certain is that the designers did not want this edition to be a product that was more simulation than game, and I applaud that mission. As always, there will be people on both sides of the line calling each other crazy. In fact, it's usually the craziest people who yell the loudest and most frequently.

But in the end, in my opinion, WotC has done a great (not perfect, but great) job of streamlining the rules and giving just enough guidance without smothering us all under a pile of minutia. For the most part, when a rule is needed, it's there, or there's enough of one that common sense can bridge the gaps. This is not always the case, of course, and "common sense" certainly varies from person to person and group to group.

Fortunately, you can always come to the Internet to see how other people rule and play those vague situations. You may not get exactly the answer you wanted, but you'll probably get enough ideas that you and the rest of your group can settle on something that works for you.
 

doctorhook

Adventurer
But why make a table instead of providing suggestions about it?
What [MENTION=6780256]Eejit[/MENTION] said. Also, D&Ders like random charts.

Also, I'm sorta annoyed you bothered to reply to my post without actually responding to it. Do you have any other specific examples of vague rules that bother you, or are the downtime rules where your frustrations end?
 

Celtavian

Dragon Lord
I can only speak for myself. I started gaming because the game gave me a way to simulate my favorite characters in fantasy books. I could build stories and come up with creative ways to bring those stories to life. The game fueled my imagination and allowed me to live an imaginary fantasy life of an extraordinary nature. Even as a DM, I was able to write stories and create my own fantasy tale or take an existing module and tailor it to my story preferences. How does this tie into vague rules? Well, in the early days when the game was very rules light, we wrote our own rules for what we wanted to do. Every thing wasn't detailed. There wasn't this idea that the game designer was somehow superior at designing exciting or realistic rules for bringing adventures to life. The term "rule lawyer" didn't exist. It wasn't because the DM was god. It was because DMs knew how to make something fun by writing rules themselves. They would take a base kernel of a rule and write something that fit into the system.

Rules heavy games move away from this idea. They create a rigid environment where the player and DM are constrained by the rules. Many players don't like to take the time to min-max. That aspect of the game isn't important to them. Many DMs are more concerned with an interesting story than worrying too much about all the gritty rules bits. A rules light or rules vague game lends itself better to story telling and creative design than a rigid system that defines everything possible constraining both DM and player. There are plenty of rules heavy games that operate more as combat simulations for those that prefer those type of games. I know there is a gamer segment that absolutely loves that type of system.

I find I prefer a rules light or vague system. I don't need every combat maneuver, every action, every interaction codified and given a number. I definitely don't need players attempting to abuse the system due to a lack of designer oversight and an attitude that a DM should be bound in chains by the rules even if a game designer releases a combination of options that create enormous problems challenging players. When the rules are extremely simple and sometimes vague, a group can create clarity through group discussion and consensus which usually leads to better outcomes. As a DM, I find myself more inclined to write interesting material if I don't have to spend hours on spell lists, feats, learning every tiny rule such as stacking and spell text, and the like. To sum it up, a light rule system with some vague rules suits my play style. I'm glad they returned to it.
 

Rhenny

Adventurer
It is the heart and soul of tabletop roleplaying, and it sets it apart from board games and video games. 5e design consciously and purposefully plays to what makes tabletop rpg unique.
 

seebs

Explorer
Some thought about it: Individually, I prefer clear rules. As a whole system, I prefer a much more rules-light system. So on any given thing, I like having the rule, but when I have a whole system of rules that's detailed enough to be reasonably stable, I find two things:

1. I don't actually have a more definite answer that much more of the time.
2. I am spending a lot more time looking stuff up because I can't actually remember all the rules.

Furthermore, definite rules often give bad answers. Rules-as-written PF, you can use Astral Projection to cheaply manufacture ridiculous amounts of wealth, etcetera, etcetera.

So 5e's much simpler system with plain-language rules avoids all sorts of problems. (Example: In Pathfinder, sleeping characters are not unconscious. No, really.)
 

rjfTrebor

Villager
because the fun of dnd is actually unrelated to the direct wording of the rules.

it's a fantasy adventure game, not a competition to remember the most rules citations. play the game, make up dumb characters, try to enjoy yourself.
 

Agamon

Adventurer
So 5e's much simpler system with plain-language rules avoids all sorts of problems. (Example: In Pathfinder, sleeping characters are not unconscious. No, really.)
Exactly. There will never be enough clarity for everyone, no matter how specific and detailed the rules are.

That said, people run the game differently, thus the reason some people prefer plain-language to to text book language. Some would rather it to be like M:tG, where the rule is law and nothing needs to be interpreted. But some would rather have the DM run the game and make rules interpretations as the game goes. Neither is wrong, it's just a play style.
 

Celebrim

Legend
Misperceptions, probably grounded in poor play experiences where a problem was had and the wrong thing was blamed.
 

Derren

Adventurer
Having clear rules doesn't mean rules heavy. You already have rules so why not make them clear instead of vague? And if you do not want rules, why make them instead of suggestions and advice?

Example: Instead of a carousing table which tells you nothing a short paragraph about what can happen during carousing (romance, arrest, etc.) and what influence that can have in the game. For example what usual punishments for unorderly conduct are, how punishment can usually be avoided, that fame makes arrest more unlikely and possible benefits of being arrested. Much better than just saying 1-10 pay a fine or get arrested.
 

was

Villager
..Flexibility and customization. They give general guidelines on how to run the game. The idea is to rely on the DM's good judgement steered along by these general guidelines. The DM knows the players, their preferred game style and the uniqueness of the campaign better than the designers.
..Building binding absolutes, in regards to the rules to the game, are not that feasible because they seldom adequately cover every possible situation that arises during play. Attempting to do so, as seen in previous editions, results in massive confusion, irritating errata and constant futile attempts to update the material as new issues arise.
 

Celtavian

Dragon Lord
Having clear rules doesn't mean rules heavy. You already have rules so why not make them clear instead of vague? And if you do not want rules, why make them instead of suggestions and advice?

Example: Instead of a carousing table which tells you nothing a short paragraph about what can happen during carousing (romance, arrest, etc.) and what influence that can have in the game. For example what usual punishments for unorderly conduct are, how punishment can usually be avoided, that fame makes arrest more unlikely and possible benefits of being arrested. Much better than just saying 1-10 pay a fine or get arrested.
In my experience, it usually does mean rules heavy. In a game with clear rules, the designers usually attempt to provide rules for as many types of interactions as possible rather than leaving it up to a DM to determine according to circumstance. That rules design process generally leads to a rules heavy game.
 
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JamesonCourage

Villager
In my experience, it usually does mean rules heavy.
I agree with you, though it doesn't have to be that way at all. I have a four-page RPG system that I'll likely be using to run a long term campaign with. As I wrote it myself, the rules are very clear. They're broad, but they are in no way vague.

Contrast this to my two current campaigns I'm running (one 4e, and one another RPG, clocking in at about 250 pages). Those are "rules heavy." Both are pretty clear on rules, too, though (especially my RPG).
 
Having clear rules doesn't mean rules heavy. You already have rules so why not make them clear instead of vague? And if you do not want rules, why make them instead of suggestions and advice?
B/X has very clear rules and they are not heavy. There are also many things which the rules do not cover. To keep a game from becoming too heavy the rules either need to cover less or be less proscriptive.
 

seebs

Explorer
Clarification tends to mean either you add more words describing things (which makes you more rules-heavy in effect), or you try to add structures and formalizations, which tend to have the effect of making the system more rules-heavy as you deal with the interactions between all the systems.

Basically, having played every D&D, and plenty of other games, I have not in general found that "clearer" systems are necessarily actually any clearer as to "what do I actually do to resolve this question". And I also note that 5e's looser style creates an expectation that you'll be looking for rulings on things, and thus less of an inclination to have endless arguments about them.
 

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