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5E Why are vague rules praised?

Nebulous

Legend
Tracking weather and that much detailed passage of time is something I never really cared for doing. I love the Idea, and the ambiance it brings, but i doubt my players would notice much. Seems like extra work for minimal payoff. I guess I used to track months and seasons in Realms time. Long long ago. Now I just wouldn't bother. It's cold and raining. Moving on....
 

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wedgeski

First Post
Tracking weather and that much detailed passage of time is something I never really cared for doing. I love the Idea, and the ambiance it brings, but i doubt my players would notice much. Seems like extra work for minimal payoff. I guess I used to track months and seasons in Realms time. Long long ago. Now I just wouldn't bother. It's cold and raining. Moving on....
I've actually gone the other way. I feel like my players appreciate knowing that the weather is procedural...just one of those many things that seems to encourage them to think of the campaign as a living system.
 

Incenjucar

Adventurer
* Nostalgia. D&D has always been riddled with vague, confusing rules and argument-inducing language, and since that is how it was, for those affected by nostalgia, that is how it must be for them to feel comfortable.

* Psychology of empowerment. There is a subset of DMs that have an easier time feeling in control of the game if they HAVE to make rulings about the game. I'm not qualified to describe why that is, but it's a rather visible personality trait.

It's a strictly psychological benefit for a portion of the audience. The rule vagueness may be the deciding factor that allows some people to really enjoy the game, just as it keeps other people from giving it the time of day.
 

Majoru Oakheart

Adventurer
To me it's a matter of being able to adapt rules to the specific situation. Over the last 2 editions my players have REALLY gotten used to the idea that the rules are set in stone, the DM isn't allowed to change them.

If a spell says "does 2d4 points of damage to a target creature" and a DM ruled that you could use it on a door, at least one of our players would get very angry. The rules say "target creature" and the DM was breaking the rules by ruling it worked on objects.

If the rules said "opening a door is a minor action" and the DM said "I'm going to say that if you are trying to do that with your hands full it will take your standard action for this round" SOMEONE would complain about how the DM was out to get them and wasn't following the rules properly.

Really strictly written rules get people into the mindset that the rules cover EVERYTHING and that anything the rules don't cover simply isn't allowed.

One time I decided to make up an NPC on the fly with about 10 seconds worth of notice. So, I made up an AC and some hitpoints and a bonus to hit and started combat. When the PCs found out his AC through trial and error one of them started doing the math and figured out that his AC was wrong by 1 point since I had guessed rather than calculated it. I tried to tell them that it was just a bonus from his skill. They asked me exactly what feat he had that provided that bonus and which book and page number it was on so they could look it up. When I eventually relented and said "I just made up his AC, it wasn't based on any rules at all. I just picked an AC that sounded like it would be challenging to you." Then the group said "Well, in that case, I hit it last round because its AC was one lower!" I tried to explain that even though I made it up, I didn't regret it and its AC was going to stay the same and I certainly wasn't going back multiple rounds to retroactively apply damage. My players were not happy about that. The rules were the rules and they needed to be followed precisely.

I prefer rules to be written a little bit more vaguely to allow for DM interpretations. I like them to be more vague to encourages players to be in a mindset of the rules being there to help imagine the story but the story determines the rules rather than the other way around.
 

Hussar

Legend
Then you should read the OP's posts again.
The alternative to vague rules are not only heavy rules but also suggestions.
For example no table for carousing with entries like

"01–10
You are jailed for 1d4 days at the end of the
downtime period on charges of disorderly
conduct and disturbing the peace. You can pay
a fine of 10 gp to avoid jail time, or you can try
to resist arrest"

Instead, you have a list of possible events during carousing with a suggestions how to handle it.

"Arrest:
Punishment for disorderly conduct tends to be light. Depending on the size of the town or city punishments can include a short jail time (1d4 days) in a dungeon, public shaming or light beating. Sometimes the guards will resolve the situation directly with violent but nonlethal means which counts as punishment and no further actions will be taken. It is generally possible to escape punishment by paying money, either as fine or bribe (around 10gp). High fame (generally indicated by level or visible exploits) protects against being arrested for minor infractions.
Jail time usually involves being locked into a community cell with poor heating and food (Only long stays of several weeks should have an impact on the PCs health. See the table of diseases for ideas). Other races might choose different cell designs to account for racial abilities (for example teleportation, etc.). In jail, the fame of a character should indicate if he is harassed by the guards or if some of his possessions are stolen. It is possible to meet contacts from the local underworld in jail, but usually the influential members are not put into community cells which is reserved for small crimes.

Well, there are several issues here though. Throughout 4e people endlessly bitched that WOTC was trying to tell people how to run their game. What if I'm not running a Rennaisance era game? Prisons of the type you are talking about rarely existed in the Middle ages and you were almost never "jailed" for drunken behaviour. Stocks, public shaming, that sort of thing. But a building with cells? Naw, that wasn't something you saw all that much outside of certain areas. It was virtually unheard of for prisoners to be forced to remain in jail and were often let out to beg and share their take with their jailors. Small crimes would almost never result in jail time.

But, now, you have "official" rules that say that if I get into a drunken bar fight I'm going to get tossed in prison for d4 days? Isn't that something that DM's should decide for themselves?

I guess my question is, how much hand holding do you expect from the DMG? And again, considering the vitriol that we saw over the past four or five years when WOTC actually made the mistake of trying to do the sort of thing you're asking for, do you really expect them to do it this time around?
 

Hussar

Legend
To me it's a matter of being able to adapt rules to the specific situation. Over the last 2 editions my players have REALLY gotten used to the idea that the rules are set in stone, the DM isn't allowed to change them.

If a spell says "does 2d4 points of damage to a target creature" and a DM ruled that you could use it on a door, at least one of our players would get very angry. The rules say "target creature" and the DM was breaking the rules by ruling it worked on objects.

If the rules said "opening a door is a minor action" and the DM said "I'm going to say that if you are trying to do that with your hands full it will take your standard action for this round" SOMEONE would complain about how the DM was out to get them and wasn't following the rules properly.

Really strictly written rules get people into the mindset that the rules cover EVERYTHING and that anything the rules don't cover simply isn't allowed.

One time I decided to make up an NPC on the fly with about 10 seconds worth of notice. So, I made up an AC and some hitpoints and a bonus to hit and started combat. When the PCs found out his AC through trial and error one of them started doing the math and figured out that his AC was wrong by 1 point since I had guessed rather than calculated it. I tried to tell them that it was just a bonus from his skill. They asked me exactly what feat he had that provided that bonus and which book and page number it was on so they could look it up. When I eventually relented and said "I just made up his AC, it wasn't based on any rules at all. I just picked an AC that sounded like it would be challenging to you." Then the group said "Well, in that case, I hit it last round because its AC was one lower!" I tried to explain that even though I made it up, I didn't regret it and its AC was going to stay the same and I certainly wasn't going back multiple rounds to retroactively apply damage. My players were not happy about that. The rules were the rules and they needed to be followed precisely.

I prefer rules to be written a little bit more vaguely to allow for DM interpretations. I like them to be more vague to encourages players to be in a mindset of the rules being there to help imagine the story but the story determines the rules rather than the other way around.

Good grief. Why do you play with people like this? Wow. 4e must have blown their minds.
 

Majoru Oakheart

Adventurer
Good grief. Why do you play with people like this? Wow. 4e must have blown their minds.
Not really. They really loved 4e for the most part because it's rules were extremely clear and written in a way that encouraged even less interpretation than 3.5e. I try to DM in the way that makes the most sense given the rules at hand. In 4e, my DMing style became even more rules based than it was in 3.5e because the rules were even more codified and I had to make rulings less often.

My players adapted accordingly. Monsters in 4e were designed using different rules than the ones in 3.5e. That's fine, new rules. My players don't much care WHAT the rules are as long as they are followed precisely.

Although, now that I think about it, the primary player who caused all the problems in that example with the made up AC HATED 4e with a passion and refused to play it..ever.
 

Celtavian

Dragon Lord
Then you should read the OP's posts again.
The alternative to vague rules are not only heavy rules but also suggestions.
For example no table for carousing with entries like

"01–10
You are jailed for 1d4 days at the end of the
downtime period on charges of disorderly
conduct and disturbing the peace. You can pay
a fine of 10 gp to avoid jail time, or you can try
to resist arrest"

Instead, you have a list of possible events during carousing with a suggestions how to handle it.

"Arrest:
Punishment for disorderly conduct tends to be light. Depending on the size of the town or city punishments can include a short jail time (1d4 days) in a dungeon, public shaming or light beating. Sometimes the guards will resolve the situation directly with violent but nonlethal means which counts as punishment and no further actions will be taken. It is generally possible to escape punishment by paying money, either as fine or bribe (around 10gp). High fame (generally indicated by level or visible exploits) protects against being arrested for minor infractions.
Jail time usually involves being locked into a community cell with poor heating and food (Only long stays of several weeks should have an impact on the PCs health. See the table of diseases for ideas). Other races might choose different cell designs to account for racial abilities (for example teleportation, etc.). In jail, the fame of a character should indicate if he is harassed by the guards or if some of his possessions are stolen. It is possible to meet contacts from the local underworld in jail, but usually the influential members are not put into community cells which is reserved for small crimes.

Much of the DM's guide is optional.

I re-read your post. Didn't change my opinion at all. The example of a vague rule you used was very poor. The Carousing rules are optional. The table is a suggestion or guideline. You should know that and adapt it as you see fit. Complaining about an optional rule left intentionally vague due to being optional and concerning a wide array of possibilities is not a good example to support your original claim.
 

Rhenny

Adventurer
To tell the truth, for me, as a DM, it is boring when the rules tell you everything. Also, it forces you as DM to know every single one of them in order to run the game "properly." It becomes a huge burden.
 

Eric V

Hero
Some vagueness is great, like some of the background benefits one gets are described in pure roleplaying form, with no mechanics really mentioned. I think the results of the carousing table fall here, actually. Something happens, and then you hash out the nitty-gritty with the DM.

Some vagueness is awful, like not knowing if your monk benefits from bracers of armor. IMO, purely math-based stuff should not be vague at all.

Some vagueness is a bit of both, like the stealth rules, or when to use perception vs. investigation.
 

A game needs a certain level of consistency to remain stable. The focus of that consistency will vary from group to group.

Tighter more exhaustive rules make process driven consistency paramount. The mechanics are to be followed to the letter, and the ridiculous results thereby produced in the game world at times is simply a consequence of following procedure to the letter. In this case the resolution of the mechanical interactions are more important than the results provided by such resolution.

Lighter more flexible rules favor game world consistency over processes. The mechanics are there only to serve the game and can be changed or adjusted if the results would provide a result that is inconsistent with what is sensible in the fictional space. In this case, what actually happens in the game world is more important than the mechanics used to determine it.

Each group will need to decide which approach is right for them. Most friction seems to come when players from both approaches mix in the same group.
 


Li Shenron

Legend
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).

I can only speak for myself. I am both a player and a DM.

Precise rules are supposed to make the game easier by taking the need of adjucations away. There are no adjudications needed in a game of chess, therefore there are no rules discussions, no need for a referee and no protests.

A RPG is a kind of game that traditionally goes so far in depth and variety, that has more rules than any other game. There are both rules-heavy and rules-light RPG however. The idea is always that what the rules don't cover, the DM has to make up something. Then it's up to each group to decide if they want more rules and supposedly less make-ups, or viceversa.

The problem is that more rules always invariably leads to more problems, because nobody can ever manage a massive rules design without making some mistakes, or failing to predict how different rules interact. More rules require either more designers (adding more chance of errors because of mis-communications) or more time (adding more chance of forgetting what was designed a long time ago). Just think about what happens to RL countries which have very intricate laws instead of a smaller and clearer set...

So in my experience rules-heavy systems don't really decrease the need for making up something... they could do so in theory, but in practice they only cause more discussions, more enmity between players and DMs (when someone starts believing that only he is getting the rules "right" and sees and treats the others as morons). Typically, it still ends with the DM having to make-up something, but now with one or more players who have lost trust in the DM or are bitter over losing their little rules-lawyering battle.

My interpretation is that the WotC designers at this edition round identified SOME critical areas where traditionally debates are very frequent and can cause the whole game to halt, and "blurred" those areas with the purpose of changing the basic assumption that there is a "right" rule. When there isn't a right rule, you cannot avoid rulings, but you don't have much ground anymore to dissent on such ruling. Thus if there is no "right" way to handle hiding/concealment, the rules lawyers in the group shouldn't even bother to start debating, because the DM's adjudications are not based on trying to understand what is "right" but only on what "may do the job well enough for our purposes".


[Note that rules-heavy vs rules-light is not exactly the same as rules-strict vs rules-vague. Chess is fairly rules-light and rules-strict. D&D is traditionally rules-heavy and rules-strict, but 5e modularity makes it so that you have a range between rules-heavy and rules-light, and you can choose that (e.g. you can use Basic combat rules, and play the rest of the game through RP only). It is also still fairly rules-strict by default, except a few specific areas, but the books also explicitly say you can loosen that strictness for the game's sake]
 

Hussar

Legend
Not really. They really loved 4e for the most part because it's rules were extremely clear and written in a way that encouraged even less interpretation than 3.5e. I try to DM in the way that makes the most sense given the rules at hand. In 4e, my DMing style became even more rules based than it was in 3.5e because the rules were even more codified and I had to make rulings less often.

My players adapted accordingly. Monsters in 4e were designed using different rules than the ones in 3.5e. That's fine, new rules. My players don't much care WHAT the rules are as long as they are followed precisely.

Although, now that I think about it, the primary player who caused all the problems in that example with the made up AC HATED 4e with a passion and refused to play it..ever.

Heh. I would think so. Things might be more codified on the player side of things, but, on the DM's side of the screen, there's almost nothing codified. It's all "Well, here's a range of AC's/Damage/whatever, mix and match to what you think is fair."

If someone is going to get fussed about a single point of AC in 3e, 4e would blow their mind.
 

guachi

Explorer
I've actually gone the other way. I feel like my players appreciate knowing that the weather is procedural...just one of those many things that seems to encourage them to think of the campaign as a living system.

It also depends on the type of campaign you run. I've always run campaigns where weather and seasons mattered to me as a DM. The players move from season to season climate type to climate type. Heck, I plan on replaying a campaign I ran years ago (2 decades) with new 5e players and I've gone through the published descriptions of the weather (it's all TSR published campaign material) and matched it with Koppen climate types on Earth and then matched it with a comparable city on Earth so the players could imagine what the weather was like. I'm nerdy, so I like to write down the climate types.

Example: The climate zone is Cfa, Humid subtropical which makes it like the weather in the US from Maryland west to the middle of Kansas down to Texas. The mountains reach about 6,000 feet. Let's say the city in question lies in the foothills at about 1000 feet. Look on map of USA and pick Roanoke, VA as that's a good approximation - 900 ft with the Appalachians to the west.

Wikipedia entry for Roanoke with a cut-and-paste of the climate section:

Though located along the Blue Ridge Mountains at elevations exceeding 900 ft (270 m), Roanoke lies in the humid subtropical climate zone (Köppen Cfa), with four distinct, but generally mild, seasons. Extremes in temperature have ranged from 105 °F (41 °C) on August 21, 1983 down to −12 °F (−24 °C) on December 30, 1917, though neither 100 °F (38 °C)+ or sub-0 °F (−18 °C) occurs in most years. More typically, the area records an average of 15 nights with lows at or below 20 °F (−7 °C) and 25 days with 90 °F (32 °C)+ temperatures annually.[17]

Based on the 1981−2010 period, the city averages 16.3 inches (41 cm) of snow per winter. Roanoke experienced something of a snow drought in the 2000s until December 2009 when 17 inches (43 cm) of snow fell on Roanoke in a single storm.[18] The snowiest winter was 1986–1987 when 72.9 inches (185 cm) fell, and the largest single storm dumped approximately three feet (0.9 m) from December 16−18, 1890.


Pretty easy for weather - the temperature will be (1-3 above average, 4-6 below average) for (1d6 days). Keep rolling to see how extreme it is and stop if you get numbers that never happened in your reference city. If you get an extreme result then have Old Man Evans in the tavern say "We haven't had weather like this since the great (drought/snow storm/heat wave) of (today - (50+2d20) years)!!!"

Precipitation occurs 1/4 - 1/3 of the days of a month.

The whole process above took about 5 minutes. If it's their homebase city/county/nation I'd spend maybe 30 minutes. Then it's easy to generate a month of weather in a few minutes.

A land without weather that makes any sense and has no (or pointless) variety is like a dungeon where every corridor is exactly 10 feet wide. It's boring.
 


Derren

Hero
But, now, you have "official" rules that say that if I get into a drunken bar fight I'm going to get tossed in prison for d4 days? Isn't that something that DM's should decide for themselves?

Yet this is something even the current vague rules clearly spell out and they leave no room for other forms of punishment. So why are they an advantage?
 

GSHamster

Adventurer
Yet this is something even the current vague rules clearly spell out and they leave no room for other forms of punishment. So why are they an advantage?

Certain "rules"--especially when it comes to random tables--are more inspirational than binding. They give newer DMs a decent set of potential outcomes, helping them move their game in less predictable lines. If the PCs end up in jail, that's a completely different story than if one of them falls in love.

As the DM becomes more experienced, those same tables end up serving as a starting point for inspiration of more potential outcomes.
 


Celtavian

Dragon Lord
Yet this is something even the current vague rules clearly spell out and they leave no room for other forms of punishment. So why are they an advantage?

Who said they were an advantage? What point are you even trying to make with the example you used?

I should have read your post closer. I thought you were talking about something important rather than something the majority don't even care about like an actual vague rule like spell text or a combat situation.
 

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