Why do RPGs have rules?

Thomas Shey

Legend
There's also the fact that unlike a GM, intelligence organizations never have access to perfect information about the world they live in.

Well, I'm going to turn this around. Neither does a GM. They may not have incorrect information about it (though even that is debatable, all the more so when you're talking about PCs) but they absolutely can have a huge amount of missing information. There are any number of things about campaigns I run that I simply don't know. Given time I can determine them, but before one responds "but you can just make something up", to do that properly requires time to integrate it with the setting, which means there are always going to be areas about which I simply don't know.
 

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Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Supporter
I’ve got Ludwig Wittgenstein right here…

Gosh, I hope not. He died in 1951.

But, yeah. Witgenstein and Zimmerman are at odds. From Anthony Kenny's Wittgenstein (1973) (and If I am repeating things others have said, my apologies, I haven't read all of the 40+ pages of this thread):

There is no characteristic that is common to everything that we call games; but we cannot on the other hand say that ‘game’ has several independent meanings like ‘bank’. It is a family-likeness term (pg 75, 118). Think of ball-games alone: some, like tennis, have a complicated system of rules; but there is a game which consists just in throwing the ball as high as one can, or the game which children play of throwing a ball and running after it. Some games are competitive, others not (pg 68). This thought was developed in a famous passage of the Philosophical Investigations in which Wittgenstein denied that there was any feature — such as entertainment, competitiveness, rule-guidedness, skill — which formed a common element in all games; "

“...he was to argue that there was, indeed, an analogy between language and games but that not all games are played according to rules. There are also those in which we ‘play aimlessly’ or ‘make up the rules as we go along’.

How we approach games is not unlike how we approach literature (which, Wittgenstein would probably agree with). Wittgenstein calls it a "family likeness term" - so we can consider a family, a genre of games that are identified by having that quantifiable end goal, but should not mistake that genre for the truth of all games.

But seriously. There’s immense practical value to his idea of looking at family resemblances and applied usages, while expecting many exact boundaries to either flat out nor exist or to be so hard to define that they’re not worth the effort.

Yep. Genre definitions are like that.
 


Well, I'm going to turn this around. Neither does a GM. They may not have incorrect information about it (though even that is debatable, all the more so when you're talking about PCs) but they absolutely can have a huge amount of missing information. There are any number of things about campaigns I run that I simply don't know. Given time I can determine them, but before one responds "but you can just make something up", to do that properly requires time to integrate it with the setting, which means there are always going to be areas about which I simply don't know.
Instead of semantically quibbling, let me propose something specific to illustrate the point: let me be constructively vague:

In the real world, an intelligence analyst may spend a lot of effort on establishing inference chains (A -> B; B & C -> D; giving a concrete example is apparently against Enworld policy but hopefully you can think of one, either ancient or modern) without knowing if the underlying suppositions A and C are true. Intelligence agencies can produce wrong conclusions because they are wrong about the facts. GMs are never in that position. GMs can only be wrong about whether A -> B, not about whether A.

GMs have access to knowledge about everybody's motives, who's paying off whom, where everybody keeps their wealth, etc. They are never wrong about such things. You are correct that they may be MISSING information that hasn't been created yet, but never being WRONG is still an enormous advantage that the CIA can only wish it had.

Do you disagree?
 
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clearstream

(He, Him)
To illustrate the point, here's a handy table that you can have players roll on at the start of an adventure (or campaign). If players dislike a given result they may reroll.

You All Meet (d6):

1. During a pirate raid
2. In a booby-trapped hallway
3. During a prison break
4. When two Mafia bosses double-cross each other
5. Over a vampire's just-uncovered coffin
6. At a hostage negotiation with a dragon

Notice how players aren't forced into any particular role in a scenario. Are they Mafia goons? Undercover cops? Innocent bystanders? Accidental heroes? Some of each?
This approach looks workable presupposing entries best representing a specific world. It's similar in some respects to a backgrounds table, which can also suggest starting situations. That "players aren't forced into any particular role in a scenario" is an example of the sort of reevaluation I mean. The GM doesn't have the characters start committed to fighting. Perhaps it lands as another example of how similar situations are reachable by different means... where the means matters.

But not everyone who values immersion immerses most easily or enjoyably in a basically naturalistic framework. Many of us prefer to do so within a genre framework, in which expectations and events routinely diverge from naturalistic versions.
This is true.

For us, an in media res dramatic opener which will be explained along the way is a happy thing, welcome and familiar. We know where we are at the point. As Clive Barker puts it in the opening sentences of Weaveworld:
After reading your and @FormerlyHemlock's recent posts, I feel my position becomes more one of critical reevaluation. An unwillingness to accept dramatic techniques as suitable for games on face value.

“Nothing ever begins.
A chess game begins.

“There is no first moment; no single word or place from which this or any other story springs.
White has first move.

That’s the pure thing, for me. It’s pieces whose pattern will develop over time, and we can play in the expectation of it adding up to a story while knowing very little about what the story will be. (Lots of people talk about story as a goal in gaming, pro and con, in teleological terms. But actual authors writing actual stories seldom know what all the major moments and consequences and resolutions will be, so we don’t have to as gamers to share a determination to make as satisfying a story together as we can, either.)
It's what I referred to as the tension between the narratological perspective and the ludological. Is writing a story an appropriate goal for play? In the past I have thought so, i.e. that a game might be seen as a machine for writing stories. Lately I've been thinking that immersionism needn't be attempting to write a story: it's attempting to live within world as game. I have the worry that in media res doesn't "play to find out" - it has an agenda, a story to tell.
 
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clearstream

(He, Him)
But, yeah. Witgenstein and Zimmerman are at odds. From Anthony Kenny's Wittgenstein (1973) (and If I am repeating things others have said, my apologies, I haven't read all of the 40+ pages of this thread):
As I commented above, Salen and Zimmerman (Rules of Play has two authors, Katie and Eric) are not at odds with Wittgenstein. In the relevant section they canvass eight definitions of games and offer one of their own. They then - using RPG and Sim City - challenge their own definition. They conclude that "Games are a complex phenomena and there are many ways to frame them and understand them."

They offer their definition as a useful lense through which they will scrutinise games in the rest of their book. It identifies significant features that they will have in mind when they say "game". Their view is in the end more similar to Wittgensteins, in that they both notice features that are common in games... while pointing out that no feature seems common to all games. (It's also worth noting that Wittgenstein's interests lay elsewhere: he wasn't focused in those sections of the PI on defining games, but investigating meaning.)
 

In some respects this is a gamist concern: do we commence Chess in media res of the King about to fall? While that might be dramatic, it would defeat the enjoyment of Chess. It seems focused on the narrative at the expense of the game. Games as games often start at moments of tranquility, where forces and tensions are balanced. Players then decide the direction of play. That moment might be against a backdrop of turmoil, but as regards the players options they are open. Again, the problem is largely with "have".
Meh, lots of people play parts of chess games. I see it all the time (one of my friends is a pretty high ranked player, though I'm personally not that interested). It may be true that formal play of the game 'starts at rest', but for people who play a lot, the first 10 moves are often not that interesting!

I have an old wargame 'Ceasar at Alesia'. Its a recreation of Ceasar's famous battle. The game starts precisely 'in media res', at the moment of greatest danger for Ceasar when his army has been trapped in a donut shaped vice between the besieged town of Alesia and a very large relieving force. At this point his legions accomplished a series of feats at arms virtually unparalleled in history. The events leading up to this situation are, however not particularly interesting from a military standpoint. The question at hand is, at the moment of greatest danger, can you either manage your forces so as to defeat a much larger force while held in a terrible tactical situation, or can you marshal the Gaulish forces so as to foil the Roman battle plan?
 

There's also the fact that unlike a GM, intelligence organizations never have access to perfect information about the world they live in.
It doesn't even matter. There's a much more profound problem with the notion of 'simulation' beyond a very surface level of 'establishment of plausibility' (and I'd say for anything that isn't pretty small scale even plausibility is just 'sounds good'). The reason for this is the sheer thinness of the actual formulation of the world in question. In principle you COULD work out the outcomes of basically almost everything in the real world, unless it hinges in some extreme way on very small factors that simply aren't tractable mathematically (IE did it rain on the 35 day of the war or not).

For example, we can't really simulate any of the ecology of our fantasy world, because A) ecological factors are fundamentally energy transfer functions, and we don't have anything like data on net energy flows in our fantasy ecology B) it doesn't HAVE a well-defined initial state because no GM in existence inventoried the populations of every species in their fantasy world C) we don't even know the actual underlying laws, not even their form, for a D&D-like magical world. I'm sure I could come up with a D, E, and F without a lot of trouble. If we have no idea what the ecology of this world will actually do, then how can we simulate population dynamics, and the corresponding cultural effects, etc. We can surely make up these things, but then they are made up, and not part of a simulation.

Likewise with politics, economy, social dynamics, and on down the line to individual behavior beyond fairly trivial cases. All we can do is invent 'sounds plausible' statements about basically ANYTHING in the world, and from there we can invent 'sounds plausible' events and such which it sounds like might follow from them. You might 'do some calculations' or something somewhere in this sea of plausible sounding things, but all their inputs must also be simply plausible sounding inputs!

The kind of detail required to predict anything literally does not exist in a fantasy world. You are FAR FAR WORSE OFF than the CIA in the real world. They can potentially acquire sufficient information to predict SOMETHING, but the very concept of causality itself is not one that can be entertained in a fantasy world! There are no rules, no actual state of the fantasy world, etc. Heck, I expect that the CIA will get a lot better at its job as soon as 'AI' gets a bit better, as their ability to note correlations and perform inductive reasoning about things will increase vastly. Such techniques are impossible to apply to non-existent worlds which include very few facts.
 

I’ve got Ludwig Wittgenstein right here…

But seriously. There’s immense practical value to his idea of looking at family resemblances and applied usages, while expecting many exact boundaries to either flat out nor exist or to be so hard to define that they’re not worth the effort. People playing RPGs act like people playing games of various sorts, and what’s unique (if anything) about our play is no more remarkable than unique rules and practices for team sports played on fields.

Yes. Yes, yes, yes. This. The best mode for a lot of social science work is the postmortem. Sometimes, if things line up just right, you can get a diagnosis of something in progress. Anticipation is hard to do, and hard for others to recognize when it succeeds.


But not everyone who values immersion immerses most easily or enjoyably in a basically naturalistic framework. Many of us prefer to do so within a genre framework, in which expectations and events routinely diverge from naturalistic versions.

For us, an in media res dramatic opener which will be explained along the way is a happy thing, welcome and familiar. We know where we are at the point. As Clive Barker puts it in the opening sentences of Weaveworld:

“Nothing ever begins.

“There is no first moment; no single word or place from which this or any other story springs.

“The threads can always be traced back to some earlier tale, and to the tales that preceded that; though as the narrator’s voice recedes, the connections will seem to grow more tenuous, for each age will want the tale told as if it were of its own making.

“Thus the pagan will be sanctified, the tragic become laughable; great lovers will stoop to sentiment, and demons dwindle to clockwork toys.

“Nothing is fixed. In and out the shuttle goes fact and fiction, mind and matter, woven into patterns that may have only this in common: that hidden amongst them is a filigree which will with time become a world.”

That’s the pure thing, for me. It’s pieces whose pattern will develop over time, and we can play in the expectation of it adding up to a story while knowing very little about what the story will be. (Lots of people talk about story as a goal in gaming, pro and con, in teleological terms. But actual authors writing actual stories seldom know what all the major moments and consequences and resolutions will be, so we don’t have to as gamers to share a determination to make as satisfying a story together as we can, either.)
Roads goes ever on,
Over rock and under tree,
....
 

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