I guess my response here is just... that's a good goal to have, but successful games (both in terms of business success and in terms of at-the-table success) have used generic tools often enough to really weaken that "should." You still should do it, if you can, but don't sweat it too much, if that makes sense.I agree, although I also quibble. The rules should support the themes, and the more strongly they do then the more system matters. (Cyberpunk, Horror, &c.)
Push your luck is more a down-stream expression of this than what I was thinking, in much the same way that "XP=GP" is downstream from the actual design philosophy which leads to that particular design choice. I'll use both Dungeon World and 1e D&D for examples. (There's a complete DW SRD online if you wish to look it up. It's pretty comprehensive.)Design philosophy - What do you mean by this? I see your example, but I don't have that book to reference. Is it something like "this is the kind of game we want, that's why these rules are here and these other ones from the other game aren't"? Having a collection of rules that point towards a certain theme can certainly reinforce a feel or playstyle. "This is your Quantum score, the more you have the more super you are but the more mutated you may become", from Aberrant could be an example of this. There isn't anything in D&D really that has a kind of "push your luck" attribute.
In 1e D&D, the design philosophy was informed by wargames. "Hit points" arose not from their alleged naturalness (despite the claims that hit points are meat points), but because in a wargame, a squad can take so many "hits" before it loses its combat effectiveness. Thus, the explicit rules component is "hit points," but the design philosophy behind it is "wargames do this and we will adapt it to suit." The philosophy comes first, the expression second.
It's more interesting to look at things like XP=GP and item/inventory things, because those actually show the distinctly early-edition/not-strictly-wargame side of things. XP=GP arises from the design philosophy goal of "combat should be harrowing, but the rewards equally rich." That guiding design focus is key to understanding why much of 1e is what it is. XP=GP reflects this design philosophy by saying that combat teaches you very little, but heisting teaches you a great deal. Players are rewarded for avoiding direct conflict (whether by diplomacy or skullduggery) by their higher survival rate, faster advancement, and greater treasure acquired. This also leads to the (for me revelatory) idea that heavy armor is a survival booster in exchange for an XP penalty. It weighs more. The more weight you personally carry, the less weight of treasure you can haul out of the dungeon, and thus the less advancement you make.
1e includes plenty of things like this: part of the rules, but never explained. It actually has a lot of very clever design, especially for being the first of its kind (though the organization is abysmally bad.) It's just either written by someone who thought all of this was painfully obvious and thus didn't need to be specified, or someone who thought that it shouldn't be specified so only "good" players would figure it out and get an edge. I genuinely don't know which.
Point being, 1e has several strong design philosophy commitments which are what drive its RAW content. "Combat is harrowing, but the rewards are sweet" is a PbtA-style Principle for 1e D&D play. Others include, "Challenge the player, not the character," "reward skill, not acting," "prevent complacency by breaking patterns," and "fight dirty and don't hold punches." These all have to be teased out of the text, because none of them are really written down in clear form. I'm sure at least one person will disagree with how I've phrased each of these, and possibly all of them, but they work overall. Agendas for 1e would be something like, "Portray a world of high risk and high reward," "Challenge your players to succeed," and "Decide what is, play to find out how your players respond."
By contrast, I can just quote the DW Agendas and Principles. (For clarity: "Agendas" are high-level abstractions, the lofty goals of play, not nitty-gritty details. Principles are your guidelines on how to achieve those goals, and thus tend to be much more specific and actionable.) The game is clear that goals not on this list aren't things you should put much effort into, and you definitely shouldn't let other things get in the way of these three goals. The Agendas of Dungeon World are:
- Portray a fantastic world
- Fill the characters’ lives with adventure
- Play to find out what happens
- Draw maps, leave blanks
- Address the characters, not the players
- Embrace the fantastic
- Make a move that follows
- Never speak the name of your move
- Give every monster life
- Name every person
- Ask questions and use the answers
- Be a fan of the characters
- Think dangerous
- Begin and end with the fiction
- Think offscreen, too