Monday, December 20, 2010

Unfortunately, We Have to Have Rules

I'm fairly certain I could finish my personal gaming project, create the ultimate campaign and possibly even end world hunger if these efforts didn't require a set of rules.

Not that I advocate complete chaos (though incomplete chaos is vaguely appealing) but I have a lot of trouble creating rules and than writing them down.

See, I'm not a huge fan of rules. I acknowledge the need for them and a totally freeform game would get out of control too fast but generally I view the rules of most RPGs are a necessary evil. I feel that, 9 times out of 10, the rules slow the game down. And slow, for me, is bad. I'll slow down the atmosphere to create tension but I hate when the rules slow down our (the players and my) ability to do things.

Let's take initiative for example. Man I dislike the very concept of initiative. As if, in a fight between a bunch of your boys and those guys from down the street doesn't all occur at roughly the same time. Christian of Destination Unknown explains kind of how I feel. I usually just wing it based on the flow of the moment and common sense*. Problem is you can't write a game that way. Well, you could but it'd be a tough sell.

Unless a rule is fun in and of itself and/or invokes a feeling appropriate to the genre I'm playing in, all I want the rules to do is get out of my way so I can run my game. Its an attitude that has served me well for 33 years, yet doesn't translate well to a published game.

In the end, I may just use the rules that annoy me the least and assume that whoever plays my game is just going to chuck most of them anyway. Just like I would.

Barking Alien


  1. I believe initiative isn't the core problem; it's a symptom of the assumption that combat in a rpg must be a detailed board game. We don't assume lockpicking is a second-by-second extravaganza of detail; nor do we assume that diplomacy requires more than a couple of statistic checks. Combat is special for mostly obvious reasons, so (ignoring those reasons) initiative should probably work in about one of two ways:

    If combat is very abstract, Initiative really doesn't matter very much because it can be figured into the base combat system stat checks. Thus, in such a system, if you're a good fencer and your opponent is a bad one, any timing issues will be under your control as well so a "good initiative" is just wrapped up in your fencing or swordmanship ability. Teasing out initiative from that statistic would be like teasing out footwork, or stance, or individual, discrete strikes and feints -- not terribly abstract.

    But if you're going hard-core detail -- a boardgame in the middle of your rpg (which is perfectly okay, obviously) -- then initiative. . . actually doesn't matter all that much again because the speed and timing of your action has a lot to do with what action you choose. A fast character who chooses a slow action will be kinda slow. The entire point of a combat skill for many weapons is to go first; creating a separate system for that that is independent of the combat style is literally the most unrealistic and troublesome thing you could do under the circumstances!

    None of this seems to demand a die roll. Not a bit. If it's abstract, initiative is meaningless. If it's specific, it's a function of character choice and (maybe) a static stat, a die roll is, again, kinda silly. The die roll adds nothing to strategy and represents no real world phenomenon. (A static check is still good, as mentioned above.)

    d20, btw, is actually pretty abstract. . .

  2. Thanks for coming by Sekhmet.

    I totally agree with what you've said here. As I stated I mostly ad lib this 'mechanic' as it makes more sense to go with the flow of the sequence of in-game events, actions and attitudes.

    If two groups of combatants are facing off and one raises his weapon in the air and shouts, its a good bet someone on his side or the other is gonna take that as a sign to start fighting. Unless of course the shout is more of a 'Ready!', to be followed soon after by 'Aim' and 'Fire'. If one of the players doesn't hold to that pattern or fails to recognize it because of the tense moment you (the GM) has helped to create, than so be it. The PC attacks first.

    Are there faster warriors in the crowd? Sure. But they didn't say 'I attack'. They waited and you don't go when you wait. Is kind of an unwritten rule.