Thursday, April 21, 2011

R is for Rules, I'll Tell You Where to Stick'em

As I set out to write this entry I noticed B/X Blackrazor writing his thoughts on skills in old school D&D (which essentially amounts to the Thief - which used percentiles - no one else had skills - almost everything else used a D20). It occurred to me that a lot of rules in RPGs, generally speaking of course, annoy me.

We need rules. It's a game after all. But it isn't Sorry or Poker. I for one am not worried about anyone 'cheating' (for the most part*). The mechanics of a game should serve to help determine what happens when two contradictory concepts engage each other.

I want to open a door. The door has a lock designed to stop me.

I want to pilot this shuttlecraft through a storm. The storm makes air travel difficult and dangerous.

I want to hit you. You don't want to get hit.

The other thing rules should do if they can is reinforce the feel and atmosphere of the game's genre, milieu or premise. The Flashback/Interview mechanic in InSpectres or 'Stealing The Show' and 'Upstaging' in my Muppets RPG are good examples of this. If you gotta have rules, make'em work for you.

Personally, I want the rules of a game to be like the floor of my apartment, nice to know it's there and not ugly or intrusive but basically something I don't think about very often. Rules need to stay the heck out of my way when I game. The more I can 'see' them the more it takes me out of the game universe. Unless of course, as I mentioned, they are specifically designed to strengthen the game's 'vibe'.

This attitude toward rules is also one of the reasons I don't like random tables. Random tables are charts. I hate charts. Charts are more rules. Sure some charts are optional but they look like rules.

I don't want to look up stuff while playing. I don't want to have to do anything that stops me from directly engaging my players. Why look in my book, find a chart, roll the dice and get '+2 Sword' when I could've just as easily not broken eye contact with the player when I say, "Alright, as you look through the contents of the amassed loot, you see a long sword with a faintly shimmering blade." That wouldn't even tax a single brain cell for me and it'll take a fraction of the time.

Time. Yes. Speed! Speed is of the essence! Rules slow the game down. Even the best rules with the fastest, smoothest combat system makes me feel like molassess going uphill in the winter
.** In situations such as combat, car chases and other action oriented sequences I want things to go from 0-600 in .6 seconds. Your to-hit number should be listed on your character sheet. Your defense is there too. There is no chart, no need to look at the book. Tell me what you're doing and tell me now or this baby is gonna blow sky high before you even get a chance to blink.

In conclusion, I don't care too much for rules. I know I need them and RPGs wouldn't be RPGs without them but the fewer the better. I'm telling you now Rules, just chill. I'll stay out of your way and you stay out of mine.

*I don't know a single player who would 'cheat' per se but I do know a few who will take advantage of the rules and try to squeeze the last possible point or advantage out of a system. Whatever. It's all good. Since my games aren't just about how powerful you are I don't care if you're a combat monster who can't be defeated on the field of battle. What are you going to do when you're not on the field of battle?

**Thanks to my Dad for the one. Favorite phrase ever.


What was the first game you played other than D&D (Or any of its variants, clones, derivatives, etc.)? What is you first game? If not, how long had you been playing D&D before trying this other game? What did you think of it?

My first game was D&D in 77'. To be honest I am not sure what my next game was. I know I played Gamma World and ran both Boot Hill and Gamma World before I first played Traveller in 1979 but I can not for the life of me remember which came first. I remember liking Gamma World, thinking Boot Hill was OK and hating Traveller the first time I played it.

If D&D (Or any of its variants, clones, derivatives, etc.) disappeared tomorrow along with any memory of how to play or even that it had ever existed, what game would you play instead?

I might not notice. I play Sci-Fi and Superheroes mostly, with Mutants & Masterminds (3E now) and Star Trek (Last Unicorn Games ICON Version) being the most prominent. I love to try new games, old games I've never played and old games I haven't played in a while. Other favorites include but are not limited to Mekton, Teenagers from Outer Space, Ars Magica, Faery's Tale Deluxe, Changeling: The Dreaming, Star Wars (West End Games D6), Traveller (Original) and various homebrews.

How long did your longest lived character live (game time and 'real time')? How long did your shortest lived character live? What happened to them when last you played them?
I rarely play as I've mentioned and for the most part most of the characters I've had have lived until we stopped playing that campaign for whatever reason or at least I did.

That said, my longest running character in someone else's game would have to be Starguard, my alien Superman/Green Lantern-ish character in my pal's Champions game. I used him for at least 3 1/2 to 4 years of real time. Last I heard he had essentially completed his mission to Earth by protecting the lost heir to my species' nearest interstellar rival (my friend Dave's character) and brokered a peace treaty between the two governments. Following that he returned to defending his sector of space.

My shortest was a Dwarf in an AD&D 1E game my friend ran. The Dwarf was on a holy pilgrimage and was prevented from crossing a road. My character told the roadwarden he was aghast that the fellow would not let a son of the Earth pass to continue on his pious journey. The soldier hit me with a sap, double damage, dead. The character lasted approximately 5-10 minutes. Despise D&D.

What was the most successful campaign you ran or played in that was based on a licensed product and what was the IP (Intellectual Property)?

A Star Trek campaign but to be fair I run licensed properties a lot. I've always had success with them. I am obviously especially fond of Star Trek, Star Wars, Galaxy Quest, Ghostbusters and DC Comics.

What was the most successful comedic campaign you ran or played in? Note: This question is aimed at games that were supposed to be comedic or humorous from the start.

Galaxy Quest, Ghostbusters (using a hybrid of InSpectres and the original GB RPG by West End Games or WEG to keep the theme of initials going...) and my high school Teenagers from Outer Space campaign 'Blast City Blues'. Oh that was the good stuff.

If you could turn any IP into a professional RPG game tomorrow what would it be?

Seriously? Do I need to ask me that question? It involves Antron Fleece and singing chickens. Three guesses and the first two don't count.

Barking Alien


  1. An alien Superman/Green Lantern entity character? Wow, sounds like the best of all worlds. Green Lantern is definitely among my favorite super heroes and Superman isn't too far behind.

    Thanks for sharing, and it's a pleasure to meet you via the A-Z Challenge!

  2. Same here! Yes, Starguard was fun and he's made some 'guest appearances' on this blog in the past, including a picture of him at one point.

    I need to do a new one soon.

    Thanks for stopping by!

  3. I have gradually drifted towards a very similar attitude as far as rules - the less they "stick out" the better. Hero system figured out that whole "put everything on the character sheet" idea a long time ago and it does matter. D&D 4E does this too and makes for a much better game to run and play IMO. Savage Worlds is pretty good here too. Notice some of those are not necessarily "rules light" but all of them do try to reduce the need to open books during play.

  4. Couldn't agree more, especially with HERO System. A remarkable and underappreciated feat being able to take a system they complex and give you everything you need in one shot. Kudos HERO Games!