Friday, May 10, 2013

More Game

I only run one kind of game setting.  I only run one gaming system.  I'm not interested in running other settings.  I'm not interested in running other gaming systems.  Nor do I identify with the desire to do either.

If the gentle reader and I and our friends were to get together to play baseball, and if we could count enough people to play two teams - not necessarily nine each, but enough to cover the field - then I would not be interested in playing any other kind of baseball except baseball.  I would not be interested in a variant whereby the batters ran to third base, then second, then first and home.  I would not be interested in a variant where second base was skipped, or where two batters were allowed to bat at one time, or where the batter was entitled to five balls instead of four and four strikes instead of three.  I wouldn't be interested in any variant at all, really, except perhaps some contingency plan to cover the fact that we had ten people in the field instead of nine, because there were twenty people playing altogether and no one wanted to sit on the bench.

But I would accept if others felt that one person ought to sit on the bench, because those are the rules.

At the beginning, baseball, town ball, rounders and a lot of other similar games had many differing rules.  In my youth, I played scrub baseball and of course T-ball was forced on us in elementary school.  I liked scrub; if I could get together eight people this afternoon I'd be happy to play scrub.  It's not that I don't appreciate that there are other ways to play baseball.  It's only that, having played a lot of other ways, I have found that where it comes down to choices, I would rather just play baseball.

The process of creating baseball as we understand it took a long time, and involved a lot of different groups of people playing in a lot of ways.  Ultimately, however, the formulation of consistent rules for baseball began as a means to have different people from different parts of the country be able to agree on playing according to the same rules ... because arguing over rules is stupid, tiresome and doesn't get the game played.

Obviously, I don't think my particular way of playing D&D is going to surpass all other variants and become the way to play.  I don't have any such hopes.  But at my table, after 30+ years of turning over the rules, considering them, tweaking them, tossing them out or honing them down to a sharp edge, why would I ever be interested in tossing them all out in favor of other rules that other people have created, that have been in existence for a few months?  Particularly rules that haven't been game-tested at my table?

The argument goes, "variety."  New rules equals new game.

I don't want "variety."  No variants, remember?  Changing the rules isn't what incorporates the excitement - the excitement is in yourself, and what your capable of, and learning to rely upon the capabilities of others. 

Every game of baseball is different.  People make surprising plays, people miss balls, people get beaned and so on.  You never know what is going to happen.  The fact that we are playing according to rules that have been in existence for more than a century doesn't change that.  Baseball does not cease to be exciting because the rules are old and established.

That is because they are good rules.  They are rules that allow maximum effort and maximum risk.  Modifying the rules does not improve those conditions - in fact they devalue those conditions.  Those who want to change the rules do so for their own benefit.  Ninety feet between the bases is too far for them to run.  A hardball or a softball are too difficult to hit with the bat.  They're not able to throw or catch.  They want to level the field, not in the way of making it flat, but in the way of reducing the superiority of people who can catch, throw, hit and run.

The rules developed as they have not because they favored any person's ability, but because they favored no one's ability.  They are simple, direct rules which do their best to eliminate anyone's feelings or emotional identification with the game.  The opposing team does not care how much it hurts that you struck out.  They do not care that you didn't reach the base.  There's no emotional appeal in the game for your failure to match the requirements of the game.  You just have to suck it up and keep playing.

D&D needs to remain that way.  It can't be diceless, because the diceless game fails to hold everyone to the same standard.  It can't be sympathetic, because we can't sympathize with everyone according to the same standard.  The rules have to be indifferent, heartless and blind.  They have to exist in a manner that makes everything hard, so that everyone who succeeds or fails does so according to their own maximum effort.  The easier the rules are, the less effort is required in the game, and the less game there is.

It is said that the hardest thing to do in sports is to hit a fast ball.  But of course people do it.  It has to be equally said that the hardest thing to do in D&D is to survive from first to ninth level.  This does not say people won't do it ... but it has to be ungodly hard, or else there's no game there.  There's no point in coming to play.

I've worked hard to make the rules in my world live up to every point I've made in this post.  I've worked hard to create an environment, a world, where the rules best apply, where they're bloody hard to apply, and where the players have the highest possible identification with the environment - because one consistent environment (with the real world) gives them one consistent playing field.

Why would I want to fuck with that?


  1. White Wolf games always felt like they were too easy on the players, and after a bit the whole thing just gets masturbatory.

  2. I'm not entirely convinced. Yes, I agree that it would be very good if we could get a good, solid, working system, instead of the proliferation of mediocre (or worse) system that are out there.

    However, what I'm thinking is that roleplaying is a bit wider than one single system can incorporate. We don't just play baseball. We also play rugby and golf, and practice swimming, and do aerobics.

    So we would want a single, solid, good system for escapism where you can improve your characters levels and in-world station, with a good combat system and world simulation. But we'd want a different system if the focus is on exploring morality, and the consequences of choices. If we want to figure out what it means that we just killed a village, without having to go through rounds of combat killing that village (to take a very simplistic example).

    So fewer, better systems, but not a single system.

  3. I agree with the idea that fewer, better systems is a good thing, given there is more than one genre to roleplay, but your specific example gave me pause, Rubberduck.

    Morality is merely the justification or vilification of any given action. I don't think a game can, or should, try and attach a number to morality.

    If I kill the villagers, it's because I want their land or slaves, or something similar. Putting a stat on that action, as alignments have tried in-advisably to do since the dawn of the game, is counter-intuitive.

    I shouldn't be thinking "Oh, we can't kill these people, I'm only 2 evil points away from blerbety blerb! My Jedi powers will turn to the Dark Side!"

    I should be going "You know, killing the Goblins in Moria was all well and good, but now that I'm in this little settlement here they don't seem as aggressive and evil. Are we sure this is a good idea?"

    It's a nitpick, and completely off the topic of the post itself, I just wanted to say that morality shouldn't be a "system". It's just a part of the game.

  4. As revisions & updates become increasingly easy to distribute, there will come with it an equal decrease in the quality of products being released. As errors become easier to address, they will become more prolific because scrutiny towards a "finished" product will decline since no product will ever truly be "finished".

    Furthermore, should there come a time when the recipients of these patches, fixes and errata can be made to believe that they should pay for these things there will come, in unscrupulous vendors, a tipping point towards, first, a blind eye being leveled towards mistakes and then, second, a willingness to incorporate known systemic failure or planned obsolescence.

    As in software, as in tabletop.

    There is no coincidence behind the fact that systems will come faster and faster. Releases sell and errors are overlooked...or made a very low priority all-together. Without adequate (and honest) time for reflection on errors(or even admission of them), design ethos will rubber-band back and forth and the product will become increasingly unstable.

    Like a movie with multiple directors, I fear for the cohesiveness of a new edition if only because of the constant changes at the top that have plagued it. Everyone has a solution and no one does.

    C'est le vie, however, because, like Alexis, I am not going to be adopting anything new any time soon...especially since the actual system has so very little to do with a game being run well. Sshhhhhh we can't let people know that though! Teaching people to run games exceptionally well without worrying about the "balance" of the system might cut into profit margins (of course ignoring the fact that a very excellent product will sell itself...)

  5. Yagami. What you described has literally already happened. That was fourth edition.

    Semi-infinite damage spikes were possible in the core books original release of 4th. This was patched by errata that was available via subscription, which was between $5 and $15 monthly, I'm afraid I forget which.

    They already rubber-banded their design choices. That's the soon-to-be fifth edition.

    No prophecy my friend, the future is now.

    Just glad I learned the DIY D&D'ers lesson before I paid for it.

  6. Arduin, when I mentioned the "Morality RPG" I was thinking about a game called Dogs in the Vineyard. In one sentence, it is about the GM setting up morale dilemmas, and the players deciding how they want to handle them. There is no absolute right or wrong way to handle them. There are no rules about what is the right approach. In the setting material the players are presented as morale guardians with absolute authority over the subject. Thus the only thing the players have to consider is what they, or their character, feels is the right thing.

    What the rules does do is to sometimes force the player to consider just how strongly they hold that opinion. Can they persuaded otherwise? Are they willing to start a fistfight over it? Are they willing to kill someone to ensure that the community follows the right path?

  7. Well, Rubberduck, a few things come to mind.

    First, that it sounds like an extremely shitty game, mostly because it seems to lack any point beyond spontaneous contrived intellectualism. I can manage this at a bar, with friends ... and there's beer and a decent band playing. You want to see people hold a strong opinion? There's an alley out back if anyone really needs to make their point.

    Two, you may have noticed this is a blog about D&D. So when I used the words "game setting" in the first sentence of this post, it was actually presumed the reader would understand that I meant that in reference to D&D. I did not mean to include random games of all varieties and of all natures.

    So ... I'm not sure what contribution you're offering to the point there; but you answered Arduin, so I thought I'd let the comment, that is absolutely not in the topic, stand.

  8. My apologies. It was simply that most of the post was about how there should only be one ruleset. From that I figured that you also meant that there should only be one setting.

    Though, with that in mind. Do you feel that more than one setting, and thus more than one rule system has validity? Not ones that you would play (as you play only one setting), but settings that other people would play, potentially as their only setting.

  9. Rubberduck,

    In this game, a 'setting' is massively varied. I could run my D&D players through spaceship combat if they followed a set of quandaries that led in that direction, couldn't I? I'm always somewhat confused at how people's campaigns don't automatically contain all the possible variants on a theme.

    Therefore, the only single consistency IS the rule system. No matter where I happen to play baseball - in the snow, on the moon, etc. - the rules have to be the same. Granted, underwater and so on is going to make pitching and hitting awful difficult ... but D&D is not hampered by such limitations, because it is played with the mind, and not with actual physics.

    And having come up with the best list of rules for D&D, why would you ever want to change them?

    That said, sure, someone can come up with a different set of rules that work for their one campaign and their set of players. Only ... if they keep changing the rules, because that's the only way they can think of to make their game nights fresh, I have to argue their set of rules must be pretty crappy. After all, they're clearly so invested with the rules that they've forgotten how to play the game.

    The rules are not the play; the rules are the restriction on the play. If the only way people can think of to play different is to change the rules ... well, I pity those pathetic fools. They still have yet to learn how to think.


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