They're more like... guidelines.

edited March 2010 in Story Games
"You should run this," intones my friend as he pops down Paranoia ('XP') in front of me.
"Oh man, oh man!" I cry, leaping to my feet, "It's been too long!" And, seizing the hardcover, I rush off to flick lovingly through its dense and almost entirely superfluous pages. Ah, all this information that I will, at best, only vaguely allude to or intentionally misrepresent. Beautiful!
My friends exchange glances as my cackles fill the room.

Now, the sadomasochistic pleasure I feel from reading a lengthy rulebook only to use the tiniest fraction of what I've gleaned is, for me, part of the Paranoia shtick but I thought I'd ask:
How far do you use the average game-text?

How closely do you adhere to the designer's vision of his world and how to interact with it; Is it a rule, or a guideline?


  • I usually use them as rules, because I find it too much effort to follow guidelines. Incidentally it was Paranoia that actually got me there. It was just too much of a bother - and it just screwed up the game - to handwave and bullshit my way around the game. It was really just much more fun to stick with the rules impartially, and let the insanity of the Paranoia setting come down on the players.

    I still think that screwing player characters over as the GM by mucking about with the rules, is far less funny and entertaining than playing the rules straight and having them screw up because of their own.. well... paranoia. :)

    So closer to rules than guidelines in my case. It's generally easier and less of a hassle to GM that way.
  • It depends on the game. If it's Poison'd, I stick to the rules, with very occasional fudges if things get desperate.

    If it's Paranoia XP, I handwave round the rules all the time, but I'm faithful to the general flavour presented in the text.

    Paranoia XP is very well-written. I think there's very little in there that's superfluous. It's there for a reason, even though it isn't game text.

  • The games I tend to enjoy most are also brief, well written and easy to understand. I play by the rules as written, as best I can. This does not always work out perfectly, but that's my goal.
  • Posted By: GrahamI think there's very little in there that's superfluous.
    I'll defend (or perhaps define) my position. The game-text is contains an element of superfluousness in that I've enjoyed successful Paranoia sessions both in strict adherence to the rules-as-written and setting-as-given, and sessions wherein the GM has ignored, embellished or altered entire tracts of the game-text. Delivering the information given by the text in an inexact manner doesn't impact on the quality of play - hence, the text is largely superfluous, well written or no.

    What's important is the information itself. It would be interesting to take a Paranoia player who hasn't read the rules and have them GM, and see if the fiction, and our relationship with it, changes.

    Further questions: How much do we rely on the physical construction/composure of a game? Could the experience of Shadowrun, Mouseguard, Dogs... or Polaris be had removed from the game-text? Could you, the prospective GM (or initiator), be given the concept via word-of-mouth and just run with it?
    (I'm not hopeful for 'yes' answers - but it's an interesting thought.)
  • In general I think of them as guidelines that are waiting to become rules

    In other words, if we're going to run a game, we evaluate the book and work out what its rules are, then what those rules are supposed to accomplish, then put that in context with what our gaming group wants out of the game, then make adjustments accordingly. Whoever wrote the book got paid for the product up front and is never, ever going to play it with us, so now it belongs entirely to us to do whatever we want with it. I'm happy to try and accommodate the rules-as-written whenever possible (that's part of the value of buying the book in the first place, to be able to use someone else's hard work for our game), but the bottom line is that it's a set of tools for us to use, not a straitjacket.

    Depending on the game, we may use nearly all of the rules as written. Or we might ignore a few of them. Or we might ignore nearly all of them, or eliminate an entire subcategory of rules that aren't useful to us. We may rewrite, repurpose, or replace the setting. We might graft on selected chunks from other games, in extreme cases. But in all of those cases, my hope is that we do everything mindfully, knowing why we are using or not using the rules and paying attention to how it affects our gaming experience. I like to think that we are always responsible for making our own sessions work, no matter what book we are using (or abusing, as the case may be).

    ...which may be why I have such an immediate, nearly-instinctive negative reaction to people talking about the importance of always following the rules in the book, or criticizing people for drifting them, or disparaging any advice about changing rules. We try new things all the time, but it's always with an eye towards stealing the best ideas and best practices from those new books so that we can add them to our toolbox...and we're not shy about using that toolbox on the new games, too, when we think it'll make our night more enjoyable.
  • yeah I (and my players incidently) find it much easier to break rules than ignore guidelines.

    Makes for interesting Kills Puppies Games (GM> their more like guidelines Players> Oh shit, we better not fuck with those Gm>?!)
  • If it is a more "Traditional Game" and I've already been taught how to play it, I skip everything between the statblocks.
  • edited March 2010
    They're not even guidelines. They're a springboard for building the game I want to run for a certain group of people.

    ...sometimes that ends up being close to what the book says, sometimes not.
  • This is how I feel about most White Wolf games. Tons of information, unrelated articles about stuff that never comes up in the game and some filler material about some godforsaken subject that I will forget as soon as I close the book.
  • That's the most accurate representation of White Wolf games I've ever read.

    I prefer to follow the rules unless I don't like them or they are a hassle, in which case I sometimes propose new rules, and if everybody likes the new rules better, we play by those rules. I prefer a general understanding amongst the players. I dislike the GM as arbiter of the rules.
  • edited March 2010
    (That whistling sound you hear is the incoming JDCorley Bomb. Take cover.)

    I was talking to Jonathan about this topic over beers last night. When I'm trying something new (snowboarding, jiu-jitsu, an rpg) I like to try to empty my mind of its assumptions and habits and be open to the new thing on its own terms. This is very hard to do -- which is one of the reasons it's worth trying.

    So, with that mindset, I try to approach a game text with the intention to discover what it wants of me. Like, when you're at a club and you start dancing with a stranger. Or the first day at a new job. Sure, you might have all this expertise and ideas of your own, but you need to hold back at first, read the situation, ease into it.

    I'd like playing a new game to be something of a surprise or a revelation to me, not just more of the same stuff I do already but with different dice mechanics.

    So I guess my answer is: I try to follow the rules. I also try to embody the persona of the player the text is aimed at. To go and live in the game's country, so to speak, rather than dragging it across the border and expecting it to speak my language.

    Man, there are a lot of weird metaphors in this post.
  • edited March 2010
    Posted By: John HarperOr the first day at a new job.
    I use that metaphor in Time & Temp, and it's pretty much my policy on role-playing games in general.
    General Management PolicyYou know how when you first start a job, you’re eager to please and follow all the instructions to the letter. It’s a good instinct, especially if you haven’t had a job like it before. Better safe than sorry and all that. But then eventually, as you follow all the procedures, you start to notice a few of them are just slowing you down. You find you own shortcuts and ways to get the job done. Or at least create the illusion that you’re getting the job done.

    You should treat this book in the same fashion. The rules and guidelines in here are your training wheels. Keep them on in the beginning, at least until you find your balance. Then, if you find a few of them are not helping, or you’ve got a better idea of how to handle something, you can drop and change them as you please.

    But you should also consider them safety nets. If, as you’re playing the game, you go too far afield and things start to drag, come on back to the trusty General Management Policy and see if that doesn’t help.
  • One of my favorite game designers makes games that could be considered nothing but guidelines. I look at his stuff and it strikes me like more of a themed recipe book than a game with hard rules.

    It's a very different sort of mindset, but one I like just as well as the follow the rules and watch what happens mindset I associate with dirty-hippy games.

    Could I run a game successfully that I'd received only by word of mouth?

    Maybe. If it was a dirty-hippy game, I'd expect it to turn out significantly differently than using the actual game. A more traditional game I'd expect to be closer to the original, but still noticably different from what it would be like using the actual rules.

    OTOH, I'm reminded of stuff I've heard about a guy named Paddy Griffith and the development of his "Mugger Games" miniature wargames. Apparently he'd heard third-hand about these historical toy soldier games, then tried creating his own with little contact with minis gamer culture and expected rules/mechanics/system. The results were significantly different.
  • edited March 2010
    Everything is a guideline. But I still closely follow rules.


    Because I want to learn something new. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t spend money on a new game.

    Game rules teach. When I go to class, I check my ego at the door and open myself to new things. Even if later I decide I don’t agree with the lesson. But if I don’t listen first, my judgments later are potentially ignorant.

    When we assume we know, we stop listening and stop learning.

    Is a designer’s vision always sacred?


    It depends on how much they playtested. Regardless if you are a professional or a hobbyist, on paper rules may look brilliant. But in play that brilliance can quickly turn into incoherence. The opposite is also true. Rules may seem simple on paper but are brilliant in play. And there are emergent qualities. People interacting with rules and rules interacting with other seemingly separate rules lead to unpredictable effects. The only way to know is to playtest. How sacred a game’s rules are is completely dependant on how much they were playtested and the quality and diversity of that playtesting.

    Designer vision only matters in how much that vision was sharpened and tested before being handed over to you.

    But playtesting isn’t enough.

    Rules can become guidelines by the sheer volume of rules.

    If the rules can’t be summarized in 3 pages, if the extended rules can’t be easily referenced, and if the very basic rules can’t be communicated by word of mouth, then your rules automatically become guidelines due to simple logistics.

    But easy reference isn’t enough.

    Even if your rules are few and easily referenced, if they aren’t clearly communicated with numerous reminders, then they may also become guidelines inadvertently due to simple miscommunication and misunderstanding.

    The fact that games have errata or new editions underline that rules are guidelines.

    But I still use them as rules till I intimately understand them.
  • Fascinating... fascinating!

    Let's moving away from rules for the moment and turn the discussion back to the other side of "How far do you use the average game-text?", which is, in this case, how far do you use the setting-as-written?

    Do you pass over elements you don't like (or play them down) and emphasis ones you do, or do you aspire to the writer's perceived vision? How does your personal taste interact within the play-group? How do issues such as micro-censorship (play-contracts etc), genre-style and interpretation of the text effect your interactions with 'setting'?

    Is setting but a guideline?
  • Interesting questions.

    For me, the more info there is, the more likely I am to cut things back to a certain base level, then move forward with my own ideas, or focus on a specific part I like.

    I found that to be problematic back in ye olden days with oWoD Vampire, as most of the people I was playing with had fairly good-sized collections of various books they'd bought and had fairly strong ideas about regarding what was important to them. This of course was long ago, before I'd come across hippy-concepts like OoG/pregame group discussions about what folks wanted in a game. It made for unhappy GMing.

    These days I much prefer a more dirty-hippy take on things. Give a basic sense for the kinds of things in the setting and the types of adentures/issues involved, then flesh it out as you go through group feedback in play. Weirdly, that strikes me as kinda sorta old-skool, as it is pretty much how I played D&D when I first started and hadn't seen any world/setting stuff yet ( the Greyhawk boxed set being only acquired after some time gaming already).
  • As far as system goes, how far I try to play by the RAW depends entirely on what I'm doing. John and John laid out good reasons for why I play by the RAW when I'm interested in stretching/learning/doing somethiing new. OTOH, other times I just want to chill and have fun, at which point I'm going to do exactly whatever the fuck my group and I want to do. Notably, half the time these days this means we just pull out some vague semi-freeform semi-based of Solar System mishmash from hell and play the way we always play. At that point, why do a new system when we're not going to use it?

    As for setting, I find it hard to answer the question because it depends so much on how the setting is presented. In the average World of Darkness game, as an example, I'll usually use much of the tone and texture from the book, with many of the "gadgets" (like Oneriomancy in Changeling) -- but won't try to stick to any specific elements in the game that hard. OTOH, with a game like Dogs in the Vineyard where the game setting really is tone and texture plus gadgets, I'm going to use almost everything from the setting as written. And in a game where the "setting" is imbedded in the rules, like say Burning Wheel, I'm probably going to use both pretty close to the book.
  • What Brand said about setting!

    Hell, as I was typing before I read what he wrote, I was even using his same examples (except replace World of Darkness with Shadowrun).
  • The job metaphor falls short for me because games should not be work. I do not feel constrained by playing games that suit my personality and temperament, and no matter how hard I or my group follow the rules and intent to the letter it never becomes something like a totally different play experience. Playing Dust Devils with a group not interested in addressing the theme but interested in the gambling mechanics works completely fine; better than trying to force ourselves to engage in something we find unengaging.

    With regards to setting. I don't write fan fiction, I make settings my own. They serve as starting points and nothing more.

  • edited March 2010
    Posted By: TulpaThe job metaphor falls short for me because games should not be work.
    All metaphors fall short. That's what they do. If they didn't, they wouldn't be metaphoric; they'd be synonymous. The key is to focus on what the similarities the between the components might illuminate rather then how they are different. If it helps, try to imagine a job that you'd like, one you wouldn't consider work. Like, say, a job in which you roleplay with your friends.
  • edited March 2010

    Obviously I would grow to hate it after a month, maybe less. Following rules at the expense of my own engagement is a good way to make me not want to play. Just following rules for the sake of seeing what a certain playstyle is about when I am perfectly cognizant just from having read them that I won't find them anything more than bookkeeping at best or stifling and poisonous to engagement at worst does not engender positive feelings. I don't need to play a game to know if I will like the rules as written. I don't need to ever grapple in 3rd edition Dungeons and Dragons to know that they're terrible.

    Designers are not sacrosanct and I shouldn't just not play a game because I don't find every single rule perfect. It is inherently better to fix a game that is nearly good than it is to redesign the wheel. I'm not a game designer, I don't have the investment or the energy to make a game from whole cloth because another game is ruined if I play with RAW.

    Addendum: If a metaphor falls short, that means it does not enrich understanding. The effect of games-as-work does not make me more enthusiastic for uncomfortable (please, no game is really uncomfortable) games, but rather makes me want to stop playing games altogether.

  • I don't see RPGs as one big tool box, I see them as distinct entities with their own natures. If I play RQ, I play RQ, if I play DitV I play DitV. I pay the designer to make a game, is the way I feel about it. The less I have to hack it the better. This includes setting, if any.

    I'm pretty picky and I've got a small collection, but they're all different games.
  • I don't see RPGs as one big tool box, I see them as distinct entities with their own natures. If I play RQ, I play RQ, if I play DitV I play DitV. I pay the designer to make a game, is the way I feel about it. The less I have to hack it the better. This includes setting, if any.

    I don't find this disagreeable. I don't like spending time hacking things to suit my needs, and I am in no way suggesting all games are interchangeable. However, I am more averse to making a new game than I am to hacking another game to better suit my needs.

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