Rules leading the fiction : what is it called ? is it ethical ?

edited May 2018 in Make Stuff!
I react to David_Berg accurate remarks on the subject of zomming in / out.
"If no one's bored, it could be argued that there's no problem, and we can just chat with the guards all night. It can be pleasant enough at the time.
It doesn't look like a good use of play time in retrospect, though. We're sometimes disappointed afterwards. "
That's my experience too. It was like that even when I was a teenager and loved hanging round with the pack for the sake of sharing time idling. I suspect having less time to play makes it feel even more punishing.

What I abstract from it at a very general level is : at some point, players are deemed legally incompetent in directing the fiction, and rules take over. The (usually unspoken) contract is that at times during play, the rules take the driving wheel away from them. Regarding the flow of fiction, what the rules do then is introduce unbalance ("un balourd" in the mechanical sense), and their stubborness, or inertia, is going to take the players in a direction they wouldn't go otherwise. I see a clear difference with, for example, the rules as an interface to the SIS, or as frame for what is authorized or forbidden, or a reward mechanism, or the ways to get a direction out of the group's input, but I expect to be corrected.

Is that an aspect of rules that can be isolated, this rules unbalance ? When it has been, how was it identified ? And do you have an opinion about when it's necesary and when it shouldn't be done ?


  • In games where rules lead the fiction, the players (if they are "players" and not just "audience") are competent in directing the use of the mechanics, if not the fiction. Example games that come to mind are Descent and Gloomhaven.
  • This goes for situations too, not just games. If the rule is "If the players pay the toll without fuss they can pass the guards without fuss", then the payers are competent to direct that. That happens all the time at my table. They're like "OK we pay for a week's room & food".

    Here's a quote from Unframed, where this rule came from:
    When a dialogue scene goes nowhere, nine times out of 10 it’s because it had nowhere to go in the first place. It would have been better if reduced to a quick exchange.

    Dialogue scenes don’t take flight without conflict. That doesn’t mean that every interaction the PCs get into has to present them with resistance. Sometimes you just want to get on with it. Sometimes they’ve decided to talk to characters you have to invent on the spot, and you can’t think of a way to make them interesting or integral to the story. When this happens, give them what they want as quickly as you can.

    They want to stop someone on the way out of town and check on the March Warden’s trustworthiness? You’ve got to let them, or it will seem like a big deal when you intend to establish the opposite. So have a walk-on NPC give them the answer they want right away, rather than tossing extra static at them for no clear reason.

    Dispatching inessential exchanges quickly lets you move on to the next actually promising scene.
    Arguably this goes both ways. The PCs don't want to present resistance to the guard's asking for the fee? Then they just pay quickly and move on.
  • They decide on a case by case basis whether the rule leads or if they do and the choice is informed and explicit. This is the optimist scenario.
    I'll look into Descent and Gloomhaven thanks !
  • edited May 2018
    They decide on a case by case basis whether the rule leads or if they do
    That's not quite what I meant:
    In some games/situations the fiction leads the rule, in other games/situation the rule leads the fiction.

    When fiction leads: The players decide on a case by case basis on how to engage with the fiction / SIS.
    When rules/mechanics lead: The players decide on a case by case basis on how to engage with the rule.

    For example, the rule "you might die if you are reduced to 0 hp" leads the fiction "you are alive" or "you are dead". The players (PC-players & GM-player) decide on a case by case basis on whether to roll attack rolls (which might reduce hp of elements [such as monsters] in the fiction).

    Similarly, the rule "engage in petitioner/granter tactics resolution if there is conflict in the situation" leads the fiction "you get what you want" or "you don't get what you want". The players decide on a case by case basis if they want to go into detail about a petition or if they want to insta-grant it, bypassing the more detailed resolution.
  • edited May 2018
    In your view, players always can choose, just have to know the cost and consequences.
    For me, this means : it's always a matter of the players awareness. All you can do to help is remind them the consequences of their choices with GM or rulebook comment or some kind of play procedure. (like clarify your intent to select a move)
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