The 3d6 Constitution—OSR rules realised as a body of law

After my OSR experiment the past weeks, I present: the 3d6 Constitution.

There is a three-part agenda, laying down why we are playing and how we want our game to be. Then there are ten amendments, detailing important features from the game by attempting to motivate them from the agenda. Then comes the corpus juris itself: concrete rules that are at best motivated by the agenda or its amendments, at worst compatible with it. All rules are explicitly "until further notice", under principles put forth in the procedural agenda and amendment I.

What do you think—does it hold together? Would you feel comfortable signing up for my campaign after reading this? Do you think the Constitution reflects the experience you'd have (looking to the Stonehell thread as evidence)? What questions are you left with?

I intend to go over sections 6 and up, adding more "History and notes" sections; I just ran out of patience and wanted to get the thread up. I expect there will be some more of that within a few days.

I should also say: next time I run anything in this system, I intend to put together a spell list and a price list. They will probably be added to the corpus, but at an even lower level, perhaps as appendices. They are, after all, even more campaign-specific than the other rules.

In my last post I went into my thinking on having and developing crunch-heavy rules, despite feeling no desire to read others' crunch-heavy rules, not to mention using them out of the box. Similarly, I don't expect many of you to want to use these rules off this document. (Not to mention I wrote the most important part in my best impression of legalese—I consider it a holdover from my Nomic days.) If you should, you're more than welcome to branch, fork, or however you do this.

(The name is just a bad pun. The game doesn't even have a Constitution stat. I'm open to other suggestions, having already dismissed both Dungeons & Dockets and Castles & Case Law.)


  • I can appreciate what you're going for, but even so my knee-jerk reaction to the way it's presented is something along the lines of, "I don't think I could ever play a game with someone who takes it this seriously." The verbiage is just way too off-putting for me, even if I am amenable to the creative agenda presented therein. The weight of the document just seems disproportionate to what it actually represents.

    Specifically, if these sorts of ideas are already embodied in a set of rules (and it's my assertion, at least, that any well-constructed rules will clearly express their creative agenda through practice), I would find it far easier to just go up to any reasonably experienced and open-minded gamer and say, "I want to play X with a strict RAW interpretation in order to get a sense of what the rules are actually going for."
  • I like it! I haven't read all of it, but I like both the spirit and the systematic approach.
    "FINALLY, we acknowledge that even with the help of a referee tracking information unknown to the players, there will be cases of previously irrelevant information suddenly becoming crucial without having been established. Here, we propose to use a probabilistic model of the fictional world. With the characters’ lives at stake, it can prove difficult to determine fairly whether the dragon is in its cave, but much easier to judge the probability thereof." (emphasis mine)
    Excellent, as you take into account human nature and offer a basic approach to reduce bias (and make it more acceptable -- I may think 50/50 is not appropriate here because I see sleep as a dragon's main activity, but I can probably live with a 50/50 die roll or haggle you down to 80/20 etc.)
    "WE PROPOSE that our standard type of challenge should be this: our characters explore adventurous locations outside the boundaries or jurisdiction of their civilization, and their success is measured by the amount of treasure they manage to bring back with them.
    Nice. Tells us what the game is about without precluding the negotiation of alternative challenges (in the spirit of what is laid out here, i.e. something that can be measured in the context of the game world and is real to the characters).

    Great stuff!
  • The writing style is pretty funky (so much so that I wouldn't give this to just any gaming associate as a campaign intro), but I appreciate the analytical structuration. As you know, I think that the way old school D&D best makes sense as a game is by making the constitutional game explicit and treating the rules cruft as merely that; the historical publishing method used for the game has not done it favours, as every new rulebook has built up support for the illusionary idea that the game could and should be played with unified, authoritative rules mechanics.

    Regarding substantial detail, a couple of notes:

    4th Amendment

    It's written in a pretty complex way, isn't it? As I understand it, what you're expressing here is the observation that the creative goal of play is more important than the ephemeral fictive situation, and because the players are imperfect human beings, they will come to face situations where they need to revise and compromise the fiction in different ways to make up for imperfect communication, procedural mistakes and mere happenstance. When a moment of raw, purposeful establishment of fiction needs to occur, it should be guided by the creative priority of the exercise: the decisions made should preserve and facilitate the challengeful wargaming rather than taking away from it.

    Assuming that I understood the gist of the 4th amendment correctly, I think the way you've written it is pretty convoluted. I don't mind discussing impartial randomization here as a central means of discovering fair compromise, but the overall reasoning seems obscure.

    5th Amendment

    The amendment says that the players should strive to maintain character friendship and team cohesion with extraordinary excuses as per amendment 4. (That's how I read it, anyway - that amendment 5 is a special case of 4.)

    I personally consider the principle that amendment 4 expresses to be a very necessary practical consideration, but the way I usually interpret it into play myself as regards player characters is not that the players should bias their character interpretation in favour of party-based play; rather, I prefer to instruct the players to make autonomous choice between four ways to proceed:
    * Constructively assume that the characters can cooperate and form a team, because the scenario becomes nonviable without team cohesion. Develop far-fetched justifications as necessary. This is your 5th amendment solution.
    * If one character's unique position is clearly the issue, have that player generate a new character to play, one that fits the scenario. This solution is often ideal, as it respects all the characters involved, as well as the scenario, with minimal compromise.
    * If the scenario fits the conceit, consider running a player-vs-player game. I do that when we stumble upon an interesting scenario. Quite eagerly even, often more so than the other players [grin].
    * Discard the scenario and play something else that does fit the premise of the party. If the only type of adventure that these characters can do is judicial duels, then this is going to be a judicial duel campaign.

    You can probably see how I view your 5th amendment to be pretty constraining in comparison. I particularly feel distressed by the idea of encouraging the players to "pretend" that their characters are friends for the sake of party unity. The interpersonal conflict between the diverging strategic interests of the party members is, I feel, an integral part of how a mid-levels D&D sandbox should play. Party unity above all is a pale and artificial virtue in comparison.

    The D&D mechanical fundamentals

    Your split between what you consider fundamental constitutional amendments regarding game mechanics, and what you consider mere case law, is interesting. To wit, here's what you seem to consider fundamental mechanics:

    * Random stats
    * Character improvement
    * Hit points
    * Combat rounds
    * Treasure-gathering as default goal

    For comparison's sake, here's what I would consider mechanically fundamental to a sort of theoretical "ur-D&D":

    * Hit points
    * Combat rounds with one action per character per round
    * Attack checks vs. AC to establish momentary effectiveness
    * Classes and levels (HD) as top-down organizing conceits
  • @yukamichi: I see what you mean. At some point I might try to write the same message using fewer WHEREASes. However, like Eero points out I don't think I could write only the actual rules (as opposed to the "meta-rules") and have them embody my desired agenda. In some sense this is me agreeing when you say a well-constructed ruleset does this, perhaps adding that it must also be presented well, and then not seeing myself as up to the task. But it's also that half the point of writing this is to make explicit the relationship between the agenda and the moment-to-moment rules. Anyone who just wants a set of rules that work well for this play-style, which they can play strict RAW and get the right experience out of, already has plenty of systems to choose from. What I consider my contribution here is exactly the explicit writing about what the agenda is and how I motivate my particular rules from that agenda.

    I don't have this all laid out, and I know that I'm making things hard for myself with the writing style (let's call it a personal preference taken to the level of a personal weakness), but I think when introducing new players I probably won't ask them to engage with the whole constitution in writing at once. I'm thinking more like: let them to join a session, give them a quick rundown of the game philosophy at the start, let them learn by doing during that session, direct them to the Corpus Juris for rules reference, and link them the actual agenda once they ask "why?" one time too many.

    @Johann: thanks! I'm glad you like it!
  • For what it's worth, I completely understand having to make objectively suboptimal creative choices due to personal particulars. That's my own creative history in a nutshell, as it were. If writing a parody of the American constitutional documents is what gets you going, then you do you.
  • @Eero_Tuovinen: thanks for your feedback, it means a lot!

    On the 4th amendment: I'm probably home-blind, but I don't consider it more convoluted than the other amendments :/ I'm not saying you're wrong. You seem to have understood what I meant, so if you have time, could you elaborate? Is it just that each sentence uses more and longer words than necessary, or would you change the structure around? The proposal portion comes in three parts: 1) revise the fiction iff it is necessary to allow play to happen, 2) people might disagree on what the established fiction is, 3) probabilistic models are a good tool. In the current version they are presented as equally important; I guess 1 is more important than 2 and 3 so maybe that could be reflected somehow?

    On the 5th amendment: that's a good catch! And partly it's my lack of experience with mid-level sandbox play showing. First: I did envision some portion of "pretending", i.e. modifying what we would have otherwise thought of the characters to have them adventure together—but I didn't intend the sharp focus you found in your reading! Instead of "strive to keep the player characters friends or allies with each other", I should have written something like "strive to play characters who are friends or allies with each other"... I definitely agree that putting a character on the bench, or choosing a different adventure that interests all and not just some of the characters, are equally valid solutions.

    As for running PvP, the amendment should adress it. I personally would be hesitant to run it, but that's because of a fear of the session becoming lopsided or unfair in terms of enjoyment. My perspective is: our campaign might have many players and many characters, but today we happen to have these four players at the table for three hours. How do we ensure that those particular players all get to play something interesting here and now? And sure, if it happens to be the case that not only do two of their characters have an interesting conflict, but a) it's a conflict that can be played out in an interesting way (rather than, say, an immediate duel to the death) and b) the other two players have (or create) characters that can be involved in that conflict in an enjoyable way. Perhaps it's just my lack of experience that makes me believe this is unlikely! Surely, your experience with PvP play says it's a most valid choice that comes up now and then. I don't want my 5th amendment to rule it out, but I think I subconsciously did when I wrote it.

    I'll be re-writing the 5th amendment for sure. Any particular suggestions for phrasing?

    On the "DnD fundamentals": despite referring to longstanding role-playing tradition here and there, I don't have much of a personal relationship to any actual DnD. So putting aside what would be fundamental to "ur-DnD", and looking at what I consider fundamental for this game, I think your list sums up the current state pretty well. Some notes:
    - You add "with one character action per round" to your combat rounds but leave it off mine, but I would say the action economy is implied by my 10th amendment.
    - Treasure-gathering I guess wouldn't have to be a fundamental property, but I consider a predefined, objectively-measurable objective to be one. At that point giving treasure-gathering as an example, as a default, or pushing it out of the core amendments and just have it as precedent doesn't make much of a difference to me.
    - My list has character improvement but not classes or levels, and yours is the other way around. This I stand by. A game with classes and levels but no improvements sounds weird to me. A game with improvement but no classes sounds like it's still within my agenda. You could make a case that both should be in there (i.e. there should be an 11th amendment "On character classes and levels") and I might take it.
    - Attack checks vs AC to determine effectiveness isn't fundamental to me. For example, if you were to re-adjust HP to be higher, and have every attack deal a number of HP which varied more with effectiveness (like strength+1d6 per attack), I'd buy it. I think this is a DnD aesthetic thing, and me being one more step removed is showing?
    - I stand by the inclusion of random stats. If that were just a precedent, I would question its necessity. I do think the "play the hand you're given" argument is strong in its favour, which is why I put it in an amendment where the motivation is front and center. (The regular precedent rules can of course also be motivated, other than "we tried it and it worked for us", but there's still a difference to me.)
  • On the 4th amendment: I'm probably home-blind, but I don't consider it more convoluted than the other amendments :/
    Maybe it's not - I just felt like it was when I read it. Like, "I'm sure you could write that in a less convoluted way." Just a gut feeling.
    Perhaps it's just my lack of experience that makes me believe this is unlikely! Surely, your experience with PvP play says it's a most valid choice that comes up now and then. I don't want my 5th amendment to rule it out, but I think I subconsciously did when I wrote it.
    Yeah, I suspect - from everything I've seen - that you might change your mind after running a campaign to the mid-levels and so on, getting more experience. It's not by any means the most common situation, but PvP scenarios come up regularly enough for me to consider them a naturally emergent part of the game. I want to emphasize that here I don't mean stupid, trivially destructive brain-farts where the players just decide to kill each other's characters for frivolous reasons, either; what I mean are some of the greatest, most complex wargaming scenarios the game has to offer.

    By accident there actually exists a reasonably detailed description of just such a PvP scenario from our 2012 campaign, here. It was very fun to play, and the fact that it involved one player character plus various NPC forces arrayed against the rest of the party was in no way detrimental to the play process. You can't get this sort of thing out of D&D every session mainly because the default structural premise of an adventuring party with adventure hooks doesn't support it, but when the campaign naturally brings it about, there are no procedural problems in running this sort of thing.

    If I had to give a totally arbitrary count for how often we end up playing PvP adventures, I'd say that it's about a 1-in-40 sessions occurrence or so. Rare, but not non-existent, and often important and even climatic for the overall campaign.
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