I’ve run into a few conversational speedbumps lately, nothing adversarial, which nevertheless put me in an adversarial frame of mind. That’s due to history: having been mis-characterized as a “rules as written” advocate, for example; having taken the high road regarding such terms as “old school” as if it were a thing, and seeing my work held up as oppositional to things I’ve advocated for; and having taken a similar high road regarding long-standing nonsense terms like “diceless” and “free-form.”
So at least here in this space and place, I’m laying down how I look at it, and if you look at it differently, you’re going to have to make a lot of sense about what you mean – or at least consider that your usage is entirely personal and non-transitive – before I take you seriously. The video below conveys, I think, my frame of mind along with the stated content.
I promise that no fatalities to actual persons will occur in the comments. Ideas should notify their next of kin.
4 responses to “Rule this”
Step Across The Line
I look at it in less precise terms. There is the potential – text and discussion; and there is kinetic or Play. Even in a sporting event, referees and umpires will often interpret the rules, much to the chagrin of the players and coaches. No two matches are ever the same in that regard. The rules for that day and that match may not at all conform to the matches before or after.
And rpgs are no exception to that, save perhaps being less competitive. Rules as Written and Rulings, not Rules are frankly much more closely related to each other than I suspect people would imagine. You cannot have one without the other, in fact.
The Rules (text) as written often include a clause that encourages or even mandates that you (players) make changes if a rule (text/system) does not work for you. And one cannot make good rulings, without understanding the system and underlying intent. Perhaps cannot is too rigid a way to put it, but I think you have a hard time playing a game without at least understanding what the original intent was.
But, I think the terms are as much about control, social engineering, and elitism as they are anecdotial approaches to playing an RPG. I feel the same way about diceless and freeform, but perhaps to a lesser extent. Much like OS/R they are marketing terms.
I left out a whole paragraph.
I left out a whole paragraph.
So the text and system and discussion do not become rules until they cross the line into play. Going from the potential to the kinetic. Even then, there may be situations encountered that require re-evaluation. I admit I do not have a great reason for drawing that line, except that it helps me keep organized in my head.
Rules as Written and Rulings,
I agree entirely, in the context that the resulting diptych has nothing to offer a thinking person. Constructing rules as I have here (not as either/both of them do), relegating text to the position of a varying reference/tool, straightforwardly describes what we do.
This is why Lorenzo's comments about modern-day OSR blitherings are so on point, in that the claims are simultaneously made that, "the rules don't matter" and "there is a true and best way to play," the latter based on … texts. He similarly nails the self-elevated indie scene with its claims of innovation and experimentation and which yet conform to a strikingly narrow sphere design and play, despite all the ostensibly different texts. (I'm hunting his comments to link to them; it's around here somewhere)
Questions of preference about whether to use texts, and which, and how stringently, and above all, questions of goodness or rightness in doing so, are moot as phenomena. They may be felt strongly, personally and socially, but as with all similar things, the intensity of the feeling doesn't elevate the topic into more importance in reality.
Questions concerning the quality and properties of what texts advise or inspire or instruct regarding play – that is definitely a real topic, and it's occupied my attention for decades. One might, for example, advocate adhering to a particular text's content during play because it is hoped to be, or has been experienced as, a valuable inclusion. That does not mean the group is following the rules. It means the group is embracing the rules for use. I think that distinction is important, not pedantic.
On the notion of “rules as written”.
Regarding the idea that using the "text as written" is a certain type of one-true-wayism that the indie scene holds so close to its heart (which is a very fine concept in itself, because if the text is clear and coherent with the goals of the game it has to become part of the rules and I'd suggest it should be left unaltered as much as you can, as long as it works), it is my belief that it has been perverted from an actual play, "this-is-what-we-do-at-a-table" goal into a rethorical instrument. Maybe immediately so.
I think that imagining that hundreds of different tables produce similar but radically different experiences, at various degrees of intentionality, using the same text (while using the same text, of course, not putting the text on the table and then playing according to conflicting extabilished practices, of course) should be empowering, but I see the idea rejected more and more often by indie authors, and this bleeds into design (the "widget games") when the designer seem to want to control the experience completely.
And at the root of it all, what I perceive as the original sin of this perversion is the idea that this statement has been radicalized simply because it was used in internet fights to shut down the inevitable "we never have this problem using D&D at my table".
"You're not really playing D&D" is a correct statement that may help people understand what they do when they roleplay.
"Let's try to actually play D&D and see if it works for us, once the text becomes system" seems to me as a fine goal.
Going from this to "let's completely kill this aspect of human interaction and make the text into THE RULES, doing all we can to prevent variation not only in rules usage but going to the point of substantially preprogramming and scripting play to avoid anyone being able to say that we're not really playing this game by the rules, because it's impossible" is something I've been very frustrated with.