I want to play with all the rules.

I’ve had a chance to play in a couple games outside my normal list in the last couple weeks, and they reminded me of some things I really prefer in my gaming.
One of them was very much a classic homebrew basement game — lots of combat system, and all the roleplay success hinging on the interpretation of the GM. The other was something that was sort of a mix of that with the more current hippie games, but still with a strong leaning toward “GM Fiat” as the means of determining difficulty levels and like.
Did I enjoy them? Yes. Excellent GMs made the experience enjoyable. Did I care for the games in the LARGER scheme of things? No, I didn’t. Largely because of the way the games depending on the GM’s personal take on whatever was going on to determine success. It meant that, if I played the same game with another GM, not only would the play be different (obviously), the acutual GAME SYSTEM would be different. I would not, in short, be playing the same game.
Lots of players will tell you “I don’t like having a set system around the roleplaying scenes. Yes, maybe a big character or a notorious character should have an effect on the NPC’s reaction to me as I roleplay but I trust the GM to judge that fairly and take it into account; I don’t want a system to do that. ”
First, to those players: you DO have a set system around your roleplaying scenes. A “system” is “the thing that we use to give one or more of us the authority to say ‘this is what happens’.” In the example above, the “system” is “the GM decides what happens.”
That IS a system. If you don’t think so, I direct you to the Amber DRPG — that’s the only system the game uses.
And I don’t mean to make a whipping boy out of ADRPG — LOTS of home campaigns replace the WRITTEN rules from published systems for at least a portion of the rules — whatever they don’t like — with that “the GM decides” system; they either do it consensually as a group, explicitly within the rules, or the GM is doing it behind the scenes and not telling anyone. Or the system does it explicitly. It happens all the time. Either way, the group probably trusts the GM to take on that job.
I don’t.
Now, don’t get me wrong I may trust, say, Dave or Randy or whoever to wing something like this, but the don’t trust “the GM” as a generic person to do so. There are a couple reasons.
1. I play with lots of GMs. This kind of ‘system’ basically boils down to me trying to convince/charm/cajole the GM into giving me what I want. I don’t want to fucking argue (in the legalese sense) for something — I want to declare an action, engage with a mechanical system, and roleplay the result. If I wanted the quality of my arguing/roleplaying to be the thing on which my success hung, I would have become a lawyer.
2. Consistency. I want a mechanical, written down system that we use for every situation. The problem with this “GM decides” system is that it only works the way you expect if you’re playing with *your* GM. What happens if your *other* friend is GMing? You have to adjust. Do you still trust him? Sure, but it’s going to be different. How about if *I’m* GMing? Or you? Or that other guy? Every one of those changes means that any encounters (social, usually) that use “the GM decides” System are going change, sometimes dramatically, and “what will get me success” is also going to change, dramatically.
I mean, you wouldn’t want that to happen in combat, right? “Oh, Bob’s GMing, so I have to remember that the 5 of every suit is wild, and anything above 7’s are an automatic hit if I’m using a shotgun…” because that’s the kind of thing we’re talking about.
I want a system in place when I’m striving for a goal.
A written-down system.
A consistently 100%-used system, so that if one week I’m playing with one GM and the next week I’m using the same rules with another GM (or if I am GMing) the game is essentially the same, apart from how the GM plays the NPCs and what sorts of conflict-laden Decision Points they hit the players with.
This point is particularly important to me right now, as I ponder a new Spirit of the Century game in which several people, perhaps many, will sit in the GM seat. If one week we have to think “oh, we’re playing X’s version of the rules” and the next week we have to think “oh, we’re playing Y’s version of the rules… they won’t use this and this and this rule, but they will use this…”
Well, I won’t play very fucking long.
Use all the rules. In these games we’re talking about, you can.
People look at games like Dogs in the Vineyard or Dead of Night or Heroquest and see very lean rules. They look at D20 and see really thick books, because d20 has more rules. D20 has lots more rules.
In practice, however, I think the NUMBER of rules actually being used by a d20 group and a DitV group is about the same.
Percentage-wise, a lot less of the d20 rules set is actually being used; it’s been replaced; this isn’t really anyone’s fault — I don’t think a normal human person CAN run that game with all the rules — there are too many, even in just the core 3 books, to remember, and some are just too much of a pain. Anyone use encumbrance? How about the NPC-reaction tables?
Dogs (compared to D20, for the sake of common familiarity) is small and lean because 100% of the rules are meant to be used, all the time. * Nothing in the game is optional. Period.
((At least with the homebrew game I was in this weekend, the rules aren’t ignored — whatever is there, IS used — there just aren’t rules written down for a big chunk of what people typically do in an RPG: an alien coming to earth and reading the rules wouldn’t know there was any part of play that involved portraying your character; it’s not mentioned, you just have to know that part. 🙂 ))
And I’ve played in good systems that effectively and enjoyably build a real system around even roleplaying scenes — a system that makes those scenes as interesting and involved as combat. It does happen. It’s not even that unusual anymore. Some of them aren’t even “Story Games.” Heroquest and Spirit of the Century are very very traditional games, yet they do this.
The equally good part? These games function exactly the same, regardless of who’s running the game, if the person in question USES ALL THE RULES.
There is an almost automatic, trained instinct in GMs who’ve run a lot of traditional games to pick up ANY game and look for “the thing that can be ignored in this system.”
These ‘little’ games just don’t have that part.

(Note to self: Assimilate the “Afraid” horror rules for use with Dogs and run that for people instead, so they can experience the rules system without me having to deal with the religion-hang-ups that so many people seem to run into with vanilla dogs.)


  1. Does it change if, in one of those, say, laissez-faire systems, the GM makes an effort to explain their interpretations ahead of time? (I’ve tried to push that effort with ADRPG, for example – I make clear what my suppositions will be ahead of the game, including how I run attributes, etc.)
    My other question is, do you prefer a GM not being necessary then? What is the role of the GM in that case? (I don’t mind – I think I agree more and more each second that I consider what you say, but I’m curious. I have always argued that if a computer can do that interpreting, I might as well be playing a computer game.)

  2. Wow. Great questions.
    Actually, I very tempted to make a separate post out of these.
    Yes, I’m going to do that.

Comments are closed.