Monday, June 11, 2012

Yeah, I'm a Rules Guy

I'm a process guy. Even says that if you click my bio "process-oriented" - I speak words like repeatable, RACI, CMMI, ISO without batting an eye. So I find the discussion of "Rules vs. Rulings" interesting, because it is something that I fight with every day in my job, people going "Why do we have to define how we do it, we just do it!"

Much of this has kicked off with a post by Monte Cook, discussing how, in his mind it is better to give the GM the power to adjudicate within a broad context is the ideal. A friend of mine from college has frequently been on a kick of giving the GM more flexibility to adjudicate within the system, that the GM should have the ability to decide how things end.

Me? Not so much. I want a tighter, more robust rules set. Perhaps this makes me an immature gamer; so be it. I prefer to think about it as "What do I want to spend my time at the table doing - think what the most fair resolution is, while trying to maintain what I did last time and why OR doing what I actually enjoy.

And I can understand the preference for a rulings-based system. It moves a lot of the effort from the system designers to the GMs, where it can be tailored to the table that they are sitting at. Unfortunately, with what I have seen in my workplaces, depending on a strong project manager works wonderfully until that project manager goes away, and then there's nothing. Or what happens if the project manager has a bad day?

So why my preference for rules over rulings? Rules give everyone the same explicit understanding for how something is supposed to work. No, not everything can be codified into a rules set, but there should be some three major items that a system should try to codify:

  1. How does a conflict start?
  2. How does a conflict resolve?
  3. How do we know when a conflict ends?

All rules/rulings should be to answer those three questions. My preference is just to have more done on the front end and not the back end. Why?

Because I'm mortal. I have my good days and my bad days. Because I can be very good at thinking on my feet and tying someone up in verbal knots.

But I don't want it to be my social abilities to whine, persuade, and convince the GM whether my character succeeds, I want my character's skills to be put to the test. I've quoted it before and I'll quote it again, "You can let the dice decide or let the GM decided, this goes for any type of resolution from social mechanics to hitting with a sword to finding a trap." And I just prefer to let the dice decide how the resolution of conflict goes.

Admittedly, that doesn't actually STOP anything from being dependent on the rulings or rules; because you could still have dice based resolution. The only question is where do you want the determinations to be made, on the front end, and codified within the text the rules, or left to the back end for each table to decide?

Frankly, I like knowing what I'm supposed to be doing before I get to the point where I need to make a decision.


  1. Are you referring to me above?

    Anyway, I like rules. I like consistency. I think "RULINGS NOT RULES" is one of several neckbearded battlecries for a return to the way RPGs were played before electricity was common and women could vote. It gets thrown around a lot at my table but, I think, only ever ironically.

    However, I'm growing weary of rulesets that try to cover every circumstances... because, inevitably, they fail to succeed. And, in doing so bring a lot of unnecessary complexity to the table along with gaping openings for opportunistic players to either abuse (or, in being denied the opportunity to abuse, be frustrated by).

    I want rules that provide enough coverage to reasonably set expectations and clearly articulate options... without needlessly complicating things or, in failing to be universally comprehensive, setting unreasonable articulations. I want a Goldilocks ruleset: not too light, not too heavy.

    Basically, I hate 3E. (Which is why I shake my head every time I think about Cook elevating this issue to the first page on Big Purple.)

  2. Nope, not referring to you at all. Honestly, you didn't even come to mind as part of this.

    My issue is, though, in the end, given an equal number of situations, you are going to have an equal number of rules. In the case of rulings, those rules are probably going to be informal, possibly not written down, and subject to the agreement of the table. In the case of the "rules" answer, those rules will be codified within a central text.

    And no, there is way for rules to cover everything. I'm not looking to remove the human rulings. I'm just looking for a heavier hand of guidance of how to answer the key three questions that I listed.

  3. My thinking on this is this: given a tight rules set, a good GM can always substitute a ruling where it is needed. Absent a tight rules set, a poor GM cannot function. I would rather have a strict set of rules that I can break as needed than be forced to flail around (and create my own tight rules set). I feel the same way about battle mats - if the rules for their use are there, I can ignore them, but if they are not there, people who want them have to make them up themselves.

  4. Hi,

    Apologies for the off-topic comment, but I couldn't find a contact email for you.

    A while ago I put out an ebook of my writing, called The New Death and others. It's a collection of short pieces, mostly dark fantasy.

    I was wondering if you'd be interested in doing a review on your blog.

    If so, please email me: Let me know what file format is easiest for you, and I'll send you a free copy.

    You can download a sample from the ebook's page on Smashwords:

    I'm also happy to do interviews, guest posts, or giveaways. Just let me know what you'd prefer.


  5. As a gamer (current RPG: Hollow Earth Expeditions) who does configuration management by day, with CMMI training and a recent ITIL Foundation cert, I enjoyed reading this. I came here via a friend and

    1. Heh, glad to entertain you.

      I never went the ITIL route myself so I only know the PR about it.