2005-01-18 : Archive 156
How RPG Rules Work
This is description, not prescription.
The way I figure it, an RPG's rules coordinate three things:
The fictional things and events and stuff in the game. The interactions of the players themselves. Dice, numbers, words, maps - real-world tokens, things, props, representations. Emily calls 'em "cues" and I think that's just right.
If you can pick it up and hand it to another player, or change it with a pencil and eraser, it's a real-world cue. If it exists only in our heads and our conversation, it's in-game.
So here's a rule: "1. Don't mess with the dark forest to the North, it's Vincent's."
This rule coordinates the interactions of us, the players, with the made-up stuff in the game. The rule says that if the in-game stuff comes to include our characters entering the forest, we change our interactions in a particular way: we defer to me, Vincent, about what's what.
The rightward-pointing arrow is "our characters entering the forest," the leftward-pointing arrow is "we defer to Vincent about what's what."
Here's a rule: "2. Subtract the roll on the damage die from your character's hit points."
This rule coordinates our interactions with the real-world cues we're employing. The leftward-pointing arrow is "the roll on the damage die," the rightward-pointing arrow is "subtract from your character's hit points." The die represents every real-world thing we're using: dice, character sheets, life stones, everything.
Notice that non-RPG games' rules are all entirely like this one. Monopoly, Chess, Die Siedler - they have no fictional in-game, just people interacting and real-world tokens.
Here's a rule: "3. If your character has higher ground than his opponent, make your attack roll at +3."
Now this rule takes information from the fictional in-game and applies it to the real-world tokens we're using. The long rightward-pointing arrow is "your character has higher ground than his opponent, +3," and the leftward-pointing arrow is "make your attack roll."
I've drawn the long arrow through the people because of course it's the people who interpret the in-game and apply the rule.
Here's a rule: "4. If your character takes damage greater than 4 on the damage roll, he's knocked down."
Here the rules instruct us to have certain things happen fictionally when certain things happen in the real world. The rightward-pointing arrow is "the damage roll" and the long leftward-pointing arrow is "damage greater than 4, knocked down."
Here's a rule: "5. If your character's opponent tries to disarm your character, make a Hold Weapon check. If you fail, your character is disarmed, and you thus suffer the unarmed penalty until you retrieve your weapon."
The more complicated your rule, the more complicated the arrangement of arrows. The short leftward-pointing arrow is "your character's opponent tries to disarm your character." The long rightward-pointing arrow is "make a Hold Weapon check." The long leftward-pointing arrow is "your character is disarmed" - the part where we imagine your character's sword skittering across the rocks. The short rightward-pointing arrow, at last, is "suffer the unarmed penalty."
If this were the Weapon Breakage rule instead of the Weapon Droppage rule, the short rightward-pointing arrow would be both "suffer the unarmed penalty" and "add 'broken' to your weapon on your character sheet."
So now, we employ various rules in various orders and combinations over time.
This animation shows kind of what Dogs in the Vineyard or D&D or Shadowrun or PTA or V:tM is like in play.
The way Charles' group plays Ars Magica would have practically only the arrows between the players and the in-game lit up:
(I'm very open to correction about this, but it's my impression.)
The way my group plays Ars Magica would be about the same, but we'd have the arrows crossing the players light up a few times per session:
And finally, Jonathan Tweet in Everway describes three kinds of rules: Drama, Fortune and Karma.
Rules like this are Drama rules.
Rules like this are Fortune rules if the real-world cues include dice or some other randomizer; Karma rules if they don't.
For the complete comment thread, click here.
1. On 2005-01-19, Matt said:
2. On 2005-01-19, anon. said:
3. On 2005-01-19, Vincent said:
4. On 2005-01-19, C. Edwards said:
5. On 2005-01-19, Bryant said:
6. On 2005-01-19, Chris said:
7. On 2005-01-19, Ben Lehman said:
8. On 2005-01-19, Vincent said:
9. On 2005-01-19, Ben Lehman said:
10. On 2005-01-19, Vincent said:
11. On 2005-01-19, Ben Lehman said:
12. On 2005-01-19, Vincent said:
13. On 2005-01-19, Ben Lehman said:
14. On 2005-01-19, Vincent said:
15. On 2005-01-19, Ben Lehman said:
16. On 2005-01-19, Vincent said:
17. On 2005-01-19, nothings said:
18. On 2005-01-19, Vincent said:
19. On 2005-01-20, Vincent said:
20. On 2005-01-20, Rognli said:
21. On 2005-01-20, Vincent said: