Friday, June 21, 2013

A Post Worth Sharing

I just found Venger's Old School Gaming Blog yesterday and I browsed through many of the posts to see what I had missed since it began back in March.  I enjoyed the reading but Venger really brings the awesome in the following post:
Go check it out!


  1. His post actually opens up an issue. What determines the type of "feel" of the game, the rules or the setting? Obviously there is an interplay between the two, but I really think D&D is the odd one out.

    D&D didn't come with a setting. Obviously there were rules. Those rules told you what an elf was like. It told you how magic had to work, but this is very different than most other games. Other games come with a setting. Games that are not fantasy tend to be skill based, not class based. Personalities instead of abilities/restrictions give a feeling for various races.

    Other games place the emphasis on the setting. Hence, you could use the rules from Shadowrun to play Shadowrun, but you could also make it a fantasy game and use the same system. However, it would feel like a fantasy game because of the setting, not the rules.

    I suppose I could view it like this. I don't think it is necessary to change the name or make things up with your group. I do think it is necessary to build your own world, which given the highly restrictive nature of the D&D rules will require changing the rules.

    Dragonlance is a good example of this. Although this is not how it came about, you can view it as a homebrew game. You add in some new races, you tweak what they can do. You create a pantheon of gods. Instead of having fighters or palidans, you have knights. Those knights end up being different classes. Playing in Dragonlance is certainly going to be a different experience than playing in Grayhawk or Forgotten Realms.

    I think the key is to make the rules match the setting you have in mind instead of using the rules as written to create a setting. That is why many D&D games feel so generic.

    1. That's what I find so intriguing about his post. Will this collaborative form of rules design AND setting design during game play work with every group? Absolutely not. It will definitely require the right group for this method of play to work.

      It would be interesting to do this for 6 months or a year while taking notes and jotting down all of the developments in the rules and setting to see what it looked like at the end of that time. Maybe create a document at the end of that period and then using that as a starting point for the next campaign in that setting. Very intriguing.

      I agree with your reply above and I think you nailed it in the last paragraph when you discussed making the rules match the concept of the setting.


    2. I enjoyed reading your comment, Jamie. Is D&D's settingless "generic" system a bug or a feature? In my view, that's the question begging to be asked.

      Sure, Shadowrun has a built-in setting, game world, and kind of a storyline... but then why is D&D 100 times more popular? Maybe, it's because gaming groups are forced to create their own world? But how often do DMs do that? How many players expect it?

      Say you're buying a house/condo and see a bunch of them. You like the layout of one, but not the wall colors and carpet. Well, re-painting is an easy fix, carpet is more of a pain in the ass, but still doable. However, most potential buyers can't see the potential. That's human nature, unfortunately. And yet, it means a ton of possibilities for visionaries who can see the untapped potential hidden underneath.


    3. I wasn't expecting any responses except by Charlie so this is a pleasant surprise. As written, I think it comes off more as a brain-storming activity than one that will produce a solid game. As such, it may work. It gets players and DM's thinking. I do not see it as a good way to conduct a game nor one that will produce a quality playable game. After the brain-storming, then real work needs to be done in order to make it work.

      The lack of an established setting in the rules of D&D is neither a bug nor a feature. It is simply the logical outcome of how D&D developed. D&D was based off of war gaming. You get individual combat and then that evolved into role-playing. When it comes to the rules, you are just going to print the basics needed from the war gamers perspective. In any case, D&D did have a setting. That setting was the basis of the races and rules printed. The setting just wasn’t published.

      D&D’s popularity has nothing to do with the fact that people have to create their own world. If that were true, then GURPS would be the most popular rpg ever because it is even more generic than D&D. D&D’s popularity has to do with the fact that it was first, it is fantasy, and it has name recognition. Other rpgs produced without a setting are almost always failure in the market place. There is a truism in the rpg world that settings sell, not the rules. It explains why Forgotten Realms is such a strong seller.

      In any case, back to RPG design. The idea in that blog seems interesting if you are concerned with a fun Friday night through away game. I do not think it lays a strong basis for anything long-term. D&D has rules that inform a setting. Hence, if you play by the rules then the settings are all going to have a similar feel to them. The other way to design is to have a setting first, and then build rules to work with that setting. The problem that I have is the attempt to do both.

      The post weaves both approaches together and that is not going to work. Part of the confusion is answering questions like, ‘what is an elf like?’ In part, that is setting. However, the setting answer can often generate rules. If I were to say, here are the rules for an Elf, e.g. +3 long sword, that then gives players the impression that Elves are good at and use long swords. Conversely, if I were to say Elves are good at long swords, then players would expect some mechanical representation of this. I do not believe you can properly generate rules without having some basics of the setting first.

      I suppose my concern is with coming up on the rules. If this situation I will use cards, in this situation I use a d20 and roll under, in this situation a d10 and roll higher, etc. Besides the potential randomness of it all, there is a concern with proper probabilities. That is not something the DM is likely to know. Further, players need to know the rules in order to know what to expect. If you expect players to collaborate in the rules process that will make things even worse in trying to produce a coherent set of rules that can be kept track of.

      I actually think it would be better to take an established rules system AD&D, d6, Basic Role-Playing, etc. as the basis. Then engage in the other aspects in the way the post reads. I think it will make it easier on the DM and players. It will lay the groundwork for a much longer and satisfying game. One thing you can do, however, is not tell the players what rule system you are using and you should probably pick one that is really simple to use and keep straight without looking at rules.

    4. Great reply with plenty of material to think about!

      Believe me, I am intrigued by the idea but I also think it will not work for every group. I think you are probably right in recommending that the group start with an established rules system and have an initial meeting that establishes the rules/world and then you build from there.

    5. I keep re-reading the original post and I keep taking something else away. It begins more like a how to GM advice. It seems to be like, start for scratch and build something new. Don't have any rule books so people can't protest. If you don't have a rule to cover something, quickly make it up so you can get back to play.

      Then, it seems to change tone. It seems to be more about collaboration. Moreover, collaboration about the rules during the process of play. I think this is my hang up.

      Another thing, is the post was written for an audience I do not belong to. It seems aimed at D&D/OSR players, especially those overly concerned with how to play something by the book. I am not one of them. I find it odd to suppose that the pinnacle of rule design for an rpg was accomplished in the 1970's. In any case, telling those people to stop worrying about what the book says and start making things up is good for them. Given how restrictive and how poorly thought out many aspects of D&D are, this will do a lot to improve play.

      With that said, once you move away from class/level games that are all pretty much derivatives of D&D, or at least maintain the restrictive nature inherent in that system, you will find a better role-playing experience.

      In any case, I do believe that it is probably better to focus on the setting and not the rules since the rules ought to be derived from what works with the setting. The Friday Night Firefight in CP202 is a prime example of this.

    6. What I had envisioned after reading the post was a group making decisions during play and the game evolving over long term play. For instance, if they discover that the way they were handling something doesn't work as good as expected then they could modify the rule and play some more. Eventually, this fune-tuning would evolve the rules into something that matches the style of that group. It's definitely not for everybody.

      I think class and level really only works for D&D (and a similar type of game). I think most games would be better if they broke away from class and level. I think your thoughts on this matter are pretty much spot on. In many ways, class and level just does not do a great job of genre emulation. I think it works the best for fantasy but the further away from fantasy you get the harder it is for class and level to properly handle the game.