Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The Frame in which Rules are Deconstructed

I ended the last post by saying the DM's role must be established clearly.  By no means does this mean the same rules the players adhere to, but it does mean rules, standards from which the DM must not deviate when running the game.

Let's run through some of the excuses that DMs express when their intention is to adjust the game arbitrarily.

  • Because I am not arbitrary all the time.  I am only arbitrary when I arbitrarily decide that being arbitrary is necessary.
  • There is a very important "balance" when I run a game, between knowing when to play the game by the rules and when to ignore the rules ~ all I am doing is ensuring that balance is respected.
  • The sign of being a truly great DM is understanding when the rules matter and when it is important that the DM not be used by the rules.
  • This arbitrariness that I employ, this very important balance that I achieve, is never noticed by the players, and that is the most important part of my DMing.
  • Achieving this balance is very difficult.  I should be respected for being able to do it.
  • My judgement of how much balance and fun the players need to be having justifies any moment I decide it is necessary to ignore the rules.
  • It is up to me to judge when the rules need to be ignored.  That is my job.
  • Ignoring rules enables me to move past boring parts and get to a resolution more quickly, maintaining momentum.
  • The game is not about overcoming the rules or die results, the game is about narrative and role-playing.

I'm not going to discuss the illegitimacy of any of these excuses.  They are plainly outside any set of standards for one human's behaviour in the company of others.  Arguments such as "things done in secret are acceptable" or "I am arbitrary only when I need to be" are red flags that indicate an individual has lost all perspective where it comes to dealing with others, on a scale that has nothing whatsoever to do with role-playing games.  Such people should seek counselling.

What is of interest to us is the appearance of concepts that do matter a great deal to the intentional inefficiency of our system.  When I say, as a DM, that I have to approach the game in a manner that ensures all the persons in the game are being treated the same, that I am making judgments fairly and retaining the trust of my players, it is to balance that I am referring.  Not the sort of balance that is created arbitrarily, but the sort of balance that is created by a set of rules that everyone expects and is able to predict for future use against the interface.  When Bogost describes play as an activity of freedom and possibility, he certainly expects that the play will be interesting and compelling and therefore possess momentum, which is possible by limiting our freedoms and choices in the game.  Our game will certainly have role-playing. It will certainly result in a narrative from the interplay between the players and the DM.  Resolutions are important and it is equally important that we move past the boring parts, as obviously we're not trying to be boring.  Yet these things can absolutely be achieved through the rules, and are in fact made more interesting by the rules limiting our game.

It is merely that skipping past the rules is easier, since it: a) vastly reduces the amount of memory work we have to possess when DMing; and b) provides an alternative to our having to create better adventures, better consequences, better dilemmas and better exposition, all of which take time and brain sweat, and some of which are, frankly, beyond my capacity to manage.

In other words, I wanted to write a book, but that was hard and required my own words, so I cheated.  Buy my book!

The whole point of binding our choices with rules that make most easy options unacceptable is to make a game that really pushes our creativity, our effort, our sense of accomplishment and our satisfaction to the wall.  Golf, which Bogost and I keep bringing up, is a really great game with really difficult inefficiencies built into it, what with the size of the ball and the amount of grass and the ridiculous shape of the stick used, but let's be completely honest: golf is a kiddie game compared to D&D.

D&D is hard.  And it should be hard.  It's the hard that makes it great.

In making the functionality of our games, we are faced with a different sort of limitation than exists in traditional games or in the more massively appealing video games (which are reducing interest in every activity invented before 1975).  The largest struggle with video game limitation has to do with how much can be reasonably programmed into a game, specifically given the amount of cost it takes to create that game. Good games take millions of hours of paid-for wages to create and are bound by the expectation that the amount of money being spent will, eventually, be regained.  No one is making a game with an unlimited budget that is, say, attempting to recreate the entire city of London with all 12 million inhabitants, each with a completely different personality, so that you can pretend to go to London and hang out there.  That could be a potentially interesting game.  Ain't gonna happen.

But the process of creating the limitation we can afford to create in a video game makes the difficulty of that game more or less static, once the game is made.  The rules can't be changed, not without somehow having access to the programming and then, again, having the money to pay for the untold number of man hours it would take to adjust the game from its initial parameters.  Video games are wonderful and interesting, but for what they are, the rigidity of the game is fixed prior to play.

The rigidity of traditional games is less fixed.  There are "official" rules for how large a baseball diamond has to be or the number of yards in a football field, but those are rules invented for money-focused competitive play.  We can play football in an alley, we can play baseball in a living room (which I have done, not with traditional equipment), we can bend or manipulate the rules of cards or board games in any way that is agreed upon by the participants.  But the capacity for these games to expand beyond their simple premise is obviously limited.  The rigidity can be adjusted, but the actual game cannot be potentially expansive like an as-yet unmade video game can be.  That is why video games are superior to traditional games and why, from the very first, they drew us away from those games our parents and grandparents played.  Chances are, if you are younger than 30, you will live to see the disappearance of sports broadcasting for a wide variety of games that were super-important when you were ten.  I have already lived long enough to see the disappearance of less-than-common sports that were once free to view.  There isn't enough money in pure advertising anymore to support the small number of people who are still interested.

RPGs are unlike both sorts of games.  We can literally do anything.  We're not limited by any interface except our own brains.  We can make rules, unmake rules, even adjusting and providing precedents for unexpected situations as we go along.  The problem starts, however, in that misunderstanding RPG game-players have convinced themselves that this rule-changing, because it can be done on the fly, can be done arbitrarily if necessary. It is a short hop from there to people arguing that it should be done arbitrarily.

I can't speak for the reader.  My personal experience with childhood play was a lot of boredom, mostly from growing sick of playing the same games, occasionally punctuated by our making up our own games and our own rules.  Just as now, there were participants who misunderstood the rules, who deliberately misunderstood the rules, who steadfastly refused to play by rules they did not like, who pouted and went home because their version of the rules did not make them accepted and who took every opportunity to challenge rules because that was a way to get around them.  With some games in our neighborhood, which were recalled and played again multiple times, particularly that game we called "guns," the rules became fixed and traditional, to the point where those who resisted the rules were not permitted to play.

Any system that appears to lack a firm and rigid set of rules will draw persons who will challenge those rules on the basis that, any rule that is not clearly understood can be gotten around by argument, outright resistance or passive aggressiveness.  This is all we are seeing now, with ongoing conversations about the necessity of rules, which rules need to be followed, which need to adjusted, which should not have been adjusted and so on.  The issue was made whole from the beginning, in that the breadth of the game was not considered in the initial creation.  The issue was made worse by the endless litany of rule-making and unmaking that has gone on since. A litany to which I happily contribute.

Realistically, it is not possible for me or anyone else to tell any campaign what rules to employ and what rules to disregard.  At best, we can make arguments for and against.  My principle goal here, then, is to established two conditions for which to argue those two sides, existence vs. non-existence.

NO, a rule should not be included if it does not meaningfully contribute to the measure of play within the rigidity of the campaign being presented.  If the rule is merely window dressing, primarily for the purpose of imprinting an emotional sensibility in the mind of the player, such as making a rule that all players must make or find a picture of their character if they wish to play, then it is clear the rule does not enable or fail to enable the actual game play of the participant, the movement within the more rigid system, and therefore that rule can be tossed out with no meaningful negative effect on the campaign.  If the element of game "play" cannot actually be gamed, in the strict definition of the word, get rid of it.

YES, a rule should be included if it increases the inefficiency of the system, limiting our ability to accomplish something within the orbit of that rule, so long as the rule dynamically changes the way that the game is resolved.  I recognize that "dynamic" is going to be misunderstood, so I will explain it: I mean that the rule creates situations which are characterized by change, activity and progress.  In an RPG, that would mean the progress of the adventure, progress of the character's accumulation of stuff and status, progress of the game's novelty, a change in the player's sense of enlightenment and a contribution to the player's sense of purpose when participating.

It is possible to make arguments for any rule in any RPG that support either of these two sides.  Good. Make them.  But make them inside this framework.  Because arguments made outside this framework don't mean anything.  The frame is not defined by me, the frame is defined by what a game is, what makes it successful, why people play it and what it is meant to accomplish: all conditions which I have taken a month and more than 25,000 words explaining.

People will make arguments outside this framework.  Constantly.  I have set myself to begin ignoring them. That way, we can settle three things:
  • That rules matter.
  • That it is possible for anyone, once educated, to understand why a rule should or should not be included and how the rule is intended to work.
  • That settings can be created that will excite players by steadfastly operating inside rules that apply to ALL the participants, players and DM alike.

With this argument in our pocket, we can effectively build a campaign.

18 comments:

Maxwell Joslyn said...

I'm having trouble getting what I want to say into words, but I'll try anyway

First I want to point out that some programming languages (and thus, games built with them) greatly reduce the amount of work required to edit and update the game as it goes. LISP, in particular, can have new code rewritten on the fly and added into the running program, with the new code used thereafter. While this still doesn't make it possible for a large game-design corporation to edit one's own particular copy of the game, it does mean that a solo hobbyist, running some kind of D&D world program, could fix small issues as they arise, or fix larger ones week-to-week just like writing rules in prose.

Where the issue with computer games comes in, of course, is that if you don't have a rule it can't be enforced by the computer. But if we view such a digital game world as working to support the human DM, then we can simply have the DM manually enforce any rules which can't or shouldn't be turned over to the game's code. And if a rule is broken, or if the situation calls for a new ruling, the DM ought to be able to tell the computer to ignore the coded rule, so that he or she can take the reins on that particular point.

Maybe this is tangential to what you're talking about here but it's the kind of thing I keep coming back to.

~~~

More on topic: I can't tell from the posts how one might formulate the rules that apply to a DM. But I'm sure that you are not saying that, for example, the DM must, for example, create all NPCs by rolling 3d6 (or whatever) for their ability scores, because that's a rule for character generation.

I feel like we've gone round and round about DM "code of conduct" before. Ways in which the DM can and cannot be permitted to act, to produce good gaming. Are you talking about that here?

JB said...

So, considering a hard "no" on rules only presented for window dressing: I'm drawn to thinking about professional sporting events with all sorts of hard, fast rules regarding uniforms and behavior that don't specifically contribute to the play on the field. I'm not talking about rules regarding the wear of protective equipment or uniforms at all...clearly the dynamic of play would be changed if it became harder to distinguish between players on two teams (or between players and on-field referees). Rather, I'm thinking of rules meant to constrain or create an air of "sportsmanship." Behavioral constraints that have no dynamic impact on the game.

For instance, professional baseball players are limited on what type of jewelry or accessories they are allowed to wear while playing. Professional football players are penalized for "excessive" celebration. Soccer players are flagged with a yellow card if they remove their shirt (even briefly) after scoring a goal. These things would not seem to affect the game play...in fact, long time fans of a sport sometimes decry these restrictions saying the refs are "taking the fun out of the game"...but they provide a certain uniformity of appropriate or acceptable behavior to manage how our perception of the game. And when I say "our" I mean both the spectators of the sport and perspective of those who play as well.

I can think of certain rules for RPGs that some might consider mere "window dressing" while others feel they set a particular tone, necessary to "correct" game play. Jonathan Tweet's RPG "Over The Edge" rather famously required players to hand draw an image of their character as part of character generation, asserting that a connection is formed in the player's mind by linking visualization, imagination, and moron skills. The image itself did not have any impact on the game IN play (the image was not necessary for describing the location of equipment, for example), but Tweet considered it an essential part of playing because of the investment required by ALL player participants. Other games...like Amber...actually provides rewards for voluntary emotional investment (extra character points for committing to write short fiction about the characters exploits, or tape recording sessions), contributing to the campaign OUTSIDE of actual game play.

I suppose one could say that even stuff outside of the session (character gen, between session record keeping) are still a part of "play" when it comes to an RPG. But then what IS an example of a non-essential rule? Are behavioral and/or tonal constraints always window dressing? If I say all players must report to the table in costume and "speak in character" or else be penalized in term of reward (no experience points for "appropriate role-playing," etc.), am I not allowed to do so if only to set the appropriate tone of seriousness (or ridiculousness) that I require for running my game?

Alexis Smolensk said...

Hm, where to start. Maxwell, you first.

I understand where you're going with the argument about LISP and about reprogramming elements of a specific game: I download mods and fixes all the time for games that I like. Steam crowdsources such things and new features and content appears without my asking on games that I have known for years, because someone behind the Steam heirarchy made an add.

I think you know that the limit of those fixes is far, far less than what we can do. on the fly, with an RPG. Maybe an RPG isn't as pretty or as consistent afterwards, but the changes can be starkly different almost immediately.

I'd love a system that would enforce rules at the table by computer. Most would hate it, but wouldn't it be different if a siri-type voice said, "You are violating previously accepted norms and parameters; do you wish to continue?" Thankfully, my players usually jump on me when I do this, as they begin to learn what's consistent, so I don't really need it. But good call.

I am very definitely not interested in micromanaging a DM's choosing of an encounter or adventure-scape with an if-then rule system. That's the limitation of computer games. There's no possible way to come up with a complicated enough if-then set of possibilities that would match the human's pattern recognition radically enough to make it meaningful. I have clearly established the DM's code of conduct. It is called "Legitimacy." Look through this content. Thousands of scholars are already doing this work for everyone, all the time.

We need to embrace that this real world thinking for real world problems ALSO applies to real world running of RPGs.


Alexis Smolensk said...

JB,

I know you are a sports guy and I don't want to pretend I understand more about sports than I do. Yet I think I have to argue that no official aspect of a professional sport can possibly have come into existence despite only being "window dressing." Certainly, I can believe that many fans feel many of the rules you state must be, but professional sports is a science, a business and a moral representative of the cultures that have been invested into them.

Take the soccer player who is carded for removing their shirt. Removing a shirt in public, when not at specific locations such as a beach or a swimming pool, is distasteful to many people, some of whom will be in the audience and will have paid for the privilege of being there. Some of those offended people will have brought their children, and will be particularly offended that this is being done in front of those innocent, unspoiled little people. I think this is ridiculous, but official sports are money and, like censors in the movies, there are censors at sports events.

Or take another angle on the shirt removal, coupled with the excessive celebration. Some audience members will really hate to see it, since they are cheering for the other team. Many audience members are already pumped and aggressive; it does not take much to get under their skin. Seeing someone "excessively" celebrate, coupled with the guy sitting next to an aggressive brute like this, is enough to start a riot. I've seen it at High School football games. We want to keep the spectators passive. We don't want the spectators ripping off their shirts like their heroes and screaming their victory, do we?

Jewelry and accessories, you know, cause injuries.

Sportsmanship sells the notion that sports figures are "heroes" and this matters a great deal to advertising the viability of sports, particularly when a team wants the taxpayers to dump out another two hundred million for a new stadium. We must sell the ideal that players are not gladiators, and that we are not in a coliseum. We're supposed to be above these things.

Yes, I don't doubt that many people do feel these restrictions take the fun out of the game. Many people in the stands and on the field would like to see and have blood (I'm a Canadian, we invented a sport where the blood shows better on the "field" than any other), they don't care about riots (they'd like to start one) and they certainly don't get the nuance of public relations. Many of them feel that if a pinky ring gouges the eye out of an enemy contestant, so much the better. This does not make the rules you quote window dressing. Many people are wrong about wanting such things.

(okay, this is getting long, new comment coming)

Alexis Smolensk said...

Continuing, JB, regarding Tweet's assertion and the questions that follow. I am not dismissing these things out of hand! That is why I said, GOOD, make arguments.

However famous it might be, I don't know Tweet's argument, but I have some questions. Regarding the "connection that is formed in the player's mind," how is this connection measured? How is it played within a more rigid system? How do I know that it is being played well or badly. How is it compensated for being played well on the basis of the assertion that it is being played well? Where is the context for this assertion, or is it just another fuzzy concept like Bogost's arguments against fun being a spoonful of sugar that makes the medicine go down?

Regarding the image as "an essential part of playing because of the investment," how is the investment measured? Give me a measure of the essentiality of it. What is the investment being invested into? Are we speaking of the "feelings" of the player towards the invented character? Is it better for the player to identify with a character outside of their own person by increasing the outside character's physical existence, or should we not be attempting to turn the identify between player and character inward? That is, is the goal of RPGs to give the player a character, or is it the better goal of RPGs to make the player BE a character?

Again, words like "essential" sounds pretty fuzzy. Essential how? To whom? In what degree? How is it played well versus how it is played badly? How do we measure that play? Or is it just an example of more fuzzy spoonfuls of sugar?

Regarding "rewards for voluntary emotional investment." What reward? How is it defined? Is the reward different for different people? Is the reward a game reward or a personal reward. Remember that Bogost said that we tend to confuse game play and "fun" with pleasure and reward, when in fact play is exactly the opposite. We're not trying to invent game concepts that reward people, we're trying to invent game concepts that OBSTRUCT the obtaining of rewards. Remember? You wrote "full agreement" on the post, "Intentional Inefficiency."

(continued again)

Alexis Smolensk said...

Examples of non-essential rules: ANY rule can be considered non-essential, depending on your game's structure and intended function. Combat? Experience? Role-playing? Yes. All potentially non-essential. It isn't a question of a rule being inherently essential, it is a question of WHAT do you want to achieve with your game?

We need some sort of resistance to the amount of play in the pursuit of accomplishment. If combat exists in a framework that does not provide meaningful resistance to accomplishment, then it is non-essential. If alignment can be made so that it DOES creates a specific kind of resistance to a specific kind of accomplishment, then YES, it belongs. Do you see?

I would argue that no one has ever made a rule that enables alignment to do that. I would also argue that many rules that have been made attempt to impose a resistance to accomplishment, but that they do it in such an inefficient manner that it is impossible to enjoy their play: such as the entire 4th edition's combat effort. It was a game, but it wasn't a good game; the inefficiencies for creating a sense of accomplishment against a resistance made play unpleasant.

SO, if we can take Tweet's proposal of a player's hand-drawing and apply that specifically to a resistance that in some way makes it matter how the hand-drawing was accomplished, or measure the effect of the hand-drawing on the player's sense of accomplishment in an ongoing functional setting, I'll buy it. But it sounds like an annoying side-quest to me, that automatically makes people who can draw feel superior to people who cannot, the latter than being made to feel inadequate and ashamed for the insufficiency of their drawing, undermining their ability to possess the clean, untouched image of their imagination, which does not require any special ability with an implement or automatically entrench and calcify their self-obtained image once the work is created. Someone is going to have to work pretty hard to convince me that my attempting to draw an image of a third person character, when I always role-play RPGs as ME, is a better route to game play. As I said, exactly how am I rewarded for this particular side quest (in the context of the 7 rewards I just posted an article about)?

Yes, you are allowed to demand that the players must report to the table in costume, et al, and penalize them. Some people will play that game and like it. I won't be one of them, but that's immaterial. The question isn't, would that be a game I would enjoy; the question must be, HOW do we make a premise like that a good game? I'm going to repeat this until people start to get it: how is this costume dressing interpreted as a kind of play within a more rigid system? What is the rigid system that works here? Your personal judgment? That sounds doubtful. I think it needs a more reliable measurement.

Charles Taylor (Charles Angus) said...

I don't have much to add, but I wanted to stop in to say I think this is very good work you're doing here, Alexis.

In replying to JB, you seem to conflate a rule having a rationale with the rule having a gameplay function, which I don't think is quite right. There may well be good reasons outside the game for some of these rules, which you point out, but how does requiring players to keep their shirts on materially affect gameplay? Perhaps one could argue that it requires greater emotional control, and separates hotheaded players from more phlegmatic players. That's an effect of the rule, but hardly the rule's purpose.

I suppose the point I'm making is that window-dressing always has a point and a rationale. Finding the point or rationale of a rule doesn't make it not window dressing. Literal window dressing does not affect the functionality of the products the store sells, but it does make consumers more likely to buy them. Having a point doesn't make a rule a functional part of the game in the way I think you're getting at in this series.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Charles,

I don't know what to tell you about your saying, "...which I don't think is quite right." I believe your contention is with my source material and not with me, as I am following what I have researched and presented on the blog throughout July.

JB said...

Oh, my...I probably bungled what I was trying to say by throwing too many things in the pot at once. Sorry about that.

Forget the sports stuff. I was just trying to draw a parallel using an example of rules that aren't based on creating inefficiency in play, but that remain RULES (carrying in-game consequences...like the yellow card) existing solely to create a certain atmosphere/appearance/etiquette deemed appropriate for the game. Perhaps sports are too off the path to draw such a parallel.

The Tweet quote isn't particularly "famous" (bad word choice on my part) though Over The Edge is highly regarded in certain RPG circles for a number of innovations. Digging out a copy of the actual text (which I didn't have earlier), here's what Tweet writes (in part) regarding the required character drawing during OTE's chargen process:

"...this step is important because it carries the creation process beyond the verbal and establishes hyper-neural connections among corners of your brain that are not directly connected (specifically motor control and visual centers)."

The example character drawing is extremely simplistic, not high art to any degree. He does not use the term "essential" (that was MY fuzzy verbiage) though he does say "I take this step very seriously indeed," which to me conveys some gravity. Regardless, it is a PURPOSEFUL directive (a required rule of chargen), not some suggested practice. When I have run OTE in the past, I have always required players to sketch their character. Does it add to the gaming experience in a way I can measure? No. But it certainly colors the game and is part of that particular game's playing experience. It doesn't add resistance to the play experience...it's like (to go back to sports analogies) requiring cricket players to wear their whites, or requiring a certain code of dress and etiquette on the golf course.

I grok what you're saying about desiring more reliable measurements when designing what would be considered a "good game." That damnable practice some games have for awarding x.p. for the damnably nebulous term "good role-playing" makes me want to retch, mainly because there is no objective means of arbitration (and it's a fucking sham in most such games, anyway, where the "good role-playing" or play-acting or whatever has no direct impact on the play of the game...see World of Darkness games). I have no time for THAT particular brand of tripe.

This being said, I do think you might be selling D&D's alignment short as a behavioral constraint that offers in-game resistance and the POSSIBILITY of a deeper layer of challenge (i.e. more inefficiency).

Alexis Smolensk said...

JB,

I have tried to use language that shows I'm open to any possibility - if it meets a satifactory criteria.

Ozymandias said...

"...the point I'm making is that window-dressing always has a point and a rationale. Finding the point or rationale of a rule doesn't make it not window dressing."

Window Dressing: something used to create a deceptively favorable or attractive impression.

The reasoning Alexis provided demonstrates clearly that these example sports rules were most likely​ developed with a purpose in mind, other than creating an impression.

Charles Taylor (Charles Angus) said...

Ozymandias, I think it's worth distinguishing between rules with "meta-purposes" and rules with "gameplay-purposes". I would refer to rules with "meta-purposes" as window dressing. We can find another term if you'd prefer, but I think window dressing suits.

From the point of view of analyzing gameplay as Alexis has defined it, I'm going to say that yes, these types of rules are indeed window dressing. They affect the appearance of the game, they may have beneficial non-gameplay-related effects, but they do not strongly or primarily interact with gameplay.

I'll talk about baseball because that's what I know.

A rule like "A batter is out when his fair or foul fly ball is legally caught by a fielder" is a rule with gameplay purposes. This is one of the central rules of baseball, and defines the way the game works in a broad sense. I think we can all agree that this is most definitely not window dressing.

A rule defining that a runner sliding in to second base must slide toward the base, and not at the defending player (rule 6.01j) is a mixed rule. There are definite gameplay implications of this rule - it limits how take-out-y your slide can be, but the main purpose of the rule is "meta" - it's primarily to keep players safe, and secondarily to reduce the likelihood of aggression and violence, which MLB has decided is undesirable.

The rule requiring that uniforms not have numbers that are too big or too small, or requiring the President of Baseball to approve a player using something other than his last name on the uniform have meta-purposes rather than gameplay purposes. I think we can agree that the *gameplay* of baseball would be precisely the same with small numbers, big numbers, no numbers, or if a jersey said "Jose" instead of "Bautista". These kinds of rules are window dressing. They affect the appearance of the game, but not the structure or the play within it.

Back to roleplaying now.

Rules like "An orc has 1d8 HP" have gameplay purpose. This is core game stuff. Definitely not window dressing.

Rules like the execrable "XP for RP" have mixed purpose. They affect the gameplay, but their primary purpose is meta (in this case, to "produce better roleplay", for some undefined meaning of the term).

Rules like "draw your character" have meta-purpose, but not gameplay-purpose. They affect the gameplay in no way, even if there is some reason or purpose for them. This is window dressing.

Anyway. I think the distinction between gameplay- and meta-purpose is worth making, and clarifies when a rule is worth discussing in the framework Alexis is building. We're concerned with gameplay-purpose rules, not meta-purpose rules.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Full agreement, Charles.

Ozymandias said...

Got it. I'm on board now. Thanks for the clarification.

Drain said...

Knowing in advance that I agree with this analysis, tell me this, Alexis: where are the boundaries of arbitrariness?

Would you agree that there is a slew of choices that a DM is bound to make that will ever be outside the purview of rules (such as difficulty level, type of terrain encountered, intelligent opponent behaviour).

Or is your end-goal the reducing of it all into a sequence of over-rules that a DM will find himself governed by ("all challenges in a level 1 party's path cannot exceed it by more than X hit-dice", etc.), where the DM's freewill is secondary?

Also, I find the creative impetus behind DMing (regarding aesthetics, invoking a given "feel" to a campaign or game, trying to drive player behaviour) hard if not impossible to dissociate from arbitrariness, in greater or smaller portions. And yes, I get that not all of these need be expressed through rules, but where they may be... you'd pretty much always regard them as window-dressing to be torn down, yes?

Alexis Smolensk said...

I think your confusion on this count can be sorted out by reading the definitions for "arbitrary" and "justified." You seem to be mixing one with the other.

DMs can always make decisions about creativity, the feel of a campaign or game, the sorting out of situations that don't have rules, the amount of difficulty and the degree of inefficiency in the campaign in a JUSTIFIED manner.

That is, prepared to explain those decisions, if necessary, in a legitimate manner, legitimacy being defined by the article I wrote recently.

A DM is never right in being arbitrary.

the lost king said...

I am still having a hard time understanding what exactly you mean by dynamic, so I want to see if I'm understanding you correctly.

So when you say it dynamical changes the game, you mean it springs players to action?

Like, in Burning Wheel it has a resources attribute instead of just counting coins. It is deliberately hard to get past a 3 because being poor is a good motivator for going on an adventure and not sit on your laurels

Is that what you mean by dynamic inefficiency?

Alexis Smolensk said...

Yes, lost king.