Rules, Rules, Rules (Once bitten, twice shy?)

Okay, it’s a terrible title…

So I’ve been working on my diceless game for about a year now. I’ve transitioned from that stage of putting stuff in notebooks and thinking deep, circular thoughts and now I’m at that part where things are starting to coalesce into an actual game framework. Part of my quest for my own game has involved reading (and re-reading) a ton of games. I’ve taken in a ton of stuff over the last year — going back to my roots in Amber, re-reading In Nomine, Castle Falkenstein, Call of Cthulhu (and BRP in general), GURPS, Old and New World of Darkness, Scion, and more. I’ve also been getting exposure to a lot of new stuff. I’ve read a bunch of OSR products, Castles and Crusades, Blood and Honor, Warrior, Rogue and Mage, BADASS, A Dirty World, the new Marvel game from MWP, and more I’m probably forgetting right now.

In the last few days, I read Fiasco. I’ve been hearing a lot about Fiasco. Fiasco has been held up to me as that magical creature, the GM-less RPG. Well, for my money I have to say that Fiasco is an awesome game… but I’d disagree that it’s actually an RPG (that is, what I’d call and RPG). Your definition can be different — no problem. But for me it’s actually missing two elements vital to being an RPG… the first is obvious: A GM. The second is less obvious but equally important (in my mind), campaign play. Fiasco is a party game, a one-off, you play and then when you play again everything is different and everyone is playing different characters. As I’ve previously mentioned — this is a problem for me with the new Marvel game and with some of what I’ve been hearing about coming from the Next version of D&D with it’s one-hour pick up and play adventures and such. Again, I don’t want to offend anyone. If our definitions of an RPG don’t mesh, no problem — rock out and play your way. It just doesn’t do it for me.

But that led me to thinking about the long game in my own game. It’s diceless, doesn’t have a lot of fancy geegaws to collect (magic items), doesn’t really have much in the way of “character builds” (though it does have a lot of decision-making for character creation), and doesn’t have much in the way of traditional XP-based advancement (primarily in that advancement does not follow a predictable course or come in discrete packets). So what is the long game about? And how does the long game stay interesting without leveling and loot?

Heh. And this is where my title comes in. As I mentioned a little while ago, too much of the last few years has been spent playing crunch heavy games with encyclopedic rules, optimization as part of the standard kit, and rapid leveling as a constant. It started to taint my thinking. I started to believe there was no way out. But working on my game and getting away from those games has really helped me to get perspective again. I used to run games where the party only got a chance to advance like twice in a year (real world time) of playing and we played that game for three years. I used to run games where players asked bucketfuls of insightful, engaged questions and gave me more ideas than I could ever come up with myself. Reading the designer notes in Fiasco, one of the arguments the writer makes is that the GM has all the fun. I call Bullshit. Being a GM is a great joy, one of my favorite things in the world — but the GM only has fun if the players have fun. (I can hear the wailing already but stick with me). The GM is a facilitator of fun, the rules a framework, and the players agents. And the fun comes in the balanced interaction of those bits. And only a solid interaction of those bits can keep the long game rolling in such a way that it’s truly a worthwhile endeavor. I know there are bad GMs. I know there are terrible players. I know that we all feel differently about what rules are important to have. But one thing that goes beyond my definition, that goes beyond needing a GM or anything else I can say about RPGs is this — the interaction is what matters. (and thank you to Kevin over at KORPG for writing a wonderful post on just this subject today).

I can’t say enough that the best gaming experiences, the ones that are really worth it, are not about rolling a crit or having a 3000 AC at 9th level due to some wacky rules loophole. The best games are the ones that have players looking feverishly across the table at each other and going, “hey, it’s so crazy it just might work.” They’re the ones where years later the players look back and say, “hey, you remember that time we almost died?” They’re the ones where the troll and the little human girl introduce themselves as brother and sister and the girl screams, “Can’t you see the resemblance!?!” Han Solo didn’t even wear armor but he charged like, 20 stormtroopers and chased them down a hallway in their own battlestation screaming at the top of his lungs. I wanna do that. And I want my game to want me to do that. And I don’t want to have to stop doing that to ask, “wait, what does this rule mean again?”

I’m close to rambling territory. I’m close to rant territory. I’m close to pointless musing territory. But no matter what, I’m a step closer to writing a game I want to play. And if I could stop thinking about it for more than two minutes at a time I might be able to post something else to this blog other than my outpouring of feelings about gaming that have been bottled up for a while now. I love gaming and I haven’t loved it as much as I do right now in a long time.

C’mere… let me tell you about the time we almost died…

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One response

  1. Late to the conversation or post rather, but i do agree. I have run diceless games before using some loose point based or purely description based “rules” before…and the stories were superb. My group love dice-chuking but when i roll out Cthulhu without dice the character’s get interesting again and they feel their “mortality” again. They “barter” their way through scenes with me with other players, just so that they dont have to be the one that sees the tentacle 🙂

    I’d like to hear, well see more of where your thinking is taking you. I love diceless role playing. I am not a fan of Fiasco either.

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