Saturday, 21 May 2016
Why rules are the shitty commercial breaks of RPGs
Posted by Scott Malthouse
It's happened to all of us at some point. No matter how great our brains are at absorbing information, we've had to pause the game in order to look up a specific rule. The game grinds to a halt and the storytelling goes out of the window, like a commercial break about personal injury lawyers interrupting your favourite show.
Well my favourite show is role-playing games and that chunky ruleset is my ad break. Fuck rules.
This may be more of a personal thing, but I'd imagine some of you reading feel the same way. Too many niche little rules are a barrier to fun at the table. They suck you out of the action and back into reality where there are electricity bills and Donald Trump.
But as a GM you have the ultimate power to protect your players from entering this mundane ad break that is reality.
Forget the rules: make rulings
Ironically the advice built into the foundation of many games is that the rules are a guideline - fun comes first. But this is usually forgotten as soon as you've got to the second page. This is the golden rule. If the rules are getting in the way of your enjoyment then douse them in kerosine, light a fucking match and watch them burn. Figuratively of course. Unless you're playing FATAL.
The rules should be an inspiration for the GM. They should help rulings. The GM is the arbiter and it's their job to interpret the rules as they see fit as long as they aid with the enjoyment of the game. This is very important. If you're changing the rules just to be a dick to your players then step away from the table, you don't deserve to be there.
Follow the rule of cool
We play RPGs to take a break from reality and to become larger than life. Think about how you've described the hobby to the uninitiated in the past. It's likely that the fact that you're able to have total freedom to do anything you want was something that cropped up.
Fiddly mechanics can damage this. When a player wants to do something awesome, like descend a burning rope, firing flaming bolts into a barrel of gunpowder surrounded by orcs you COULD hinder the player by telling them the rules limit this. Or you could go by the rule of cool and say "hey, that's a great, memorable idea that everyone around the table will enjoy - do it."
Similarly, the rule of cool doesn't have to be about the players. The GM can bend the rules to produce a great, memorable effect. The rules may not say this monster can speak common or have telepathy but it would sure as hell make the encounter more interesting for everyone involved.
Rules lawyers are pointless
A player who is also a stone cold rules lawyer can be a burden on the group. Say you, as a GM, follow the rule of cool and let a player do a great thing that they will remember for years to come, and then the sanctioned rules lawyer says that this can't and shouldn't be done, it bricks the game. They may mean well, but the prick has commissioned his own ad break right in the middle of a great scene.
To prevent this, kindly remind them of that golden rule - rules are advisory and shouldn't get in the way of anyone's fun. If another player doing a fun thing that technically breaks the rules hurts their fun, then they should go and play a videogame.
There are some cases in which they are justified. For example, if you made a biased ruling - allowing one person to do something and not allowing another who wanted to do the same or similar thing. Don't do this - your rulings need to be fun for everyone involved.
By making great rulings you are using your power as a GM to keep everyone's favourite show going, rather than cutting to a commercial break. Mechanics should take a back seat when they would directly affect the enjoyment of the game. Fuck rules.