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Why I Prefer Less Rules
Got into a discussion yesterday with Jenn about other RPG systems we might like to play, and she reiterated her disagreement with me about skills. I've posted before about the drawbacks of skills, specifically about how they inhibit the player from interacting with the environment and encourage focusing on the mechanics of the rules. Jenn mentioned that she likes having the launching point of what her character can and can't do, as otherwise she just feels overwhelmed and has no idea what to do. I guess I can see that, a more inhibited player may tend to simply fall to the background and never get to do anything without having a mechanic to point to that says 'I've got the best eyesight here, I should be the one in the crow's nest looking for danger.'

These though are all player-centric arguments. I want to talk about why I prefer less options for players as a GM, be they skills or combat actions. Basically, I worry that I myself will sometimes inhibit the players who are creative if I feel I must enforce a large set of rules. When a player wants to do something outside the rules, I have this little internal monologue:

'Is there an existing rule I can apply to this action? Not really. Let me just look up one thing. No, that doesn't apply. OK, how can I adjudicate this fairly, such that it isn't unbalanced compared to the other things he could have done within the rules?'

I know, this is a weekness. If a player wants to do something creative, there's no reason I couldn't make a ruling about it regardless of how deep the rules we are using are, and no reason I have to take into consideration the existing rules. But I feel this strong need to be 'fair' to both the players that use the rules as written, and those that try to think outside the box.

When there aren't any rules about a large area of actions, it's empowering for me to have to make a ruling on the fly. I don't feel the need to remain consistent from one ruling to another. Which I think is a good thing, otherwise all I'm doing is writing a complicated rule system on the fly, and the longer we play the more rules there will be. I can make fast one-off rulings because I must make fast one-off rulings. There is no other option.

Maybe I just need to get over it and make my rulings as I please regardless of the system. Though there's a fine line there to being a good adaptable GM, and a callous arbitrary one that just completely ignores the system and does whatever he wants whenever he wants.
October 8th, 2009 - 08:10 am | Comments (4) | PERMALINK

More on Skills
OK, what I really hate about skill systems is taking them into account when writing content (adventures, modules, etc.) You see it all the time, it shows up in the content like this:

An ogre guards the doorway silently, refusing to let anyone pass. Players may attempt to trick him into letting them by (Bluff or Diplomacy DC 20), or may attempt to sneak past (opposed Move Silently vs. the ogre's Spot of +5).

Wow, that just sapped all the creativity out of the situation. Instead, wouldn't it be more interesting to describe the ogre's motivations and character, and then let the party interact with him in any way they can think of? Sure, they might try sneaking past or they might try convincing him they are allowed past, but they might also try something wildly different. By listing out those solutions, I feel like they are the only correct choices, and suddenly the adventure is all railroady. I think the worst thing a GM can do is have a proconceived idea of the 'right way' to get past any kind of encounter.

And worse still, when I sit down to write my own material, do I take into consideration what skills my players do and don't have? If I do, I'm severly crippling my creativity by trying to ensure I put in plenty of areas where the halfling's cooking skill actually comes in useful. If I don't, then the halfling's player is disappointed that he spent so many resources improving a skill he never gets to use.
October 8th, 2009 - 10:52 am | Comments (10) | PERMALINK

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