Judgment Day After Day

Judgment Day After Day

When it comes to being a gamemaster, you must pay attention to precedent.

Read Full Article

As someone who has gamed for years, I cannot begin to stress how much this needs to be said. You would think this would be norm, that consistency would be a fair argument, but I cannot begin to describe the number of times situations like the one you described come up, where one character uses dex and the other str to perform the same task.

I don't really care if the rules make perfect sense as long as they are consistent. We once had a long discussion (ok, argument) over whether a person with a Strength in the 20s but no ranks in Jump should be able to jump further than a person with a 10 Strength and a lot of ranks in Jump. I came down on the side of the higher Strength is more important to jumping far, ranks in Jump just help with the skill of the jump (for instance, you can have a billion ranks in Jump, I don't think an average human will ever jump over 2 m straight up from a standstill, but a human with a high enough strength, like 50, could conceivably launch himself to the moon). The GM saw it the other way, and ranks in Jump became equivalent to max distance. I think it was silly, but we in the party new the rules now and could plan for that. He stuck with that rule and people stopped griping because it was set. Think of the problems if he changed his mind within that campaign. Now people want skill points back because they wasted them, etc.

I'm running a game now and we have an official record keeper. It's her first time playing and a few sessions in, we realized she was just keeping notes on everything, every stat, every character, things people say. Now, I keep my own records (because obviously the players don't know everything that's going on), but it's really helpful to have hers too. To see what they think is going on is invaluable, and to have players call me on things is actually a benefit to the campaign. They make appeals to decisions based on precedent. They cite previous examples or call me out when I'm wrong. It's not annoying, it's fantastic. It establishes a lot of trust between the party and myself, which is important because I like to run campaigns with a lot of secrecy, intrigue and general conspiracy. It also allows me to say "No, I screwed up when I said that, I really should have said this" on occasion and the party accepts it, because they know I only do that when it matters and not on a whim.

Ok, this sort of got away from me and is really long. Anyways, great article on a topic that needs to be said, though I really wish it was just assumed.

I think my players would kill me if I came up with 27 pages of house rulings. Then again, I play Pathfinder which covers the mechanics pretty well. I am curious regarding this rule;

"Spells which effect every creature in an area (e.g. Fireball) or a random number of creatures in an area (e.g. Confusion) cannot be cast on targets in melee without affecting opponents with whom the target(s) are fighting."

Was that brought about due to a party member engaging a creature at the edge of AoE spell and the inherit funkiness with character placement on a typically scaled battle-mat?

An interesting correlation you've pointed out there.

About rules-light games merely being rules-heavy games in progress, I will say that the design of the original rules is a very large influence over how many and how complex the amount of rules that need to be added are. Simple games like early D&D are a different breed entirely from simple games like Risus, Dread or 3:16 Carnage Amongst the Stars. Situations not covered by rules in the former encourage some often-times convoluted route to your character's attributes, but the latter systems have a much quicker route to new rules through creative design. Risus and Dread just make the GM eyeball your described character abilities and assign a rough difficulty to what that action should be for your character, followed by die rolls for Risus or drawing one more blocks from a Jenga tower. 3:16 just lumps actions into either non-combat or combat and then demands a die roll.

Of course, that design philosophy tends to eviscerate any guarantee of what your character can reliably do (a very large part of why I hate games based on it.) But I figured it was worth a mention here - it's an example of ways to design rules-light games so that further rules are extraordinarily easy to develop.

aegios187:
I think my players would kill me if I came up with 27 pages of house rulings. Then again, I play Pathfinder which covers the mechanics pretty well. I am curious regarding this rule;

"Spells which effect every creature in an area (e.g. Fireball) or a random number of creatures in an area (e.g. Confusion) cannot be cast on targets in melee without affecting opponents with whom the target(s) are fighting."

Was that brought about due to a party member engaging a creature at the edge of AoE spell and the inherit funkiness with character placement on a typically scaled battle-mat?

I would guess, because I've seen it happen, it came up when a Mage cast Fireball directly at an enemy engaged in melee combat with an ally, and then argued that it should only hit people he wants it to hit. Or, if the person were a bit more experienced, cast it into the enemy's back and argued that the body should shield his ally.

I've never run into your argument, but I see how it would work. Actually, now that I think about it, I'm surprised people don't try that all the time.

What is your position on changing the way you arbritrated something before hand for identical situations if you were not happy with the way you ruled the first time. What for example if on the spur of the moment you decided that everyone tested dex to cross the chasm but on return you realised that you made the wrong choice the first time and you would prefer them to roll strength.

Usually we get together and discuss rules after game session, decide what is working and what isn't and agree on changes where we feel things aren't working. During this process the GM usually takes suggestions but is final arbiter of what rules are to be used. This can cause an inconsistancy with previous sessions but we prefer it to simply repeating old mistakes.

Would you rather keep an old rule for the sake of consistancy or change a rule to improve playability?

Kaihlik

bojac6:

aegios187:
I think my players would kill me if I came up with 27 pages of house rulings. Then again, I play Pathfinder which covers the mechanics pretty well. I am curious regarding this rule;

"Spells which effect every creature in an area (e.g. Fireball) or a random number of creatures in an area (e.g. Confusion) cannot be cast on targets in melee without affecting opponents with whom the target(s) are fighting."

Was that brought about due to a party member engaging a creature at the edge of AoE spell and the inherit funkiness with character placement on a typically scaled battle-mat?

I would guess, because I've seen it happen, it came up when a Mage cast Fireball directly at an enemy engaged in melee combat with an ally, and then argued that it should only hit people he wants it to hit. Or, if the person were a bit more experienced, cast it into the enemy's back and argued that the body should shield his ally.

I've never run into your argument, but I see how it would work. Actually, now that I think about it, I'm surprised people don't try that all the time.

The whole 5ft occupancy and threatened areas has caused me more anguish than I care to recall, mainly from experienced gamers coming from other gaming systems.

Your description of the difference between "rules light" and regular games is far from accurate. A rules-light game does not necessarily become "rules heavy" over time because very frequently the only precedents that are applied in that style of game are interpretations of existing rules. The entire purpose of rules light games is that the GM has to decide fewer things--there not being a specific rule is used to let the PLAYERS decide what happens instead of forcing the GM to make a de facto ruling every single time a new situation comes up.

For example, I created (with some significant effort, I might add) a rules system that was designed to allow tactical combat in an online chat game where a battle mat would be, at best, cumbersome and annoying, and at worst introduce all sorts of complex technical problems. Instead of an arcane system of rules for determining that X character is 45' away from Y NPC and needs Z movement value in order to be able to close the distance in a combat round which lasts W seconds, initiative was based on a countdown and "engaging" an enemy in melee combat was a certain type of action that took a certain static number of ticks. If the enemy was behind an obstacle, you had to do a "clear the obstacle" action first.

It was totally arbitrary, no precedents, no rules. Just "is there an obstacle?" Nope. "Okay, I engage." 3 ticks. A proper rules-light system is one that encourages a certain amount of these arbitrary decisions by making them matter less in the grand scheme of things and, very often, removing the impetus to roll for every single little thing. If your group prefers to tell a huge, sweeping, epic tale, maybe they don't want to be rolling the dice over every single boulder or stream.

aegios187:

bojac6:

aegios187:
I think my players would kill me if I came up with 27 pages of house rulings. Then again, I play Pathfinder which covers the mechanics pretty well. I am curious regarding this rule;

"Spells which effect every creature in an area (e.g. Fireball) or a random number of creatures in an area (e.g. Confusion) cannot be cast on targets in melee without affecting opponents with whom the target(s) are fighting."

Was that brought about due to a party member engaging a creature at the edge of AoE spell and the inherit funkiness with character placement on a typically scaled battle-mat?

I would guess, because I've seen it happen, it came up when a Mage cast Fireball directly at an enemy engaged in melee combat with an ally, and then argued that it should only hit people he wants it to hit. Or, if the person were a bit more experienced, cast it into the enemy's back and argued that the body should shield his ally.

I've never run into your argument, but I see how it would work. Actually, now that I think about it, I'm surprised people don't try that all the time.

The whole 5ft occupancy and threatened areas has caused me more anguish than I care to recall, mainly from experienced gamers coming from other gaming systems.

I agree with you completely. It's not quite as bad as martial arts people, but still pretty bad.

In case you haven't run into it, martial arts people are, as the name implies, people who take Karate or Kung Fu classes, usually at the local Y from a 50 year old fat guy who doesn't know anything, but it can be legitimate. They always argue that they should be able to just punch through a door or crush a guys windpipe with a single strike because it's not that hard and they know the technique. They completely ignore game balance and insist that as a level one, they should be tearing through guys with their bare hands.

Strangely, the people who make this argument the most are all people I would not want around during a fight. People who actually look like they could take care of themselves in a fight never make this kind of argument.

I can see how some "rules-light" systems certainly could develop into, for lack of a better term, common-law rules-heavy systems. I don't think its necessarily inherent and inevitable to every system, however. A free-wheeling game like Toon that minimizes consequence in the name of improvisation and entertainment discourages rule-accumulation in the name of being fast and funny; someone who complains bitterly about consistency of the rules is playing it wrong. Similarly, Amber (or "Amber Diceless") has a narrow selection of absolutes but encourages the players to work around them through role-playing, imagination, and planning; the players might complain that the other players, very likely their rivals, might be unfair, but are unlikely to make that case against the game-master or system.

And of course (and you say nothing to contradict this, but I think it should still be said) the length of a campaign will also have a lot to do with it. Something like Feng Shui: Shadowfist doesn't bear a lot of thinking about in the hard mechanics, but that's part of what makes it excellent for one-shot, "night-of-gaming" gatherings.

I'd like to see those 27 pages of house-rules; sounds like it'd say a lot about your campaign! (Talisman of Ultimate Good = awesome.) I've been annotating my 1E Gamma World rulebook with marginalia about the rulings we've made in play, which has the advantage of having both sets of law in the same place.

David Wesely (out of whose Braunstein game Blackmoor evolved) told me that in the earliest days of Dave Arneson's Blackmoor campaign (out of which D&D evolved) relied entirely on common law rulings. Initially there were no codified rules that players could consult: you'd say "I chop through the back of the troll's knee with my claymore" and Arneson would say "OK, the troll falls", or not, depending on his interpretation of the imagined reality.

Wesely said that the incorporation of the Chainmail medieval miniature wargame rules (co-authored by Gary Gyax, thus his first involvement in what was to become D&D) came about because Arneson had made so many rulings he couldn't possibly keep them all straight. Players wanted to know why someone else could jump a river but they couldn't, and argued that since their characters lived in this fantasy world they should be able to predict something about what would or wouldn't be possible. Adapting Chainmail gave the Blackmoor players a corpus of civil law that they could rely on to calibrate their expectations about the referee's common law judgement calls.

The Chainmail rules also introduced dice to Blackmoor, which I think take a lot of the pressure off the referee by creating a neutral arbiter. I find it a lot easier for my group to get consensus that there's an X in 6 chance of successfully rigging a complicated trap, rather than making a hard and fast judgement about whether it is or isn't possible. Leaving an element of probability makes everyone feel that they have a chance, and lets the dice decide whether the details on this side of the argument or that prove to be essential.

JMeganSnow, I think you're talking about level of abstraction instead of rules-light. Whether the scale is the epic sweeps of armies or the placement of single footsteps, some groups are going to want the things a rule-heavy approach does well (taking lots of factors into account in a deterministic way, having a predictable outcome) and others will be happy with a rules-light approach where lots of different factors are swept up into a single dice roll or abstract mechanic.

Rules light is not

Kilo24:
An interesting correlation you've pointed out there.

About rules-light games merely being rules-heavy games in progress, I will say that the design of the original rules is a very large influence over how many and how complex the amount of rules that need to be added are.

Rules-light is NOT rules-heavy-in-earlier-stages. Rules-light is 'Open-to-rules-heavy-houseruling'. Those 27 pages or many of our other large sets of common law precedent is indicative of a game basically designed so that the individual GM can adjudicate based on the campaign and group needs.
There is an important difference.

aegios187:
I think my players would kill me if I came up with 27 pages of house rulings. Then again, I play Pathfinder which covers the mechanics pretty well. I am curious regarding this rule;

"Spells which effect every creature in an area (e.g. Fireball) or a random number of creatures in an area (e.g. Confusion) cannot be cast on targets in melee without affecting opponents with whom the target(s) are fighting."

Was that brought about due to a party member engaging a creature at the edge of AoE spell and the inherit funkiness with character placement on a typically scaled battle-mat?

We run Classic D&D and don't play with a battlemat. The combat is kept in our mind's eye so there's a necessary amount of abstraction. And that leads to circumstances such as Bojac6 describes:

bojac6:
... a Mage cast Fireball directly at an enemy engaged in melee combat with an ally, and then argued that it should only hit people he wants it to hit. Or, if the person were a bit more experienced, cast it into the enemy's back and argued that the body should shield his ally.

To avoid those sort of disputes, I laid down a black-and-white rule that you can't use an area of effect on opponents in melee without hitting both.

I can see how it could be very annoying in 5-foot square battlemap situations, too, but that wasn't my intent.

Kaihlik:
What is your position on changing the way you arbritrated something before hand for identical situations if you were not happy with the way you ruled the first time. What for example if on the spur of the moment you decided that everyone tested dex to cross the chasm but on return you realised that you made the wrong choice the first time and you would prefer them to roll strength.

Usually we get together and discuss rules after game session, decide what is working and what isn't and agree on changes where we feel things aren't working. During this process the GM usually takes suggestions but is final arbiter of what rules are to be used. This can cause an inconsistancy with previous sessions but we prefer it to simply repeating old mistakes.

Would you rather keep an old rule for the sake of consistancy or change a rule to improve playability?

Kaihlik

I handle it much like you do! I definitely think you need to change the rule to improve playability, because otherwise you can get "stuck" by a bad ruling made during a late night and out of nachos. But I would be explicit that it's a rule *change* and acknowledge it as such. If I changed the roll at the moment that a player attempted a deed based on my past ruling, I'd offer to let them use the prior roll this last time, and then going forward the rule change would apply.

Callate:
I can see how some "rules-light" systems certainly could develop into, for lack of a better term, common-law rules-heavy systems. I don't think its necessarily inherent and inevitable to every system, however. A free-wheeling game like Toon that minimizes consequence in the name of improvisation and entertainment discourages rule-accumulation in the name of being fast and funny; someone who complains bitterly about consistency of the rules is playing it wrong. Similarly, Amber (or "Amber Diceless") has a narrow selection of absolutes but encourages the players to work around them through role-playing, imagination, and planning; the players might complain that the other players, very likely their rivals, might be unfair, but are unlikely to make that case against the game-master or system.

And of course (and you say nothing to contradict this, but I think it should still be said) the length of a campaign will also have a lot to do with it. Something like Feng Shui: Shadowfist doesn't bear a lot of thinking about in the hard mechanics, but that's part of what makes it excellent for one-shot, "night-of-gaming" gatherings.

It is inevitable if you don't want inconsistent outcomes over time. Therefore it won't be inevitable in two circumstances:
1) You don't care about inconsistentcy - such as in Toon
2) You aren't worried about time - such as in one offs

It's an established truth that the modern "rules light" systems, such as Carnage 3:16 or Forge games, are NOT designed for ongoing campaign play. They are designed for one-offs, or at most short "mini series" that might run for a few weeks, 3 months tops. When I talk about an ongoing campaign I'm referring to a timespan measured in years.

You show me a campaign in any rules set that's been run week after week for a year or more consistently and I will show you a game with a lot of house rules. The rules may be unwritten but they will exist.

Erik Wujcik, who I had the privilege to befriend prior to his death, had his own house rules for Amber that he consistently applied. He actually discusses these a bit in the rules - including his ruling that a high enough War attribute allows you to fight invisible characters.

Tavis Allison:
I'd like to see those 27 pages of house-rules; sounds like it'd say a lot about your campaign! (Talisman of Ultimate Good = awesome.) I've been annotating my 1E Gamma World rulebook with marginalia about the rulings we've made in play, which has the advantage of having both sets of law in the same place.

I'll email you the house rules, Tavis. I need to send you a ton of material, actually.

David Wesely (out of whose Braunstein game Blackmoor evolved) told me that in the earliest days of Dave Arneson's Blackmoor campaign (out of which D&D evolved) relied entirely on common law rulings. Initially there were no codified rules that players could consult: you'd say "I chop through the back of the troll's knee with my claymore" and Arneson would say "OK, the troll falls", or not, depending on his interpretation of the imagined reality.

Wesely said that the incorporation of the Chainmail medieval miniature wargame rules (co-authored by Gary Gyax, thus his first involvement in what was to become D&D) came about because Arneson had made so many rulings he couldn't possibly keep them all straight. Players wanted to know why someone else could jump a river but they couldn't, and argued that since their characters lived in this fantasy world they should be able to predict something about what would or wouldn't be possible. Adapting Chainmail gave the Blackmoor players a corpus of civil law that they could rely on to calibrate their expectations about the referee's common law judgement calls.

I didn't know that, but it makes total sense. Thanks for sharing that juicy piece of history!

Archon:

Kaihlik:
What is your position on changing the way you arbritrated something before hand for identical situations if you were not happy with the way you ruled the first time. What for example if on the spur of the moment you decided that everyone tested dex to cross the chasm but on return you realised that you made the wrong choice the first time and you would prefer them to roll strength.

Usually we get together and discuss rules after game session, decide what is working and what isn't and agree on changes where we feel things aren't working. During this process the GM usually takes suggestions but is final arbiter of what rules are to be used. This can cause an inconsistancy with previous sessions but we prefer it to simply repeating old mistakes.

Would you rather keep an old rule for the sake of consistancy or change a rule to improve playability?

Kaihlik

I handle it much like you do! I definitely think you need to change the rule to improve playability, because otherwise you can get "stuck" by a bad ruling made during a late night and out of nachos. But I would be explicit that it's a rule *change* and acknowledge it as such. If I changed the roll at the moment that a player attempted a deed based on my past ruling, I'd offer to let them use the prior roll this last time, and then going forward the rule change would apply.

Well, that's the beauty of Table Top right there, you can correct design mistakes on the fly in a way that is (generally) viewed as fair by everyone. The entire game is a negotiation between the players and the GM. And I mean everything, not just the rules. The world, the creatures, everything takes place in a place between the GM's imagination and the players' imagination. Sure, a great GM who is very descriptive can make everyone see things the same way, but there are always little differences.

Take weather, for example. Unless specifically stated otherwise, I always picture the world as overcast. I just think Fantasy worlds should always be a little dark, even in broad daylight, because of the mystery. I have been startled out of my gaming "trance" before when somebody mentions the sun. Suddenly I realize I've spent the last few hours in the wrong world.

Another example, I run a Star Wars campaign and one time I had the party find 6 crates with electronics and stuff in it. They had to figure out what the assembled machine did and started to draw out the pieces and how they fit together. The party really had a great time with this and came up with exactly the functional purpose of the machine, but their drawing was way different from mine. Nothing was wrong with theirs, every bit was there, just different. It was a really cool moment for me as a GM, to see how different they viewed some things despite it being the same.

We tend to play our games with a shed load of house rules either pulled from various sources or designed by us to usually either smooth things over or to increase the immersion.

I think its important to try and match the feel of the event you are trying to emulate while keeping the rules easy enough that someone could play through with minimal note taking.

A prime example was our recent WFRP session, we were at a tourney and one of our players, a bretonnian knight, entered the joust. We quicky realised that the WFRP joust rules were not very good and so in case it came up in future I rewrote them on the spot to make it feel more like a joust while keeping it simple to roll. We didn't switch over mid event because that would have caused a large immediate disconnect but should we need it in future we have some ammended rules which our GM is happy with.

Kaihlik

These articles, which I stumbled upon by pure chance, are part of what led me to seek out a role-playing group. There were some equal-minded people in my class and we started our Call of Cthulhu campaign no more than three weeks ago. We schedule our sessions to suit most players' schedules (A fairly simple task when we share most lectures) and so far we haven't had any issues with players not being able to attend. The group consists of our GM and 4 players. It has been even more fun than I initially anticipated. There arose a possibility for errors in consistency regarding the loss of sanity points, a seemingly vital thing in CoC D20. Two of the characters witnessed seemingly identical grotesque scenes at different times, the former was greatly affected and needed to do a sanity check, where as the other managed to get by relatively unharmed. Before anyone had a chance to bring it up (me for one) our GM took the time to reference the backgrounds which we had prepared and how some of the characters were far more likely to have been exposed to trauma of this degree than others. My character being the first one, a College Professor turned Archaeologist and the second being a Doctor who had served as a field medic in his early youth. While I have little experience in this field, it seemed like an example of a possible argument being settled neatly before any noticeable tension arose.

So far "Check for Traps" has grown to become my favourite article on The Escapist. As I hope to continue enjoying myself with my friends every week, I hope to continue enjoying the view of one who is much more well-versed in this field than me or any I know. Please keep up the good work and thank you for all so far.

llagrok:
So far "Check for Traps" has grown to become my favourite article on The Escapist. As I hope to continue enjoying myself with my friends every week, I hope to continue enjoying the view of one who is much more well-versed in this field than me or any I know. Please keep up the good work and thank you for all so far.

Thank you for the kind words!

First, let me say, for what it's worth, my understanding is that "English" common law as we know it from the Norman decision to honor the law of the commons - the now-occupied Anglo-Saxons - who used a traditional and often oral law system - the idea being the " common " people could continue to use the laws they knew for such matters...
This may not be completely irrelevent...

Tavis Allison:
*I had to read this twice *

Did he just say Gamma World? ..sigh.. :)

but the point about Arneson and Chainmail I think echoes nicely what I was getting at.

also,

Archon:

It is inevitable if you don't want inconsistent outcomes over time. Therefore it won't be inevitable in two circumstances:
1) You don't care about inconsistentcy - such as in Toon
2) You aren't worried about time - such as in one offs
It's an established truth that the modern "rules light" systems...are NOT designed for ongoing campaign play...
You show me a campaign in any rules set that's been run week after week for a year or more consistently and I will show you a game with a lot of house rules. The rules may be unwritten but they will exist.

I'm afraid I have to agree - the appeal of "rules light" games is that we may think of the rules as akin to the "wires" in a play - we want the rules to help it happen but not be intrusive - but it's been my experience ( you remember Toon? wow ) that no matter what system, if it's an RPG where you can decide to do something not already a given tactical option, these precise issues come up because of the freedom involved.
This is precisely why we play with a human GM instead of a computer.

I think it's also worth adding that it continues to come up that many abstractions that are fine on one level of play, fall apart when scrutinized in the scale RPG's bring - alot of the degree of rules come down to the degree of abstraction one wants in the game ( it was pointed out on another forum that most rpg's combat was so abstract in their "rounds" that combat was unrewarding in the eyes of the poster for the fighter classes... this makes me think how much more graphic combat is in modern fantasy fiction - compare fight scenes of say, Martin, to Tolkien or even Howard ).

If I may, an experience from playing "advanced squad leader", one of the rule-heaviest games of all times.
I had 3 squads entrenched on a hilltop, including the crews of a medium and heavy machine gun. My friend and opponent charged with 2 squads from the bottom of a the hill, through 40 meters of open ground... against emplaced Mg's and Rifle/SMG infantry...
Not only did he survive, the game gave him the ADVANTAGE.

Seriously. This devolved into an argument into an argument over whether machine-guns are effective at point-defense, and ended with me laughing in his face and giving up on that game.
( in retrospect, he was a jarhead and was probably trained that charging MG nests from the front is a good idea ).
But the point of this story is that in my experience, a lot of house rules, like mods for computer games, happen when it turns out the original rules either overlooked something or just weren't all that well thought out (or so perceived by the modder/ house-ruler).

Rather like laws in that respect, too.

 

Reply to Thread

Log in or Register to Comment
Have an account? Login below:
With Facebook:Login With Facebook
or
Username:  
Password:  
  
Not registered? To sign up for an account with The Escapist:
Register With Facebook
Register With Facebook
or
Register for a free account here