Reading through the Rolemaster playtest forum posts over the past week, it has become apparent that there are two major but contrasting approaches in reading and using an RPG system.
The first is that the rules are there to control the game and the GM should not have to make rulings... they should follow the rules. If the rules don't cover something, and this should be rare, then the GM will make up a rule to "fix" the problem.
The second is that the rules are there to give the players a structure, however detailed, in which to play. In the end, however, the GM and the players get to decide... and if they can't agree it's the GM's job to make a ruling.
Rules versus Rulings. These are different philosophies.
Rules are, in the minds of many, absolute.
Just as "no stealing" is an unwritten rule in most households, so the rules of the game should be adhered to. To break the rules in a game is to cheat.
Under this philosophy rules should be complete. They should cover every eventuality. If they don't, then they are "broken". More than this, if the rules can be abused by the extreme application of any element within them, then they are also "broken", i.e. unrealistic to play with.
In playtest this philosophy argues from extremes, dismisses any GM intervention to prevent the rules abuse of players, and argues for "fixes". These "fixes" usually include extra rules, options, caveats and modifiers to cover every imaginable eventuality.
This philosophy underpins the "Rules Lawyer" at your table, although this is not an exclusive label. It also underpins the player or GM who does not believe that anyone should have to say "no" to a rules abuse... because the rules should have fixed it.
Ever heard the phrase, "But it doesn't say you can't in the rules..."?
Rules, then, are absolute in the minds of many.
For others, the rules are the starting place and the structure upon which to hang your fun.
If the rules get in the way of your fun then they are "broken". Rules can be altered, rewritten, ignored or bent to suit the situation and the needs of the players and the GM.
In playtest this philosophy argues from the norm, encourages GM intervention to tackle abuse from the extremes, and argues for flexibility - "rulings" - to deal with anything that doesn't quite fit the vision of the group.
This underpins the player or GM who is happy to say "no" to a rules abuse... because the rules belong to the players and the GM, not the other way around.
Ever heard the phrase, "The spirit of the rules, I think, is that..."?
Rules, then, are the starting place. Rulings are what make the game flow.
"I used to be a rules lawyer, but I'm alright now"
Coming, as I do, from a wargaming background I started my gaming life as a Rules Lawyer. I was forever nit-picking little inconsistencies in the way a game was either played or written. I still fall into this trap when playing card or board games from time to time... but mostly I have changed my philosophy.
These days I am learning to make rulings and to see the rules for what they really are: a framework created by a designer to facilitate a fun game. Taking a leaf from the so-called "Old School Gaming" philosophy, rules are mainly a resource for the GM, not so much for the players.
This means that if a player wants to try something which I feel is detrimental to the game we are playing, and the enjoyment of the overall story and action, then I will be acting responsibly if I say, "No"... or at least make the effort harder to achieve. This is even more stark when the action attempts to stretch the rule to extremes, a situation which earns a straight-forward "no".
At this point those of you who enjoy the Rules Philosophy are going to be concocting hypothetical situations in your mind, probably arguing from extremes, to justify and defend your own position. That's fine, and all, but I'm simply not interested in hypothetical and extreme examples. I'll cross the bridge when I come it... and you are probably not going to be welcome at my table anyway. Nothing personal... just a philosophical difference at the table, guys.
Why is this relevant to playtesting? It cuts to the heart of what you want to achieve.
New Rolemaster has clearly been written to encourage the Rulings Philosophy within a fairly tight framework. Looking at several sections of the rules there are clear indications for when the designers feel it is appropriate for the GM to make a ruling. They don't want to overburden the rules with exceptions for rare extremes.
Reading the boards, however, there are some very vocal and forceful advocates of the Rules Philosophy. They want "broken" rules (i.e. those that they or their players have already worked out how to abuse from extremes) to be "fixed". These posts include lengthy exposition on extreme examples and why the rules are "broken". The issues are contentious and draw attention.
My hope is that the ICE team choose to stay with their Rulings Philosophy. If they bow to the Rules Philosophy then they will risk losing the flexibility that makes the new Rolemaster really exciting. Of course, the Rules Lawyers will be arguing that I'm too wishy-washy and that "bad rules rely on the GM to fix them". Whatever.
I'm not really seeking to attack any particular playtest. I'm really seeking to highlight the difference in style of play which can quickly dominate playtest discussions. This is often an unconscious element of worldview which can lead to conflict and trouble, even at the table.
My view is that if you enjoy playing in a tight, rules-led way, then more power to you... just please add your own House Rules and let the rest of us get on without having to pay for an extra 100 pages in the rulebook.
Labels: GMing, musings, roleplaying