“What’s the most play-disruptive discovery you’ve made when you insist on playing by the actual printed rules?”

Honestly? That people I’d gamed with for years thought playing by the actual printed rules was a totally crazy idea and not How RPGs Work™. No joke, this was one of the disagreements that broke my old Saturday D&D group.

That group was pretty large — nine people at its height — and those full-attendance games were excruciating. Not just because 3e is a slog with that big a party, but also because no one was on the same page about why we were playing. Thus, everything took forever, and half of the group would be making optimal, mission-focused choices, and the other half would be ACTING! and thus derailing the efforts of the first half.

Yet, there was a subset of us who were pretty clear on just playing 3e as-is — a tactical combat RPG — who had a great time when we were the majority on lower-attendance nights.

So, obviously the group as a whole was pretty incoherent. When I’d ask about this — “Why do we play 3e if the rules don’t really jibe with what you guys want?” — the essential answer I would get was: brand loyalty. They needed to play a game called “D&D” in order to have fun. And since they were “role players, not roll players”, the rules didn’t matter (because rules don’t matter, according to them); what mattered was that they were buying the latest and greatest product and it had beholders and Tiamat and all the D&D stuff.

Years later, one of the minority tactical guys — still a good friend of mine — was talking about his Pathfinder group, and how he’s getting tired of tactical play. I asked him why they play PF then. “You don’t need to use all the rules. You pick and choose what you want, and make up the rest.”

And, again, I’m baffled. I’m fine with the idea of a toolkit RPG, but I still don’t get why people play games where they ignore most of the content they pay for. And how, when I express this option, they look at me like I’m a scientologist or something.

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32 thoughts on “#INDIEGAMEaDAY2016

  1. There was definitely a cult of personality around the “primary” DM*, and him calling bullshit was the end of the group.

    * He founded the group, but over its lifetime he DM’ed less often than at least one or two of us. I ran a shitload of games for the group, but my opinion apparently didn’t count for much.

  2. It continues to baffle me how in RPGs, houserules are the norm, as contrasted with pretty much every other form of tabletop gaming.

    Heck, Age of Sigmar is a good example of what happens when a wargaming company tries to introduce a “make your own rulings” aspect to a non-RPG game! The culture is so radically different!

    But, I hasten to add, it’s not just that houserules are the norm, it’s that playing by the rules as written is considered (generally) unacceptable and (that horror of horrors) min-maxing powergaming munchkiny badroleplay, at least by a massive segment of the hobby.

  3. Actually, speaking more on houserules–I also tend to notice that houserules in boardgaming only start coming in once a group has had a playthrough of the game. So they play it RAW, decide some things need to be changed, then houserule it.

  4. Interestingly (ugh, now I feel like I’m pontificating or something, but I keep having thoughts on this), now that I reflect on it–it’s basically similar to the playtesting dynamic. You can theorycraft all you want, but until you get the system into play, you’re probably overlooking something (at best).

  5. Andy Hauge​​ ima gonna “well actually” you a bit here because I is old and remember the before time.

    House ruling became the norm in table top roleplaying precisely because it was the norm in every other form of table top gaming, particularly the direct antecedents of roleplaying.

    Historic minis games have a long tradition of refereed play where virtually every resolution was a judgement call. This is because players of historical minis games (then known simply as wargames) were all amateur historians, many of them ex military. They knew that when a battalion in close order crossed a fence line they’d get disordered. They knew that being disordered would have a negative impact on the effectiveness of volley fire and the ability to withstand a cavalry charge. So when a unit in a game crossed a fence line in close order they knew it had to have some impact…how much? Talk it out, make a judgment, the referee gets last say (or gentleman’s rules with no referee) and move on.

    The shift to map and hex wargames began the trend towards greater rules precision and less judgements, but the proliferation of wargaming magazines had dozens of modified scenarios or alternate rules to better capture the effectiveness of a machine gun nest firing in enfilade…or whatever else some armchair historian thought they knew (quite possibly correctly) better than the designer.

    That sort of free wheeling “experts making judgments” nature of wargaming goes right back to to the origins of the hobby as an actual military training tool used by general staff…who of course fancied themselves knowledgeable enough to reliably judge what would happen to attackers charging uphill against a fortified position.

    It’s that past context (which Gygax was very much a participant in) that very much led to the original D&D rules being half assed slapped together notes rather than anything resembling a coherent set of rules…because in that context…nothing had a coherent set of rules. It was always just knowledgeable experts (sometimes “knowledgeable” blowhards) discussing (sometimes arguing) with each other over rulings not rules.

    It was really only with the rise of Eurogames in the early-mid 90s that playing rules as written became a thing in boardgames. Prior to that, board games were often written in case form precisely so that when you hacked the game you could easily tell new players the changes you made to rule

  6. Ralph Mazza That was valuable, but how did you make the jump from “tactical miniatures wargames” to “boardgames” in the last paragraph? Because those two have always been fairly wildly distinct in my mind.

  7. Mike Pureka​ it was in reference to Andy’s earlier comment about house rules being normal in RPGs but not in other forms of tabletop gaming. I was pointing out that it used to be normal in all other forms of tabletop gaming (both minis and board games) until the 90s.

    Even non hobby games like checkers or Scopa you often have to ask what the table rules are because there are a surprising number of people who play variants.

  8. Okay; I was confused because you spent your whole post talking about wargames, which is great background for D&D, but doesn’t necessarily have any cross pollination with people playing, I dunno, Sorry! at the table.

  9. Sure. The cross pollination between Eurogames and old SPI / Avalon Hill type games was largely an accident of distribution.

    Companies like Rio Grande and Mayfair began importing these crazy new “German Style Games” (where the rules were in German with an English translation printed on a world processor and slipped into the shrink) and selling them at conventions.

    I first encountered Ra and Puerto Rico at Origins…which was at the time very much an old Grognard war gamers convention (the kidz with their new fangled R P Gz hung out at GenCon). Merely because Rio Grande and Mayfair bought table and demo space in the exhibitor hall.

    In my case I strolled in to check them out after getting knocked out of my Circus Maximus tournament. Within a few years the grognardy types had either embraced the new games (like I did) or fled to smaller even more grognardy cons.