These Are Not the Rules You’re Looking For

I think Mike is titling his posts just to make it easy for me to choose an image for my thoughts: this week it’s These Are Not the Rules You’re Looking For on Legends and Lore.

When I read the first paragraph I knew I was going to have a lot to say on this topic. The idea that a designer wants you to ignore part of the game speaks to a certain style of design, one that I am rather opinionated about.

Any rule that can be ignored while still producing what the game is intended to produce is a rule that doesn’t need to be there.

A quick note on the word “ignored:” I’m using the usage implied by Mike’s examples from his games, where ignoring means that you do something that breaks the rule. There’s an entire other type of ignoring where you do what the rule says automatically because that’s how you’e used to playing anyway. More on that later.

I phrased that very carefully to include “what the game intended.” Some of those D&D players who ignore some rule, say the treasure list, are doing it because they’re aiming for some other experience. Maybe they want a game with less gold, or more magic, or whatever. That’s a whole different issue. If I can ignore the treasure rules and get a better game of D&D, in the style the game is designed for, why isn’t the way it works better the rule?

Mike’s played D&D in a way that worked better without the treasure tables but still sounds like typical D&D. He’s a smart guy, so I’m betting he could pretty quickly look at his own game, analyze it, and provide some procedures to do more or less what he was doing. That, for people who want to play like Mike, makes a better game.

This is exactly what Vincent Baker did in Apocalypse World. He looked at how he ran a certain style of game and wrote a new game that has, as rules, the methods of running a game in that style. Instead of providing some guidelines to how to run that style of game he makes it part of the procedures of Apocalypse World. Instead of the best ways to run the game being something you figure out, they’re something the book tells you right off the bat.

An interesting thing to note about the adventure design systems that Mike mentions is that they don’t particularly leverage the DM, which might be what’s holding the rules back to being safely ignorable. The treasure and wealth by level systems are entirely mechanical, they don’t leverage the DM’s judgement in any way. What Mike did, from the sound of it, is use his judgement.

“Use your judgsment” isn’t really a rule, but that’s also not all that Mike did. His “judgement” was presumably made up of some goals, some rules, and some knowledge that could be passed on in the rules.

Instead of saying “4th level characters have this much money and this much stuff” we could have something like “give out treasure when the characters accomplish a major goal” and “when the characters have less than x+level HP, give them an opportunity to earn a +HP item” and so on. I’d guess this is the kind of stuff Mike did, and the kind of thing that leads to ignoring the rules. I’m sure that they could find a way to explain the process Mike was using in such a way that others could do the same.

Ideally a lot of veteran D&D players will look at D&D Next and not ignore the rules, but just nod their heads along with them. It’ll be what they already do. They won’t have to ignore them and do something different because D&D Next will tell you how to run a great D&D game, the kind they’re already running.

The rules I’m looking for are the ones that present to me the way the designers have learned to produce a certain play experience. I hope D&D Next has those rules.