Do I even want system collage? And do I need it?

Talking on Story Games about my earlier post on system collage, Eero Tuovinen asked me:

What kinds of games do you two play, where these matters become a concern? I know that [other person in thread] plays modern D&D, and I can sort of see how programming-like version control could be marginally useful if I was crazy-strict about RAW, played with rabid rules lawyers, and played with a lot of different people all the time and I absolutely had to be able to produce and publish an official-looking alternate game text with my homebrew additions so new players could precisely pinpoint how I’ve rejiggered light radius and missile combat penalties in my campaign, alongside other rules. Is it like that for you as well, Rob?

No, it’s not, and that’s interesting.

I’ve run 5e, and I’ve run BW as well, but mostly I run mechanically simpler things. I’ve run a lot of DW (although not for a while), and currently I run a LotFP hack. The vast majority of my past and current players leave it to me to police the rules. (You can see this in the Same Page Tool for Immergleich — I’ve told them I’m hacking all the time and often just making things up)

So, why do I want this system-collage community? Do I actually want it? Maybe, and maybe because:

  • I have had good times strictly applying complex rules, particularly BW but also 5e.
  • It’s been a while since I wanted to use a whole system as-written by someone else. I want to run exactly the game in my head, to learn about game design, and thus how to make that game happen better in future. Hence either I must design from scratch or I must hack.
    • (That said, I don’t usually hack as much as I have done with the LotFP rules. I’m hacking them so much because they do very little that I want.)
  • I sometimes use complex subsystems in simpler games. When I do, I want to run them as written. If I don’t run them as written, then why bother with the complexity?
  • I want the game to support me, so if I find a mechanism on the web I want a good version in front of me, neatly integrated into my other materials. I don’t want a printout of the two blog posts that contain have half of it mixed with with design commentary and the designer’s autobiography.
  • … at the same time, I’d want the option of having design rationale mixed right into the rules. Hacking is much easier when you know the why. Markup systems (like Markdown and Latex) make this practical; precise-layout tools (like Word and InDesign) don’t.
  • I want to be able to tell my players “This is what I am doing. This is the ruleset I am applying.” and give them a document. They don’t have to read it (although I will probably insist that they touch it, nod, and say “yes”).
  • I want to be clear with myself what I’m doing. Clarity leads to better learning, and thus better future practice. Self-awareness is powerful. And if I know what I’m doing, I can explain it to others.

Looking over that list, I wonder if the problems I actually experience, whether at the table or while doing specific prep) are not much to do with what I’m asking for in the OP. It could be I am looking in the wrong place.

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