House rules — necessary vs fat

Nathan Dowdell (lead rules developer for Modiphius’ Star Trek) made a distinction on between necessary and desirable house rules —

  • Necessary rules fix problems with the game. He needs to make the game playable and enjoyable for him. Making these is a pain; making these is work.
  • Desirable rules take a good game and make it better. They extend the game, adding new options or adding detail in areas he’s interested in. Making these is fun; it’s a leisure activity.

I see an analogy here to the distinction between “fat” and “skinny” games — fat games have extensive library content, while skinny games just have the rules. Fat is easy to cull, easy to add; skin is not. Changing skin is hard work. Change the skin wrong, and all the fat falls out, and stains the carpet.

Nuances on ignoring rules

For my posts Why Do RPG Players Ignore Rules? and What Do Rules Ever Do For Us?, there are some important nuances to bear in mind.

There are at least three different kinds of rules

  1. Rules as Written (RAW) — rules coming from a single game text (or a set of designed-to-be-coherent texts) that is written by someone outside the group
  2. House rules — explicitly agreed (or at least communicated) rules used in play. (These may be developed by the group, be cannibalised from other games, be syncretised from blogs …)
  3. Conventions — informal and implicit table conventions, habits, and norms

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