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

In Why Do RPG Players Ignore Rules?, I am primary talking about RAW, although there is a related question of “Why do RPG players not always turn their conventions into explicit house rules?”. Indeed, I suspect that many people frustrated with “people not following rules” could be happy with either RAW or house rules, as long as they were written down and consistently applied.

In What Do Rules Ever Do For Us?, I’m talking about both RAW and house rules.

The great strength of conventions is that most people (neurotypical ones, anyway) have a natural talent for agreeing them, negotiating them, and remembering them. The great weakness of conventions is that the resulting “rules” are extremely difficult to examine, since they’re not written down, often never spoken as such, and sometimes not even recognised as things that could be otherwise.

The weaknesses of RAW and house rules, particularly RAW, have been discussed at length in this thread. The great strengths of RAW and house is that they can be examined, reviewed, explicitly agreed, and communicated to other parties. In particular, if you want to sigificantly change your gaming experience, you probably need some of them. Otherwise, you’re likely to drift back to your usual conventions fairly quickly. (See A Ruleset is an Intervention Tool)

There are many different kinds of games

When I write about “rpgs in general”, I’m casting a wide net — I’m thinking of Pathfinder, of Call of Cthulhu, of Burning Wheel, Apocalypse World, Fiasco and Lovecrafteseque. I’m not assuming there is a GM, and I’m not assuming that any “GM” has rule zero powers, or many powers at all (think of the GM role in Inspectres).

In the forum discussions of the posts linked above, this confused some people, who I guess are familiar with only a subset of those. Unsurprisingly, the respondents on Story Games didn’t have this problem.

I have my biases, too, and limits on my experience. E.g. when I write, I’m probably not thinking of LARP, however, or of forum roleplaying of the kind that developed independently from tabletop. I am considering convention play, and one-shots (in particular, of storygames like Fiasco or Lovecraftesque that are designed for one-shots), but they’re not my main interest. I’m aware that there is organised ongoing play (like D&D Adventurers’ League), but I have no experience of that and am not very interested. I’m aware of online play, and have watched some recordings, but I generally avoid it.

I’m not very interested in games involving players aged less than about 18 — frankly, any group-activity problem you have at that age can be explained, give or take, by “you are that age”.

More than anything else, I’m interested in short-campaign play, or longer-run open-table play, of GM’d games in a small selected group in a private venue controlled by the GM, and where there is a player pool that’s wider than the group in any one story or campaign.


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