Ẁhoops! I forgot to post something yesterday. It’s a bit cheaty, but I’ll post today. In fact, I’ll respond to Fub’s post about rules-light systems, and piggy-back off of that. In that post, he takes a strong stance for rules-light systems:
In my opinion, lighter rules give a better experience because there’s more time left to create better fiction.from https://ragas.nl/fublog
When it comes to this, Fub and I are very much in disagreement. When I played D&D, I was always frustrated by the Diplomacy skill: there is a skill that is supposed to govern diplomatic resolutions, but almost no explanation of how that works. So, the usual houserule people go for is to just act it out, and ignore the system. At that point, in my opinion, you don’t need to be playing the RPG, as you’re just storytelling together. Now, if that’s what you’re going for, then that’s good—enjoy your storytelling together, but don’t argue to me that you’re playing an RPG at that point. You may be roleplaying, but I wonder to what extent we can call it a game.
I’ve played some rules-light storytelling games such as Universalis and A Penny for My Thoughts, and they’re interesting experiences but I don’t see their rules-light approach as a solution to the problem I had with the Diplomacy skill in D&D. For instance, what if you have a player who wants to play a highly intelligent, socially fluent character, but they themselves lack those attributes? I couldn’t expect somebody who doesn’t know how to negotiate to roleplay a negotiation that is a satisfactory game experience. However, to me, RPGs should allow you to play and explore with things that are not necessarily available to you.
The solution to this problem is part of why I love Burning Wheel so much. It has modular resolution systems, that the GM can apply as a tool to focus on or gloss over conflicts to their choice. Let’s take an example of a martial conflict. If the conflict doesn’t matter, then just say the player character fights and defeats their opponent (essentially a rules-light or storytelling solution). Perhaps you want to know whether the fiction will twist in an interesting direction based on the conflict, but not make a big deal out of it? Just use an opposed role, and set consequences before hand—it’s basically just a random outcome generator. Want the conflict to be part of a larger system of wear and tear on the character? Make it a Bloody Versus: you do an opposed roll, and the outcome also results in some status changes for the character. Is this the large climactic fight between two people that you’ve been working towards all session? Out come the Fight! rules, with structured volleys and interactions, designed to mimic a Kurosawa movie samurai-showdown of clashes, separations, and moves. The moves available to characters lock together in an extended rock-paper-scissors style, encouraging players to vary up their moves, and resulting in a cinematic experience around the table.
In my opinion, to argue that removing rules improves all games is to suggest that rules are only a nagging bureaucracy that prevents you from actually playing the game. If you feel that the rules of a game are preventing you from enjoying yourself, in my opinion you’re just playing the wrong game. If you feel the rules aren’t supporting you and helping you have more fun—you’re playing the wrong game. If, however, the rules help shape your storytelling as a DM; if the rules help provide structure to the players; if the rules through restraint breed creativity, well, that’s when a game can really shine. Rules are tools, not obstacles.