Story and Rules, Enemies again!

That’s a “How to Train Your Dragon 2” reference. It’s also tongue in cheek.

Still, I joke because Marty Walser over at Raging Owlbear wrote a really neat post where I kept wanting to say something, but then he went on and said it for me in his next paragraph. Here’s his post.

GM 101: Does Story trump Rules?

Whenever I see this kind of thing, I’m reminded of a line from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV show, which also appears as (I think) a chapter title in the RPG:

Anya: I think this is going to be a very big year for vengeance.
Xander: But isn’t vengeance kind of vengeful?
Anya: You don’t want me to have a hobby.
Xander: Not a vengeance hobby, no. It’s dangerous. People can’t do anything they want. Society has rules and borders and an end zone.

The money quote is the last line, of course. In The Belgariad, by David Eddings, there’s also a line where Belgarath the Sorcerer tells Garion that the reason there is prophecy, and why it’s written down, is that the word shapes the event, limits and contains it.

From that perspective, that’s what I think game rules do. They set up genre and task expectations. They (hopefully) reinforce world design, and constrain choices and action to those that would be appropriate for the game being played.

Stepping into a stream of machinegun fire is a grisly and fast way of committing suicide in real life. For Wonder Woman or Superman, it’s another day at the office, and a boring one at that. If Buffy (let’s go with the theme) is 100 lbs, but can exert enough force to lift an iron portcullis or knocking down a solid bronze door (or was it the door to the Bronze?) . . . maybe anywhere from a 5:1 or 10:1 strength to weight ratio . . . then she can probably do pole vaults without a pole.

Point is, the rules will help define what’s possible. Buffy is mighty, but she can be shot. (“Ooo. Scary. This is scarier.” -Darla (Julie Benz)). Batman needs either good armor or lots of stealth or both.

But within those genre boundaries, that the rules help define, then you’re in the realm of fun first, story second, cracking open books last.

Anyway, Marty wrote a great post, and it’s worth reading.

There’s a lot to say about game design in there. How you write the boundaries to your setting/game/genre, because that’s what rules really are. They help the GM and the players know what’s possible and even expected, and hopefully within that field of play, nearly anything else can be attempted.

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