Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Gary's Rules III: Remodeling the Rules


Last Tuesday, we took a look at an excerpt from chapter 5 that I thought might prove interesting for its own sake.  In context, however, Gary is using it as an example of major rules revision in the midst of a campaign.  The final section of the chapter is concerned with those times when groups entertain a need to revise the rules, either because they have discovered frustrations in the rules themselves, or because their style of play or the demands of their campaign are not sufficiently provided for by the rules, or because they tire of their campaign's genre and want to change, say, from a sci-fi setting to a horror setting.

In the midst of the pages (90-103), the concerns that keeps resurfacing for Gygax are isolation and disintegration of a campaign due to adoption of an incoherent new set of game rules.   To the latter, Gygax understandably can only speak in generalities.  However, even generalities are greatly helped by concrete examples.  Gygax eschews these because he says that with "so many game systems, detailed discussions of the process is not possible.  The quantity of unknowns is so great that even examples would be applicable to too small of a segment to be particularly useful" (98).  I am tempted to call this a lazy excuse.  Useful for guidance in particular situations?  I don't think that is how examples are necessarily helpful.  Examples would have been helpful for keeping the discussion from being so vague and abstract, and might have turned up types or similarities for others.  Even if not, it would have helped the reader to follow what Gygax had in mind.

On the whole, the section is willing to assume that mature game masters (and players) are the audience here, and that for them the real danger is one of isolation:  if you produce a hybrid or a unique new game that pulls your gaming group out of the mainstream of the already small segment of the population that plays RPGs, then you are endangering the social nature of gaming and putting your players at risk of not being able to meet, communicate and share, and game with others.  This lack of support puts the campaign and the players' future gaming at risk and could not only shorten the life of the campaign, but lead to drop-out from the larger gaming community.  Here Gary speak from his experience as designer of the most popular RPG of all time and the father of conventions.  This raises to view the very divided RPG market of today and the question of how and to what extents division has been bad and good for gamers -- a question I will lead you to ponder, gentle readers.

When the milieu of the campaign is highly developed and players love it but are frustrated with certain rules situations, or when the campaign seems to have reached a stage of fullness and there is a restlessness for something new and different, then the GM is faced with the decision about developing or changing the rules.  Gary breaks these down as follows:
Is the change to be radical, gradual, or moderate?
Do the changes that need to be made result in

1.  [the] existing game modified by no more than 50% new rules material
2.  more than 50% new systems utilizing an existing game as base
3. two or more existing games bridged by special rules
4. unique systems
 I will simply observe that you can take the broad ideas that Gary is advancing here to make general judgments, without feeling the need to actually quantify the amount of changes which I would find dubious.

While I found this one of the least helpful sections so far, what do I find to be the takeaway from it?
  1. As always, the desire and interest of the players are the GM's ruling consideration (91).
  2. Changes in the basic structure of the game demand not only intimate knowledge of the players' desires and interests, and the needs of the campaign that fits them, but mastery of the basic structure of the game that is remodeled.  "Which parts of the construction cry out for reinforcement?  Which ones are fine just as they are?  Which ones can be replaced without destroying the whole?"  (103)  Knowledge of a system's underpinnings are necessary to plan and carry out successful remodeling.  (Despite Gary's admission that the creation of new rules systems may be called for, his concern regarding isolation means that it gets the least consideration in the chapter, which essentially ends up being about remodeling more than replacement.)
Next Tuesday, Gary promises to answer our lingering questions about the place of research in role-playing mastery in chapter 6.  Until then, happy gaming...and perhaps, rules tinkering.

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