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Author Topic: OD&D: Why have rules at all if you want to ignore them?  (Read 2762 times)

Shrieking Banshee

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OD&D: Why have rules at all if you want to ignore them?
« on: January 03, 2021, 06:49:39 am »
This is something I'm having trouble understanding about people with a deific fondness for games that had rules but then you ignored them or made up your own. I won't lie and say that I haven't just fudged rules, or just rolled with whatever was happening to move the game along. But that was made on a foundation of rules I generally liked and could use as written most of the time. Because that was a product I paid for. Functional rules.

When I hear some people reminisce about old school games, the fact that the rules were such vague and contradicting, unfinished, unrefined, clusterfuck is talked about with deep fondness. That somehow having bad rules, or non-existent rules made it better because if it was bad, then you can ignore them and make your own. Or just improv all the time.

So wouldn't the logical endpoint just be an improv night without any rules at all? If consistent rules and character-building gets in the way of the DM telling the story he wants, why have any rules at all? Why not just write up a short story with some people occasionally assisting with minor suggestions for individual characters?

Fundamentally I believe everybody can have the fun they want. Really this is more conceptual confusion for me. Personally, I believe it's just nostalgia.

mAcular Chaotic

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Re: OD&D: Why have rules at all if you want to ignore them?
« Reply #1 on: January 03, 2021, 06:55:45 am »
Overall the rules can be relied on. But for everyone there are different parts insufficient for them, and it’s there you exercise your creativity and truly make the game your own.
Battle doesn't need a purpose; the battle is its own purpose. You don't ask why a plague spreads or a field burns. Don't ask why I fight.

robh

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Re: OD&D: Why have rules at all if you want to ignore them?
« Reply #2 on: January 03, 2021, 07:26:36 am »
Rules are necessary as a common frame of reference for players and GM.
Unless you are in a competition environment "games" are about maximising entertainment and enjoyment so it is inevitable that some rules will have more flexibility than others, but nothing should be possible in a game session that actually breaks one of the fundamental inflexible rules.

Also, having a set of rules to fall back on gives the GM an ability to balance the actions of a party and make sure that a couple of (or more commonly, one) character does not end up railroading an entire game session into going the way he/she wants.
There are other ways of doing it for sure, especially for experienced GMs, but it is important the existence of the "rule" is always there as a backstop.

VisionStorm

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Re: OD&D: Why have rules at all if you want to ignore them?
« Reply #3 on: January 03, 2021, 08:10:48 am »
As I mentioned in the thread on "Is RPG Optimization Psychosis?", the OSR is an RPG cult obsessed with OD&D. It isn't about rational reasons why OD&D's ruleset is better, it's about working backwards from the supposition that it is, then seeing what they want to see in it. Like finding figures in a cloud. Even the absence of rules is seen as a feature that encourages creative problem solving, as opposed to the rule simply not existing because the designers didn't have time to write it (Dave Arneson originally wanted D&D to have skills, for example, according to Griffith Morgan [don't remember the exact timestamp; might be near the end, though]), didn't consider it important to cover in the core rules at the time or only had so much page space available. And anyone that wants rules for certain things is derided as needing the rules to tell them what to do, lacking creativity (cuz apparently I'm not making up new rules or trying out different system mechanics all the time) or ruining the hobby.

There seems to be a disconnect between playstyle preferences, as well as anecdotal experience, and objective reality. And certain experiences or playstyle methods are seen as a product of the ruleset, as opposed to certain people playing that way for practical reasons or common player paranoia. I've seen people check every nook and cranny for traps in almost every game I've played--it isn't a BX exclusive thing! The existence of skills doesn't necessarily remove paranoid players. A lot of this is more a matter of culture than the system itself.

And this isn't even a new thing, I used to encounter people who gave similar defenses of BX back in the 90s, and they always had similar criticisms about 2e as many have today about 3e. They constantly complained about how AD&D was unbalanced, because you could have a character that was both a fighter AND an elf, and every time I brought up skills or non-weapon proficiencies they told me I didn't need them and that they could make anything up as DM.

Some people also seem to ignore that other people are willing to accept certain tradeoffs (such as added complexity or extended character creation) in exchange for having certain things in the game (like more character options), and understand that somethings always involve a give and take. So pointing out that tradeoffs exist doesn't make a ruleset that doesn't have them inherently superior, it just means that one ruleset incorporates certain components and the other doesn't. We know that a class-based system that also has skills and special abilities (feats, traits, whatever) is more complex and has longer character creation than one that doesn't. It's not a matter of "this game doesn't has all this extra crap that extends character creation, therefore it's better", it's a matter of what is it specifically that you want out of the game. If what you want is character details, then a simplified game system simply isn't gonna cut it, and no amount of touting the faster character creation speed of "roll 3d6 in order, pick the class you qualify for, you're set" is going to change that.

spon

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Re: OD&D: Why have rules at all if you want to ignore them?
« Reply #4 on: January 03, 2021, 09:47:08 am »
I think it comes from the roots of OD&D - playing in a (refereed) fantasy wargaming campaign and playing characters within that milieu. There is an expectation that all players will have access to the same ruleset, that the rules won't cover everything and that the referee can be trusted to change/ignore/add any rule if they feel it appropriate.

To me that's all you need to explain "rule 0" and yet still have a bunch of rules that people are expected to play to.

Eirikrautha

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Re: OD&D: Why have rules at all if you want to ignore them?
« Reply #5 on: January 03, 2021, 10:12:27 am »
This is something I'm having trouble understanding about people with a deific fondness for games that had rules but then you ignored them or made up your own. I won't lie and say that I haven't just fudged rules, or just rolled with whatever was happening to move the game along. But that was made on a foundation of rules I generally liked and could use as written most of the time. Because that was a product I paid for. Functional rules.

When I hear some people reminisce about old school games, the fact that the rules were such vague and contradicting, unfinished, unrefined, clusterfuck is talked about with deep fondness. That somehow having bad rules, or non-existent rules made it better because if it was bad, then you can ignore them and make your own. Or just improv all the time.

So wouldn't the logical endpoint just be an improv night without any rules at all? If consistent rules and character-building gets in the way of the DM telling the story he wants, why have any rules at all? Why not just write up a short story with some people occasionally assisting with minor suggestions for individual characters?

Fundamentally I believe everybody can have the fun they want. Really this is more conceptual confusion for me. Personally, I believe it's just nostalgia.

Anyone who has ever houseruled is guilty of "ignor[ing] them or ma[king] up your own."  It's about what the rules are meant to represent and what you are trying to do with them.  I would argue, because the rules evolved from wargaming, that the original intent of the rules were to simulate reality, and that they rules grew and changed to simulate a particular fantasy "reality."  If you approach the rules as attempts to quantify the possible outcomes of a real problem, then no one ruleset is going to be able to effectively simulate those outcomes.  You will constantly have edge cases and "unrealistic" results from your rules that you will need to ignore or develop secondary mechanisms to handle.  Hence the "rulings, not rules" mentality you hear associated with "old school" gaming.

On the other hand, as RPG rulesets evolved, players and GMs began to incorporate some of the results of the rules that were counter to reality into the actual fiction of the worlds.  So the characters, in the fictional world, would expect the outcomes of their attempts to follow a logic based on the mechanics of the game system, and not the logic of our reality.  This actually makes life somewhat easier for the players, as they can more accurately predict the outcome of their efforts.  But it also makes life harder for the DM, through both the need to stretch these counter-reality outcomes to their logical conclusion in his game world and through managing the difference between player expectations based on mechanics vs. the fiction of the world.

I won't use terms like "simulationism" or "gamism," as they have too much baggage and outside connotations, but the battle for primacy between the idea that reality creates the mechanics or that the mechanics shape reality is a fundamental concern for any game system.  It's also something that very few games address directly.

So it's easy to understand why gamers who grew up viewing their rulesets as attempts to guide them through the resolution of "reality-based" situations would prefer systems where incompleteness and inadequacy are base assumptions of the ruleset.  Likewise, gamers who see the ruleset as proscribing the behavior of the fiction (often due to the influence of video game RPGs, I think, because in that medium the rules/coding does determine the width and breadth of the world and its behavior) are uncomfortable with the idea that the rules aren't all encompassing.  It's a difference of expectation as to what your RPG "tools" are meant to accomplish.

Shrieking Banshee

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Re: OD&D: Why have rules at all if you want to ignore them?
« Reply #6 on: January 03, 2021, 11:42:24 am »
Anyone who has ever houseruled is guilty of "ignor[ing] them or ma[king] up your own."  It's about what the rules are meant to represent and what you are trying to do with them.  I would argue, because the rules evolved from wargaming, that the original intent of the rules were to simulate reality, and that they rules grew and changed to simulate a particular fantasy "reality."  If you approach the rules as attempts to quantify the possible outcomes of a real problem, then no one ruleset is going to be able to effectively simulate those outcomes.  You will constantly have edge cases and "unrealistic" results from your rules that you will need to ignore or develop secondary mechanisms to handle.  Hence the "rulings, not rules" mentality you hear associated with "old school" gaming.

I find so much of this largely inaccurate. Because wargames mimick an enjoyable combat simulation meant to be fun for both players. Any mimicry of reality is ultimately aside from this experience.

Quote
So it's easy to understand why gamers who grew up viewing their rulesets as attempts to guide them through the resolution of "reality-based" situations would prefer systems where incompleteness and inadequacy are base assumptions of the ruleset.

I also find your assumptions on why people might like things more spelled out to be disconnected from why people ultimately like such systems or experiences. This is more a way to fluff up your own interests.

But ultimately you didn't answer my question. Which was:

Why do you prefer BAD rules, on the principle that you can ignore them? With all the touting of how 'Rulings not rules' OD&D was, one would think it would be a single page with 'I dunno roll a 20' on it. But it's not. Its pages and pages of contradictory (mostly just unfinished) resolution mechanics, with specific examples and things to do in multiple scenarious.

OD&D is far from rules-lite. It's more just fragmented. It's very rules-heavy in many ways. With pages and pages of how stuff interacts, specific effects, powers and abilities.

Zalman

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Re: OD&D: Why have rules at all if you want to ignore them?
« Reply #7 on: January 03, 2021, 11:46:20 am »
When I hear some people reminisce about old school games, the fact that the rules were such vague and contradicting, unfinished, unrefined, clusterfuck is talked about with deep fondness. That somehow having bad rules, or non-existent rules made it better because if it was bad, then you can ignore them and make your own. Or just improv all the time.

So wouldn't the logical endpoint just be an improv night without any rules at all?

No!

The key point here is you can "make your own" rules. That doesn't mean the rules don't exist during play, it just means that the players have derived a modified (or codified) set of rules from those vague and contradicting ones. That's very different from not having rules at all, which would be, as you suggest, "just improv".

The reason folks like those vague and contradictory rules is because they like making up their own rules!
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Shrieking Banshee

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Re: OD&D: Why have rules at all if you want to ignore them?
« Reply #8 on: January 03, 2021, 12:00:56 pm »
The reason folks like those vague and contradictory rules is because they like making up their own rules!

So why not have no rules, or a foundation of actual good rules (to ignore)?

Why insist to keep the bathwater with the baby?

Thondor

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Re: OD&D: Why have rules at all if you want to ignore them?
« Reply #9 on: January 03, 2021, 12:06:19 pm »
The key point here is you can "make your own" rules. That doesn't mean the rules don't exist during play, it just means that the players have derived a modified (or codified) set of rules from those vague and contradicting ones. That's very different from not having rules at all, which would be, as you suggest, "just improv".

The reason folks like those vague and contradictory rules is because they like making up their own rules!

I think this is pretty accurate.
I think it is also helpful to think about the fact that the Arneson and Gygax both liked creating rules . . . that's where a lot of the fun of the experience of running a game was for them. Why wouldn't every GM want to create rules to make the game work better for them?

This is similar to both of them being a little baffled as to why people wanted to buy setting books -- making up the campaign world was part of the fun.

Champions of ZED (a tome that tries to unify the varying approaches in a number of drafts and documents around the publication of OD&D) in has three kinds of combat in it! A quick partial quote from CoZED "the expectation within the source materials that Referee's will customize their methods of resolving combat."
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Arnman

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Re: OD&D: Why have rules at all if you want to ignore them?
« Reply #10 on: January 03, 2021, 12:10:46 pm »
I doubt OD&D was played as much as you are led to believe.  Everyone I knew from '77 played OD&D structure but used the AD&D Player Handbook and the AD&D Monster Manual.  I had the Monster Manual just before Christmas of '77 and bought the Player Handbook a month or so later.  The AD&D GM Guide wasn't out of another year and a half.  Most of the Youtube players I see are players that started in the early 80's are are playing Basic D&D.  There are only a handful of rule changes but mostly rule clarifications.  Most of the house rules are additions to the rules and those additions were encouraged by the rules.

Two Crows

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Re: OD&D: Why have rules at all if you want to ignore them?
« Reply #11 on: January 03, 2021, 12:12:04 pm »
This is something I'm having trouble understanding about people with a deific fondness for games that had rules but then you ignored them or made up your own.

...

So wouldn't the logical endpoint just be an improv night without any rules at all? If consistent rules and character-building gets in the way of the DM telling the story he wants, why have any rules at all? Why not just write up a short story with some people occasionally assisting with minor suggestions for individual characters?


I think the best context to understand the nuance here is with a parallel argument;

"If one likes to salt their food, wouldn't the logical conclusion be to simply have a Salt Lick?"

When dealing with tastes and preferences, shades and nuance are vital, and virtually nothing exists in a dichotomy.  This holds for food, paintings, music, film, and so forth.  It seems perfect reasonable to expect the same level of distinction of degrees in role-playing games, to my way of thinking.
 
If I stop replying, it either means I've lost interest in the topic or think further replies are pointless.  I don't need the last word, it's all yours.

Shrieking Banshee

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Re: OD&D: Why have rules at all if you want to ignore them?
« Reply #12 on: January 03, 2021, 12:19:08 pm »
I think the best context to understand the nuance here is with a parallel argument;

"If one likes to salt their food, wouldn't the logical conclusion be to simply have a Salt Lick?"

Il counter with:

'If one likes to salt their food, does the food itself have to be of poor quality? And indeed if the food's quality is irrelevant, then yes why not a salt lick?'

Two Crows

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Re: OD&D: Why have rules at all if you want to ignore them?
« Reply #13 on: January 03, 2021, 12:20:39 pm »
I think the best context to understand the nuance here is with a parallel argument;

"If one likes to salt their food, wouldn't the logical conclusion be to simply have a Salt Lick?"

Il counter with:

'If one likes to salt their food, does the food itself have to be of poor quality? And indeed if the food's quality is irrelevant, then yes why not a salt lick?'

Ah, but that is not a counter, you have shifted the statement from a question of taste into a judgement of them.

If I stop replying, it either means I've lost interest in the topic or think further replies are pointless.  I don't need the last word, it's all yours.

ChristopherKubasik

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Re: OD&D: Why have rules at all if you want to ignore them?
« Reply #14 on: January 03, 2021, 12:21:39 pm »
But ultimately you didn't answer my question. Which was:

Why do you prefer BAD rules, on the principle that you can ignore them? With all the touting of how 'Rulings not rules' OD&D was, one would think it would be a single page with 'I dunno roll a 20' on it. But it's not. Its pages and pages of contradictory (mostly just unfinished) resolution mechanics, with specific examples and things to do in multiple scenarious.

OD&D is far from rules-lite. It's more just fragmented. It's very rules-heavy in many ways. With pages and pages of how stuff interacts, specific effects, powers and abilities.

Shrieking Banshee, is it fair to assume you’ve typed these questions without having played OD&D or even having read the rules recently?

I ask this because some of your base assumptions are contrary to reality, or, as the least, contrary to my experiences running my current OD&D game.

Specifics: I’m not ignoring any of the rules in the game. (Some people might?) I do make judgments and rulings when the game rules don’t cover a situation. But I used the rules that are there.

I have no idea where you get the “rules heavy” part from. The core rules can be placed on a two sides of a sheet of 8.5 x 11 paper.

Finally, the “nostalgia” argument, as common as it is, is and always will be, bullshit. I played AD&D decades ago. But never played OD&D. My four players never played any D&D before 3rd edition. The idea they are playing for nostalgic reasons is nonsensical, since they have no experience with the rules set we are using.

(While I’ve been playing games for decades, by the way, the types of RPGs I’ve played is quite broad. I have no attachment to OSR games specifically. But they have their own pleasure.)

I chose the rules because we started the game online, so I could stay connected with people I enjoy. The rules system is simple, and so I didn’t have to have them flipping through lots of rules. I want to make sure we spend more time talking with each other than looking up rules, so a system that lets us talk out ideas and possible logic and consequences of their actions makes more sense to me, and is more enjoyable, than a system that we’d always be looking at our character sheet and rolling dice.

OD&D might not be a game that you enjoy. But your summation of it, as is so often the case in posts like this, lacks any clear observations that you’ve done any play with the game itself.
« Last Edit: January 03, 2021, 12:26:10 pm by ChristopherKubasik »