Monday, March 8, 2010

These are the Rules, that I've just made up

So, let's have a little moment to breathe about the rules in the game. When I buy a game, I tend to sit down and go over the other stuff and save the rules for last. The reason for that is that I'm a huge proponent of saving the worst bit for the end. I hate rules, I do. I used to love them when I was younger, because they were the structure on which my gaming house was built. They were comfortating, and familiar and if you knew them well you could do whatever you wanted.

Then I got older, and then I realized rules were kind of like the house that you couldn't remodel. Well, you can (I figured out that later) but if you had someone in your game who loved rules above the game itself, doing anything that went beyond the rules was like pulling teeth. It was hard, painful and left you frustrated more often than now.

Now that I'm even older, and I've done this writing a book or two thing, I've come to realize that rules are just there for when you need them, and the less you need them the better. Often times, rules can get in the way of a good story. That's why there's this term called "Rule Zero" which is, when put succinctly is, "if you don't like it and it doesn't work, throw it the hell out."

There are many reasons why a rule doesn't work. It's overly complicated, or overy specific. If a rule can only apply to when you're falling out of a burning building and landing on concrete, then it's a bad rule. If the rule takes you more than a minute to figure out, then it's a bad rule. If you have to dig through three different books to find the various references on those rules to make sure you've got it right, then it's a bad rule. We can play the bad rule game all day, really. It's fun, I should start a thread where we play the, "It's a bad rule when.." game where you fill in the end. It'll probably be just me playing, but I've been known to entertain myself.

Anyway, a friend sent me on towards this website, Story Games. I'd admit that I'm a little hesitant to do it, mainly because while I was lurking I came across the following thread. So someone played an IaWa game and it didn't quite follow the rules of the book. Now, I know this game because I was in it. I was one of the people who got co-opted to be the co-leader for the game. I'm not ashamed to admit it despite the fact that there was a lot of whining on that thread about how we didn't follow the rules.

I kid you not. After the description there was a note from the writer/creator of In a Wicked Age and he said, and I quote:

"Huh. Discouraging.


My first though was, "Seriously? Seriously? Well, how about you fuck right off."

You see, I'm of the opinion that if you're playing one of my games that's awesome, period ... end of sentence. Have fun, do whatever the hell you want with it. You don't like this rule, or that rule? Throw them out, make a new one! You think the game is good, but it inspires you to write your own because you think you cane make it better. Rock on sister! Just be prepared to have me read what you did and do the same to you because it's going to have the same effect on me.

"Huh, discouraging?"

I've got news for you. I do love In A Wicked Age. However, what I dislike the most about it is the whole fucking rule system. I've read the book several times and the timing issues makes me scratch my head again and again. I don't care if you got it and it's just like this. I've had people try to explain it to me and it still makes me scratch my head. It's like Burning Wheel in that regard, beautiful book wonderful idea but at some point in time I throw my hands up in the air and say, "Screw this noise" and I go back to reading A Penny For My Thoughts so I can understand that I'm not a moron.

When you write a game, and people don't really get it, then the fault lies not with the reader but with the writer for failing to communicate the rules and ideas behind their game. I know this, I fail on a regular basis when it comes to how I write my stuff. Why? Because this writing thing is hard. However, if someone plays a game a certain way I'm not going to tell them to stop. My first words are going to be, "Keep playing!" Because they main reason for all of this is to have fun, and if they're having fun then more power to them and less wanking off for me. It also lets me sit down and know where I messed up and where I need to be better in communicating my ideas.


My second thought, "Really? Really? How about you fuck right off."


Ryan Stou'n said...

Hey Jonathan, I know the whole thread is pretty pissy.

The 'discouraging' comment is really not directed at you.

Vincent saying 'Discouraging' isn't directed at you; he's not discouraged that you guys played the game or that you misinterpreted it.

He's discouraged because he thought he wrote an iron-clad way to get people to have a certain kind of fun. He thought he made rules that would work and that people would enjoy engaging with, and he thought he wrote them clearly.

As it turns out it's not so iron-clad that it produces the really tight experience every time. He's discouraged by that, not by you.

Citizen Sara said...

Hi Jonathan,

As the person that voluntold you to help me co-GM this game, first - uh sorry and second, I hope that the drama surrounding this thread is now going to drift off.

I know that Paul really didn't intend the thread to be as negative as it turned out to be. He has had the same frustrations doing his own run throughs of IaWA...

It comes down to how to you foster players to take control of a story line not just their colourful actions...

As for the discouraging comment... yeah, that made me feel discouraged about running this game again.

I hope that Ryan's right on the intentions behind it, I'll give Vincent the benefit of the doubt as I don't know him from Adam, but it just goes to show - as you said, this writing thing is hard!

Jonathan said...

@Ryan -

I hear that it could be aimed at the fact that he felt that he had an iron-lad way to get people to have a certain kind of fun. In reality, it's a little naive of a position to have. Never underestimate people's ability to misinterpret what you're trying to do. That's what makes it all fun.

The thread on the whole was pretty damned pissy, wasn't it?


No apologies needed. I had a good time and if you need help again let me know. If we can foster a more storytelling feel with more TAG members then I'm all for it 100%.

Ryan Stou'n said...

@Jonathan indeed it was. People put a lot of themselves into the hobby. Criticizing how someone plays needs to be undertaken with a heaping helping of understanding and care.

I really want to play with you guys.

lumpley said...

Hey, yeah, sorry for that. It's discouraging because I've heard a whole hell of a lot about how inadequately-written the game is, and here's another thread on (I thought at the time) that same topic.

I'm delighted that you like whatever parts of my game you like. No grief from me!

theyellowjester said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
theyellowjester said...

Hey man, nice blog...
Im split about the rules thing. I still like opening up a game and reading the rules. Usually when Im with a bunch of people and we open up a game, the rulebook is thrown at me. You probably remember that happening.
I find it satisfying to understand and follow the rules of a game. Its like playing a videogame on the highest difficulty without using any cheats. You know it can be done, and its almost a challenge to yourself.
I dont know the game that you are talking about, but I do know that with more independant games, the biggest problem is usually lack of playtesting. I think that the best games should have rules that guide from behind. Obvious and yet not that limiting. When you start to say, "wait, that doesn't make sense", there's usually a problem.
The best designed game out there is life. What are the rules? Well, there arent any, really. And yet, the mechanics of the world limit us. You could call them rules, but they are built in. There are no rules against flying, but that damn gravity just keeps me down...

Jonathan said...


The game isn't particularly inadequatly written, it's just a rather complex concept that might take a turn or two to get right. Have you thought of doing a rewrite, or a version two? Again, just to go over things and maybe take what you've learned about the problems that people have with what's written and clean it up?

Do something like offer it at a discount for people who have purchased v.1 and then anyone who buys it for the first time will get the cleaned up version and those who really want the second ed (Hand up here because I'd buy that) after getting the first one would get a clarification.

The last thing I'm going to do is throw a stone because something wasn't perfect. Goodness knows that I've messed up enough times with three books in that regard.


Yeah, I do remember that. I hopefully wasn't trying to disparage those who like rules. There are definite benefits to that kind of play, like you said that there is these rules that you have to work around.

My thing is that now I'm understanding that for most people, not all, the only rule that's important is that I want to have a good time. When you get a bunch of people together to tell a story, they want to tell a really good story even at the detrement to their character. I find that I need to really enforce rules when I'm surrounded by people who feel that they need to win at something.

I do remember the rule book getting thrown around. I will admit that I've grown from those days, I believe. Anyway, there needs to be more games played sir. Good times were had with those.

Ryan Stou'n said...

Hey Jonathan, I think Vincent probably just isn't following - but I think the answer to your query is that he's trying to devote 100% of his energies to his 2 current projects, Apocalypse World and Storming the Wizard's Tower.

That's my guess.

Jonathan said...

Hey Ryan,

That's okay. I understand working on new projects, but if you're not going to update old ones, which is totally valid, then don't sweat it. They're old and done.

I mean, RM isn't my finest piece of work but it's out there and I'm not revisiting it so when people complain about it, and they have, my response is, "I'm sorry we didn't meet your needs, thank you for buying our product."

lumpley said...

I'm still here. I think about revising In a Wicked Age all the time! One of these days I'll do it (by which I mean, one of these years, probably).

So, yep.

Jonathan said...

Vin, no worries and or no pressure. I know all abouts the whole taking a while to get things done.

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