Friday, April 8, 2011

Tabletop Gaming and Rules Issues

Hello and welcome to TheOmnigamer blog.

I had planned to open with a series of entries discussing changes to the Dungeons and Dragons game across editions and analyze which edition got what right and which edition is "best" for what elements.

But today, another issue came to mind: the rules of the gaming table.  They aren't always the rules completely as written in the sourcebooks.  But a bit of background first...

In early editions of Dungeons and Dragons, there weren't a lot of hard and fast rules.  You could expect a few rules to be written in stone like thac0 and armor class.  Houserules were very common and when you sat down at the table, you made sure to ask about what rules were used at the table and you just accepted them.  You could suggest a rule and the players and DM would listen and consider it...but the DM was the final word even if he was in contradiction to the rulebooks.  Optional rules also appeared in books and magazines and you figured out which books were in play when you sat down.  Again, the DM decided what was a rule and what wasn't.

When 3E (third edition) came out, it came out with a lot of new rules for everything.  Players and DM's learned the new rules and many could quote specific page numbers and consult the rules to their advantage and disadvantage.  It also came with a wave of new materials from dozens of splatbooks to hundreds of magazine articles and of course, the third-party materials that were created from the open gaming license.  Once again, the DM was there to decide which materials were allowed at the table.  Many gamers also developed their own rules to supplement the rules.

When 4E (fourth edition) came out, 3E ceased to be supported by its creators.  What happened next with 3E was a shift from published rules to houserules as DMs and players discussed new ideas, rules, and concepts without having any "official" answer.  The internet allowed for people to put these new ideas for review and consideration (often using the acronym PEACH meaning Please Evaluate And Critique Honestly) and if people liked your idea, they might use it.  Or they might suggest a change.  Or they might suggest you scrap it all together.  Or they might point out an existing rule that works better.  The "official rulings" ended up being slowly replaced by the "consensus rulings".  But it was up to the individual gaming group to use an optional rule or not.  And it was up to the individual gaming group to allow a published book or not.

Now, 4E brought in a new culture of gaming and a new concept towards rules.  Once again many books were published and new rules came out in magazines and internet articles.  The problem is that the general culture and the "official" word from the company is that everything is allowed and the DM can just deal with it.  A DM that wants to disallow a specific race or class will find a player opening a book and saying "the book says I can play I'm going to play it".  Sure, the DM can still disallow it and perhaps lose the player (or all the players) but the culture is now that the book trumps the DM.

One specific conflict I have seen recently is with the new Essentials line for 4E.  They changed character creating and leveling up and how the classes are built.  It uses the same rules for actual play but the characters are very different.  The "official" statement is that all of the Essentials line is 100% compatible with the "core" 4E but many DMs don't like mixing Essentials and Core (myself included).  However, when I bring up the fact that I don't want Essentials in my Core game (to people who aren't even in my gaming group), people try to say that I can't do that and that it would be selfish to disallow a Essentials build if someone wanted to play one.  What happened to the respected seat of authority that a DM used to have?  It used to be that players couldn't play without a DM but now perhaps they can.

Another conflict is with houserules.  Houserules used to be essential in 1E and 2E.  Houserules used to be common and central to 3E after the arrival of 4E.  But now with 4E, people don't like houserules because they aren't rules-as-written.  Recently I came up with an idea for an alternative class feature for 4E and decided to ask around online if there were any existing "official" rules or any existing houserules on the subject.  There weren't any "official" rules and no one gave me any houserules.  Instead I was given two answers.  First, I was given a suggestion of using an Essentials build in my Core game (because it is "officially" compatible).  And second, I was given a suggestion of just staying rules-as-written and not going with alternative class features.


To conclude...what do you think about using houserules with your gaming group?  Is the DM the final word for the rules or are the "official" rules the final word?  Should the rules-as-written be followed?  Or should rules-as-intended be more important?  Let me know what you think.

1 comment:

  1. Houserules all the way. One of the first classic quotes I learned as a young player trying to be a by the book gal was "rocks fall, everyone dies". Also, rules-nazi. In a game about imagination, house rules help flesh out a unique world.

    But it seems nowadays most new gamers are coming from the environment of WoW and other MMORPGS, where there is no choice but by the book, and they get set in the mentality. I think a lot of the crazy houserules geared people away from gaming because as a new player, that is why I went into 3rd ed. A few of my friends played 2nd ed but after reading the books, then I had to try and figure out a million house rules and it got to be daunting. 3rd ed (at the time) was still being run very close to the book, so it was easier for me to learn. As I grew as a player, I started learning how house rules work and understood everything better.

    4th ed is bringing a lot of new players out, who will grow and evolve just like the generation before them.

    My preference is still house rules though.