Author Topic: Rulings, not Rules  (Read 3353 times)

Steerpike

  • Flumph
  • *
  • Posts: 3952
    • View Profile
Rulings, not Rules
« on: January 08, 2017, 12:01:02 AM »
Quote from: Steerpike
I liked this post quite a bit: http://goblinpunch.blogspot.ca/2016/12/how-to-make-rulings.html

Quote from: sparkletwist
I didn't.

Well, except for the "learn how probabilities work" part. More DMs need to do that.

Quote from: Steerpike
I'm not shocked, though I'm curious what specifically you object to, if anything, apart from the fact that the article is intended for DMs playing versions of D&D that aren't 3.X-4 - that rulings should be fast, simple, and consistent (as opposed to slow, convoluted, and inconsistent)? That player expectations and in-game fiction should align? That complicated mechanics need testing?

Or perhaps just the idea of rulings altogether?

Quote from: sparkletwist
Stuff like "build and test complex mechanics before using them" is just designing actual rules so it's basically the opposite of what the article purports to be advocating.

Quote from: Steerpike
Oh I guess I see. He does differentiate between making a ruling and "writing an ad-hoc rule." I think what he's saying is that sometimes, when you know in advance that the rules aren't going to model a situation well as-written, but you can foresee the situation you'll need rules for clearly, you can make a "ruling" in slow motion, in which case many of the same tips apply, minus speed.

Quote from: sparkletwist
Right. So he's advocating the exact thing he claimed to be against: writing rules in advance.

Kemp only puts the stuff about coming up with specific rules in advance at the end.

He's not advocating for a "rules-for-everything" approach here by saying that sometimes you do want to make up rules in advance. The "rulings, not rules" approach posits that because players should be given great freedom in terms of problem-solving, and because looking up rules is a chore, and because memorizing lots of rules is difficult and onerous, and because lots of complex rules tend to bog games down, it can be better to structure your rules system around general, flexible principles, and then encourage a DM to make rulings. But, sometimes, you're designing a dungeon with some very specific incident in mind, where you do want to write down a rule ahead of time - even if we accept the general premise of "rulings, not rules" as a broad design philosophy, that doesn't mean that every single determination must always happen at the table on the spur of the moment. By noting that sometimes you will indeed want to come up with some specific rules ahead of time to suit very particular situations, I don't think Kemp is contradicting the overall philosophy behind a "rulings, not rules" approach, but he is avoiding a reductionist version of that approach by acknowledging that there are indeed some instances where it makes sense to come up with nitty-gritty rules ahead of time.

(Of course, he also explicitly states that in the last section he got a bit carried away, and that readers "should probably just skip it.  Seriously, just pretend the post ends right now.  I can't delete it because I like it, but I also recognize that no one probably wants to read it." So it feels a bit ungenerous to critique him for the bit he identified as "optional" at most).

Ghostman

  • Yrthak
  • *
  • Posts: 1550
    • View Profile
Re: Rulings, not Rules
« Reply #1 on: January 08, 2017, 06:54:26 AM »
In the long run you can't avoid having to make some rulings on the fly, no matter what system you use. Exactly how much ground actual pre-written rules should cover is a matter of taste (and when you get to the heavier end of the spectrum, of practical limitations) and specific needs of the game. It's a fair idea to have at least some guidelines on how to craft a ruling, and the advice in the linked blog post doesn't look all that bad to me.

One thing in there I find kind of questionable is the point that rulings should be consistent. While I agree that consistency is a good thing, and worthwhile as a goal, I don't think it's something you should stress over or waste much time getting right with rulings. The reason for this is that I view rulings as essentially one-time throwaway things. You make one up on the fly, use it then and there, and never use it again. If you actually have to call a ruling on the same type of situation twice, it should probably be pinned down as a house rule instead. If you are somehow able to keep your rulings quick and still keep them consistent with the rest of the game system and with each other, that's awesome! It's just not a requirement.

OTOH with actual rules - house rules included - you definitely should strive to be consistent. You've got the time to think about them and to try them out, after all.
¡ɟlǝs ǝnɹʇ ǝɥʇ ´ʍopɐɥS ɯɐ I
Paragon * (Paragon Rules) * Savage Age (Wiki) * Argyrian Empire
Mother 2
* You meet the New Age Retro Hippie
* The New Age Retro Hippie lost his temper!
* The New Age Retro Hippie's offense went up by 1!
* Ness attacks!
SMAAAASH!!
* 87 HP of damage to the New Age Retro Hippie!
* The New Age Retro Hippie turned back to normal!
YOU WON!
* Ness gained 160 xp.
[close]

sparkletwist

  • Administrator
  • Flail Snail
  • *****
  • Posts: 1744
    • View Profile
Re: Rulings, not Rules
« Reply #2 on: January 08, 2017, 01:59:07 PM »
I just jumped on that one thing because I was trying to keep my post in the tavern short. Here's a more detailed breakdown of where my issues are.

First, let's start with the common ground:
Quote from: Steerpike
because players should be given great freedom in terms of problem-solving, and because looking up rules is a chore, and because memorizing lots of rules is difficult and onerous, and because lots of complex rules tend to bog games down, it can be better to structure your rules system around general, flexible principles
I basically agree with this statement. The reason that I'm not really aboard the "rulings, not rules" bandwagon, and, specifically, have issue with that post, breaks down to a few points:

First, a failure to differentiate between abstracted rules and vague rules. In both cases, you could say the GM is going to have to make rulings, but with the abstracted ruleset, the system is designed around this and the core of the ruling is just determining the abstracted rule that best fits the situation. So you're still basically using the rules as written, or, if you prefer, it ties into his suggestion to "use established mechanics whenever possible." Something like OD&D or some other game with vague rules, on the other hand, has few good general rules to extrapolate from, in other words, few established mechanics to draw upon. It has no generalized task resolution system to speak of, let alone any sort of broader abstracted building blocks like the Fate fractal. The ruling is going to be much more about making up a mechanic (or, at least, a way to get an outcome) on the fly. The post specifically mentions OSR, and to say that something like OD&D is structured around general, flexible principles is being quite (in my opinion, overly) charitable.

Second, the is/ought problem. Yes, looking up rules is a chore. Yes, rules can be complex and bog the game down. But why? Can we do anything about these problems, other than just assume this is the way it's always going to be so we have to work around it? One answer is to introduce more abstracted rules, like in Fate. Another somewhat related thing is to try to unify systems and clean up the math, like how D&D 3rd edition made armor class a lot more logical and replaced a lot of weird rolls from AD&D with 1d20 + modifier vs. a DC. And of course we can always try to make looking up rules less bothersome. To pick on OD&D again, it actually doesn't even have a ton of rules, but looking up anything is still a pain because the rulebook is not laid out in any particularly coherent way... but that can be and has been improved by various OSR clones. So, I feel like there are ample ways to try to improve a game's ruleset (and the presentation of that ruleset) that don't rely on shifting our mentality to making the DM to come up with the mechanics of the game on the fly, and shifting to a focus on rulings rather than rules ignores most of them.

Third, the fact that rulings are rules, or, at least, proto-rules. Anticipating rulings and writing a mechanic in advance is the most overt case of this, but any time the GM decides how something works, that's essentially adding a new rule to the game. If it's a wonky one-off system for some very specific task, now the game's rules include a wonky one-off system for some very specific task. Add up a bunch of those, and your rules-light game has become a rules-heavy game, and probably a pretty complex mess, at that. A lot of oldschool D&D modules featured one or two challenges that weren't covered by the standard rules, and so the module included its own way to resolve it. Sometimes you'd roll a d6, sometimes you'd roll a d20, sometimes you'd... do something else. Try to apply any of this consistently (i.e., more than once) and you'll end up with something that nobody could really call a "tidy core of mechanics." His example is about digging out of a cave-in that introduces a sort of D&D 4th edition style "skill challenge" system of cumulative successes, probably into a system that never had such a thing before. As a general mechanic that could be added to a system, it could be the beginning of a useful abstracted mechanic. As a specific one-off thing, it's just one more weird subsystem.

Finally, and more subjectively-- and probably the core of why I'm generally for rules rather than rulings-- determining how the nuts and bolts of the game should actually work is not enjoyable for me as a GM. Obviously no rule set can be 100% complete, and there will always be a need for some rulings to make things work, but I generally like, as you said: "general, flexible principles," so there are easy-to-extrapolate mechanics so I don't have to think too much about how to make them work. That way I can focus on the fun parts of GMing: creating locations, fleshing out stories, and playing memorable NPCs.

Steerpike

  • Flumph
  • *
  • Posts: 3952
    • View Profile
Re: Rulings, not Rules
« Reply #3 on: January 08, 2017, 04:06:10 PM »
Quote from: Ghostman
One thing in there I find kind of questionable is the point that rulings should be consistent. While I agree that consistency is a good thing, and worthwhile as a goal, I don't think it's something you should stress over or waste much time getting right with rulings. The reason for this is that I view rulings as essentially one-time throwaway things. You make one up on the fly, use it then and there, and never use it again. If you actually have to call a ruling on the same type of situation twice, it should probably be pinned down as a house rule instead. If you are somehow able to keep your rulings quick and still keep them consistent with the rest of the game system and with each other, that's awesome! It's just not a requirement.

I think you're right about this, although I think the distinction between rulings and house-rules is relatively porous. I'd say that DMs should care about rulings' consistency more as the ruling becomes closer to a house-rule or "ad-hoc rule" as he puts it. Ditto for testing a complicated rule... if it's going to come up frequently or effectively become a semi-permanent or regular rule, it should be more consistent and better-tested, if it's going to be literally a one-off that never arises again, it's better to be quick and not worry so much about consistency.

...

Sparkletwist, looking at your responses, I think there are sort of two ways the discussion could go, and while I'm up for either it probably makes sense to clarify what we're discussing.

On the one hand, we could have a debate about whether old-school/OSR games are worth playing, and whether the associated "rules not rulings" mentality that goes along with them is a valid one. In this case we would definitely get into debates about the merits and drawbacks of abstract rules, why some people still play old games (or games directly based on old games), whether rulings add to the "rules" of a game, and the burden rulings place on a DM. We can totally have this discussion, but I strongly suspect it's going to lead us into territory that's familiar to the two of us - and there will probably be some things we're going to have difficulty convincing one another of. But I'm always up for these things.

OR

We can have a debate about whether the guidelines for creating rulings presented in the Goblin Punch post are useful advice assuming someone is playing an old-school game - that is, taking as a given that for whatever reason, a DM is running a version of D&D from 1st, 2nd, or 5th edition, or one of those editions' many variants and retroclones. This seems to be an assumption of the post; it's not so much making a case for why rulings > rules, it's assuming that the reader is going to be making rulings and sets out to provide guidelines to make a DM better at those rulings. Given this assumption, is the advice to make rulings quickly, consistently, and simply (while saying "yes," making player expectations match the in-game fiction, and learning more about probabilities) good advice, or not? This is quite a different question than the above, I think.

Your post above seems mostly about the first topic, which I'm fine with, but just to avoid a situation where we argue at cross-purposes, is that indeed the topic we should get into?

sparkletwist

  • Administrator
  • Flail Snail
  • *****
  • Posts: 1744
    • View Profile
Re: Rulings, not Rules
« Reply #4 on: January 09, 2017, 05:29:49 PM »
Quote from: Steerpike
On the one hand, we could have a debate about whether old-school/OSR games are worth playing, and whether the associated "rules not rulings" mentality that goes along with them is a valid one. In this case we would definitely get into debates about the merits and drawbacks of abstract rules, why some people still play old games (or games directly based on old games), whether rulings add to the "rules" of a game, and the burden rulings place on a DM.
While we could conceivably have a discussion about the merits and drawbacks of abstract rules, I'd also like to point out, as my first objection above also stated, that many OSR games do not even have abstract rules; they have vague rules. This is a different thing and I would say a worse thing regardless of whether abstract rules are good or not.

Quote from: Steerpike
We can have a debate about whether the guidelines for creating rulings presented in the Goblin Punch post are useful advice assuming someone is playing an old-school game - that is, taking as a given that for whatever reason, a DM is running a version of D&D from 1st, 2nd, or 5th edition, or one of those editions' many variants and retroclones. This seems to be an assumption of the post; it's not so much making a case for why rulings > rules, it's assuming that the reader is going to be making rulings and sets out to provide guidelines to make a DM better at those rulings. Given this assumption, is the advice to make rulings quickly, consistently, and simply (while saying "yes," making player expectations match the in-game fiction, and learning more about probabilities) good advice, or not? This is quite a different question than the above, I think.
Yes, this is a different thing. In this case, I don't really have any issue with them, other than the one thing that the author himself said to just skip and pretend that the post ends right now. I don't find the advice incredibly useful either, but that's more because I don't like that style of game. It's like advice on how to sit in a three-legged chair without falling over.

So, yeah, the first debate has been done to death and I don't actually even care enough to have anything to add about the second. So we probably shouldn't even bother. :grin:


sparkletwist

  • Administrator
  • Flail Snail
  • *****
  • Posts: 1744
    • View Profile
Re: Rulings, not Rules
« Reply #6 on: January 09, 2017, 10:25:10 PM »
Quote from: Steerpike
Maybe we'll return to the issue of abstract versus vague rules some other time.
Well, I can't resist asking, is there really anything much to say about this? I think a debate about the merits and flaws of abstract rules is a valid one, but I see vague rules as a purely negative thing, so there's no real versus here: abstract rules are a thing you may or may not want, but vague rules are a thing you never want.

Steerpike

  • Flumph
  • *
  • Posts: 3952
    • View Profile
Re: Rulings, not Rules
« Reply #7 on: January 09, 2017, 10:58:32 PM »
I had a long answer, but I deleted it; I think I need to chew on it. I think a lot of our differences might spring from a different philosophy about what rules are for. I think some of the rules you'd call vague I might call flexible or loose or easily interpreted, though perhaps not all. I get the feeling you see the rules of the game a bit like the physical laws of the game's universe - at least, that's sometimes how your descriptions feel when you're describing a rule that frustrates you, as if the game's rules were the source-code for the game-world, the Platonic mathematical substructure that runs things. And because you value storyelling and narrative, you want those rules to facilitate dramatic situations and character development, and not restrict or disempower players. You want to the universe to be rooting for drama. I'm attributing positions to you here that you might not hold at all, I don't know, I'm just sort of basing this on suppositions from things you've said over years of debating this stuff.

As I've drifted away from Pathfinder - over the last 2 years or so, mostly - I increasingly don't think about rules in this way at all. I tend to see them more as very rough heuristics or models, to be relied-on in cases where we need mechanisms for probability or uncertainty, or where description and communication between the DM and players runs out, or as a kind of supplement or embroidery to roleplaying and problem-solving, or to lend certain situations stakes and consequences and suspense they wouldn't otherwise have. But maybe we're closer than I'm guessing, I don't know.

sparkletwist

  • Administrator
  • Flail Snail
  • *****
  • Posts: 1744
    • View Profile
Re: Rulings, not Rules
« Reply #8 on: January 10, 2017, 03:44:07 PM »
The main purpose of rules to me is to answer questions: "Do I hit that orc with my sword and how badly does it hurt? Can I sneak past those guards? What can a 3rd level cleric actually do?" The GM could just answer all of these questions, but the idea of using codified rules is supposed to be more consistent, more fair, give the players more agency, and be less stressful for the GM. The problem with vague (or flexible, loose, or whatever) rules is that they don't provide definite answers to those questions, which is what the rules are supposed to do. So I think your summary of my view on the matter is correct, but I'd also agree with your idea of using rules "in cases where we need mechanics for probability or uncertainty" and "as a kind of supplement or embroidery to roleplaying and problem-solving."

Steerpike

  • Flumph
  • *
  • Posts: 3952
    • View Profile
Re: Rulings, not Rules
« Reply #9 on: January 11, 2017, 12:32:54 AM »
I like the idea that rules answer questions. I think I agree with that. Or, to put it slightly differently: rules help the DM make decisions. The problem, I think, with what we might call precise rules (as opposed to vague ones) is that either you need lots and lots of them to answer the myriad questions that arise during gameplay, or you're left with lots of situations that fall outside their remit. Precise rules give precise answers to precise questions.

Now you could have abstract rules, and to some degree I think certain forms of abstraction are good and useful and necessary, but lots and lots of very high abstractions tends - for me, anyway - to really inhibit immersion. If I have to always be thinking abstractly, either at a kind of narrative level, or in such a way that I'm constantly having to "translate" a set of very abstract mechanics into concrete particulars, I tend to feel very pulled out of the experience. I think I've described this to you before using the analogy of Brecht's theory of alienation or Verfremdungseffekt, the distancing effect, which reminds us of a play's fictiveness – for Brecht this was a good thing, since he wanted plays that drew attention to their status as plays, as opposed to plays where for those magical moments you almost forget that the actors are actors and perceive the characters as if they were real people. There is some degree of abstraction I can tolerate, but the more abstract a game becomes, and the more it requires me to think and DM using abstract thought, the more distanced I feel from the world, the more false and artificial it feels.

In contrast, sometimes, I find that a little "wriggle room" in the way a non-abstract or less-abstract rule is written can actually facilitate the speed and ease with which I make judgements about things in the game. Since primarily I'm relying on rules to help me answer questions - to help me make judgments, and to help me communicate what's happening - a rule that isn't hyper-precise can actually be helpful when I come across a unique situation that the rule doesn't quite fit exactly but which I can use or slightly modify or reinterpret to meet my ends.

I'm not in favour of making all rules totally vague. If you're vague about how many hit points of damage a longsword does versus a shortsword, I don't see the point of that. There’s no point in being vague about how big a modifier an ability score gives you.

But there are situations where the precision of rules acts more like a burden than it does an aid. More rules, and super-precise rules, can greatly expand prep time. Coming up with full stats for a Pathfinder monster, complete with feats and skill points, is exhausting compared to coming up with them for a 5E monster, or a LotFP monster. Making sure that a magic item won’t wreck an entire carefully wrought system by interfacing badly with a class mechanic can be a headache. At the table, using a system full of lots of precise rules, sometimes instead of making judgments and moving on I feel compelled to look up precedents and make sure I’m doing everything “by the book,” because otherwise it wouldn’t be fair – I feel a bit beholden to the rules. And maybe, sometimes, yes, the DM should feel beholden. But that’s a balance to strike, and the more rules there are the more the stress not of having to make a judgment but having to find the right rules increases.

Let’s take a simple situation to illustrate what I mean by the way that looseness or even a kind of imprecision can be preferable to some styles of DMing, at least in my case. I’ll use Pathfinder versus 5th edition to illustrate. This isn't even an especially unique or unusual situation, it's super basic.

IC: Example: Chasm Fight
The characters are in a cave system full of depraved troglodytic flesh-eating things. They wander into a large cavern resounding with drips from the stalactites above, with a jagged chasm running through the middle. The floor is slightly sloped. There are four cave-dwellers on the far side of the chasm, armed with crude bows. The characters will have to find some way to get across the chasm if they want to engage the cave-dwellers in melee combat.

So, how do we resolve this? Unless characters have levitation spells or magic items, they’re probably jumping.

Acrobatics in Pathfinder versus 5th edition are very different. I wouldn’t consider this a particularly “abstract” skill since it’s directly describing the capacity of a particular character to do something specific which we all have a pretty good idea of without having to look up some idiosyncratic definition the system is applying to the noun “Acrobatics.”

IC: Pathfinder Acrobatics Resolution
The Pathfinder rules are exceptionally precise. There are exact DCs for a long jump that tell me precisely how far a character can leap, in feet. So now I need to know exactly how wide the chasm is, or I'd better have mapped this carefully. Hmm, and also, I need to factor in the “uneven surfaces” of the cave… or, wait, no, I see a footnote that says I don’t do that for jumping… oh wait, but we’re in a “cavern,” so that qualifies as “severely obstructed,” so that’s +5. Ah and the floor is sloped, but is it slightly or severely sloped? I’ll have to know that too and factor that in. And I did say it was dripping, so I now have to decide if that is enough to make the floor “slightly slippery.” OK, I’m ready to calculate the DC after I’ve carefully consulted the map and made those sub-decisions… alright, let’s say it’s 15 base +5 for obstruction +2 for slightly sloped +2 for slightly slippery for a total of 24. Whew! OK. Time to roll… player adds their modifier, which hopefully they’ve calculated correctly… ah wait, the player is saying they’re making sure to make a run at it… yes, so, a running jump, it looks like there’s a bonus… oh wait, no, the check assumes a running jump. Alright. Roll. Rats, they only got a 21. So now they fall, right? Can they grab the ledge? Oh look, the rules say, yes they can – oh, but only if they fail by 4 or less, and they’ve got to make a Reflex save of DC 20. Oops, they failed that, so now they fall… now, do we need another roll to mitigate the fall damage? Hmm, the rules say no, only a deliberate fall allows for that. Result: the player takes 5d6 damage for a 50 ft. fall.

OK, so that’s how Acrobatics in Pathfinder answers the question “can the character jump to the other side of the chasm.” Versus 5th edition:

IC: 5th Edition Acrobatics Resolution
OK, the character needs to jump. How tough do I think this chasm would be to jump? I’d say about medium – it’s not a little jump but it’s not that crazy. I’ll say DC 15. Oh, and it’s sloped and probably slippery, so I’ll impose disadvantage (which, incidentally, I know from the Goblin Punch post is statistically about the equivalent of adding +4 to the DC). The player says they're making a run, but there's nothing about that in the rules; running doesn't seem enough to me to grant advantage. Player rolls. They get a 14. Rats. But hey, that’s pretty close, and I’m using what the DMG calls the “success at a cost” variant, so I’ll say they just barely grabbed the ledge, and they’re now in a very vulnerable position. That’s more interesting than having them fall anyway.

Now, this is all strictly theoretical. It's probably not exactly how I'd actually run things. In Pathfinder, there came a point in some of my games where I'd start getting sloppy with the rules, simplifying, ignoring, streamlining, and generally playing faster and looser than the system suggests. But I've played a lot of both editions now - probably something like 200 hours+ of Pathfinder, and around 50 hours of 5th edition - enough to speak with at least approximate accuracy about my thought processes running each.

The 5th edition rules are way, way vaguer than the Pathfinder rules. There are no specific DCs for long jump numbers, there’s no list of modifiers, there’s no indication of what to do specifically on a failure. But for Pathfinder I either have to have all those rules memorized or I need to have taken extra time in prep to figure out the specific DCs or I need to consult the rulebook during play. I need a lot of very precise information on the exact attributes of the room, like whether the slope of the floor is moderate or severe, how wide the chasm is, etc. And then I need to either remember what happens on a fail, or consult the book again. And I need to remember that the rules assume a running start. If the player got out a pole I'd have to look that up too. Or if they were hasted. Or any number of other things.

In 5th edition, I don’t have precision, and yes, I do have to rely on some more gut, snap judgments, unless I’ve noted “DC 15, disadvantage” ahead of time (something I don’t need to consult a book to determine, either). But the whole sequence of events takes very little time. We move from the action’s declaration to its result pretty quickly, and I have some room for mercy as a DM – and even the ability to up the stakes dramatically – because there’s some wriggle-room (i.e. vagueness) about what happens on a failed jump. I’m not violating any rules-as-written by letting the character just grab the edge. In 5th I can make a ruling, a ruling that was actually facilitated by the vagueness of the rule. In Pathfinder I have to look something up or have it memorized or decide to deliberately violate the rules as written to determine whether the character grabs the edge.

sparkletwist

  • Administrator
  • Flail Snail
  • *****
  • Posts: 1744
    • View Profile
Re: Rulings, not Rules
« Reply #10 on: January 11, 2017, 06:06:07 PM »
Quote from: Steerpike
In contrast, sometimes, I find that a little "wriggle room" in the way a non-abstract or less-abstract rule is written can actually facilitate the speed and ease with which I make judgements about things in the game. Since primarily I'm relying on rules to help me answer questions - to help me make judgments, and to help me communicate what's happening - a rule that isn't hyper-precise can actually be helpful when I come across a unique situation that the rule doesn't quite fit exactly but which I can use or slightly modify or reinterpret to meet my ends.
The logic you're using confuses me. How is wiggling around a vague rule any different from using an abstract rule except that the rule isn't actually written to be applied in a variety of situations, so it's probably going to be harder to do? If your problem is being taken out of the game, then how is having to twist rules around in your head not going to do this? I don't even really understand how using Fate's abstract "create an advantage" action is really so immersion-breaking just because you can apply it to a lot of things, from throwing sand in a guy's face to casting a buff spell, because the things you apply it to are still actual game actions that make sense in the narrative. And I especially don't understand how an abstracted rule is in any way somehow worse than trying to adapt some kinda-sorta-but-not-really-equivalent rule like you mentioned. Like, say you're trying to come up with an ad hoc combat maneuver based on the rule for some spell, which means you first have to know how the spell works, then decide how much to nerf it because it's not actually limited like magic, and then maybe not nerf it too much because we want martial characters to have nice things, and so on.

Quote from: Steerpike
In 5th I can make a ruling, a ruling that was actually facilitated by the vagueness of the rule. In Pathfinder I have to look something up or have it memorized or decide to deliberately violate the rules as written to determine whether the character grabs the edge.
I don't understand your logic here, either. You can make a ruling in Pathfinder, too. Yes, you're deliberately deciding to violate a written rule, but you have the written rule so you can decide what to do. When you diverge from it, you have to think about your reasons for doing so, which I think is a good thing to do because it ensures the game world maintains a logic. Maybe you're running a more cinematic game where you don't really want to worry about whether the floor is slippery or whatever-- you can choose to do that. You're still the DM, you can still set the DC... but you have some guidelines to tell you how the game's designers expected their world to work numerically, and if you don't have any strong feelings on the matter (like if you're trying to run things more-or-less "objectively") then you can just look up a number and use it. On the players' side, there are rules written for haste and the like, so players can feel agency because they know they can cast this spell and it has a concrete effect on making a task easier. And, honestly, the Acrobatics page on d20pfsrd.com takes like under 15 seconds to go look at on d20pfsrd.com and it's all right there; the "rules are a pain to look up" argument becomes pretty weak when the rules are actually pretty fast and easy to look up.

In 5th edition, on the other hand, you don't have a choice. You have to make it all up yourself, without much of anything to fall back on. This hurts player agency, too, because players have very little idea whether or not any given action they took actually has an effect on things, since it all depends on whatever you semi-arbitrarily decide to do, and they more or less just have to guess at the DC you're going to set. Maybe you'll be generous and give them a big bonus, and that's great, but maybe you won't, and then players will wonder if it's because haste sucks or because there was some other factor they didn't account for. Or maybe you will be generous one session and you won't the next, because when nothing much is codified, consistency is hard.

Steerpike

  • Flumph
  • *
  • Posts: 3952
    • View Profile
Re: Rulings, not Rules
« Reply #11 on: January 11, 2017, 06:47:21 PM »
Quote from: sparkletwist
How is wiggling around a vague rule any different from using an abstract rule except that the rule isn't actually written to be applied in a variety of situations, so it's probably going to be harder to do? If your problem is being taken out of the game, then how is having to twist rules around in your head not going to do this?

I don't see it as wriggling "around" the rule so much as interpreting the rule or using the rule as a baseline for a specific judgment. This is not so different, perhaps, from an "abstract" rule, but our descriptions are getting a bit fuzzy. Would you call 5th edition's advantage/disadvantage system abstract, or vague? I'm interpreting it as "vague" in your terms, but maybe it counts as abstract.

Quote from: sparkletwist
I don't even really understand how using Fate's abstract "create an advantage" action is really so immersion-breaking just because you can apply it to a lot of things, from throwing sand in a guy's face to casting a buff spell, because the things you apply it to are still actual game actions that make sense in the narrative.

It's not that immersion-breaking, on it's own. With Fate - a system I do like (just as I like the plays of Brecht), and can appreciate the elegance of, but which I just wouldn't want to run a steady, immersion-heavy campaign with - it's not just one abstract mechanic like "create an advantage," it's that there are lots and lots of abstract mechanics. Aspects, zones, Fate points, multiple forms of stress and consequences, approaches, outcomes, sides, challenges, contests, conflicts - I find a lot of these terms pretty abstract.

Quote from: sparkletwist
I don't understand your logic here, either. You can make a ruling in Pathfinder, too. Yes, you're deliberately deciding to violate a written rule, but you have the written rule so you can decide what to do. When you diverge from it, you have to think about your reasons for doing so, which I think is a good thing to do because it ensures the game world maintains a logic.

Isn't this the Oberoni Fallacy? "The rules of the game aren't flawed because they can be ignored." Yeah, I could ignore the Pathfinder rules, but if I prefer to consistently ignore them, remind me, why am I playing Pathfinder again?

Reading through and then choosing to ignore or violate the rules takes time. That's adding an extra judgment on top of the pile of judgments Pathfinder already asks me to make.

Quote from: sparkletwist
Maybe you're running a more cinematic game where you don't really want to worry about whether the floor is slippery or whatever-- you can choose to do that.

Yes - like by playing something like 5th edition instead of Pathfinder, where the rules are broad enough that I can bundle negative conditions like a slippery floor and uneven ground together into "disadvantage," and where I don't need to worry about the exact width of the chasm in feet, I can just decide if it's difficult to leap or not.

Quote from: sparkletwist
On the players' side, there are rules written for haste and the like, so players can feel agency because they know they can cast this spell and it has a concrete effect on making a task easier.

There are relatively precise rules for haste in 5th edition.

Quote from: sparklewtwist
And, honestly, the Acrobatics page on d20pfsrd.com takes like under 15 seconds to go look at on d20pfsrd.com and it's all right there; the "rules are a pain to look up" argument becomes pretty weak when the rules are actually pretty fast and easy to look up.

15 seconds to load the page, then, what, another 30 seconds to read everything, then maybe 5 seconds to make a calculation (or decide to just wing it and ignore this stuff), then I have to refer back if the player falls... and all to answer a pretty simple question, "can I jump the chasm." 5th gives me the means of answering the question, too.

Quote from: sparkletwist
In 5th edition, on the other hand, you don't have a choice. You have to make it all up yourself, without much of anything to fall back on.

This seems a bit reductive. Loose rules aren't the same as no rules at all. Loose rules aren't the same as pure DM fiat all the time. In OD&D, yes, I'd be making it up all by myself. In 5th I have a pretty reliable core mechanic - make an ability check with a d20, add proficiency bonus if applicable, impose advantage/disadvantage as needed. There's no need to guess at different sorts or sizes of bonuses or penalties to the roll. The only "hard" part is figuring out a DC.

Quote from: sparkletwist
This hurts player agency, too, because players have very little idea whether or not any given action they took actually has an effect on things, since it all depends on whatever you semi-arbitrarily decide to do, and they more or less just have to guess at the DC you're going to set.

Or I could describe things carefully with words. "The chasm is pretty wide - you think you could probably leap it, but there's a serious chance you'd fall. It doesn't look impossible but it'd be pretty risky." I'm coming around to the possibility of sharing DCs a bit more than I did in Pathfinder, too, something I used to be more reluctant to do.

Mostly, in my experience, players tend to listen more to words than numbers anyway. The game is made of words, the numbers are suggestions.

Quote from: sparkletwist
Or maybe you will be generous one session and you won't the next, because when nothing much is codified, consistency is hard.

I am totally willing to capitulate that a hyper-codified, precise system with very carefully spelled out rules, followed to the letter, will absolutely produce a more consistent game than one with vaguer, looser rules. It will also be far slower, and far more prep time will be taken up working out specific mechanical details. This is a trade-off. In the hands of a DM who dislikes making judgments, who communicates things poorly, who doesn't describe adequately, or who makes little effort to be consistent in rulings, this will be especially egregious. This is why I liked the Goblin Punch post. It gives advice about making judgments so that DMs can become better at this process.

Some DMs may be just fine at making rulings but still won't enjoy the process. Some people will prefer the rules-heavy, precise system, even if it is slower. Some will find lots of abstraction less distracting and immersion-threatening than I do. I have nothing against those preferences. I certainly would not want my point to be construed as "rulings are better than rules for all groups and all DMs" or that "5th edition is objectively superior to Pathfinder" or that "old school play will always generate more enjoyment than other styles." None of those are my position.

EDIT: I refreshed myself on creating advantage in Fate, and yeah, that's a super complicated rule, and a very good example of why I wouldn't personally prefer Fate for long-term play. You're not just adding to a roll, there's all this stuff about renaming aspects of environments, or creating new ones, and trading away invocations on failures... so it's not just one abstraction, it's hooked into lots of Fate's other abstractions. And that's before we even get to approaches.

In terms of setting difficulty, I have to say I really don't see that big a difference between deciding on difficulty ranks for passive opposition and setting a DC in 5th edition. The difficulties they suggest in 5th (easy, medium, hard, very hard, etc) sound an awful lot like the Fate adjective ladder, to me. Is deciding that a task is hard (DC 20) really that much more onerous or less arbitrary than deciding that a challenge's passive opposition is Great (+4)?

Elven Doritos

  • Yrthak
  • *
  • Posts: 1620
    • View Profile
Re: Rulings, not Rules
« Reply #12 on: January 12, 2017, 11:29:06 AM »
Slightly less nuanced perspective:

No rule system is perfect, true.  The purpose of a rule system should be, in my mind, to facilitate the game in such a manner as to provide for consistent results from the kinds of events and circumstances it specifically contemplates.  For example, a typical Dungeons & Dragons campaign need not have rules on hacking space stations or judging an interdimensional pop singing competition, because those events, while within the confines of a human imagination and therefore fair game in somebody's game, aren't within the scope of the system as its designers intended, and most people approaching the system would not need those rules.  (brb writing SO YOU WANT TO BE AN INTERDIMENSIONAL IDOL sizzler) To avoid bloat and provide a sleek, useful play experience, it is perhaps best if those kinds of rules are contained outside the core ruleset.

I play with a bunch of lawyers (imagine the rules lawyering) so the following is to be taken as one might, with many grains of salt.  The rule system is something like a constitution; it is freely entered as a social compact and, as amended perhaps by agreement, serves as the foundation for the interactions of the game.  There are, of course, philosophically sound reasons for wanting your constitution to be as enumerated and detailed as possible, to protect the players from a capricious DM who makes everything up on the fly.  There are, however, points where it can be useful to have an abbreviated rule, so that the rulebook doesn't require five indices, a database cross-check, and twenty minutes of dead play time trying to figure out what exactly does happen when an otherwise unique or highly implausible scenario comes to pass.  

In this role, I imagine the DM serving as something of a common law judge. She takes the information available to her, the facts of the player's descriptions, dice rolls, and the scenario as laid out, and applies the rules as she best she can.  The rules, much like the law, are not exhaustive, and the DM must occasionally "discover" existing principles behind the rules and apply them ad hoc.  That ruling is then precedent, which should be adhered to henceforth as long as the interest of justice - sorry, fun for the whole gang - is served.

I just feel like there's a balance between the two philosophies that has to meet at some middle point, and where that point is has to be determined on a per-group basis, based on the social contract the collective enters into (which should, in my estimation, in turn derive from which kind of play is most engaging for both the ruling-maker and ruling-receivers).

Saying nothing useful or new,
Your friend,
Elven Doritos.
« Last Edit: January 12, 2017, 11:46:26 AM by Elven Doritos »
Oh, how we danced and we swallowed the night
For it was all ripe for dreaming
Oh, how we danced away all of the lights
We've always been out of our minds
-Tom Waits, Rain Dogs

Steerpike

  • Flumph
  • *
  • Posts: 3952
    • View Profile
Re: Rulings, not Rules
« Reply #13 on: January 12, 2017, 01:06:51 PM »
That's a very good analogy, Elven Doritos.

I'm tempted to say (without the expertise to really do so) that sparkletwist prefers a rules system as civil law for her regular games, and I prefer a rules system as common law (or like Roman law versus English law, to trace those systems backwards).

According to this Economist article I just googled (you can tell I'm such an expert here), in civil law "codes and statutes are designed to cover all eventualities and judges have a more limited role of applying the law to the case in hand." For those in a civil law system, "past judgments are no more than loose guides," and "legal minds in civil-law jurisdictions like to think that their system is more stable and fairer than common-law systems, because laws are stated explicitly and are easier to discern." Civil law appears to work from "abstractions" and "general principles."

In contrast, "although common-law systems make extensive use of statutes, judicial cases are regarded as the most important source of law, which gives judges an active role in developing rules." Common law was created "by drawing on customs across the country and rulings by monarchs," rulings which "developed organically and were rarely written down." The English "take pride in the flexibility of their system, because it can quickly adapt to circumstance without the need for Parliament to enact legislation."

Elven Doritos

  • Yrthak
  • *
  • Posts: 1620
    • View Profile
Re: Rulings, not Rules
« Reply #14 on: January 12, 2017, 02:30:06 PM »
That more or less sums up the two systems in the abstract, though each legal system is of course different (the English, Canadian, and US Constitutions, all of which are 'common law' systems, are wildly different, as an example, but share varying degrees of reliance on precendetial judge-made law.  More recent trends have ceded certain areas of law, such as, say, rules governing criminal procedure, to legislatures in an attempt to codify those things that as a matter of policy shouldn't be assembled from a patchwork of old and potentially poorly written decisions.  I could go on, but basically it's a corrective measure within some common law jurisdictions to avoid the potential for capriciousness and uncertainty that can accompany rule-making after the fact, which is the reality, even if a legal fiction of "finding existing law" is used as a rationale for court opinions.)

Of a lesser jumble of words: important to note is also the distinction between "adversarial" systems and non-adversarial systems.  Some civil law jurisdictions use the law more as a tool for collectively finding the truth rather than the arbitrate between opposing parties, and the parties are expected to act somewhat in comity and concert (this is a gross overgeneralization, but I'm sparing you guys some boredom.  Someone better versed in, say, the French legal system might be able to find more insight).  These courts may also decline to extend or interpret laws outside of the strict construction of the legislature, not buying into any argument that they have authority to interpret the law beyond strict statutory language.  In such a circumstance, a legislature or administrative body may be compelled to modify the existing laws if such a deficiency or gap is discovered.  In our case, this is akin to petitioning the publisher of the rules to issue errata or a supplement to cover our game's instant need, which is obviously rather impractical.  I imagine the counterargument is to have as comprehensive a ruleset as possible to avoid the need to broach the subject, but I just feel it's one of those things you have to counterbalance.

The point of this follow-up being: I think the distinction can be drawn that rules systems that attempt to encapsulate every possible circumstance are those that favor more collaborative "truth-finding" while rules systems that focus more narrowly on certain mechanics (like combat) and leave others vague or underdefined (like diplomacy) are attempting to shape the game experience into a particular form, for better or worse, and if the tools the system require significant degrees of patching or house-ruling, perhaps it is time to find or build a better system.

In short, I think both of your design philosophies, when taken in moderation, have their merit.
Oh, how we danced and we swallowed the night
For it was all ripe for dreaming
Oh, how we danced away all of the lights
We've always been out of our minds
-Tom Waits, Rain Dogs