Saturday, 21 January 2012

'Story trumps rules'

I was watching my DVD of 'The Gamers: Dorkness Rising' (top movie, if you've not seen it) this week and this line sticks in my head - 'Story trumps rules'.

I agree with this to a certain extent, as in allowing the rules to get in the way of fun or immersion can yank a person out of the emotional involvement a game, but to ignore the rules too much takes away any sense of achievement and can make some people feel that they're just wandering through someone else's story. I thought about it more as I read some D&D forums as they talked about 5th edition, and a lot of the posters are very focused on how the rules work and how they interact with each other. In some cases I get the impression that the rules are considered as not just guidelines but strict, definitive instructions on what the players (and GM) can and can't do.

As a GM I've fudged a few rolls here and there for dramatic licence but I do try and at least stick to the rules in as much as the players don't feel like they're being led around by the nose, or that they feel that their rolls don't mean much in the grand scheme of things. If a GM has a definite idea if where he wants a story to go then the rules can get in the way so no doubt will be more inclined to fudge or ignore. I guess it depends on the kind of game that's being played, or the rules system being used.

Does story trump rules, or is it the other way around? Is there happy balance?

1 comment:

  1. It pretty much has to be a balance. The story is all about role-playing. The rules are all about game. You have to have both to have a role-playing game.

    I see the rules as providing several important functions. First, it gives a method for simulating the reality of the game world in a way the players can interact with. Without any rules, you have to rely on the ever-nebulous "consensus reality." Most of us discovered in grade school that that way leads to arguments and failed expectations.

    The rules also provide a baseline for expectations. I expect my fighter to be able to easily kill a goblin, kill an ogre unless he's unlucky, take out a giant on a really good day, and run like hell from a dragon. I can expect this because the rules tell me how effective I am, and how dangerous they are. I don't have to keep asking my GM if I'm getting in over my head.

    I'll also be honest. The rules can be a lot of fun in their own right. Lots of us (arguably more than ever) love to play board games that have little to no story. Because chucking dice and making tactical decisions is fun.