Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Why do RPGs have to give permission for changes?

Earlier today I posted a meaning-reversing typo in Stonehell: Into the Heart of Hell.

It's a meaning reversal because it tells you what you can't do, but ultimately, the book goes on to say (after 3 hefty paragraphs) that

"[. . . ] Stonehell is now yours to do with as you please."

I grew up with the AD&D DMG as my primary learning source. The book is full of admonishments about how to stomp on players who read the DMG. How to answer requests for monster characters (short version: No!) How to befuddle players who know how the game works. How I can't run a proper campaign without time records. Etc. etc.

There is definitely a right way to play, and a lot of wrong ways. It even says so in the introduction - change stuff, and it's not AD&D anymore. Tough talk to read when you're 10.

It's not just the DMG, though. I'm struggling to think of an RPG book that doesn't take pains to either tell you how to do it or else, or that it's okay if you change things.

Why is that? Why do we need special permission to change things? People mod the heck out of video games and we pop the cases on electronics that have sticky labels saying we're violating the warrantly. We jailbreak phones. We get LEGO sets and put them together into new things not shown on the box. We saw the heads and weapons off of minis and modify them, and paint them whatever the heck colors we want.

But RPGs always seem to have this section saying, it's okay to do this.

Board games don't, and we do it anyway (your money is under Free Parking). Workout books often go to great pains telling people not to change things, and they do it anyway (and then typically complain that their results varied.) People sample and re-mix music, without and without permission.

I'm wondering, just as a matter of writing, why we always feel like we have to say that it's okay to change things. Are we fighting a war of words with rules lawyer players? Are we figuring that our RPG books fall into the hands of people who need permission to change things? It's one thing to say, "It's up to you how to use this stuff, we haven't provided guidelines" but why do we need to give specific permission to change things?

Won't we all do it anyway?

10 comments:

  1. Well, one tip in presentations is to repeat the important point over and over again so the audience remembers it. Not constantly, but every few minutes.

    It is probably the same here. "You can change things to fit your own style/campaign" is one of the most important concepts in RPG books. The material can very well be used for a lot of other different things.
    Which is something that is easily forgotten, especially when it is your first time picking up a module book.

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    1. It just seems to me that it's not necessary to even state this, because people do it anyway with RPGs and everything else. It seems like an almost automatic statement at this point, rather than actual new & useful information. A kid who mods video games and plays board games with house rules is going to balk at making house rules for RPGs unless we say it's okay?

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  2. I don't think that's a completely accurate reading of the 1e DMG. Yes, Gygax did say that if you strayed too far from the system presented, the resulting game would not be D&D. He also suggested understanding the reason the rules existed as they did before modifying them. But he was also clear that no two D&D games would be exactly the same...each DM would modify the game to suit his needs. Any two games would have enough in common to allow a player from one DM to play in the game of another, but what was common between any two games need not be the same.

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    1. The first thing in the Preface in the DMG is a line about how the DMG sets the boundaries for "all of the 'worlds' devised by referees everywhere." And later says if you vary too far from what's there it isn't AD&D anymore.

      I'm not imagining that.

      And I'm saying, why do we need that? And why do we need people to say, no, you can do what you want? Why do we need permission at all?

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  3. Historical context is helpful.

    D&D split off into all sorts of directions as soon as it came out: people invented their own things all over the place. One of the reasons for the existence of AD&D was Gary's love of tournament gaming, where it was necessary for people from different local groups to be playing by the same rules. And that I think is why the DMG takes the approach it does: it was trying to downplay independent creation so as to raise groups of players who could play in each other's games, move characters from one campaign to another, etc., without major rules changes.

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    1. Sure, and I understand the context. But 2015 isn't 1979. Why do we need to repeat this stuff?

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  4. I think you mean "Heart" not "Heat" in the first sentence, although the typoed title works fine.

    As for requiring folks to stick to the written rules, didn't Gygax say: "The secret we should never let the gamemasters know is that they don't need any rules." Might be apocryphal, but there's a strong business case for making the official rules the only acceptable way to do things.

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  5. It probably stems from the fact that D&D started life off as a mutation of war games where everyone having their own variation of the rules would end up making making the games and thus the players unable to play together. I imagine there was a heavily ingrained stigma against changing the rules and still calling it "Wargame X" since futzing with rules would make it so Bob from NYC with house rule 1 can't play against Jon from LA with houserule 2. So if you houseruled you weren't playing the "real game". Permission to house rule was probably something that had to be spelled out for a lot of the types of people Gygax imagined playing his and Arneson's new D&D thing, wargamers like him and his buddies whose knee jerk reactions to house rules were probably admonishments and arguments.

    As to why we're still including that permission? It's probably habit. You put it in right after the explanation on what roleplaying is and and what those funny dice are. Why? I dunno, just always have. *shrugs* Like those other two things we probably don't need them in the majority of gaming books anymore but there they are right after (or as part of) the introduction.

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