Sunday, December 14, 2014

Technically Correct - the best worst kind of correct

In other words, exactly the opposite of what the Central Bureaucracy on Futurama says.

The way I see it, Technical Correctness doesn't have a lot of place at the game table. It's got a lot of place in a playtest, or when otherwise testing rules to see if they do what you put in the place intending to do. But once the dice hit the table for chargen or game, I figure that's over. From there, any broken rules you find or rules exploits you notice are only worth reporting so they can be fixed, not used for anything else. Game writing is technical writing, of course, and if technical errors occur, the goal is to fix the errors . . . not exploit them in game or online to pronounce victory over the rules.

There is sometimes an assumption that RPG rules are to settle arguments over who can do what . . . but I don't think that's what they are for. They're to set boundaries on your choices and link effects to them so you can interact with the imaginary, shared experience of the game table. I've written about this before, having written "GM toolbox" rules you could read broadly and use to justify almost anything.

Ultimately, the point of the rules are to facilitate an enjoyable game amongst friends. Anytime the a reading of the rules goes against that, the rules must give way. Aiming to be T.C. is the reverse of that. T.C., in my eyes, is:

- about winning. As if there were winners in a coop RPG.

- rule-lawyering. This is especially bad when people take a rule and argue with the GM and/or other players about the results of the rule. The rules aren't there as weapons for the players against the GM, nor are they weapons for the GM against the players.*

- munchkinism. Totally in-place in Munchkin. Totally out of place in the games that inspired Munchkin.

- Murphy's Rules generation. "Hey, it says here "For groups 1-10, and then "a dozen or more." A group of 11 is immune!" Funny stuff. Send it in to Pyramid, but don't play it that way at the table.

But basically, the time I want rules utterly hammered on is when they are being stress-tested. Once we play, though, Rule Zero trumps everything - the GM's word is law. But at even a lower level than that, there a basic understanding around my table that RPGs are about an enjoyable shared experience. If it's not fun, you can't even get to Rule Zero, and if it's the rules doing that, the rules must change.

It's funny, because I started writing this post days and days ago, but kept pushing it off until I had time to write more. But then a whole argument about the specific wording of one my posts on the SJG Forums exploded, and I figured there was no way to post this with it being seen as some passive-aggressive post about that. It is and isn't about that argument, of course. It's really a whole issue in general. I almost sat on this until I read Doug's post today.

My tabletop is blessed with players who can rules lawyer with the best of them, but do so only to see what's actually allowed and generally come to me to report what they see as exploits before they use them. Being Technically Correct, but not in the spirit of the rules or the spirit of the game (which is to have fun with friends), is a bad thing around my table.

What's odd to me is that it's possible people can take exception to this, too, arguing that Rules Lawyering is part of the fun. And it may be, for some - but I think it's so only if everyone at the table agrees that rules exploits and rules lawyering and rule-book quoting to maximal effect is part of the game. If so, great. But a good part of my intent here is to say, that's not my table, and generally, I write and act as if people play at my table. I think the aim of being exactly, literal-reading correct about rules (or doing things you can make the rules say is correct) is ultimately less fun than putting fun ahead of the rules. I've seen games disintegrate over rules arguments, but I have yet to see a game disintegrate over too much fun.

* Yes, even in Paranoia. There, the power of the GM and the setting is a weapon against the PCs, and the rules are just a way to express that. You don't have to rules-lawyer against the PCs in Paranoia to make that game work, the setting and situations do that without any further help.

PS - For another look at how I think rules should be made, and enforced, check out The Rule of Awesome.


  1. It's interesting that the people who write the rules (you, Doug,, if it comes down to it) are pretty much universally against being too tightly bound by them.

    1. I think there's something to this, and it probably has to do with an awareness of how it's pretty well impossible to write case-statements for all scenerios for one, and for another how utterly boring it would be.

      We're not programming computers here. We're lending structure to a tabletop RPG, where actual people have actual fun playing actual games. While sometimes the rules really will come out and say "No, you can't do that," or "yeah, this is the right/best way to simulate this" (All-Out Attack only for sighted and aimed shooting in TacShooting!), mostly they serve to structure a dialog and set expectations of what risks are worth taking while telling fairy tales around a game table.

    2. From what I've heard, Gary Gygax's way of running, say, AD&D, was different than the rules as literally written. I think that it's a common experience when you write rules that you realize you can't cover everything, make everything airtight, and make the rules all mesh perfectly for all situations. Close enough and a good GM and players willing to put fun ahead of the word in the books is more than good ideal. It might be perfect, actually.

      Speaking of which:
      Who I right rules for


      The Game Is Not In The Books

    3. What we need, then, is a GURPS Pirates book which explicitly states "they're more sort of guidelines."

    4. I'll get on that.

      Then we can have people argue about exactly what "guidelines" means.

    5. I need guidance on the rules for guidelines. Please quote exact text.

  2. Risking the ire of the anti-fun crowd here.


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