It’s funny, I imagine most people’s idea of a role-player, aside from all the unflattering (and often true) stereotypes does not include someone who follows the rules. By role-playing, which generally puts you outside normal society, you are somewhat of a rebel. Not as fashionable as a punk, perhaps, but still a rebel. The truth is that most role-players are massively keen on rules. We have whole books of them which at least some of us are supposed to memorize.
When the first RPGs came along, they laid out rules. Clearly these had to be followed – when the entire world you are playing in exists only in your imagination, without rules, it couldn’t work. Gamers generally police themselves – if you break the rules, at least in the long run, you only really hurt yourself. It’s like the stuff they used to tell you about cheating at exams. The problem arises when gamers know better. All you need is for the RPG group to get together and say, we think this rule is daft, we’ll ignore it or replace it with something else. I know this idea is currently being flogged to oblivion on the other side, but in role-playing it’s great. The GM usually has his own house rules – often players may not realise they are not playing exactly as their system was designed.
Rules vary now, a great deal, within the huge variety of RPGs. Some are incredibly fluid, with very little direction (think Aussie rules football or one of those panel shows where very intelligent guests improvise). At the other end of the spectrum, some have a vast quantity of rules (think, say, bridge). A good test of how complicated a game is, is what’s the hit location table (for combat). Do they say, just hit wherever you want, or do you need to roll percentile on 3 different tables? What this means is the GM will generally end up playing a system he likes, to the level of complexity he enjoys. Clearly you can tell a lot about a GM by their favoured system (if you role play).
As RPGs proliferate, designers try to come up with new ideas. Originally we discovered outcomes by rolling dice. Six sided ones. Then came the rise of the polyhedron, D4, D8, D10 etc. Lots of different dice to get lots of different results, down to rolling 2 ten-sided dice to get a number from 1 to 100. What about playing cards? Yes, they’ve been incorporated too, sometimes alongside dice, sometimes on their own. The really fluid systems are diceless, and rely on good narration, and verbal dexterity. Fortunately for those of us who are rubbish at that,we will always have dice.
Another problem that can arise is when designers
run out of money decide their game can be improved. So they write a second or third edition. Thus the GM has to make it clear what sets of rules he’s following. Again, murdered on the other side, but decided amicably here. Given that players rarely keep up to date with rule books unless they run that particular system, your average role-player is blissfully ignorant of which edition he’s playing.
The most important thing in gaming is never let the rules get in the way of a good time. Clearly not a philosophy to use in life…