Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Game Mechanics Have Little Worth


Want to make clear I'm saying this from perspective of me and my blog / posts.  Not in broader context of everyone else.  Specifically did not intend and apologize if it's taken as an "insult" or "bitch" to/over/about anyone else or their ideas/posting/games/etc. 

I wavered publishing this post, as it is very introspective.  Probably should have stuck with original title "A Confession".]

DCC RPG has got me thinking about game mechanics and house rules again.  Which, in the grand scheme, is very pointless*.

I've claimed that I can run a RPG with nothing more than a source of randomness (a die) and method of persistance (pen and paper)**.  It's a bit of a fib as "nothing" includes 30 or so years of playing all sorts of games, studying history/psychology/game theory/story structure/etc/etc.  Still, it's not a boast.  Anyone could do it.  It mostly requires accepting that rules are a largely ignorable detail.

Content is what matters.  In RPG terms content is a bunch of stuff.; story, pacing, challenge, surprise, DM skill.  In short and bit non-answerish; The ability to make playing a game fun.

RPG mechanics.  Some will have advantages for playing agnsty, interpersonal relationships of vampires.  Others for hacking one's way through a mythic dungeon.  Others for simulating life in medieval England.

But, poor content is probably gonna make a poor game no matter the mechanics.

I should be posting about content like many of great authors in blog roll to the right.  

But, I can't stop houseruling. It's what I am. Professionally (software dev) and personal (game hobbies, my philosophy/religion), are all about analyzing a tangle of requirements / constraints and working out optimal method(s) of achieving the desired end result(s).  And, writing out ideas in blog posts is excellent rubber ducking.  I also have gamer ADD.

* It's not pointless in that I derive much enjoyment endlessly twiddling things in endless and unachievable quest for the "perfect" mechanic.  It is pointless in that it's endless and unachievable and already done to death.

** That sounds like a cool convention event.  RPG Improv!


  1. Well the thing is house rules are content. A well written, well known house rule changes the way the game is played. It lets players know what options are available and creates expectations. I.E. using normal HP for melee and a special table of "injury" results for missile weapon hits (or simply firearms) means that missile weapons have just become extremely deadly. Players will use them, and will react more strongly to enemies who use them. Range will become dramatically more important, and tactics will change.

  2. Content is what you eat, mechanics are how you cook it.

    Poor cooking can make a fine cut of meat largely bland and ruin its potential, but even the best chef can't make a bucket of baby vomit delicious.

  3. Game mechanics do have worth to people. If they didn't, people would feel so passionately about them. This is not to say that content isn't also important, but this is not a zero sum game. Even your example still has mechanics, it's just that they are all determined by the DM. Mechanics define how people interact with the world. They are the character's laws of nature. People want to know what their character can do and know that the system is fair. Good mechanics provide this. An entirely GM-adjudicated system can do this, but it's based on GM trust. Rules can also enforce the genre. If it's a modern military game, then you take cover against a group of people with assault rifles. If it's an action-movie game, then you wade out and waste them.

    And there is a third leg to this tripod that you haven't covered. You can have excellent mechanics, and a great storyline, but if the group just goes through the motions, then it's all in vain. A great game engages people and gets them fully involved.


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