Be specific about unwritten rules

Lots of discussion happening today around games that are missing rules or worlds. That’s a bit simplified, so here are the posts I’m thinking about:

As a note to the latter: I don’t really love the way the author implies such a strong sense of emotional negativity, but this does resonate with me:

Fuck-you design treats one or both of the mechanics and fiction as obvious, when they aren’t.

I’m very comfortable with extending a game’s design. This includes documenting rulings as they come up, sort of “just-in-time design”. But I do sometimes think there are too many assumptions in some play styles for my personal taste.

A steering wheel and dashboard
Photo by Mike B on Pexels.com

As an example from my own experience, in science fiction gaming there are a LOT of unwritten assumptions that often vary from person to person, particularly in the fiction (e.g. “is antigravity a thing? do androids have any biological components?”) Yes, we can resolve them through conversation, but I’d like to see games call out these questions as topics for conversation. In Star Wars gaming, the “power level” of Jedi and other Force users can be an issue, especially if the mechanics don’t specify that.

When I first came across “Into the Odd” some years ago, it really excited me but it also confused me. How could I handle difficulty? Should I put any limits on arcana usage (times per day, etc.)? These days, I have a sense of how to handle that, but I still have to think about things like “opposed checks” from other games if for no other reason than sometimes my players expect it.

I love rules-light gaming and I don’t want to go back to memorizing textbooks to play games. None of the above is a dunk on anybody (in particular, ItO is my very favorite game to run and use as a basis for my own games). But I do think designers should be intentional about what they exclude and call it out when they do. Games that say “we have left intentional gaps” and then don’t say what they are will end up confusing lots of people who aren’t sure whether they’re missing something.

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