Literal or Interpretive Game Design: Responsible Parties

As I was nearly dozing off watching Cracker on Netflix, I realized I needed to get some words down, so roused myself, took a long, cold sip of watered down, sweet tea and do what I normally do when composing myself, pull open my iPad and read a few things, be it Zite, Twitter, emails, or Facebook (or some combination of those things) and decide what topic I’ll address.

What struck me were the musings put forth by Will Hindmarch regarding who gets what responsibilities in game play. Is it the designers (via the Manual) or the players (especially, the GM) who fix things that are “broken”.

Ultimately, this is all about design, intent, and whether you take the letter or the spirit of the rules (as the law). Without getting too deep, but even laws are subjective (or we wouldn’t have lawyers) and thus even the analogy is a moving target. There are people who can argue over the most simple of rules. People who derive pleasure from parsing apart every sentence, period, and paragraph. Don’t get me wrong. Structure and grammar are important. To an extent. But BREAKING THE RULES is just as important (even grammatically) as doing so can lend gravitas and GIVE EMPHASIS to certain elements. Doing so too much, however, is like writing in all caps all the time, and becomes what I term clown’s make-up or what some folks traditionally call gilding the lilly. Yes, Virginia, there can be too much of a good thing.

The group gathered together is ultimately responsible for the fun they are having. Aren’t they? I’ve had a blast playing C&S and been, alternately, bored to tears playing some of my favorite systems. (This is no knock on C&S, but it is, y’know, REALLY crunchy.)

It’s important to present rules clearly as possible, and I continually strive to refine my personal work, and that of every product we release. It has to meet a certain standard before we let it go out the door. This makes things slower than we like sometimes, and it’s hard to please everyone. I’ve gone down that slippery slope. There comes a point when you gotta just let things out in the wild and keep your fingers crossed that every thing’ll be alright.

Where do you fall on things? Are you a RAW (Rules as Written) type of person or do you house rule everything (which, if you think about it is still RAW, just your RAW) or do you try to take things on a case-by-case, let logic rule, let narrative dominate, or always rule in favor of the players, the GM, or put things to a vote?

This topic always fascinates me, and I’d love to hear where you weigh in on things.

Until next time, I bid you, dear reader, adieu!


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