Rules for Generating Rules?

July 18, 2008

Roleplaying designers generally concern themselves with generating mechanics: specific methods by which players negotiate a collective understanding of “what happens.” It’s up to individual groups how to implement these methods in play and fill in any holes or make any adjustments that think are necessary, but we generally don’t concern ourselves with how people generate negotiation methods in the first place — whether as designers or group members plugging holes or making changes.

There are only two games that I can think of that give players guidelines for generating negotiation methods: Universalis, as ‘Rules Modifications,’ and the card game Mao. In both cases, the guidelines they give are “when X occurs, make up a new rule or modify an existing one,” which, honestly, is only slightly more useful than not having any guidelines at all, because it doesn’t help you figure out what a new or modified negotiation method might look like or how to ensure that it accomplishes what you want it to do.

The thing is: mechanics are fairly disposable. This mechanic, that mechanic, who cares? We have bucket loads for different purposes. We switch them up all the time. A mechanic can be really neat, but it’s only useful in so many circumstances. However, if we can get at methods for generating mechanics, if we can set up guidelines that allow players to generate their own negotiation methods, but tailor the guidelines to fit the style of play we have in mind… then we’d be playing with power.

Insight? Madness? Worthy of ridicule?

6 Responses to “Rules for Generating Rules?”

  1. Guy Shalev Says:

    The next version of Cranium Rats (which I’ve had in my mind since about February, no idea if it’ll be written down) are somewhat like this.

    There are certain rules, and they have certain variables, you get told to choose different rule-options depending on what you want, and how changing the variables’ values will affect your game.

    And you do not get a starting collection of rule-choices and variables already chosen. You do get an example, but it’s something else.

    What about FUDGE?

  2. Cool.

    Fudge is kinda like that, but the rules don’t evolve constantly during play, just occasionally, and usually only the GM is involved in manipulating the core, not all the players together. Maybe it could be used as a base for something like this, though? Not sure.

  3. Guy Shalev Says:

    You need to start somewhere 😉

  4. The game Nomic is another example of how this could work, where the whole focus is on changing the rules. I’ve played in several games where it turned into more of a role-playing challenge than anything else. It’s very open-ended, though, with few guidelines about what new rules to create; in the Nomic games I’ve played in, it was established in the rules that whoever “won” the last game gets to decide the theme of the next.

    (BTW, if you’re going to make Nomic the basis for a set of rules, I recommend something like Minic as the base rules, instead of the (often needlessly complicated) Nomic initial ruleset. Or do something like Dvorak.

    Sorry, didn’t mean to turn this comment into a collection of links; it’s just one of my long-time gaming interests.

  5. Guy Shalev Says:

    A game where you add a layer of Fluxx cards.

    They’re not random, and you can add them when you wish. Perhaps add a Universalis/Polaris method of being able to negotiate the rules’ addition.

    Extra points if it’s a competitive game, though that may go counter to what you’re going for.

  6. Tommi Says:

    Like Minic that was linked above: There is a heap of cards that represnt random events or encounters or something like that. Any player can write a new card and put in on bottom of the pile. It is shuffled once a while. Some events there may be removed after playing out. Maybe all of them are.

    The random bits can be abstract (a player character faces a great obstacle) or concrete (a dead man with a cursed item lies on the road ahead).

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