@beeptest’s OD&D hack got me thinking. Not that I actually read it, just the fact of still seeing OD&D hacks floating around got me thinking. I thought, “Why can’t I jump on the bandwagon?” and flipped through my copy of OSE. What I quickly found, and remembered from past experience, is that OSE is extremely limiting, punishing basically anything outside the norm. At least 5e punishes you by being less good, not straight up bad. I can’t believe I just said “at least 5e” in a positive light. Anyway. That brings me to the topic.
I posed myself a design prompt. If I don’t like the limiting factors of OD&D, how could I like them? More generally, how could I get limitations to a place I like? At first, my answer was simple. “Just make a setting where the restrictions make sense and are upheld by the world.” I told myself. But, then, there’s a flaw with that. Why shouldn’t you just change the world to not have those restrictions, and encourage more narrative freedom? The answer, simply, is that you should do that.
My goal, with this design prompt, is to find the sweet spot of the “Demand Curve” that are limits in an RPG. “I DEMAND THERE TO BE LESS LIMITS.” Sure, but how many limits can I cram into a game while still liking it? Is there a way to frame limits to where it doesn’t matter?
A limit, in this case, is a “no.” It’s a firm statement slapping you on the wrist. If the game tells you that you ARE [blank], and there’s no way around it, that’s a limit. However, there are other “nos” that are a bit harder to nail down. For example, OSE can hinder a character in many ways. It’s not a “no,” but it is a “yes but no.” Because the game heavily incentives the player to not choose [blank], it might as well be saying “no” since only an idiot would shoot themselves in the foot like that. It’s like Schrödinger’s “no,” but a “no” nonetheless.
Something I wasn’t quite sure how to fit into this post is the Box. In the OSR, NSR, FKR, what have you, thinking “Outside the Box” is encouraged. However, in my opinion, a Box is required to actually truly think outside of it. Literally, it makes sense, but beyond that I can summarize the point thusly: Creative restrictions breeds more creativity. A deadline, a prompt. These restrictions help the artist flow their creativity. What is a Box, in an RPG sense? In my opinion, it is anything that grounds the player. A familiar archetype, a familiar setting, something relatable. More specifically, in the context of this post, rules.
The OSR loves to say “think outside your character sheet,” yet there is a character sheet in the first place. Sounds familiar to the above, no? As well, I think the blame is shifted to the wrong part of the game. I had an amazing talk with @Michael awhile back that got me thinking about character sheets in a better light. While I initially argued for thinking outside statistics, moves, and other mechanics, a character sheet, when used creatively, is just as good an answer as using something in the fiction. It’s just… a different way to get a result. And as a GM, I’m all about the players doing something different.
There’s a difference between an OSE character sheet and a Stories RPG character sheet (@Michael’s WIP game), however. An OSE sheet tells you what you can and can’t do, exactly what you’re good at. The Stories RPG’s sheet is more like a tool. It frames something like a high attribute as an open-ended… prompt. Oh wait, I talked about that already. I guess, through writing this, I’ve come upon an answer to my own question.
The type of limits that are both useful and do not intrude upon my enjoyment of the game are prompts.
To go back to the beginning of this post, MY OD&D hack would frame the limits of “you need X STR to be a Fighter” as something more story focused. Maybe you wanted to be a Fighter, but couldn’t for whatever reason. What then?
Sometimes I like to attempt to predict where my preferences will shift. For multiple years, the prediction was right, that I’d continue to want less and less rules. However, now that I’m at a point where I don’t need rules, maybe rules weren’t the problem, maybe the way they were framed was. So, my prediction / something more like a resolution is that I’m going to start exploring what rules help a game, and use those to improve my gaming. I have my own GMing tools, but players need tools sometimes too.
I’m currently having a lot of fun running Gradient Descent “rule-less and dice-less,” but even within that game, I’m subconsciously using procedure to resolve tasks, and have unwritten rules. On the other hand, I’ve also been running Free Kriegspiel wargames, and don’t bother the players with any of my rules I’ve made.
In summary, limits are useful when they aren’t restrictive and provide a baseline for players to think outside of.
Do you agree with everything said? Have an insight to share? Let me know! Thanks for making it this far.