2014-12-02 Fluidity in Rules and Setting

Recently Christ McDowall said on Google+ that he liked what Brendan had posted on his blog: “I find the idea of genre emulation in RPGs inherently boring.”

I think Brendan’s main point is that there can be genre drift in RPGs. You start with Greyhawk D&D, discover portals, go Planescape, find flying ships, do the astral pirate game, discover horror in deep space, return to wargaming and domain management, and suddenly four years have passed and the first characters have reached 9th level and you still feel like you didn’t even get started.

Or perhaps that’s just how I feel and that’s why the quote resonates with me: “Attentive players […] can drift a game in one direction or another. […] Such drift keeps a campaign interesting and fresh, where serial fiction could (and often does) stagnate.” Yes!

In a role-playing game, rules can change over time. House rules can change, the setting can change, the game as a whole can change. It doesn’t if you decide to play rules as written in a setting within the established canon. Some people don’t get bored. Others switch campaigns every now and then, taking the opportunity to switch rules and setting as well. Good for them. As for me, I like to keep playing the same campaign and keep rules and setting fluid. I think this is what Brendan is also saying, but I’m not sure. :)

I’m reminded of an old discussion. Last year, I wrote about D&D being a matter of negotiation (in German) after reading Brendan’s post on Google+ leading me to a discussion of Eero Tuovinens’ D&D campaign. D&D rules as oral history: If you remember the rule apply it. If you forget it, it was not important anyway. Thus, no need to consult the rule books. Rules change over time, depending on the interest of players. Absolutely fascinating read!



Do you think this applies to such games as Shadowrun with a very genre-centric system? D&D tends to be fluid in genre by nature, or at least the rules “allow” for it more freely.

callin 2014-12-02 21:36 UTC

I think the important part is that it applies to people. So, if I were to run a campaign of Shadowrun, how long before we entered the realm of faery? How long before we explored underwater habitats? The moons of Jupiter? I don’t know. But that would surely keep my interest up after running heists and break-ins against the megacorps for a while. Shadowrun would take on material from Mutant Chronicles. Then it would take on aspects from Diaspora. Things would get added from Traveller.

This also has drawbacks, of course. My Traveller game switched to Diaspora, we kept the map, we ran missions, we met zombies in space—I was thinking of Mutant Chronicles—and then one of my players said: “It feels a lot like D&D in space.” Ooops!

What I’m trying to say is that the two important points are that Brendan thinks genre drift is what makes the game interesting for him. So, if we posit Shadowrun as a very genre-centric system that won’t allow genre drift, then I’ll probably loose interest over the years. My current classic D&D campaign got started in 2010. Would I run Shadowrun for more than four years? Perhaps. If it had genre drift? ;)

– Alex Schroeder 2014-12-03 06:52 UTC

I can confirm that even Shadowrun is capable of supporting genre drift. It is a kitchen-sink setting with future technology, magic, and the matrix as the three big focal points. In the SR campaign I ran two decades ago, we even had different players focus on different parts of the genre, including split and separate sessions.

Harald 2014-12-03 22:56 UTC

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