Comments on 2017-04-27 Rulings

On G+ I just had another discussion on this topic. Aaron asked: What are your favorite pieces of OSR games? And I think that’s a weird thing to say.

For one, many referees online turn into part time authors. This is great. We can all play more or less the same game and still make something. I think the do-it-yourself aspect of easy desktop publishing and print on demand and sites like RPG Now made a huge difference. +Rob Conley said it in a blog post, recently: What everybody forgets about the OSR.

That is why I have no actual favorite pieces. It’s the act of enthusiastically presenting them to the world that makes all the difference. Spells, monsters, house rules, advice. I just love being part of the conversation without having any particular favorite words.

You already know that I think the discussion of Eero Tuovinen’s D&D campaign is the best. There, he treats D&D rules as oral tradition. If people remember a rule, it is applied. If a new rule is proposed on the spot, it is applied and if it remembered the next time such a situation comes up, it is applied again. The rules are what people can remember. Slowly, rules fade out and new ones fade in. It’s a living, mutual understanding of how the game will be played.

Just read the first three posts by Eero in the thread and you’ll have the gist of it.

“My viewpoint on this ultimately indicates that most of D&D writing is necessarily of secondary concern, as most of that writing focuses on mechanical resolution concepts. This means that these writers, starting with Gygax, have failed to actually address the first-order concerns that gamers need to be able to overcome to play the game successfully: instead of telling us how he set up his sandbox campaign and how his group negotiated challenges, Gygax tells us about the outcome of this process of play. He tells us that after playing the game their group had established these sorts of character classes, and this is how their thieves picked pockets, and this is how shields worked vs. polearms. However, he never tells us the bit that I’m absolutely convinced about today after playing the game myself, that the GM’s referee position cannot work without a clear system of precedent. He also doesn’t tell us how these rulings need to be rooted in the fictional concerns of the group, and how there are no absolutely right or wrong choices for how to handle the individual resolution details. What we get instead is this myth where a long playtest has stabilized a genius rules system, and you’re not really playing AD&D if you don’t follow every brainfart rules subsystem written down by Gygax. I think that history has amply shown that the way D&D uses rules means that these rules are necessarily tied into a time and a place, into specific nuances of how people play and what they care about their fiction.”
– Eero Tuovinen

So this is where I get my position that I care about how rulings get made. I am much less interested in the actual rules themselves, the “pieces of the OSR.”

– Alex Schroeder 2017-04-29 21:18 UTC

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