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Do We Need Rules For This?

Posted in Indies & More

With the shift in format for Legends and Lore, there’s a little less to respond to. In Mike’s post, the first section is pretty straightforward, dealing with the differences between fighters, monks, and barbarians. The second part, on how a core of rules is defined, is there the interesting stuff is.

Mike suggests that most of the D&D rules will be optional, that only a small core will be common between all groups:

Outside of the basic mechanics for stuff like moving, combat, and casting spells, we’re assuming that everything else is optional. Something like the exploration rules, or the shortcuts for handling fights with lots of creatures, are simply tools for DMs to use or adapt for their games.

The interesting thing here is that, while this is ostensibly a statement about how D&D Next can, through these modules, be whatever game you want it to be, it’s also a statement about what D&D is. D&D is movements, combat, casting spells (and presumably a few other things).

This isn’t exactly revolutionary, but I’m glad to see it. It shows a core vision for what D&D Next is. With the promises of modularity it seemed like D&D Next might go so far as to cover games of, say, courtly intrigue (with no fighting) or historical fiction (with no magic). This, however, is clearer: D&D is movement, combat, and magic.

The example below, however, is a little scary:

We’d likely just provide simple rules that apply to all flying creatures in the core system, unless otherwise noted in the creature’s description. For example, a creature might need to move forward at least half its speed and cannot turn more than 90 degrees total during its turn.

The idea that a minimum speed and maximum turn is needed for the ‘bare minimum’ of rules on flight seems a little crazy. Given that the preference for DM judgement in the core, why does the GM need to know a minimum speed and maximum turn? Not being an ornithologist, if the DM presented me with anything from a pigeon to a hawk hovering in place, I’d nod right along. While it definitely makes sense that many flying creatures must move at a minimum speed, that level of detail probably isn’t needed in a core game with a preference for GM judgements.

Ultimately the answer to “do we need a rule for this?” depends on the game being played. It’s easy, as a player of games, to decide that you don’t need a rule—you already know how to make dungeons, or you’ve studied enough physics to know that birds don’t fly like that. However, in any decently designed game, that rule is there for a reason, and is part of a larger system. Every inclusion or exclusion of rules has repercussions throughout the system. While modules make the combinatorial process a bit easier, they still essentially make every DM a game designer.

Which, really, is what they are anyway. Running an adventure, making an adventure, and writing a system all touch on the same act of game design. Making every DM feel like a game designer is just making clear what they’re already doing.

There is that old but about great power and great responsibility, though. Telling each DM to decide for themselves which rules they need puts a lot of pressur on the DM to choose the right set. It’s a wonderful marketing line, but a real challenge to make universally playable.

Sage LaTorra is a game designer and engineering manager at Google. You may know him from Dungeon World.

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