"Training Wheels" Rules for Rules-Free Play?

GM Radio Rob

Formerly 'IMAGinES'
Validated User
#1
I want to write a clear-cut question for this thread to pose, but I'm going to ramble through a little background first so that you know the root of what I'm trying to get at.

This all started over in the thread, Kinds of Conflict that rules don't often handle. Jack Spencer, Jr. and I were having a polite back-and-forth abut rules in RPGs. Towards the end, I wrote:

IMAGinES said:
Myself, I may have a little too tight a grip on rules and such... I ... rolled my eyes recently at the page on Ultimate Amber Roleplaying in Amber Diceless where Wujcik wrote, "Ultimately, I hope you can toss this book."

Then again, the Mighty Platypus himself described a situation where his Buffy group got to the stage where they were ticking along very well sans rulebook and even sans him, the GM.

Still, it's my personal opinion that a group usually needs a little time playing within a set of rules to get comfortable with each other and what they want and expect from themselves before they start setting the rulebook (and / or GM) aside - I guess, enough time for the player-to-player reward cycle to bed down enough that they don't need a rules-based reward cycle any more.
Jack replied with:

Jack Spencer Jr said:
Yeah, but it seems like that it can be difficult to let go of the rules because few rules sets are made to be jettisoned nor do much to teach player to drop them and how to play without them. As such, it's like a kid who sees no reason to take the training wheels off his bike because no one is encouraging them to.

No. I think that while there does need to be a period of the group learning what to do and get used to each other and such, I just doubt that a set of RPG rules are the way to do that.
Now, I'm still of the mind that some sort of framework (which equates in my mind to a set of rules of some kind, even if it's no deeper than a clearly established / written social contract / consensus, can serve as a set of removable "training wheels"; they'll help your group find and maintain your own consensus, then drop away while you all just go ahead and do your thing.

I think what Jack was communicating in his response, though, is that a set of roleplaying game rules, by which I mean the kind of rulesets/books that (horrid over-generalisation incoming) RP gamers who cut their teeth on D&D and its ilk would readily identify as "roleplaying game rules", is not geared to help players abandon those rules, moving from rules-based play to rules-less, "freeform" or, as some would have it, "pure" roleplay. (See previous reference to the later stages of SteveD's Buffy campaign as an example - does anyone have a link to that thread?)

This may be intentional; some roleplaying game rulebooks are intended at lest in part to serve as the basis for extended lines of products, which utilise, reinforce and provise new variations on those very rules (e.g. the various extended Core Books, Ultimate [Inset Class Here] Books, new Base and Prestige Classes and World Lines like Forgotten Realms and Eberron for D&D). They don't want you to abandon them, they want you to keep using them in part so that you buy more stuff. But even if they don't, "teach RPG particpants how to have fun, satisfying play without using a set of rules" is very rarely a design goal for a set of RPG rules.

So now, I'm all curious, and as I'm not anywhere near a position to do any actual play myself, my questions are these:

  • Are you aware of any texts, guidebooks or sets of rules that, either intentionally or otherwise, serve as a "training wheels for freeform" guide / set of rules? How do they work as training wheels, and how do they guide participants toward doing without them?
  • Have you, personally, had a "rules-free success story" similar to SteveD's with a traditional rules set? Did you find it happening in spite of the RPG rules you were using, or did it occur as an extension / result of those rules?

Please note that I don't want this thread to be used for debate on:
  • Whether the "rules-less play" goal has merit or not.
  • The usual dead-end argument on whether a given text or example of actual play is "a roleplaying game" or not.
If you wish to discuss such matters, whether based on a post on this thread or not, can you start a thread of your own, please?
 
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fifth_child

The devil in these details
Validated User
#2
I think this question is somewhat misguided. There is no such thing as "rules-less" roleplaying. The rules are whatever system the people at the table use to decide what is happening in the shared fiction, whether that involves rolling dice or cardplay or player-to-player socializing or beating each other with sticks. Dropping the rules of a game as time goes by doesn't mean that you're going "system-less" - it means that you're transfering to a different system.

The rules to training wheels analogy also strikes me as inaccurate and not terribly useful.
 
#3
IMAGinES said:
.., is that a set of roleplaying game rules, by which I mean the kind of rulesets/books that (horrid over-generalisation incoming) RP gamers who cut their teeth on D&D and its ilk would readily identify as "roleplaying game rules",...
Thank you.
 

AilphanG

Eventually you'll be dead
Validated User
#4
The groups that I've personally been a part of have tended to start out with more rules because trust and... um... mutual understanding?... hasn't been established yet.

What I mean by "mutual understanding" is, each player has little idea what each other player is going to do, and has little understanding of his own character, and thus little ability to predict where the game is gonna go and how it's gonna get there.

Rules are nice because they act as a "common ground" in the early game, letting everyone get on the same page. At the same time, they might feel obtrusive or underplayed early on, as everyone starts to build the game.

Eventually, the group will find the level of rules that it's comfortable with. For lots of groups, this is "not many." For every group I've ever seen, this is "less rules than are in the corebook."

People will start rolling dice only for what they enjoy rolling dice for, etc. In the end, if you're a bunch of free-formers who like combat to be an exciting minigame, then you'll probably end up with dice only being rolled in combat, or to quickly skip parts of the game that are less interesting.

I don't know if this answers your question, but it's the way things have always seemed to me -- rules usage, like everything else, will be awkward at the beginning, and then smooth into an inoffensive routine.

-Albert

Edit: Naturally, I'm using "rules" in the sense of "mechanics and other written guidelines" here. One could reframe my post to fit more with fifth_child's usage by saying that the group is building a ruleset for itself in play that may or may not incorporate much of the written rules... but I'm pretty sure that the OP was talking about "the stuff in the rulebook, doubleplus especially the stuff involving numbers and dice" when he said 'rules'.
 
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#5
IMAGinES said:
Are you aware of any texts, guidebooks or sets of rules that, either intentionally or otherwise, serve as a "training wheels for freeform" guide / set of rules? How do they work as training wheels, and how do they guide participants toward doing without them?
You yourself have already mentioned Amber. I myself think it's such a game.

As far as "training the players" goes, for the most part the system is invisible to them. You could switch to utterly rule-less play and their experience wouldn't be much different. As far as "training the GM" goes, the game demands that the GM constantly decide "what would happen here?"
 

The Eye

is podcast...
Validated User
#7
fifth_child said:
There is no such thing as "rules-less" roleplaying.

I couldn't figure out how to respond to the OP, but that's because I couldn't figure out what "rules-less roleplaying" meant.

IMAGinES, what do you mean specifically by "rules-less roleplaying"? I'm kind of stuck on agreeing with fifth_child here; there are always rules.
 

Mengtzu

Another Kill Team...
Staff member
Moderator
RPGnet Member
#8
fifth_child said:
The rules to training wheels analogy also strikes me as inaccurate and not terribly useful.

Unless I'm misreading, the idea is to identify/speculate about games explicitly for groups that don't want to use mechanics, that nevertheless use a minimal set of mechanics in the early stages. These mechanics are disposed of once the group has its collaborative groove fully on.

I know of no examples but it strikes me as a good idea.
 

fifth_child

The devil in these details
Validated User
#9
There's always mechanics, is what I'm trying to say. Even the collaberative Harry Potter freeforms that you'll find on chats use some sort of system to decide who can contribute what to the shared fiction.

Because that's what rules are, when it comes right down to it: they tell you who's got what authority to influence the fiction, and in what ways. For example, what a Strength score of 21 really means is that you get X influence over the fiction in terms of your character being strong, and using his/her strength to do things.
 
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