Stir up rules interpretation

The rules : they are like any text. They say the words, but they leave you the interpretation. So what happens ? Usually, you go by one player interpretation (the facilitator), or maybe when there’s something unclear, you discuss it at the table (collective).

In any case, chances are you’re going to play it fundamentally the same way next time. And I find it sad : we’re not talking technical instructions here ; there are many other ways to play, and some may click better for you.

The best way to stir up interpretation of the rules is of course to see another group play with another interpretation, at the table or on the interweb.

But there are some other ways rules can provoke this, too. Like, proposing various rules for similar situations. Giving options puts the process in the open.

I am curious. What games or practices stir up rules interpretation in other ways ?

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I’m not sure I’m entirely getting what you mean but I have to think about the various versions of tag and ways kids all over the world have improved it for their own enjoyment.

A quick one that happens in most schools is the rule that it’s not allowed to tag back at the one that tagged you (which would otherwise be the smartest move because they are closest, but the most boring one for the other participants) and have to first tag someone else before the previous tagger is allowed to be tagged again. It makes most players involved in the game and gives the one who just had to run to tag another time to catch their breath a bit.

You also have the sign of safety you could make to not have being tagged work. What we did was hold up our hand in a peace-sign (the victory v) which made the tag not count if you were quick enough.

And another one was that if you wanted out of the game before being tagged again you would visibly slap the sole of your shoe and shout “afgetikt!” which basically translated to “tagged out!”

Then there’s the many variants with regards of not being able to get tagged while on an elevated position (I have the high ground, Anakin!) or the variant where you cannot be tagged if you are standing completely still. Or where the people tagged have to hold hands etc, but those are more like different games than variants in the same game.

I’ve also never played checkers/draughts with exactly the same rules with regards of wether or not you are allowed to move backwards to take another piece or the exact capabilities of the upgraded piece once you reach across the board.

Likewise I think there is no single group on earth that plays UNO the same way.

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Our messages are not totally aligned, but the looseness itself is fruitful. Oral tradition naturally produces mutation / drifting. A game with a small core of simple rules lends itself to oral transmission, and all that is not simple and necessary in it will be evolved. Playfulness is also a good cultural mutagen.

But with UNO and checkers, you’re saying drift will happen no matter what given time and social expansion. My question was rather : for TTRPG games and practices, given a short time and little social expansion. How to provoke various practices (not necessarily through drift).

The clearest and best executed example of this I’ve come across is in Night’s Black Agents by Ken Hite. It’s a secret agents versus vampires RPG. The game provides several variations on some of the rules to emulate different spy genres. So for example you can play gritty realistic ‘Sandbaggers’ style, campy Roger Moore Bond style, or modern technothriller Jason Bourne style, etc.

For the most part though, the default expectation I think is that a set of game rules will provide (enable, facilitate, etc) the game play experience intended by the author. Different rules interpretations will lead to different gameplay experiences, so for a game designer to add value in supporting rules variants they need to be clear about the intended effect on the game play experience. I think Ken did an outstanding job at this.

This is true and something I like in the draft of Lincoln Green.

But are you considering variants of the rules ? This is not the topic I had in mind. I must be clearer : with a given set of rules, there are slight variations from group to group. How to make these variate? Like, if you always play chess with the same partner, you run the risk of playing the partner better than the game. Without changing the rules. Well, that, with RPG approach instead of strategy.

Well, FATE brought out the FATE TOOLBOX or something to give options and in its own text was always clear that it was just a framework to build on.

RISUS has the RISUS COMPENDIUM which has options, and even in its small basic rules (like, what, 8 pages, with drawings?) it has two or three sets of optional rules iirc.

In a “traditional” dungeon-crawl/wargame rooted ttrpg, this is achieved through content. Having a large variety of enemy types/attacks/spells/etc. can satisfy the desire for novelty or “new” rules. OSR style games often (in my experience) try to have as broad rules as possible and encourage aggressive houseruling to handle specifics (so for example, they have rules for HP, hitting things with weapons, and carrying stuff but not for say, lighting your arrows on fire to ignite something far away).

A question I have to get more specific. Are you looking for encouraging houserules (case-by-case rulings that are incorporated into future play) or optional rule “modes” (the base game has rules for fantasy dungeon crawling, while a splat for it has more detailed rules for necromancy, underwater adventures, and city building).

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OK, so you’re talking about varied interpretations of rules due to the dynamics of the group or personal interpretation, rather than with any conscious aim to vary the play experience?

In terms of how these interpretations are made, we do that automatically. Any text has to be interpreted, and this can introduce variations in understanding. This can come from various sources, such as preconceptions from how things work in other games, misunderstanding of the text, ambiguity in the text, personal preferences, etc.

You said in your first post on this that you find that people maintain consistency in these interpretations sad, but don’t say why.

The reason we use game rules is because we are aiming to achieve a particular play experience. If I choose to play a Star Trek RPG, I’m aiming for a different play experience compared to if I’m playing Traveller, even though both are starship based SF games. The main reason to change the interpretation or even actual written form of a rule would be if it’s not creating the intended experience.

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I’ve been thinking about this a little. It’s hard to engage with this, in a sense, because sometimes it’s really difficult to distinguish between “we changed the rules,” “we interpreted them differently”, and “this game just had a different creative focus.”

One simple thing that occurs to me is to switch GMs (or, more loosely, have a different person facilitate and/or make rule calls). For instance, your group normally plays D&D, and you are the GM. But you say, “hey, I’m still GMing, but for the next two sessions Lucy will be in charge of making all the rules calls and handling the mechanics.”

Another idea is changing the genre or conceit of the game. “Let’s play again, but this time we play the bad guys.” “Let’s play again, but now it’s grim science fiction.” “Let’s play again, but pretend it’s a Saturday morning cartoon.”


@Simon_Hibbs my question questions the “intended experience” perspective. See : some games work if you change settings, in others you can change situation or characters. We will find different “room for interpretation” in different games (Cf BitD infra). No game can formalize every technique.
In the OP, I explicitly say why I find keeping to one interpretation sad : because chances are it’s not the best one for your table.

@Radmad you’re spot on with : changing situation is a good way of changing interpretation. This means maybe propose scenarios (or characters) that cover all the ground the game can cover.
I have a hard time using your “OSR” categories, they don’t fit with my playing experience. Ruled that detail the bigger frame set by the game, like a table of modifiers for various diseases could be it. But I’ll give a (second hand) example of what I have in mind. I have read that John Harper in BitD proposes a protocol to estimate a roll difficulty (stating the goal first, then the outlook, then danger, then specify the expected effect). Game rules usually offer a perspective on Intent Initiation Execution Etc. but they rarely nail everything down. I see it like a drum score : you know when the beat is, but you can fall wayyy late right before it’s too late or be in advance just by a tiny tick every time, or just from time to time. These are techniques, they suit different moods, and very few games hit only one key on the mood organ.

So, changing table, rotating GM / facilitator, changing setting / genre or situation / mood within the limits of the rules, learning techniques (advice, principles, GM moves, etc.) Your last examples @Paul_T coincide with @The_Bearded_Belgian 's : they’re about playfulness.