How many rules are in this rpg?!
October 5, 2011 6:25 PM   Subscribe

I feel like I'm missing something about rpgs like Dungeons & Dragons. Can the hive mind explain it to me? In short: I don't see what the massive rulebooks are doing, since the core mechanic of the game seems so simple.

The basic premise of these games, as I understand it, is that the participants are co-building a narrative adventure. One participant (the DM) is in charge of laying out the narrative framework and responding to the other participants' activities, and the other participants tell the DM what they want to do. So far, so good? This part makes sense to me. In fact, this seems like something that my friends and I would enjoy doing.

In order to tell the story, the players use the mechanic of character stats, dice rolls, etc. to help determine what can be done in the game, to give some structure to in-game events, and in general to keep the narrative balanced. So, a really difficult opponent will be represented with stats in a way that makes the degree of difficulty appropriate for the level of challenge desired at that point in the narrative, and dice rolls keep the game from degenerating into the whims of the DM. If this is close, I'm still on board.

Where I definitely get lost is in the rulebooks. There are hundreds of pages of material for any given game, and I have a hard time grasping what all of those pages are supposed to be useful for. The basic mechanic is story--ability/difficult level--dice roll; so what are the other 195+ pages doing?

My first thought was that the extra rulebook pages are for game-specific content, but even generic rulesets like GURPS or SRD seem to be pretty large.

There clearly must be a substantial value to all that additional content, since there's a market for commercial rulebooks (and the supplemental volumes!), but I'm not understanding what that is.

Hive mind, help me understand what's going on with these games and their massive rulebooks. If there's a relatively simple way to get introduced to this genre of games, I'd appreciate that too. Like I said, the basic premise seems like something that would be fun, but it also seems like there's some hidden complexity in these large rulesets such that I'm not understanding how the game really works.
posted by philosophygeek to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (30 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Basically, they're there to make money for the publishers. Don't forget to buy the latest version of the mathematically-generated-tables-packed inch-thick books every time a new edition comes out!

If like me you find them tedious or discover that you aren't a rules fetishist, just ignore what you don't want to use or automate it with one of the various computerized tools. Or select a game that minimizes mechanics and rules content in favor of narrative content.
posted by XMLicious at 6:35 PM on October 5, 2011

You're right - beyond the basics, the rulebooks aren't required; you can make house rules to override them in any event.

But what they do is reduce the amount of work the GM has to do in dealing with situations or generating content. Also, they are handy in that they provide insight on how to deal with certain situations within the game mechanics.

Mostly, they're for leafing through while you wait for initiative.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 6:39 PM on October 5, 2011 [6 favorites]

Well, being a slight D&D nerd... the basic book will have rules, examples, of the rules, the more complicated rules, skills for the heroes, different types of heroes, lots of art, maybe a monster or seven, treasures, maps, scenarios...

The specalised rulebooks might be all monsters, all spells, new lands, more treasures, etc.

Then there is a module, which is a smallish book someone designed to be an entire adventure. It assumes you know the basics, and gives the DM all the maps, facts, monsters, etc he needs to run the players through that adventure.

Try Paranoia?
posted by Jacen at 6:43 PM on October 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think the simplest solution is just to go to a bookstore near you, open up a rulebook, and skim it from start to finish.

A basic answer is that creating everything from scratch is really, really difficult and time-consuming. Rulebooks will give you templates for character classes; lists of monsters to populate your dungeons with, including game-relevant statistics and some flavor text; descriptions of locations; artifacts and their magical properties; mundane goods and their prices; the relative quality of weapons; wizards' spells, the ingredients required for each, their effect, duration, and range, and the level at which it may be learned; combat skills generic to all characters and specific to particular classes; occupations of medieval townsfolk; descriptions of the major world powers, their histories, rulers, social structure, customs, and traditions; and so on, and so on, and so on.

This is true even in rulesets that are designed to be generic or expandable. It still helps to have sample character "builds," lists of items and weaponry, and so on. Ultimately, "generic" doesn't mean "less stuff to cover," it means "the reader will expect us to cover everything."
posted by Nomyte at 6:43 PM on October 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

At least for D&D 3.5 (the flavor I've spent my life playing), most of the Player's Handbook and DM's guide is spells, skills, feats, magic items and so on. The Monster Manual has pre-designed monsters. You don't want to spend your time coming up with those instead of actually playing. Unless you do, of course.

On preview: what Nomyte said.
posted by griphus at 6:45 PM on October 5, 2011

There are some pen and paper rules sets that are simple as you say they should be - look at Risus. It really boils down the amount of simulation.

Consider - you know that you have the basic mechanic of d20+Skill Score+ miscellaneous modifiers > Target difficulty = success. Seems simple, right?

The additional amount of text is generated by additional levels of detail. Do you have lots of skills? That is more explanatory text. Lots of modifiers, such as equipment or combat maneuvers? More explanatory text. The level of simulation makes a difference here. In your equipment descriptions, do you just have "sword", "short sword, long sword, two-handed sword" or do you get even more details like "short sword, gladius, kopesh, scimitar, etc.."

On top of that there are all the fancy powers. In a simple game like Risus, you just describe what you are doing and the game master determines on the fly if it is reasonable. However, many games are bounded by the rules of the world, or at least the assumptions of how magic works. There are lists of spells, monsters, classes that represent styles of characters. This can all add up to a large page count.
posted by charred husk at 6:45 PM on October 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thick rule books are extremely useful for occupying the sort of player who is easily distracted by such things, and provide a Roberts Rules level of fertile ground for arguing should the GM and player both like that sort of thing.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 6:47 PM on October 5, 2011

One way to understand this is with the Gamist-Narrativist-Simulationist theory. In short, Gamist play is the sort that relies on the "rules of the game" to establish a winner, the part with dice and combat techniques, etc. Narrativist is what you're seeing as something you'd enjoy; i.e. the narrative framework and players running characters with motivations. Simulationism is the goal of making sure that the narrative and the gameplay have internal consistency by having the rules and structure of the game have sufficient explanatory power for most situations.

D&D rulebooks lean heavily towards the Gamist (with a minor in Simulationist) viewpoint, devoting a significant amount of the rulebook space to providing new techniques and abilities for the characters and foes for the gamemaster. Relatively little space is devoted to Narrativism or Simulationism in the core books, though more shows up in the source materials. You can play D&D much like one would any other board game without any of the RPG trappings. There are rules for everything from how far a character can jump (d20+athletics skill / 10 in squares, or divide 5 if you moved more than 2 squares before jumping) to detailed mechanics of rituals that let you talk to animals, and how many hours they last. In other games, you might not have that detail - instead relying on the DM to arbitrate.

As you head down the Gamism spectrum, you get games like 6x, the one page role playing system that have just the bare minimum of rules.
posted by lantius at 6:53 PM on October 5, 2011 [4 favorites]

I haven't played D&D since 2nd edition (NHHYYYYYYY!!!) but the vast bulk of the pages in those books were reference materials- lists of spells, monsters, magic items, etc. etc. etc. Not so much "rules" as "cool things you can find or use or fight."
posted by drjimmy11 at 7:03 PM on October 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

When you're young there's a delight in poring over the pages, a satisafaction in the weighty tome you've just bought, a joy in knowing you understand and encompass it all. Call it infatuation.

As you get older that can fade into the pleasure of playing the game with friends. Call it love.

I mean I basically run my Eclipse Phase game from a single page Rolemaster moving manoeuvre table.

The counter-argument is that there's a lot of excellent things to spend page count on - it's all very well to define a vibe and a style (for eg - Eclipse Phase is Transhumanist Gonzo Cosmic Horror) but it's the details that actually make that style work.

As in all things, ideas are cheap and implementation is expensive - page count is where the implementation happens.
posted by Sebmojo at 7:10 PM on October 5, 2011

I think you have a misconception about D&D specifically: some people use it that way, but historically people care a lot more about the statistical battles and powering-up than they do about the narrative stuff. That's why there's such a huge amount of pre-created material like monsters and adventures, and also options for the number-crunching nerds who like to make their powering up into an excercise in algorithm design (see: Pun-Pun!]) If what you and your friends would really be interested in is telling stories with some mechanics just for easy conflict resolution and the fun of randomness, there are much better systems. D&D is really more like World of Warcraft with miniatures these days, having come full circle from the days when Nethack and the other games that pre-dated WoW were just D&D on a computer.
posted by The Master and Margarita Mix at 7:13 PM on October 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

One word: content.

Some of that is just different stuff using the same rules. Like the umpteen dozen different kinds of dragons or magic swords that, variety aside, basically operate within the rules set forth in the core books.

But some of it actually lets you do new stuff. Mounted combat isn't part of most core mechanics. Similarly, most core mechanics aren't really set up for combat engagements all that much larger than a rousing bar brawl, but there are rulebooks which let you run large scale engagements. The core mechanic doesn't usually involve boats or naval combat either.*

It goes without saying that any given game will only use a tiny fraction of the available rules, even within the tiny fraction of available books that any given GM happens to own. But just because this campaign is set in a claustrophobic arctic setting doesn't mean that the next one can't be set in a sprawling, tropical maritime setting.

*Note to GMs: giving the monk a Ring of Water-Walking is an excellent way to turn naval combat into melee combat. I'm just sayin'.
posted by valkyryn at 7:14 PM on October 5, 2011

There really is a huge variety in page lengths, but as noted above, most of that isn't rules. Here is a list of some systems, selected because they are either short, or popular. The length is more related to how intricate the tactical options available to players is within the game system.
posted by meinvt at 7:20 PM on October 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

As others have said there are lots and lots of lists which make life easier for the players.

There are also a large amount of optional rules and rule variants for the more advanced players. This helps the replay value of the game immensely. The first few times you run a campaign even the vanilla stuff is interesting, but sooner or later you'll run through all of the base permutation of race/class/role and want to branch out in a new direction.

Finally, consider that there are a huge number of different actions and events that can happen in a single game session (one night of playing). Having a large number of rules makes it easier to get through that stuff without arguing. (When a player wants to use their "Bluff" skill to convince the local chieftain that he and his friends, teenagers wearing old leather armor, are gods, you don't have to argue with him about how incredibly stupid that is, you can just look it up and show him that, by the rules, it can't be done.) So, believe it or not, it can actually streamline game play (once everyone is reasonable knowledgeable about the rules).

Believe it or not you can assimilate the various rules pretty quickly. After a while you only occasionally refer to a book.
posted by oddman at 7:23 PM on October 5, 2011

Also, some games are written in a way that is more related to conveying the information in a friendly and less formal way and giving advice along the way as to how to actually apply the rules as you go. Mouse Guard is a great example of a game with a substantial rule book, rather simple rules and not a huge amount of reference or chart material. Rather, the length is to provide examples, art, and considerations that are of interest to the player and game master as they are using the rules.
posted by meinvt at 7:24 PM on October 5, 2011

One of the authors of 3rd edition explained to me that he believed the feeling of "mastery" was key to a typical player's enjoyment of D&D. That's the sense of not just knowing all the rules, but knowing how to exploit them to the fullest to overcome an encounter. Previous editions certainly made that possible. As of D&D3, it was an explicit design goal.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 7:28 PM on October 5, 2011

Rulebooks, when done well, give the backstory of the fictional world. They talk about the different types of creatures, governments, history, etc. Then they give you stats. And they give you the game mechanics. With most games, anything beyond the corebook is rarely necessary (IMHO) to enjoy the game and, often, the corebook contains things which can be thrown away depending on your group's individual style of play.

One thing I like about Shadowrun, in particular, is that the corebook (4th ed.) actually provides suggestions for alternate rules. If you want to make your games more cinematic, you might want to do X, Y and Z. If you want to make your games deadlier, then do A, B and C.
posted by asnider at 8:08 PM on October 5, 2011

Yeah, the best rulebooks are fun even if you don't play the game. the old Technocracy Handbook for Mage was like a zillion awesome sci-fi ideas in one, and every book for Unknown Armies will change the way you see the world.

Anyway, I'm off to grab some McDonalds...
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 8:14 PM on October 5, 2011

It depends on what you want to do and how you want to do it. If you want to do interactive storytelling, yeah, get together and tell a story. If you want to have a neutral resolution for when Sarah objects that there's no way Bob's elven ranger (or wtf-ever people have these days) would be carrying 57 torches or firing an arrow through a doorhinge at THAT distance, then you need some kind of mechanic, whether it's described in words that can be applied to many situations or whether it's tables upon tables upon tables of stats and numbers.

(I know I'm kind of repeating what other people said, but that's just my summary of it. I like both rules-light, story-oriented, indie games and "look it up and see what the chart says" games, so...)

To find out what you'd like to play, go to a gaming convention and see about sitting in on and playing both some indie and standard RPGs. (Not just D&D!) And keep in mind that ALL of it will sound like gibberish till you get into it.
posted by wintersweet at 8:32 PM on October 5, 2011

There are many great answers here already, but here's one additional high-level clarification that might help. You wrote:

The basic mechanic is story--ability/difficult level--dice roll

But this is actually only sometimes true. There are game systems designed to use the same one mechanic, weighted appropriately, to handle all the situations that might occur in a given game's story — with everything from sword fights to lock picking to seducing the enemy guards into letting you in the locked door being modelled using the same set of dice and the same skill bonus-difficulty penalty system. (e.g. GURPS works this way, more or less.) But there are others where the rules and mechanics for one, or a few, or a lot of different in-game situations are completely different. It's very common in many RPGs that combat will have a whole different set of rules, amounting to a complicated game-within-the-game; sometimes there will also be totally separate rules for mounted or vehicle combat, or ranged weapons and melee weapons, and so on. Games with a specific setting or theme are liable to have one or several other complicated rule sets, often amounting to whole mini-games, for things like sailing tall ships or piloting spaceships, conquering and administering kingdoms, hacking in cyberspace, and so on ad infinitum. The kind of conceptual simplicity you're talking about, where one game mechanic handles everything, is a conscious design decision, not an immutable rule. Sometimes those rulebooks are, effectively, also the rules for a bunch of different complicated sub-games.
posted by RogerB at 8:48 PM on October 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

When I get a specific idea for a character or NPC I like to be able to work all of the mechanics out and supplement books can do that. But hey, not every game really needs a necromantic bard (who looks just like Glen Danzig).

The extras are about flavor. Flavor and money. Won't you give generously?
posted by munchingzombie at 9:01 PM on October 5, 2011

D&D's background comes from miniature battles. The original seed of the game was Chainmail, a system to try to recreate historical battles with a bit of realism. It was kind of like playing Army Men, but with actual rules -- if you had your line of guys in chainmail and broadswords, how effective would they be against, say, your opponent's line of pikemen in leather armor? And if your missile troops had crossbows, and he had the famed English longbows, what would that do to the battle? Those early rules were meant to deal with medieval combat, and the addition of magic and fantasy and dwarves and elves and stuff has accreted, in layers.

A typical D&D session involves a LOT OF TIME spent fighting. Combat is sort of the core of the system, and the mechanics that have evolved over time are very complex and very detailed. Ten seconds of melee can take ten minutes to resolve. (that's atypical, mind, but possible.) There are many many different rules for many many different possible interactions. It is extremely intricate, because it goes down the path of trying to figure out, at least a little bit, whether your longsword or your mace would be a better weapon choice against the guy in full plate armor. And then you layer on a bunch of combat skills and a bunch of magic spells and a TON of noncombat skills, and well, you've got multiple volumes.

If you'd rather have a less detailed, more seat-of-the-pants game, one that's not so focused on the mechanics of individual actions, look into the White Wolf vampire/werewolf games, or In Nomine from Steve Jackson Games. Your rough description of how you think roleplaying should be (assign a difficulty rating, roll one die, succeed or fail) matches both these games pretty closely. D&D tries to be thorough and somewhat consistent; games like Vampire are fast, loose, and inconsistent. You might assign difficulty levels differently in Vampire based on your mood, without even realizing it, but someone's armor class in D&D is a semi-fixed value that you'll be aware of changing, if you do.

D&D's core is mechanics; games like Vampire are centered on storytelling. Mechanics games have historically been most successful, but simpler conflict-resolution games have done quite well.
posted by Malor at 9:04 PM on October 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

IMHO, the rules books are for rules lawyers.
Yes, the mechanics are very simple and they should be otherwise the game will be unplayable.

D&D can be played in so many ways because it is a free-form game. You can focus on combat and strategy, exploration, plot, and role-playing and any of these in combination to any degree.

As a result, when someone ends up in a situation where they are fighting a demigod and someone has a silver pin on their cloak that they strap onto an arrow, what kind of damage will that cause? Most of the time, the DM will make that up, but heaven help you if you don't have at least some kind of data to back that up because the DM's choice ends up with the character not just dead, but sealed off in a slave chamber in a secret level of hell, well that's the cause for years of arguments and infighting.

The books help resolve that kind of issue to a certain degree and others, like what happens when a hobgoblin fucks an owl bear or a drow or whatever. Why? Because someone got into an argument about it.

When I played in junior high, most of our play was combat, puzzles, eating pretzels and trying to get Jen to laugh root beer out his nose (which was fairly easy in restospect).
posted by plinth at 9:36 PM on October 5, 2011

I don't read the books, I've never bothered learning the mechanics to anything that wasn't immediately important to knowing how to play whatever character I had at the time, I don't even make the character sheets. I participate for the social aspect, and because I enjoy roleplaying the personality and actions of my character. Luckily I'm a pretty good roleplayer, and friends are more than willing to do the work of creating a sheet based off of my concept and what type of abilities I'd like my character to be good at... and if they start to get irritated by my constantly having to be reminded what to roll for something, I have someone write out a cheet sheat for common actions and abilities that my character uses so that I can use that as a reference guide instead :)

I have friends who are into the mechanics, they enjoy rules and love to argue about rules... its part of the fun of the game for me. These are the same type of people who will argue about technicalities in any rules discussion, or any type of debate they get into... they also tend to be fond of math, and logic, and strategy based games and such. Of course, for some of them, its about knowing the system well enough to twist the rules around and make their character as powerful as they possibly can.
posted by myShanon at 11:16 PM on October 5, 2011

BTW Best game system as far as mechanics making the roleplay even more awesome? Scion.

Though I'm still a huge fan of cyberpunk and shadowrun.

Course, as stated above, I don't deal with rules, I just play the game :)
posted by myShanon at 11:20 PM on October 5, 2011

Yeah, what they said. Most games boil down to simple core mechanics. Some offer a million modifiers; some leave it to the GM to wing it. Different groups like different approaches, and, for some, engaging with a complicated ruleset is one of the attractions.
posted by Zed at 11:26 PM on October 5, 2011

There's a holy grail of RPG design to make a universal systems that is as detailed and complete as possible. It is not much pursued anymore by new designs, but those games are still out there.

Crazy shit happens in RPGs, way beyond the experience and education of 99.99% of referees. It's tough to make rulings that are quick, consistent, fair, and realistic enough to satisfy the players.

What exactly can I do to defend myself MORE in combat? What are the effects of starvation? How many days will it take to get back to town? How can I fight from horseback? ... From dragon-back? ... From a howdah on a flying elephant? How much does it cost per week in that inn? How much does it cost to build a castle? How far can I jump? ... Now that I have the body of a giant spider?

They have to give you information and systems and frameworks to try to tackle situations like these in the rules. They could just punt and give you some guidelines, like most rules-light games want to do. But the big-book games want to be more than that, they want to SOLVE that shit, and so they try to tackle these things in detail, and doing that really, really starts to rack up the page count.

All that said, if you suspect that these designers are writing rules for these situations just because they can, for the beauty or completeness of the design, and those rules are probably not really that well tested, and the designers would probably just wing it in a real game they actually ran—you wouldn't be too wrong.

So-called rules-light games aren't immune to bloat either. Their path to bloat usually starts with being too wedded to their "universal mechanics", and they just build on those until they're not really rules-light any more at all.

So that's how they get big. There is also a publishing reality where you have to give the customer something they will buy. They don't need to buy a piece of paper that says "Make it all up! Have fun!"

There's also a metagame function I'd like to talk about.

You have described the sort of pure basic loop of a classic RPG: the players say things they want to do, or ask questions about the world, and the referee churns things around in her head, possibly consulting notes, rules, using dice to arbitrate and inject invariance, and then finally describes the result of that, and brings things to the next decision point.

That's not really enough to play, though. Games flow better when the players and ref are on the same page (so to speak) about what kinds of things are possible; what kind of world they are in, who their characters are, who they can be, what's possible to do. There is a metagame contract, a consensus reality, and a rulebook can help define part of that. Even if a referee defines her game by rejection of the rulebook, it has served some purpose.

Though of course the metagame extends past the rulebook. There's all kinds of players and DMs who are pretty sure they know the right way to do things and there's more to getting the group to function smoothly than just plonking down a rulebook and saying "we're playing this". RPGs are not like boardgames and rulebooks help set the imaginative expectations for a group that make the game possible.
posted by fleacircus at 8:17 AM on October 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

As far as the general sense of your question about getting your bearings in the RPG game world, you might also like this blog post from Playing D&D With Porn Stars, the gist of which is that while playing an RPG is a collaborative and creative exercise, you shouldn't think of it as a "narrative" or "storytelling" thing. It's more like being in a band.

I think it's a pretty good analogy. It's a social activity that can be extremely fiddly but extremely free form. Different players have different strengths and different goals. Different groups have different sounds; some might not sound good. There's a tendency to devolve to woefully bad "experimental jams".
posted by fleacircus at 9:00 AM on October 6, 2011

The hidden complexity is the balance.

For example, there's more than one way to bring the dead back to life in D&D 3.5. There's the lower-level version that causes level loss in the target, and the higher-level version that is exorbitantly expensive yet flawless. If you're low enough level to even consider the weak version, that level hit is really going to hurt you and your party and you probably won't do it. Yet if your party can even afford the flawless version, they're already coming up against threats that make death look pleasant. Wizards of the Coast wanted to make sure that death was a meaningful event. So players who like their characters will make decisions more carefully in dangerous situations, as long as the DM also follows the rules and doesn't shower the party with gold.

A little more extreme: A high-level fighter could potentially kill a whole lot of gnolls in one round (8 in 6 seconds, one at a time) with an unenchanted sword, but couldn't poke one in the eye. Seem like a good setup? There are special fighter feats that let you attack another adjacent enemy when you've just killed one--it's a nice thing to do for melee fighters, since they'll never be able to stand back and nuke the bad guys like casters can. But there are (with few exceptions) no 'called shots' in D&D. You can't decide to punch a guard in the face, you just take your swing and the DM, if they're nice, will tell you how dramatically the guard's face dented in for a moment. Were there called shots, it would open the door for a lot of crazy problems. Players would start calling every shot, trying to take out a monster's means of attack in every battle and move coup de grace from 'unconscious and on death's door' to 'limbless'. They'd aim for whatever part of the bad guy wasn't covered with armor. And then you'd have to answer the fact that items without a hardness can also give armor bonuses, so what happens if you specifically strike one? It would basically wreck the combat system.

If you ignore the rules and make up your own, you have to deal with those kinds of balance issues. Perhaps this seems like too much concern to you--and probably a lot of other people feel that way based on the use of the phrase 'rules lawyer' in this thread. If that's true then you must have played with much more rational and less greedy people than I have over the years.

Playing by the rules doesn't mean that crazy fun things can't happen. We got out of a tight spot in a previous campaign by having everyone except the druid jump into the portable hole, and then the druid transformed into a eagle or some shit and flew the hole far, far away into safety. Laugh it up (we sure did) but that was legal, and we have a lot more fun than back in the day when it was first edition and we made everything up. I think the rules force a certain kind of creativity, and they also make role-playing easier.
posted by heatvision at 11:03 AM on October 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

D&D is also somewhat interesting in that it's designed to be played competitively or semi-competitively, as well as cooperatively. The RPGA, which is the official D&D players association, allows players to create a character, register it with the organization, and then take that character to any RPGA event and play with completely unknown people or to compete with that character in events like "complete the dungeon the fastest" or similar.

Many other RPGs encourage "house rules", or rules that are invented by specific groups that are tailored to the situations and characters in that game. That way, the game designers don't have to worry about coming up with, say, rules for drowning if drowning is not likely to be a big part of most campaigns. Those games rely more heavily on the concordance of gamemaster and player to hash out for themselves what they want to do in unusual situations.

D&D can't really do that as much, though, because it's designed to have characters that are playable anywhere, with any group of players, with any GM, and one group's house rules are not going to fly with another's. So D&D designers have to come up with rules for all kinds of situations so that everyone everywhere is on the same page. There is a column called Sage Advice in Dragon Magazine, the official D&D magazine, which has an absolutely massive archive of people questioning quite intently what this rule means or how to interpret it in the light of this new rules, partially because D&D can't just let things work out on the fly, that wouldn't be fair to its competitive fanbase. The official forums are full of arguments over the difference between "RAI" (rules as intended) and "RAW" (rules as written), because RAW is how this vast players organization keeps everyone on the same page when they're competing with each other.

Does any of this shit matter to the average gaming group who just sits down with the books, makes some characters, and starts hacking at people? Not really. But D&D is designed both for those groups and for the convention world travelers, with a sort of unspoken assumption that the former will just ignore or change the rules they don't want or like anyway, but the latter requires much more guidance.
posted by Errant at 12:31 PM on October 6, 2011

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