In a discussion following this week's L&L article, @mbeacom wrote, quoting me:
"What you are talking about here is what I'll call "revealed facts"; things that were not previously seen as related are suddenly recognised as being helpfully related in fact. The key, for me, is those last two words - in FACT."
This is a good quote. Because it demonstrates the fundamental difference with which we view the game world.
"If the rules fully define the situations of interaction between character and environment (which, I maintain, is their function)"
I maintain, that in a fantasy game whose purpose is a shared creative experience, this is not the primary function of the rules, at least not the "fully" part.
But getting back to the former quote, the "fact" part is very interesting as it relates to the "fully" part. You see, I don't want the designer to dictate nearly as many "facts" of the world to me. This IMO diminishes the opportunity at shared world creation. I want the "facts" to be revealed through the shared communications of the group. This act of discovery through consensus is not only rewarding to me, but represents the essence of the game itself, certainly as it exists as a fantasy RPG. Otherwise, we slowly steer ourselves towards a board game, or at the very least, game that requires no adjudication on the part of the group. (In my games, the DM is the lead adjudicator, but not the primary, and certainly not the only).
So, to sum up, I'll point to this quote:
"If, on the other hand, the rules do not fully define the interactions, leaving them open to interpretation, then the revealed relations can rely not on "fact" but on the interpretations of the one designated to interpret."
This is a huge problem for me. What you're doing here is essentially replacing your groups consensus for the idea of a designer or group of designers. That's fine for those lacking the desire for creativity but for those whose main reason for playing such a game is the ability to exercise that creativity, it simply doesn't offer the same rewarding experience. Basically, what I'm saying is that I want the group to determine a greater portion of the "facts" of the world. My groups "facts" are no less factual than a designers, and they are much more personal. The act of discovering them is a huge part of what makes the RPG such a powerful medium.
Otherwise, IMO, one may as well play a game like Wrath of Ashardalon or other fantastical RPG-like board game while adding some RP elements.
OK, let me first say that I do “get” the group world-building aesthetic of roleplaying; I see it as one very valid aim or “style” of play. However, I think you unnecessarily do down another style of play – that of players trying to overcome obstacles and challenges through clever play – in your enthusiasm for this one specific style. Far from it being “may as well play a board game”, there is a whole and valid play style here very specifically for roleplaying games, not just board games (and in my circle of friends, we like board games, too).
But, even for that style of play, I think explicit rules are superior to vague or ambiguous ones. Let’s take a quite from @Shamanstarr:
@Balesir: ahhh, but Charm is a magical simulation of basically Hypnosis, which cannot make a person do what they wouldn't do normally. You still won't go against your nature. As a Hypnotist myself, I can attest that it does work this way, but that depending on how you word your suggestions to a subject, you can "convince" them to perform an action that would be out of character for them, by couching it within a context their subconscious mind can accept. You cannot make a person jump off a cliff and kill themselves, however, you can convince them that the cliff is not there, and to walk over that perfectly flat piece of ground before them.
Look what you are doing, here: you take a poorly-defined spell (Charm Person) and add to it a model, taken from your own experience, to define how it works. Would the spell really not have been far better with that model explicitly included from the start? Every DM who adjudicates Charm Person in its “old” form has to do this; they formulate a model, based on their own view of reality, about how the spell should work. Should the caster of the spell really be ignorant of that model? Should there not be support for DMs who don’t happen to have personal experience of hypnotism or similar? I really don’t count the old wordings of Charm Person as “systems” for the spell – they were really nothing more than inspirations for a system of the DM’s own construction. Some of those constructed systems were good – some were bad; hence why the DM was “so important” back in the day”.
I’ll say again that I have no issue at all with house rules; a game with the facility to add elements via house rulings, perhaps inspired by elements mentioned in published material, is great. Check out the Shek P’var (magic user) system for Hârn to see what I think of as a great example of this. The problem I have is with adding an inspiration to a book of rules and calling it a “system”. It’s not a system – it’s an invitation to come up with a system of your own. In a way, I see this as handing power to a player I don’t want handed there – by taking this spell a player says, in effect, “I demand that you come up with a system for this outline idea”. In a game where the players contribute “system” for these elements, that would be fine – but in a game where the players are focussed on overcoming challenges it’s the DM’s problem, since the players are aiming to “beat the monsters”, not to “build the system/world”. Do you see the difficulty?
Lastly, to help illustrate the point. How much more interesting and engaging has this conversation been as we flesh out our understandings and try to find a degree of respect based on what we actually bring to the table, than if we were to just openly assume things are different and go our separate ways. I find that this type of exchange (in our case amongst people with fundamentally different views) is vastly more interesting and rewarding, then if you and I were to interact on these boards according to some redesigned criteria. You, and I, and Shamanstarr are, to a degree, engaging in the very activity I enjoy in RPGs. In this case, we're hashing out what it means to "be an RPG that we would want to play". Which is to say, we're engaging in the EXACT same activity to help define the "facts" of D&DNext that I engage in to define the "facts" of my RPG world. Ultimately, the facts of 5E will be the facts. I just prefer that you and I help steer them, rather than Mike, Monte and Rob (as much as I trust they are good designers). I think that you probably agree with me here and therefore, to a certain extent, agree with the way I want to pursue the same things within the game world.
Let the option be there for players and DM to collaboratively pick modules, add house rules, etc., by all means. But I really don’t want to see “hooks” for house rules to hang on – like the old Charm Person spell description – that players who want to focus on “beating the encounters” can grab and demand a system for (too often hoping that they can find some advantage in a system that is manufactures on the fly).
What we are doing here is discussing what will (I hope) end up as an actual system - a complete model. This sort of thing - here on the boards and within gaming groups, is both healthy and fun! But I want this "rules bashing" to be separated out from the actual play of the game, for many and several reasons. If something comes into use in the game world, I really want someone to have a clear model of how it works in mind up front. Or, alternatively, have a clear vision of how its workings will be decided collaboratively (c.f. PTA and Universalis). Without this, much of the underpinning for some interesting "agendas" for play disappear.
P.S.: Sorry about the huge paragraph gaps - I hate this "invisible formatting" editor-thing...