On Rules/Rulings and Enjoyability. Or “You mean the entire point of the game is to roll dice?”

There is an OSR roundtable going on at the always excellent Beyond the Black Gate, featuring a bunch of OSR personalities; go and read all of it as it’s particularly stimulating. James Raggi of Lamentations of the Flame Princess, writer and purveyor or many  fine RPG products, answered the following to one of the many questions asked:

“You mean the entire point of the game is to roll dice?”

An answer that made me think about action resolution and how it interacts with dice rolling, and what good action resolution is.

I wanted to make a short post and it’s becoming a long unreadable mess, so I deleted the rest and rewrote it here in a fraction of the wordlenght. Let’s start with a real-life experience.

My (30th!) birthday party, 10 players at the table, half of them never played with me before. I was half drunk, full of pizza and unbearably caffeinated, with scarce prep. Starting from a prepared location I decided to run a fast-paced post-disaster investigation, with a dash of drama, followed by humanoid hunt. Everybody had a really good time, rolled dice when appropriate and partecipated. Why?

I knew what the game was about.

Good rules/rulings use dice (or not) in ways  that guide a specific game in the direction that is enjoyed most and bad rule/rulings make for a “meh” game, the variability of rulings pushing far more the boundaries for both awesome and terrible experiences and reflecting appropriately on the “”social capital” the DM can command from players.

Obviously clumsy DMs with scarce experience might want to use rules as a crutch and come up with rulings at an appropriate rate, while more DMs more expert with the game allow themselves more room for rulings. Wilder games might want rules and rulings pushing for more random outcomes and settings than adventures in Middle Earth. We don’t just roll dice: we roll dice only when we don’t manage to prepare an automatic success through other action: for example blocking a door from being opened might require a strength roll, but nailing the door shut not only is automatic but also automatically succeeds at blocking the door.

The advice for you, master of any skill and orientation, is that before you pick a set of rules or start flailing rulings left right and centre you should understand first what the f**k your particular game is about, and plan your actions accordingly. Any campaign is potentially different. Heck, that might even change depending on adventure or on players’ moods, and surely it depends on yours!

Once again, know your game, your players,  yourself.

Random findings due to sleep deprivation

Today (actually, yesterday, WP crapped out last night and the post didn’t get published) I was coming back home on the bus and was feeling terribly tired, so instead of walking the 15 minutes that separate the closest bus stop of the line I was on I took another bus to get next block to my flat.

So I jump on the second bus, check with the driver route details and have a sit. Immediately I realize that actually I mentioned the wrong street, so I just jump off at the next stop and resolve not to fuck up anymore with public transport but just walk home.

On the way I stopped at a charity shop to see if they had some nice cheap boardgames. Zilch.

The next charity shop: an Oxfam I never noticed before. I got in, browsed the wares, let out a powerful and resounding “squee :3”, forked over 16£ to the friendly shopkeeper, left with a some books under my arm.

Here are the books:

Oh well. 🙂


I don’t mind sharing my work. I did some contribution to open source software, got stuff into fanzines and, for fuck sake, my most time-consuming pasttime is running a free vegan kitchen in a occupied building in Glasgow University. Free food, tea and coffee for anyone that walks throught the door.

But recently I found some of my material, previously published here, republished verbatim on other pages.

Now, I wouldn’t mind if I had given authorization, proper credits were due and stuff.

But this didn’t happen. Now I’m a bit crossed.