Since their successful Runequest Classic kickstarter, Chaosium has been working on a new edition of Runequest. This editions is built on Runequest and is designed to support the Glorantha setting the same way Runequest 2 did. Yesterday they formally announced the new name which will be Runequest: Roleplaying in Glorantha.
As part of this effort Chaosium has released a series of designers note.
Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.
Overall I applaud this project. It is a bit of downside that the folks at the The Design Mechanism are not involved due to creative differences but they are still in business and writing excellent material for the renamed Runequest 6, Mythras.
By now I am sure you are asking what this has to do with how not to design an RPG. While reading Part 2 I noticed this section
The RuneQuest percentage skills character sheet elegantly serves non-combat roleplaying through these two important design rules:
RPG Design Rule a: "If it's not in the rules, it's not in the gameplay." [ie, player knows it's not an important thing to think about]
RPG Design Rule b: "If, in a scenario crisis, a player can't find problem-solving tools on their character sheet, they won't look elsewhere for them." [ie, When players are flummoxed, they look to their character sheets for inspiration. And they won't be inspired to use any tool they don't find there.]I strongly disagree that the above are two important design rules for a RPG. In fact they are bad design because theylimit the flexibility that is one of the primary strength of a given RPG.
Consider this what is the point of a RPG? Over the year I have come to the conclusion that is not to play a set of rules in the way that we play chess, backgammon, Risk, Panzerblitz, Axis & Allies, etc, etc. Rather the point of tabletop roleplaying to experience a campaign by playing a character interacting with a setting where the action is adjudicated by a human referee. The rule are an a tool to facilitate this.
And to be clear, while I contend playing the rules may not be the point of tabletop roleplaying, which set of rules is an important personal preference, and referees find certain sets of rule work better with the way they run tabletop rpg campaign. Both directly impact the enjoyment of the campaign.
The first point made in Chaosium's post was that if it not in the rules it is not part of the gameplay. When it comes to tabletop roleplaying campaign, it is the setting that defines and limits what the character can and not to do. If the rules and the setting conflict it is the rules that need to bend. If the rules don't cover something that the character could reasonably do within the setting then it is the referee job to figure out how to adjudicate. Never say "Well it not the rules". This is especially pertinent to Glorantha which has DECADES of background details about how it does and does not work.
The second point is way off the mark. In my 30 years of tabletop roleplaying when I run into the situation where the players ONLY look to their character sheet for solution is because the referee is browbeat them into thinking that if it is not in the rules it can't be done. I always been a referee that said roleplay first, we will figure out what you need to roll second.*
I think the authors behind the new Runequest need to think long and hard about their approach if they believe the above two are true. My advice is to focus writing good tools to allow players to experience Stafford's Glorantha as various characters. To remember that anything they write will never cover everything that is possible in Glorantha. Especially considering the mythic nature of the setting.
* Many will read this and think I do a lot of ad-hoc rulings. Ad-hoc rulings are larger part of my style now especially given I am using systems like Fantasy Age and ODnD in the form of Swords and Wizardry. Neither of which are as detailed as GURPS which used to be my main system.
However for the most part when the rule cover a situation I run it by the book. I do this for practical reason. I am 50% deaf and it is caused by nerve damage that also effected my ability to process language. Being a tabletop roleplaying referee with a room full of people is a challenge for me at times. One way I cope is sticking to the book when I can as it allows me to be more consistent.
However it always been secondary to allowing the players to whatever when they want to "trash" my setting. I will spend time (sometimes too long as Tim and Dwayne have often pointed out to me) figuring out the right combination of rules to allow the player to do a reasonable action.
Only big changes was after reading Matt Finch's Old School Primer when I realized that I can use my considerable experience to streamline this. That I don't need to have a actual printed rule to make good rulings. I just need to remember how the setting worked and if there one thing I am really good at is remembering the details of various settings.