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Required for Fun: Do We Need All That We Think We Do?

Yesterday, while talking about the future of gaming, the question was asked by Ravyn if all the technology I mentioned was really necessary.  Obviously, the answer is “no, it’s not needed at all.”  However, that got me to thinking, which is always a scary thing.  What do we need to role play?

Role play is quite possibly the oldest form of play in our lives, if not in history.  Early role playing games for many of us were the classics: Cops & Robbers, Cowboys & Indians, etc.  Rules consistent of nothing.  The arguement we all heard started with “Bang! You’re dead!”  And was followed with the inevitable “No I’m not” response.  The typically female equivelant was playing mother to their dolls (even then, girls were ahead of the curve!  They played with miniatures while us boys were LARPing ;)).  Even with the freeform nature of what we were doing, we loved it in spite of the arguments.

All we needed was a rain-free day, some friends, and plenty of time before the street lights came on.  We might have props (toy gun for example), but we adapted well enough without it (fingers make good enough guns after all).  Rule disputes were handled simply by letting it go.  We could do anything we wanted to so long as the laws of physics were obeyed.  After all, 8 year old kids tend to not defy gravity very often.

With the lack of crunch, we all enjoyed ourselves.  It was the purest form of role play, and it planted the seed that lead many of us to take up role playing as a hobby.  We didn’t need dice to tell us if we shot the bad guy, we just shot him.  We needed need a DM to determine if we could do something, we just did it (or said we did it).  We needed need to reference books to see what spells we could cast, we just cast them.

Amid all the edition wars, both on this blog and others (and I’m just as responsible as anyone else),  I think we’ve lost sight of the simple fact that we play a game.  Nothing else matters so long as we have fun and don’t ruin anyone else’s fun along the way.  So long as we do that, we’ll be in good shape.  Not just for today, but for ages to come.


September 10, 2008 - Posted by | RPG | ,


  1. But I have a magical gun of robber slaying, it’s got a +9 against robbers! Plus I cast Mordenkainen’s Magical Indian Watchdog, which lets me see all cowboys coming so I can dodge cowboy bullets.

    Comment by Liambic | September 10, 2008 | Reply

  2. Great article! Well put.

    I’m often kind of amazed at how many people devour rulebooks and worry and adjudicate specific rules, and sigh and roll their eyes when a ruling doesn’t go their way.

    Heck, the most enjoyable times I’ve seen in play have come when the GM broke a rule.

    Comment by Brent P. Newhall | September 10, 2008 | Reply

  3. @Liambic: Yes, but the robbers have Can’t Hit Me cast, which gives them +22 to their AC. Sorry about that 😉

    @Brent: Thanks for the compliment. You’re right, I’ve been the same way. Sometimes, the rules seem to get in the way of fun. Other times, they keep it a bit more fair than those old days.

    It’s just a shame that we’ve lost touch with so much of that 😉

    Comment by Tom | September 10, 2008 | Reply

  4. While I agree with the spirit of this article, I feel obligated to say that the rules do exist for a reason. If it were not for the rules, an RP session would consist of a face-to-face Yahoo chatroom, everyone doing what they want when they want without having any sort of structure.

    Like anything at all, rules taken to the extreme dampen the fun of the game. Likewise, I’ve played under DMs before that used almost no rules, completely and arbitrarily adjucating everything that happened. I hated it with a passion, because nothing was consistent. One minute I could do A, B, and C, and the next when I tried to do A my arm broke in 3 places. Things like that.

    The rules are what keep it a fun, consistent, intellectual, exciting experience. That said, there are of course times where the published rules either a) do not fit the desires of the group, b) do not cover the issue at hand, or c) are not appropriate for the current genre/encounter/etc. At these times bending, breaking, adjusting, rewording, reworking, or totally getting rid of the rule in question is perfectly acceptable. But any good DM should keep these to a minimum, but keep the conditions in which this happens consistent. Thus are born house rules.

    This is not to say that you need rules to have fun, by any means. You can have just as much fun RPing in chat or by post, or even just playing pretend (but even pretend has rules… after all, nobody let the weird kid from down the street play a ninja in Cowboys n Indians, cuz it was dumb). But to play the game (for it to even be a game period), you need rules.

    Comment by Liambic | September 10, 2008 | Reply

  5. I have to disagree about needing rules, but I never said or meant to imply that they weren’t useful. The rules serve a wonderful purpose, which is to eliminate the “you missed me” arguments that plagued those early games we all played. There is a purpose, and if there wasn’t a purpose, we wouldn’t have D&D, Cyberpunk, Star Wars RPG, White Wolf, or any of the other games people know and love.

    But I think that, as a community, we’ve gotten to far into the rules, and forget what purpose they serve…they serve to increase our fun, and if they don’t do that, then they need to be looked at hard and serious.

    Comment by Tom | September 10, 2008 | Reply

  6. Which is the point I was making.

    We do need the rules for it to be a game.

    Game (n): a competitive activity involving skill, chance, or endurance on the part of two or more persons who play according to a set of rules, usually for their own amusement or for that of spectators.

    But we don’t need the rules to have fun. And as I pointed out, taking rules to the extreme defeats the purpose of them. But to make a game a game, you need rules to determine who is successful, how high the obstacles are, how quickly you can progress, and so forth.

    Comment by Liambic | September 10, 2008 | Reply

  7. But the word “game” has other definitions:

    Game (n): an amusement or pastime: children’s games.

    No mention of rules or anything else. What children play, even with a lack of rules, is still considered a game. Hence, we don’t need the rules for it to be a game.

    We need the rules to keep from people punching one another when we disagree with a call 😉

    However, despite the verbose arguments, we seem to agree on the vast majority of things on this. The rest is just semantics 😉

    Comment by Tom | September 11, 2008 | Reply

  8. The author here makes no distinction between role playing and an RPG. We need rules and things for an RPG.

    Comment by Jack Colby | September 11, 2008 | Reply

  9. My lack of distinction was intentional actually. We do need rules for role playing games, but we don’t need rules to have fun role playing nor do we need role playing games to have fun.

    RPGs are a blast, otherwise I wouldn’t be here, but rules don’t need to be massive or complicated, just not get in the way of a good time. Whatever form that takes is just fine.

    Comment by Tom | September 11, 2008 | Reply

  10. Okay, here’s the end of this, lol…

    We do need rules for games as adults.
    We don’t need rules for fun.

    And semantics can be important. After all, I know I don’t have the Silent Blog feat XD

    Comment by Liambic | September 11, 2008 | Reply

  11. I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree on the semantics then 😉

    Comment by Tom | September 11, 2008 | Reply

  12. If you don’t want to play with rules you might as well just write a book about the campaign you wish you were playing, or go do storytelling in a chatroom. There everyone can do anything they want at any point in time, from killing your character to teleporting between realities at a whim. The moment you say, “Bang, you’re dead!” and your victim replies, “No I’m not!”, he’s just implemented a rule in that you cannot kill him so easily.

    Nothing exists without rules.

    Comment by Lilyth | September 12, 2008 | Reply

  13. Sure it can exist without rules, it’s just chaos.

    I never said that rules don’t serve a purpose, and I’m not advocating playing without rules. I’m just saying there’s no reason to get hung up on the rules.

    A better way to say this, and simpler way, is to say it like this:

    Role play exists without rules, but rules bring order to role play.

    The rules make sure it’s fun for everyone, and is vital at this stage in our lives, but role play itself doesn’t need the rules. It just gets aggrevating really quick if there aren’t some kind of rules.

    Am I making any sense?

    Comment by Tom | September 12, 2008 | Reply

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