I started an experiment recently. It’s a game of D&D, except there’s a new rule that is causing the game to quickly change. Each session, each player makes up a new rule and, after I make sure it’ll work with the stack, it gets added to how the world works. Which kind of makes things crazy.
D&D has a lot of rules. Some of them make the game different from, say, Pathfinder, while others make it different from things like Clue or Monopoly. If you change the rules of one game, you end up at variation of it. This is technically a different game from where you started.
Matt Aside: If you shift enough, I suppose, your game might turn into another game, which is an interesting thought. I’ve actually seen it as my dad and I have been developing a game. What is the half-way point between D&D and Monopoly? I bet going to jail is probably the same…
What is the difference in a rule? What rules make something a setting? A sub-class or race? or a different game all together? If I wanted to sound noble, that would be my goal, but instead, I’ve built a version of D&D that for the first time in WAY too long is so fun to run and prepare for that it doesn’t feel like work.
New Rules Rule!
One of my favorite parts of world building is the propagation of a small change into a different world. Sometimes small things matter. Some times they don’t. It’s hard to tell what is important until the change is fully traced.
Let’s take a minor change of the rules from my first session and see where it can lead. “Spells can target creatures and objects.” This is an odd wording and it really matters for a specific spell. It’s meant for something like Thorn Whip. “You create a long, vine-like whip covered in thorns that lashes out at your command toward a creature in range” The player wanted that to work on objects. So, therefore, new rule.
There are always, however, cracks where more things can fall in. Take, for example, Teleport. “This spell instantly transports you and up to eight willing creatures of your choice that you can see within range, or a single object that you can see within range, to a destination you select. If you target an object, it must be able to fit entirely inside a 10-foot cube, and it can’t be held or carried by an unwilling creature.”
Now, there is a lot of weasel words in that paragraph, basically to keep it from doing what I’m about to do with it. But rules are rules. Spells should treat objects and creatures more or less the same. So that first paragraph of teleport would now read: “This spell teleports you and up to eight objects smaller than a 10ft cube or eight willing creatures.” Same words for holding objects and on range and stuff. But now, a wizard can take eight 10-foot cubes anywhere in a blink.
Now, the Tippyverse has some fun postulations on the effects of teleportation and trade. My first thoughts are on trade, but then, they get more… murderous. Possibly war-crimey. How many vials of Alchemist’s Fire could I fit into a 10-ft cube? Such a thought doesn’t change how most people live their lives, but war has changed forever, as has terrorism, of this one little change.
Of, admittedly, a higher level spell. How many fireballs can you cast before a 7th level? Like 12? a day? yeah, not the best way to destroy a town in D&D, but it’s doable.
Anyway, it now sounds really creepy for me to say I like thinking like this. Not the terrorism, but thinking on how a simple change interacts with the world. And the fact that I have to do it on the fly and I have no real control over what’s coming at me is terrifyingly fun.
Rules on Rules
Spoiler alert: I don’t let the player exactly decide the rule. I mean, the rule is their idea, but their wording is often not quite right. I need to have a rule that is adjucatable. Sometimes it’s okay. I mean “Halflings can use their Bonus Action to hide” can be used verbatim. Getting something like “Okay, so if you’re lawful good and you’ve got a prisoner of the opposite alignment, and they’re all tied up, but if you’re chaotic good, and there’s a prisoner-“
Yeah, my eyes glazed over and I took over this request, which is how we got our “Wonder Woman” rule, so called because every rope is now a lasso of truth. Interpreting the game world into easy to understand chunks is the DMs job.
I am surprised I haven’t had to activate my meta-rules on my players yet. I have a few rules I wrote down to prevent things like paradoxes and player buffing. Everyone’s been a fair sport and I haven’t had to get nasty. Which is cool.
Matt Aside ” I know this is my game mode and I think about it more than others, but I would be bringing in some crazy rules (hence the name chaotica). Like “Rangers are immune to direct damage from their favored enemies. Things like that.”
I’m willing to work with people and make cool rules. But only their first one is absolutely catch free. Later ones have a cost, even if its just a roll to limit their rule. I’m still figuring that part out. I do think it’s fascinating how every rule can be built to benefit the players, and yet- no matter what, I can find a way to make them regret it later. (A list of the new rules is here. )
Not that I’ve punished players for these rules. Far from it. The new rules have only been window dressing on our story so far
Oh, what a world
I do love a good world building. One of my favorite parts of a world of my own is I can discard all of the prejudices of the Forgotten Realms, the most common setting in 5e. Even if you don’t play in it, the Monster Manual is seeped in it. I’m cutting myself free from all of that. For instance, today, I decided that the standard giant roster was too cliché. Giants aren’t nessicarily evil in my world. They aren’t based on elements. Maybe I’ll use time? So Dusk giants and dawn giants? That sounds cool. No idea what it means, other than if my players meet a giant today, I have to describe him instead of just saying “It’s a fire giant.”
The best thing about the rules system is that I get to do on-the-fly world building, to determine how that night’s rules would change the world. It’s very exciting. This Saturday an interesting rule was introduced, the first rule that makes me ponder my procedure. While I’m not sure if it’ll be more interesting and not annoying later down the line, it does change the world a lot in ways. I’m still figuring all the nuances of it. The rule is #11 on ly list, background music for fights.
My first immediate thought, one I’ve already used on the party, is that one side of the battle can be alerted to combat before it actually starts. This means that one side, mine on Saturday, gives up the element of surprise when combat starts, even though the players weren’t sure what they were fighting. Extrapolating this, instead of having an eye out for trouble, one would likely have an ear out for combat.
I feel bad for assassins and highwaymen. They have it rough. You can’t easily kill someone in the dead of night. Most murders happen in loud settings, street festivals, parties, in the middle of battles, things like that.
How reliable are the songs? Can you glean information from them? Does a polka mean Halfling, Barbarian, Great Axe, Goblins, or ambush? No idea.
When is too “much?”
This is a question I don’t know the answer to. I want to tell a good story. That’s my main motivation. The rule changes just keep me interested and invest my players in the world.
I’m already considering nixing both of the rules Zach has put forth. The thrown weapons rule has a lot of moving parts in it. No one has used it yet, either.
The music rule is interesting, but it doesn’t really fit the world. It’s a one off joke from Order of the Stick or Spaceballs. It would fit right into those meta-acceptance worlds, which is not what I want this world to be. I’ll give it the old college try, at least, a good three sessions. But I’m not confident about it. I think Zach may think of D&D as a different game than I do, which will need addressed.
From here, what happens? Where do we go?
Well, I’ll keep running the game, of course. And see where the world grows. I have some ideas for longer story lines that I’ve begun seeds for. And of course, my players will provide hooks for me. (Slime Jesus!) Ideally, I snag some more people and we’ll make it a right ol’ shindig.