Fantasy roleplaying rules, realised as a corpus juris.

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I. On sessions

WHEREAS we wish for the game to be enjoyable, and

WHEREAS rule additions need not be permanent, and

INSOFAR AS we envision this game being played by several people, simultaneously, in real time,

WE PROPOSE that additional principles shall be observed regarding time spent in session. In the interest of keeping the procedure moving, and not be upheld by the potentially endless minutiae of legal arguments, we shall strive to head off such arguments by adopting a test-driven, “good-enough” approach to new rulings. The perfect rule for a new situation can take time to agree upon, and not all present at the session will necessarily be equally invested in the matter. A quickly-formulated rule, on the other hand, will both allow play to proceed and provide valuable precedent for the further discussion of that rule by the interested parties after the session.


WHEREAS both hierarchies and the use of a chairperson can ease quick decision-making,

WE PROPOSE that we defer to more senior participants (with regards to the game), or even lend the most senior the role of chair, leading the discussion and deciding between equally-supported options.

Click for history and notes

This amendment was written around 2018-08-23. It can be seen as a version of that OSR mantra: “rulings, not rules”. It also owes to Eero Tuovinen as summarized by David Berg:

  • When uncertain how best to proceed, refer to the Point of play and Basic context, above.
    • The ref may lead the conversation, but everyone has an equal voice. Pay special heed to anyone with experience in this game, and give special skepticism to experience from other games with different agendas.
  • […]
  • Rules are there to connect the Point of play to the situation of the moment. Always do whatever best serves that purpose, even if it means breaking, changing, or ignoring a rule.
    • If any of your adjustments wind up being applied more than once, congrats, you’ve added a rule!

II. On the referee

WHEREAS it is nontrivial to combine the aesthetic preferences and creative contributions of all the players with all other constraints on the fantasy world, and

WHEREAS the notion of imperfect information is a valuable, if not crucial, component of interesting challenges, and

WHEREAS investment in a character facing a challenge might at times bias the judgment of outcomes, and

WHEREAS involvement in detailing a challenge might sap the enjoyment from applying oneself to that challenge (the Czege Principle),

WE PROPOSE that one participant (or possibly more than one) take on a special role henceforth called the referee, as follows. The referee takes responsibility for portraying the fantasy world, while the other players focus on playing their characters. The referee takes responsibility for presenting a world ripe for adventure and challenge, leaving to the players to figure out how to solve those challenges. The referee takes responsibility for keeping and revealing information about the world, allowing the players to stay closer to the perspective of their characters. Finally, the referee takes responsibility for resolving in-game situations fairly and objectively, allowing the players to choose whether to help in this endeavour or to be their character’s advocate.

Click for history and notes

This amendment was written around 2018-08-23. The referee traditionally holds a lot of power, and this amendments aims to make clear that each of those powers comes from a specific responsibility; any power not implied by any such responsibility is not necessary for the referee to have.

III. On established fiction

WHEREAS, while the challenges we apply ourselves to take place in a fictional world, revising that fiction to solve the characters’ problems would be an exceptionally cheap experience,

WE PROPOSE that the established fiction be held in the utmost respect, constraining all future proceedings and strategies from the moment we agree upon it. If an existing rule would force upon us results that do not agree with the established fiction, the rule should be changed before the fiction.

FURTHERMORE, we argue that while not part of the collaboratively established fiction, properties determined in secret by the referee should also be held as such. The main reason for this is that facts quickly become entangled with each other, so that a given secret of the world can spread outwards into details already divulged by the referee. With no way of knowing which details are pertinent to hitherto unrevealed plans of the referee and which are simply colourful details improvised when describing a compelling world, we will expect the referee to show their plans the same respect.

Click for history and notes

This amendment was written around 2018-08-23. It owes in part to Eero Tuovinen as summarized by David Berg:

  • Established fiction is an absolute constraint. If either the imagined world or a rule must give, the rule gives.
    • This does not mean the ref’s first word is always law. Refs are fallible and the players’ judgment of the fiction matters too.

IV. On the limits of established fiction

WHEREAS there are other considerations than the satisfying resolution of challenges, and

WHEREAS the established fiction will at times be vague or abstract,

WE PROPOSE that, quite contrary to a previous amendment, the fiction can be creatively interpreted, bent, or even revised when doing so serves the higher purpose of allowing interesting play to happen within a session. An example of this would be to concede the most outrageously unlikely happenstances because they bring about a set of characters such that all players are allowed to play.

FURTHERMORE, we acknowledge that despite our best efforts at clear communication, we might still at times disagree with each other about what was established. In these cases, one player’s fiction might be revised to fit another’s vision. In these considerations, we will strive to be fair towards both tactical, strategic and aesthetic choices made by anyone under a certain impression.

FINALLY, we acknowledge that even with the help of a referee tracking information unknown to the players, there will be cases of previously irrelevant information suddenly becoming crucial without having been established. Here, we propose to use a probabilistic model of the fictional world. With the characters’ lives at stake, it can prove difficult to determine fairly whether the dragon is in its cave, but much easier to judge the probability thereof.

Click for history and notes

This amendment was written around 2018-08-23. Its first proposition owes to Eero Tuovinen on character motivations. A key quote:

When PCs need to act in an unrealistic way for play to happen, let them, and perhaps fabulate post-facto justifications for why they’re acting that way.

V. On player characters

WHEREAS one player presumably finds it easier to act the part of a single character, and

WHEREAS we value both enjoyment and fairness among the participants in a session,

WE PROPOSE that each player should play a single character at a time, and that the characters played in the same session should be involved in the same adventurous situations.

WHEREAS the fates of fictional characters cannot be completely foreseen or controlled—in fact we would not have it be—

WE PROPOSE that we should strive to regularly re-evaluate whether each player currently has a character who is enjoyably involved in the session’s play. This leads us to consider situations such as characters joining, leaving or dying partway through the session, and how we can work to ensure the players can stay involved throughout. Even with each player playing only one at a time, a lot can be gained by allowing players a stable of characters to choose from in a given session.

WHEREAS the player character can and will be an investment for the player,

WE PROPOSE that the decision to take a character out of play, unless clearly forced by the established fiction, should rest upon the player of that character.

WHEREAS an intra-party conflict with high enough stakes could force a player to lose, abandon, or pass over a character in a manner that is rife for social friction between players,

WE PROPOSE that we choose which characters and situations to play such that the characters are mostly friends or allies, tackling challenges together; only playing out intra-party conflicts when we agree that this would be an enjoyable session and an enjoyable game.

Click for history and notes

This amendment was written around 2018-08-23. It owes in part to Eero Tuovinen as summarized by David Berg:

  • The players are a team.
  • The player’s toolkit includes:
    • a single Adventurer character with many game-defined capabilities, different from the other players’ characters
    • various means to assess the imagined situations (interpersonal as well as via their character)
    • a nearly infinite array of options — the only absolute limits on character behavior are imposed by the fictional space they inhabit
  • Adventurers are always focused on adventuring (you can imagine their lives beyond that, but they won’t show up in play).
  • When Adventurers try to do certain things, their capabilities will be applied to dice rolls to determine success.
  • The more that Adventurers achieve, the more capable they become, and the more grandiose their feasible challenge options become.

VI. On character abilities

WHEREAS the established properties of the characters within the fiction will quickly become important for the resolution of challenges, and

WHEREAS we are interested in challenges where we must “play the hand we are given”,

WE PROPOSE that the relevant properties and abilities of the player characters are written down, and furthermore that some (but not all) of these abilities are outside the players’ control.

FROM THIS, and also from the long tradition of role-playing games in or close to the style we enjoy,

WE PROPOSE that each player character has a set of numerical scores representing their basic abilities, and that these scores are determined randomly when the character is created; in addition, each player character may have other abilities, skills and properties that may or may not be randomly generated.

Click for history and notes

This amendment was written around 2018-08-23.

VII. On resolving uncertainty

WHEREAS we will surely face uncertainty in our sessions; both uncertainty because the established fiction is vague or abstract and uncertainty because our knowledge of the real world is uncertain; and

WHEREAS the probability distributions we assign to our uncertainties will almost surely not correspond to any singular, true reality, and

WHEREAS there is a long tradition of using funny-shaped dice in role-playing games,

WE PROPOSE the open die roll as a basic building block of our resolution procedure, next to the obvious ones of honest interrogation of the shared fiction and thought experiments asking what would actually happen; furthermore that our rules and rulings be free to use dice of various sizes, based on aesthetic preference and convenience as much as on realism.

Click for history and notes

This amendment was written around 2018-08-23.

VIII. On rewards and progression

WHEREAS variation is a useful tool for engagement, and

WHEREAS improvement is a particularly enjoyable form of variation, and

WHEREAS we believe that rewards can be used to incentivise those of our behaviours we wish to encourage, and

WHEREAS surviving and thriving through adventurous challenges could reasonably cause a character to learn and improve, and

WHEREAS the characters’ properties and abilities have a certain saliency by virtue of being written down,

WE PROPOSE that a player be rewarded for succeeding at the object of play—to find and best adventurous challenges—by being allowed to improve their character.

TO THE EXTENT that such improvements do not correspond to an improvement within the fiction,

WE PROPOSE that it be interpreted as a narrative conceit: characters who have lived through many difficult adventures become infused by legend, and we allow changes in our written conception of them to influence the fiction, letting them succeed at ever more unlikely odds.

Click for history and notes

This amendment was written around 2018-08-23.

IX. On the content of challenges

WHEREAS a common yardstick for all character promotes fairness, and

WHEREAS money as an instrumental goal is compatible with a wide variety of possible characters’ motivations, and

WHEREAS a lawless frontier of a lawful society invites a wide variety of valid strategies for tackling problem,

WE PROPOSE that our standard type of challenge should be this: our characters explore adventurous locations outside the boundaries or jurisdiction of their civilization, and their success is measured by the amount of treasure they manage to bring back with them.

FURTHERMORE, we propose that our fantasy world have a fairly stable currency known as the silver piece, and that the rewards are measured in experience points, where one experience point is awarded for each silver piece’s worth of treasure salvaged.

Click for history and notes

This amendment was written around 2018-08-23.

X. On combat

WHEREAS combat by its nature has high stakes and quick decision-making, and

WHEREAS one of those high stakes is character death, which carries a certain weight to us because of its potential effect on one player’s enjoyment, and

WHEREAS combat also has further potential for interesting drama, and

WHEREAS the gaming tradition has a long history of a focus (or perceived focus) on combat,

WE ACKNOWLEDGE that the rules we use to resolve combat situations will likely grow to be among our most complex ones, and that they require a solid foundation and a lot of thought; furthermore,

WE PROPOSE as that foundation the use of hit points and the combat round.

Our proposed hit points are an abstract, flexible, partly narrative measure of how many hits a character can take before they are in danger of lasting injury. From this follow quite naturally a number of guidelines, such as: a character cannot normally be injured if they have hit points left; a character with zero hit points left can be injured; a character can regain hit points by events that we take to increase their protection; and a character can gain more hit points as they progress by experience points.

Our proposed combat round represents approximately one minute within the fiction, and is taken to cover each character performing one main combat action: fighting, running away, casting a spell, or any other such attention-demanding thing.

Click for history and notes

This amendment was written around 2018-08-23. The idea of hit points as being partly narrative has a long history, but the direct influence here is Eero Tuovinen on combat:

Hit points are a super-power that is justified by constructive genre expectations, the Hero simply doesn’t get killed suddenly in the types of genres mentioned here. Once you understand and accept this, you no longer have difficulty with the mere fact that hitpoints protect high-level characters - they play by their own rules, and the most fundamental of those rules is that they are only occasionally in serious danger from swordsplay (sic).

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