Tuesday, 2 May 2017

The Importance of House Rules

Greetings friends,

So for those who know me away from the Internet, you'll know that the past few weeks I've been heavily focused on following the delivery of Dark Souls the Board Game within the U.K.

This is largely because I was someone who backed the game, but also because I've spent the last 12 or so months loving the Souls videogames, even playing the original Demon's Souls on my PS3.

One of the things I have seen recently is how a large number of people view house rules.

Now this is interesting to me, because what one person considers totally 'normal' is apparently not to other people, and I like to explore the hows and whys, because after all, we can only see the world through our own eyes and experiences, so trying to understand from the views of others can be of great benefit.

***

My stance is really simple.

I love house rules.

I do not think there is a single game I have played where I haven't House Ruled at least one thing.

It's just how I game, I find something I like, and I try to make it better.

Sometimes these additional rules make the game less enjoyable, but more often than not, it becomes more enjoyable.

Others do not share this opinion.

Over on the Dark Souls Board Game Facebook Group, I have seen countless people who say such comments as "the designers developed the game, we should therefore play it as it was intended".

I can see where they are coming from, but if a different/additional rule will either make the game more enjoyable (or in some cases, turn a not-enjoyable game, into one you do enjoy) then what harm is there?

I know for the past few months I have been going over the Dark Souls rulebook and changing rules for my own play, some of which are done to make sense to me such as the rule about death of a single player resetting the encounter. Another rule I have changed is about losing 'sparks' or lives when you voluntarily reset the encounters. For me this change gives players control over how long they play, and if they want to spend an entire evening grinding the same room repeatedly in order to max their stats and get the best gear, then they can do so, after all in the video games you can pretty much do the same things in order to get higher levels. It isn't without tradeoff, what you gain from additional currency, you lose in time.

These are my rules, and after playing some games over the weekend, I can honestly say that they have already made my experiences more enjoyable.

So then, with that in mind, surely if I, and in this example, the others I am playing with, have more fun, then that is a great thing? It is win/win, right?

Not according to some...

***

I remember a number of years ago, when the company Wyrd moved Malifaux from edition 1.5 to 2.0, there was a similar discussion right there about this exact sort of thing.

From what I remember going back, there were maybe 3 or 4 camps of public speaking players. You had those who jumped on board with the new edition, you had those who were adverse to any change at all, then you had those in the middle who wanted to pick and choose from either edition, and of course you had those who didn't give a crap.

I remember I was in the camp who wanted to pick and choose rules, to stick with what we liked from 1.5, and add what we liked from 2.0 (pre-measuring for example). I even remember a certain someone who tried to rally those of us who thought similar under a banner before being required to shut down proceedings, and it was these actions which lead him and I to become friends, so that's pretty cool in a way...

I remember at the time, there we so many who hated the idea of house rules, who said quite adamantly that unless the developers have declared it to be a hard rule, that it didn't count and shouldn't be followed.

Others of course gave reasons that made more sense to me, such as tournaments. The argument meant that tournaments needed to follow official rules so that anyone who attended knew straight off the bat what rules to follow.

This does make sense to me, but then there is the discussion of 'Comp', something I understand became popular during the Warhammer Fantasy Battle (WFB) days. The idea was simple, when you signed up to an event you were also given (nowerdays via a digital download) a set of custom rules, such as points adjustment for models, banned/restricted models, and of course adjusted rulesets.

The idea was straight forward, that it was the responsibility for every player to familiarise themselves with these custom rules, just like it was their responsibility to familiarise themselves with how many points they were allowed to take, or where the venue for the event would be.

***

Ok, so I have given my argument for why house rules are 'good' in my opinion, but why are they important? Why should they be encouraged rather than discouraged?

Well, for me, from a cognitive view point, it's for two reasons.

For starters, no game design team is infallible. They/we make mistakes. Lots of them, a lot of the time. Things are made overpowered, and underpowered, must take, unplayable, unfun, nonsensical, and of course, ill thought out.

A game designer can not test for everything, and even if there is a mass market open beta, there will still be only a select number of combinations that will be tested, compared to the almost limitless combination when the project is set loose in the wild.

In some cases these house rules, or 'comps' will make the game more balanced for their select meta. In other cases, they will add whole new ideas that you and your team had never imagined, and just because they are different, that doesn't make them wrong.

If anything, I would say that game designers should not only actively encourage house ruling, but they should get waist deep in those house rules themselves, experience what is new and different for themselves.

***

Who knows? Maybe I'm just talking out of my arse.

What I do know, if I had a game that was selling like hot cakes, I would be actively encouraging the player base to try new things, and when they do, to share them with us...

And who knows, maybe people would then find those house rules being added into the next revision of the ruleset?

Until next time, stay safe, and be excellent to each other!

- Your friendly neighbourhood Doctor Loxley

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