Rules as Story

After posting my entry, “Three Questions,” I realized that i missed the most important element: Do the rules help you tell your story?

In my opinion, the most important element of any roleplaying game is the story. George Lucas once said, “A special effect without a story is a pretty boring thing.”1 I think the same is true about rules. If your rules aren’t telling a compelling story, then ultimately they’re pretty boring. On the other hand, if the rules are well written, and you use them to tell a compelling story, then you can take a good game and make it fantastic.

I learned this best when Wizards of the Coast first published the Eberron Campaign Setting. This setting takes many of the rules presented in Unearthed Arcana, and uses them to tell the story of a world created by dragons; sculpted by demons; and ruled by humanoids possessing magical, tattoo-like markings, called dragonmarks. When I first cracked open that book, and learned how they used things like action points, and metamagic components, I knew I was never going to look at roleplaying games in the same way again. This feeling was later driven home when I first played in the Mark of Heroes RPGA Adventure, “Ticket to Ride,” and was pleasantly surprised to see how the author had used rules for fatigue to create a sense of urgency in the game. After these two experiences, I started thinking more carefully about how I could use rules to create compelling stories and environments for my players. As time went on, and I developed more of these stories, I began to realize that not every story I wanted to tell could be told with the rules that I had. I would therefore need to create new rules, in order to tell some of the stories I wanted to tell.

Take, for example, the house skill set I created. I didn’t work on creating it until after I bought Expedition to the Demonweb Pits. After reading through the many roleplaying encounters presented throughout the module, I realized pretty quickly that if I wanted to play up those elements, I needed a skill set that was more conducive to running something like skill encounters.

I’m curious to know, how have you used rules to create compelling stories?

1. A point he later proved with Episode I.

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