Wednesday, June 4, 2014

House Rules vs. Accessibility

I find myself regularly disagreeing with the L5R 4th ed rule book on how certain things should work. It's not surprising really. I've been playing L5R for years. I also have a fascination and liking for Japanese culture. Finally, over the twenty some years I've been playing RPGs I've also found plenty of time to look into various aspects, and see various representations, of how certain things work. What kinds of things? Well, things like weapons. To be specific, how when someone is using a large spear like a yari one of the big advantages they have over a sword is their reach and the safety that gives them (which is a big part of why real samurai in the kamakura era used spears and bows more than swords.)

I could modify the rules to reflect what I want. It wouldn't even be a big change, just a tweak to a mastery ability that none of my PCs currently even use. However, in doing so I add complexity to my game. I take it a step further from the base game, and in doing so I make my game less accessible.
Why This Matters
Some of you are likely scratching your head and wondering why I care about the accessibility of my game. The problem is this: when you agree to run a game with people the only common thing everyone has is the rule book. Every step you take away from that rule book is a step you take away from that common ground. It is one more thing that someone new to the game has to pick up and learn. Quite literally, it is another barrier to entry to the game.

But A Table Top Game Is Pretty Small
This is a good point, and is ultimately the reason why I will likely go through with it. It is also why I've gone through with other rule changes I've made in this game. I have six players, I speak to them all personally on a regular basis, and I can explain to them any changes I've made to the rules and/or remind them of them in play. However, I've also spent a good amount of my time GMing running much larger games, and so I always consider that as well. Simply put: the larger your game, the less house ruling you can get away with without running into problems.

Store Games and New Players
Something else to consider is for anyone who runs their table top games in a gaming store. Odds are you'll have players drop out. Odds are that you'll also have people ask if they can sit in and join. One of the awesome things about store games is getting to meet new people, but that is also one of the most dangerous parts about store games too.

This is where house ruling can quickly become excessive. It's not just because the person has more to learn either, but that you have to explain it and what it all means for characters they want to play.

K.I.S.S. Applies
"Keep It Simple, Stupid" is a good maxim to always keep in mind for these kinds of things, and it goes both ways. On the one hand there is no need to over-complicate a game that is being run and going along just fine. On the other, there is no need to look for reasons to not do something if you think it will be for the better of the game.

Just remember: the more you change, the harder it is for people to just jump into the game and play.

1 comment:

  1. Have definitely gone back & forth on this question in the campaign I run.

    I've typically leaned towards making the rule change & one reason is because of using a campaign website. I publish the changes to a section of the website for all players to see & have often urged them to review it. For new players you can say, check out the House Rules section on our website to see the rule tweaks we use. In my mind anyway, it lends credibility to the process when the tweaks are published for all to see anytime. In the heat of a scene, if a player is surprised by a tweak, it helps to be able to point to the House Rule section, where that tweak's been for months.

    Having said all that, there's always an allure to just playing a game straight up with no changes.

    By the way AL, I'm just getting started with L5R & would be interested in seeing your various rules tweaks for it, it possible.