Intent vs teh Roolz

Intent vs teh Roolz

Random thought fell out of my brain so, yay, now it’s here.

When you approach a game with the purpose of extracting maximum fun, how do you do that? I’m going to charitably assume that that’s what everyone does, because that’s what I do. Uncharitably, I’m sure there are folks who just want to see the world burn. Whatever, they can answer as well.

I propose there’s an intersection of designer intent and the rules as written, colloquially referred to as RAW (I’m sure everyone knows this but just in case). And I propose everyone’s approach falls somewhere inside that grid. But nuanced answers are boring! Now you draw a line in the sand. 

So on one axis, you’ve got what the creator(s) intended. Maybe they’ve expressed it through procedural design, but let’s also take into account fiction, background, situation design, online conversations, literally everything and anything the creator has ever said about the game. 

And on the other axis you have the RAW. Straight up procedures, possibly with fictional context baked in but maybe not! Fiction-driven procedures (like says PbtA moves or Burning Wheel’s Emotional Attributes) are kind of new-ish but are also sometimes entirely absent in even very modern game designs. I’d actually call Fate’s Aspects fiction-agnostic — hold up and listen for a second — insofar as that they are mechanically identical. They all compel the same way, they all provide identical bonuses, and so on. The fiction and the procedures are completely disentangled. 

Let’s not get tied up in definitions, unless that’s your thing then I’ll invite you to start your own thread. Anyway! Vote! Or don’t, if you reject my premise outright!

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0 thoughts on “Intent vs teh Roolz”

  1. As someone who only recently started understanding and contemplating designer intent at all, this is a tough question.

    I suppose I fall into “Designer’s Intent within the RAW” because I don’t know any better or any different. If it isn’t made clear within the rules how I can best massage the rules to work to my advantage and create the type of fun the creator intended, I can’t possibly know what they wanted.

    I guess?

  2. Designer’s intent within the RAW comes the closest I’d say. 

    My approach is: RAW first and then clarifications/input given by the designer somewhere. 
    Meaning I will read Vincent’s blog/the BW Forum and learn extra stuff there that helps my understanding of my RAW.

  3. It really depends a lot on the game? If I’m playing a game where the designer’s intent is evident through the procedures (e.g. Monsterhearts) I’m going to settle into them with a contented sigh and mostly just trust that what happening as a result of procedures is what’s intended. If I’m playing a game where the designer’s intent seems not to be communicated well through the procedures (e.g. Spirit of ’77) I’m going to rely a lot on the supplementary materials and GM techniques / playcraft I know to make it happen, and generally be wary of the procedures. If I’m playing a game where the designer’s intent and the procedures seem to be at odds (e.g. GURPS Supers) then… who am I kidding I just won’t play that game.

  4. In theory I start with the RAW and stick to it until it becomes crystal clear that it won’t work. That might or might not be before I play. After that, same applies to the designer’s intent. If I end up having to ignore both, I’ll play something else rather than persist (though I’d finish a session in almost all circumstances).

  5. Break RAW as needed, disregard Designer’s intent as needed. They need to bring fun to the table at a reasonable cost (of time/effort/snacks)

  6. I mean, ultimately the designer’s intent and rules as written don’t matter. You are not all there to mutually venerate the rulebook or some shit. The final outcome is you and the people you are playing with need to work out some fun co-activity in all the ways normal people work out fun co-activities. The rulebook never relieves you of those responsibilities.

    As a practical concession, though:
    A) I try to take it in good faith that the designer has put a lot of thought into what’s going into the book, and the text represents an earnest effort by another human being to communicate some sort of insight. Making an effort to hew to the “designer’s intent” represents an effort to celebrate the cultivation of such insights.

    B) I try to take it in good faith that the designer put a lot of work into making rules which would lead to interesting and fun gameplay, rules that represent a distillation of some really fun game that they have already been playing. Communicating this sort of thing is really hard! Rather than be a know-it-all and assume I know better, I’ll give the rules a shot as written. Sometimes really neat features in rules are only observed once you put them into play with other people.

    C) There’s an unfortunate history in the hobby where good rules and design weren’t really recognized. This led to things were “game designers” were really phoning it in and including rules for the sake of including rules. This understandably led to a culture where people assume the rules are crap as a matter of habit and throw out the rules immediately. I try to push back against this sad status quo.

    D) Games that let you down on A or B are ripping you off at some level. Why would you reward anyone with money for not doing the job you paid them to do? You are totally capable of making up your own broken shit without spending any money.

    E) I generally find fault with B more often than A, which I think is understandable. All the playtesting in the world, you’re still going to overlook some explanation which somebody in your audience needed to make it click.

  7. I’m going to be boring now, but this is the stuff of religious and philosophical schisms. For the most part, I don’t believe there really is such a thing as RAW (though I know it’s convenient to refer to it that way sometimes), only various interpretations of the RAW by the designer and the people reading or hearing the rules. Apocalypse World is actually the game that drove this home for me because I experienced or read about cases where frustrated players would be pointing to the Principles and saying to the MC, “you should be doing this right here! Just follow the Principles!” And the MC would say back, “I am following the Principles! I just used this one down here!” And? Neither interpretation was wrong, it’s just…the interpretations were at odds.

    It’s not that I just shrug at all of this though. I think the conversations about interpretations can be incredibly valuable (and incredibly frustrating at times). I do want to know the designers intent if they want to talk about it. It can bring to light an aspect I hadn’t considered before. But sometimes designers say dumb shit because they’re human, like if they’re annoyed or haven’t had coffee yet or…their interpretation of what I asked differs from my intent! (The interpretations never end…)

    I care to discuss interpretations with non-designers because sometimes I just can’t find the sweet spot and other players can more clearly communicate it. Or I know the sweet spot well and see other people missing it. 

    I care about the designer’s intent, because if I’m frustrated with a game I want to know if I’m justified in punching the designer in the face or if it’s my bad. 
    (I am kidding. It’s never my bad.) 

    If I’m not finding the sweet spot of the game, and don’t see much value to me in it, I’ll let it go. But if I like a lot of things about it, I will grapple with it, reread it, ask other people about it, and see what the designer says about it. 

    If that doesn’t help, or if it only serves to underscore a thing I’m not into, I will let it go, or minimize what I don’t like and carry on. 

    TL;DR – I think pursuing what is awesome in a game is often worthwhile, but I will not go to the bitter end for some construct of designer or rule purity.

  8. Hmm. If I use the X-card when I run Apocalypse World, that violates Designer’s Intent and RAW, but not “Designer’s intent within the RAW,” because it’s external to the RAW?

  9. (My scheme to extract excellent nuanced thoughts on this via reverse psychology is paying dividends! Next week: definitely do not tell me your tricks for getting traditional players out of a defensive creative space! And I don’t want to hear anything about your favorite take on exploration.)

  10. I read charitably and assume that everything that’s in there is in there on purpose. If it doesn’t work, then it’s time to figure out if it’s because something is missing, designed poorly, or it’s my fault.

    (It’s almost always my fault)

    This is not the same as enjoying the game! I’ve played plenty of games “right” that weren’t really my thing, and I’ve played games “wrong” and had a great time.

  11. I answered “designer’s intent within the RAW”, in the sense that sometimes designers’ commentary can be used to resolve ambiguity or lack of clarity, but mostly I like to play by the rules and if playing by those rules isn’t fun then why play that game?

  12. I like to hew close to RAW on my first play of a game, but once I know what I’m doing, it’s OUR game… if we want to start PbtA with everyone knowing the advance moves, as long as we go into it with eyes open it’s fine.

  13. Well that all depends on the skill and intent of the designer, and on whether or not I fuse with it, yes?  While I like to say I cleave to the RAW, this is actually a case by case question.

  14. My initial impulse is to try to play the RAW—if I didn’t want to experience new ways to play, I wouldn’t be trying new games. I presume that the RAW encode the designer’s intent until proven otherwise (such as text making it clear that the intent is not the same as what the RAW produce, or communication via other channels). If the game works by playing the RAW, I’ll probably never go looking for the designer’s intent. If it doesn’t work, or there are ambiguities, then I’ll attempt to find and use the designer’s intent to fix/clarify. 

    Once I’ve made my best effort to play the game intended, then if it’s not my cuppa I’ll either change it, or say “ok, that’s how this game plays; it’s not for me” and grab the bits I like (if any) and play something else. 

    If the rules don’t work, but I like the designer’s intent, I may try to fix the rules to actually reflect that intent. Or, again, I may just move on. 

    But, similarly to what others said, I want to presume that the designer attempted to create and write down a good game, so if it’s not working I first presume that I’m missing something, then that the RAW fail to capture the actual game that the designer plays, and only if neither of those turns out do I decide it is either a well-done game that’s not for me, or a poorly done game (sometimes figuring out between those last two is tricky).

  15. At first I was all option 3, then I actually read what Paul Beakley was talking about with respect to “designer’s intent” and had to go with option 2 for much the same reason as Dan Maruschak   “Designer’s intent” wasn’t quite what I thought it was at first glance.

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