In the most recent episode of Here Be Gamers! I made the comment that writing RPG rules is very different from writing wargame rules. I then carry on and say that I “hand wave” a lot in a set of RPG rules because the assumption is that players are working together and will cooperate to come to a conclusion that suits everyone. While this is true to an extent, it came across (to my ear anyway!) the wrong way and made me feel that I was saying I don’t make my RPG rules rigorous! The sentiment I was trying to get across is that wargame rules need far more “black and white” rules that cannot be quibbled over for “advantage” while the kinds of RPG rules that I prefer leave some room for players and / or GM to put their own stamp on things, based on situation and events. This still isn’t getting what I want to express across. Time for an example;
Jumping – for example.
In an RPG you will find rules that tell you how far a character can jump and what they need to do or roll to succeed at a jump. There is likely to be a bunch of modifiers and it will be possible to make it easily, just make it or even hang on by your fingernails. The rules will also tell you what you need to do if the roll fails and the character falls. Usually this will involve a variety of options depending on where and when the character falls. Thorough.
In a wargame I also tell you how far a model can jump and what you need to roll to make the jump. I will also tell you what needs to be jumped and what does not need to be jumped (a decision players or GM might make in an RPG). I will tell you how to determine the result of a fall. It is unlikey that you will have a range of possible results, as a wargame requires you (usually) to deal with many figures, not a single character, and there is a time factor involved the more detailed we get. The results of failure will be an instruction (an imperative?) not an option like it might be in an RPG.
When I write wargame rules, as opposed to RPG rules, I like to be precise and clear so both players do not need to make decisions beyond the scale I want them to (tactical, strategic, whatever). When I write RPG rules I like to provide options. That is what I was trying to say.
Stay tuned for a design diary covering the progress and steps I have gone through writing my wargame, Conquest of the Atomic Waste…
I have played a lot more RPGs than wargames, though lately I have been enjoying Pulp Alley quite a bit, if that counts. And I have played a few GW battle games. But the most significant difference in mechanics I see is that any real role-play game I’ve enjoyed has a game master (GM, DM, referee, umpire or storyteller–whatever your game preference calls for). Not only are the short-term options more debatable, but the final objective in an RPG can be totally open ended. And as evidence I ask, why is Knights of the Dinner Table so much more humorous than Larry Leadhead?
I totally agree that the addition of a GM is the big differentiator. Having an impartial referee to guide the story and adjudicate the rules provides a lot more flexibility for stories and game engines.