Write a Rulebook Already

I delivered this rant at the hour of the rant at Solmukohta (a Finnish roleplay conference) in 2012. Since it was a rant, I cursed. Please forgive me.

Write a damn rulebook.

Rulebooks are first and foremost, books. Do you have something against books? Write a damn rulebook.

A short rulebook – you know, something that’s only 70 pages or so – builds community pride. Everyone who’s touched the book, copyedited it, illustrated it, come up with arcane rules for it, or argued vociferously about the minutia of those rules feels responsible. It takes a community to create a rulebook. Are you against communities? Write a damn rulebook.

Rulebooks are great for fitness. The triple set of D&D manuals weighs like fifteen pounds – hoist it in three sets of twenty, three times a week, and you’ll develop excellent biceps. Write a damn rulebook.

I get it: rulebooks are all about mechanics and flavor text, and y’all aren’t in to unicorns or saving throws. But mechanics aren’t all bad. I know that Nordic games are about pain, terror, and the death of humanity. But consider how your lack of mechanics might discriminate against someone who injured her tear ducts in an auto accident, or say I’ve paralyzed my face with Botox to the point where it’s incapable of showing human emotion. If I can’t visibly emote, why not just let me roll a d-7 — yes, a d-7 —  when you tell me that my entire family has been tortured to death by a slavering mob of post-modern malaise? Write a damn rulebook.

I know that rulebooks are hopelessly passé – you haven’t used them since the 1990s, or whatever, but let me tell you that 1990s nostalgia means that all those old tomes will be vintage and hip again. Write a damn rulebook.

What, are you afraid of trees? As someone who has personally killed…hundreds…with her work, I am here to let you know that they don’t carry grudges. Or knives. Write a damn rulebook.

They don’t answer any of the questions an outsider wants to ask, like “do I look stupid in my elf ears?” or “Must I really know all of the rules?” or “Will you still like me if I’m a shitty roleplayer?” But reading the rules, knowing how the mechanics are supposed to work can help mitigate concern. I may not know how to ask your character about her spleen cancer, but I’ll sure as hell know that if I hit you with my latex dagger you’ll take two body damage. Write a damn rulebook.

Rulebooks are darned useful things when they have glossaries. Let me give you a little example here. When I wanted to know what the word “freeform” meant last year, I asked a bunch of Nordic larpers for some brief, handy definition, expecting the query to take about five minutes and end in some rulebook. Instead, this simple question launched me on a fruitless two-week inquiry that quickly mushroomed from the simple question “what does the word “freeform” mean,” into a brain-melting eternal train of emails that had me questioning not just what larp was, but how anyone could know anything. Write a damn rulebook.

I know you’ve got theory books — plenty of them – and these are great for deep heavy questions, like “how does anyone know anything?” But they don’t provide conveniently easy answers needed for a working knowledge of your scene. If I want to know what a buzzword means, please don’t give me nine volumes of heavy theory. I’ve got back problems, plus rulebooks are supposed to speak to me in my language. As an American, I need you to explain it to me in monosyllables. Write a damn rulebook.

8 thoughts on “Write a Rulebook Already

  1. Pingback: Solmukohta Ahoy » Journalist, Editor, Author of Leaving Mundania | Lizzie Stark

  2. Hi LIzzie! Love your rant! It must have been weird for a bunch of Nordic larpers to hear you rant about mechanics like that; as “mechanics” are a bit outdated in relation to Nordic larp (and rpgs). But still; a good handful of nice points! Thanks for posting it!

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