Whatever RPG you're playing, whatever the ruleset and learning curve, whoever the players, if you're going to have a great game, you need to be able to play it freeform.
I don't mean you have to play it freeform. I don't mean you should play it freeform.
I mean that the creative and social agreements and understandings and habits and processes which support freeform need to be there.
I am not sure if this is true. But it strikes me that it might be. And if it is, that gives us some interesting ways to view rules. Not from a design perspective, but from a participant perspective. Once you're able to play a game freeform, then rules can be:
- chance arbitration
- channels for expression
- more stuff that isn't at the tip of my brain
- a sort of second game on top of the freeform game
This is sort of the way RPG rules have been traditionally used. Sometimes that goes great, and sometimes not. Maybe success and failure are less about the actual rules being used in this optional or supporting paradigm, and more about the freeform-supporting structures beneath them?
I'm not just saying "system (the whole system, including soft skills and social stuff) matters" -- I think it's a little more specific than that. I think maybe it's the case that:
- no ruleset will ever provide a group everything they need
- every group will always do some of their own work to optimize play for them
- when you're doing your own play-optimizing work, looking at rules as optional tools for that larger endeavor is natural, and independent of how "good" or "bad" the rules are
I am not sure how much of all this I actually think is true, but it just jumped into my head and I wanted to share and see what y'all thought.