Have you heard the news? Changing the rules changes how the game works!
I know I've heard the news--pretty much every single day since I found out people talked about games on the internet.
You can hear about it on DIY D&D blogs like this one where people talk about how having low hp makes the game more about outside the box solutions, you can hear about it from game designers when they talk about how their game cleverly incentivizes this or that, unlike all previous games.
And this is worth saying--if it's worth talking about games, you might want to talk about how they work.
But you know what changes how games work way more than changing the rules?
New ideas about what kind of fun things you could have in the game.
I have a game. It, like all games, was not custom-made for me and therefore is flawed. But with a couple kicks, it does exactly what I want it to do. That's a trivial problem. What I want is ideas about what to do with it.
Matt Finch put out Swords & Wizardry--as game design it's fuck-all, just a retread of what's already in D&D, and Matt will readily admit that: it'a just a tool of convenience.
He then got on to the much more relevant business of producing new ideas--Spire of Iron & Crystal, Tome of Adventure Design. That's where the innovation is.
Same with James Raggi: Lamentations of the Flame Princess has a few clever updates to the D&D Basic rules, but the supplements have hundreds of useful ideas of what to do with any game once you have it going.
The ways changing the system changes the game experience are harder to explain than the ways changing the content does but they aren't actually more important.
You found out a new, better, way to tell a player, in game language "You can play a wizard with a sword". Good on you! Now it's time for the first session, and the one after that, and the one after that and the one after that for a year. Do you have any ideas about how to fill all those hours?
I wonder about the personal gaming experiences of people who spend all their time under the hood trying to build a better mousetrap and apparently no time building new content.
If they're designing tabletop RPGs, presumably they've been playing them for a long time. And if they've been playing them for so long, why are they so convinced games are in crisis and that the best use of their time is addressing this crisis?
-Have they just, for a decade or whatever been unable to figure out how to make existing games work for them? Despite continually playing them?
-Are they designing for some imagined audience they don't belong to? Is that why so much of it seems so passionless and condescending?
Y'know Kenneth Hite? Mr RPG Creativity? That guy runs straight up Call of Cthulhu. All that time hanging out with Robin Laws and he's still just playing that old thing. Because he's busy thinking up what ideas to put in the damn game, not endlessly replacing hubcaps.
It's like the Dungeon Bastard said: what edition should I play? Whatever fucking edition is there, man.
Y'know that guy who spent all that time ten years ago talking about how System Matters? The best games yet produced by all the people who believed him all basically just say "Here's a new system to do that thing You Always Had Trouble With. Now go make up your own content".
Well thanks, but you did the easy part and went and left the hard, interesting, infinitely-extendable part up to me.
If the game's got three rotating groups fighting each other on a jewel-tinted Salvador Dali landscape of war machines vat-bred from the cast-off DNA of titans who died defending the planet from the eminent return of demons that rewire physics by modulating the screams of their sacrifices who the fuck cares if it's a skill system or race-as-class?
If it's out of tune: by all means tune it.
But then if you don't fucking go somewhere in that car? Why even bother, Captain Slow?
Innovation is great, but most of the real and useful innovation I've seen hasn't been "Oh let's count d6s instead of d100s, that'll pack 'em in!"--the translate-and-die tricks in Death Frost Doom, the game-changing, plot-derailing things new spells can do in Rolemaster and Dungeon Crawl Classics, the way the One Page Dungeons organize content and deliver a dungeon, and the cool knock-on effects of Jeff's Party Like Its 999 table--there's some innovation I can actually use, not a patch for a problem I never had. They assume the pencil works and then go and draw something with it.
Here's a double dog dare:
Let's see a Dungeon Dozen-equivalent for a game like Dread--new, interesting set-ups and hacks with twists for that game every day.
Let's see a blog dedicated to new ways to use Shock for long term campaigns. See if you can cross-pollinate with the Traveller and 40k ideas the DIY D&D community spits out three times a week like it's no thing.
You like tactical combat in 4e or 13th Age? Let's see some One Page Dungeon-style accessible crazy fucking over the top set-piece encounter madness--like WOTC's Dungeon Delve only not totally mundane and flavorless and pointless with like a Master BoneEater Ghoul and 3 Slavedull Ghouls and a candlestick. Like gimme a dungeon room encounter I can pick up and it's just evocative, beautiful, useful and nuts.
Just assume, for once, we actually all managed put the key in the ignition, turned it, and the car started rolling. Where are we going, you guys?
I did a bad thing.
1 hour ago