Friday, February 08, 2008

Fairness Rules!

I've been thinking a bit about rules that I've seen D20 as not handling well (or at all): disproportionately-sized opponents, facing, grappling, mass combat, surprise, mounted combat, and things like that. (The astute among you will note that many of these are related.)

Most of my thoughts have been along the lines of attempting to create relatively realistic models for these situations. Every once in a while, though, I get frustrated and think that the solution is to simply narrate things 'cinematically' with circumstantial modifiers based upon a few guidelines and a dose of considered judgment.

I keep shying away from this, though. I think I've figured out why.

I'd been telling myself that it was because the only real difference between the two approaches was the number and level of detail of the guidelines. Why not just have more of them?

I still think that's a reasonable critique (but there is an equally reasonable response to it) ... but I think that I've figured out that I was shying away from it due to concerns about fairness.

I admit that I sometimes worry overmuch about fickleness. I think this is an artifact of having played a lot of the old Storyteller system - and its tendency towards arbitrary skill lists. The fairness concerns aren't just related to fickleness in rules application, though. They are also about predictability and about being held to the same standards as others.

...but what "others" are there? Other PCs? If PCs are held to differing standards, it should be obvious to all involved... and easily noted and fixed. What about NPCs? Is there a reason that PCs and NPCs should be held to similar standards?

This is my real dilemma. With explicitly laid-out rules, PCs and NPCs are (at least nominally) held to the same standards. As a player, I get frustrated when an NPC gets preferential treatment. In part, this is because I've had more than my fair share of GMs with pet NPCs... but it is also due to the fact that I never understood the idea of, say, being a powerful wizard in a world full of magic artifacts who couldn't make one himself without tremendous hardship. This is one of the things I appreciate about the d20 system.

On the other hand, even as a GM, I don't have a problem when PCs get preferential treatment. It's their story, after all. fairness is only an issue for me to a point. Maybe what I need is a set of guidelines that is a bit restrictive for NPCs, but gives more leeway to PCs.

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