That is why you fail – An analysis of the corrosive effect of Artpunkmanry in the essay ‘Never As Written’ by Luka Rejec

A reader linked me to a recent article by UVG author, 3rd generation Artpunkman and indie darling Luka Rejec, wherein he attempts to cope with what appears to be a perfectly reasonable if subjective and very negative commentary on his latest game by outlining his philosophy: It appears no one runs games as written!

This position is so untenable, so divorced from actually playing a game, let alone elementary reasoning, I did not just perform a double-spit take, I am still doing one. If all of existence were composed of nothing but a series of all possible double-spit takes, repeated infinitely, it would not be enough.

I am fondly reminded of an altercation with the dim-witted and foul-smelling Gus L. in the comments sections of tenfootpole, where he took blustery umbrage with my thesis that this Artpunk style leads to sub-optimal results. My position is simple:
A) it has no connection or understanding of the source material that inspired oldschool gaming
B) All the creative energies are directed into areas that are peripheral to the actual adventure or game that is to say, presentation, layout and art, rather then the substance and style of the game
C) The rules are treated as a hindrance, rather then a tool or even the object of the game

Which seems self-evident. The very point of No Artpunk (part 2 coming soon!) was to force people to engange and interact with the substance and fundamentals of the game and to dissuade the sort of easy stunt-writing that passes for good in this fallen age. Now we have here the position that states doing so is fundamentally impossible. It appears my position is certainly not without evidence. Let the fisking commence!

I doubt anyone writes a roleplaying book to suck joy and confidence out of people. I certainly don’t.

In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s not the book itself that leaves people dissatisfied, but a mindset that is quite common:

“a … game to run straight.”

I’ve seen people argue for roleplaying “rules as written” (RAW) and for running adventures “as written.”

I think this is impossible.

Not in the sense of “a hard thing to do” or “something I am not capable, but others are capable of”. No, I mean impossible quite literally.

The nature of roleplaying means that any roleplaying product is incomplete “as written”.

This is essentially a giant cope, and well worth mocking. The consideration that different people enjoy games on a different level is bypassed entirely, as is the consideration that perhaps, there is some error in the presentation or conception of the game, leading to a disconnect between the authors intent and the way the game is read and therefore played. Instead we take the bizarre position that playing a game as written is an impossibility akin to the creation of energy from thin air or two plus two equaling five.

As Written?

I guess the confusion happens because roleplaying is usually seen and sold as “roleplaying games”. It fits close to board games.

But the two are very different.

Board games are closed: players have a goal (defined by the rules) and procedures (defined by the rules) to achieve that goal. A good board game has clear rules that are easy to follow. A player can win a board game by mastering the rules and using the procedures better than other players. A player who does not follow the rules is a cheater or a bad player.

Roleplaying is open: players choose a goal (sometimes suggested by a playbook) and can use procedures (sometimes defined by the rules) to achieve that goal. Or they can just talk and invent other procedures. A good roleplaying experience can be had entirely without games, defined procedures, or rules. A player can’t win at roleplaying unless having a good time with friends is “winning”. A player doesn’t become a better roleplayer by mastering the rules and using the game procedures better than other players. Often this makes them annoying to other players (a “rules lawyer”). A player who does not follow the rules is not necessarily a cheater (the rules may be irrelevant) or a bad player.

This is the sort of breezy definitional legerdermain that passes for argument these days among Artpunkmen and should have been checked immediately by any comments section worth its salt. Notice that in his comparison Luka, prompted by the wild rearing of his amygdala, omits the word ‘game’ from his definition of Roleplaying, and thereby bypasses the point entirely. Why is the vast majority of oldschool games pre-occupied with obtaining treasure through heroic adventure and the vast majority of newschool games obtained with doing whatever it is the GM sets as milestones? Because there are procedures that determine what constitutes advancement and therefore worthwhile play. It is possible to play entirely without rules yet there are no play reports of long campaigns performed entirely without rules. Why is this so? Because the rules provide an emergent framework and system that can extend far beyond the range of any individual GM. In fact, it is creating systems that allow for an organic and internally consistent world that can respond beyond the GMs discretion that is the very goal a campaign should aim for.

The goal of playing an rpg is not roleplaying anymore then the goal of diplomacy is to impersonate 19th century military officers. Roleplaying is an outgrowth, an adornment of the act of playing the game of DnD that arose spontaneously and can add a lot, but in 9 out of 10 cases, it is not the goal of an rpg. If one was playing World of Darkness storygames then perhaps, we could say that roleplaying could be the goal, but in case of most games, and certainly the OSR, XP is given for killing monsters and obtaining treasure, so that should be the metric of ‘playing well.’ Did your party just die again to an easily avoidable encounter that you could have known was too tough? Did the blue-haired overweight flower-child select Tenser’s Floating Disk again instead of Sleep because it ‘better fits his character concept?’ Then you just lost at rpgs bitch! This entire position is centred around an ‘everyone gets a prize’ mentality that incentivizes being lazy, not figuring out how the fucking rules of the game work (and breaking them is most certainly bad, have you ever caught someone at cheating their dicerolls?) and being slovenly, unwashed and dim-witted in general.

Parts Of A Roleplay

Although rpgs include the word “games”, roleplaying is more like [collaborative] theatre or a poetry session. Board games are games, but roleplaying can happen without games.

Thanks for making roleplaying sound even gayer then it already is. Yes roleplaying can happen without games but as soon as you apply the framework of a game to the act of roleplaying it becomes a roleplaying game. You can apply a poor framework, as you did with Witchburner, and sessions can cause depression and existential malaise, or you can apply a good framework, as Gary Gygax did with D&D, and it can lead to years of gameplay, an ever expanding world, sexual potency, and becoming closer to God. It is the very fact that the framework is limiting which enables such richness and creativity.

What do I mean?

To illustrate, I’ll try and break the act of roleplaying into pieces. This isn’t some kind of global theory—it’s just how I think of roleplay.

The session: a discrete time when a group of people are roleplaying versus doing other stuff, like work or sleep or playing backgammon.

The table: the shared experience of one group of roleplayers playing one or more sessions together. A metaphor.

  • The players: folks getting together to invent stuff, play roles in a shared imaginary setting, and improvise what their roles do.
  • The roles: the imaginary characters, forces, factions or what have you played by the players.
  • The setting: a shared imaginary world in which the roleplay happens. May be based on a published work, a novel, a game setting, or an adventure module.
  • The rules: agreed-upon shared procedures for playing. May include games. May include chance or randomness. May be based on a published rule book.
  • The story(ies): reveals itself at the end of a session. It grows from the players’ decisions and their consequences. A story can be very different from any one player’s plan or plot for how a session will unfold.

These parts of roleplay are mostly without games. 

By games I believe the author means ‘scary math and dicerolling that limit my creative (f)reeeedom’ but this is again wrong and completely alien to actual observed reality. The way this is phrased is as if rules are a sort of optional adjunct to roleplaying games that may or may not come into play, so I ask again, how many groups do you know that play games entirely based on GM’s discretion? If a setting is to have consistency and weight, if the players actions are to actually matter, it must have attributes that are, in a sense, fixed, and cannot be altered by the GM on a whim, and there must be ways in which the PCs can interact with this imaginary world that are at least somewhat predictable so meaningful decisions can be made. Over time, if you are playing a game, rules are inevitable.

One can imagine it as improv theatre that uses a game, a roll of the dice perhaps, to determine which character wins a sword duel. The dice are necessary: if the actors had a real fight, only someone trained in sword-fighting could ever win, which would be boring.

But this pertains to any action the PCs are not ‘trained’ in (how many people do you know that are trained in survival? Hiking? Rock-climbing? Sorcery? Tracking?) and in conclusion, the only thing that can reliably be left to actual roleplaying is the social component. Procedures for any other type of meaningful interaction are absolutely necessary.

Games only intrude into roleplaying when fate or chance is needed to reveal the story.

This admission makes the whole already untenable point more untenable. It is already viewed as necessary that some agency outside of the GM be invoked to resolve matters in a fashion that is consistent yet varied, and the need for excitement is also stated. It is not an adventure (and therefore not exciting) if there is not some possibility of failure, and that possibility must be governed either by dice or by a set of interactional hierarchies (rock beats scissors, scissors beats paper etc. etc.). I.e. Rules. A Game. You can pretend to be an elf (or a woman). You cannot have a roleplaying game without a game.

Game Books As Play Scripts

All roleplaying books are to a roleplaying session a little bit like what a script is to a play.

Roleplaying books is not defined but I assume it pertains to either all roleplaying books (which is incorrect), or modules, which is wrong but consistent.

Reading a Shakespeare play might be enjoyable, but it’s very different from seeing one performed, much less performing in one. And every performance of a play needs interpretation: parts and deliveries fitted to the actors, tone and emphasis adjusted to the audience, costumes and scenes prepared to enthral here and now. And, during the performance, the players are best when they read the room and play to the audience.

Reading a roleplaying adventure module is similar, but the players are both performers and audience (and need less practice). The players preparing a session interpret a module: fit roles and characters to the players, adjust themes to suit mood and tastes, cut scenes that won’t work, and—again—read the room and play to the audience.

This is a poor analogy and does not relate to anything resembling how a module is actually used or the game is actually played. Has Luka actually ever played a roleplaying game? First of all, the GM prepares the adventure and fits it to his campaign, the players might not even know they are going to play it. Second, they don’t fit ‘roles and characters’ to the players unless perhaps they are doing a one-shot, they cannot adjust themes or mood to suit tastes, that is the GMs job, they certainly cannot cut any scenes that do not work. An adventure module is more akin to a video game level. A series of obstacles to overcome in order for the PCs to reach the goal or obtain some sort of reward. In an extended campaign, a module can just be plunked down and the PCs are under no obligation to explore all of it, and interactions might have wider repercussions. There is a lot of talk of themes but this is adornment, and I should point out almost no Artpunkman can muster any sort of theme beyond ‘misery’ or ‘being gay’, so perhaps it would be worthwhile to rethink one’s priorities.

Just like a script, neither a rule book nor an adventure module is a game or roleplaying by itself. The roleplaying is the living activity, the performance. Games are incidental for moving the play forwards.

If this is so, why are some games completely abandoned and others long enduring. Is it that there is a quality to the way they are constructed that generates long term vibrancy while others (cough! cough! Storygames cough!) are abandoned because they are airy tossfiddle?

A roleplaying book tries to anticipate how a session or sessions will work. It provides scenes, events, obstacles, choices, dilemmas, characters, and so on. A good roleplaying book will try to provide more tools for the players to cover more eventualities.

Why is the GM not mentioned? The differentiation is essential. The role of the DM and the Players it NOT the same. Also, no, more tools does not automatically equal better game. Consider the 900 page doorstopper heartbreakers, does anyone play those? It is what area you choose to cover, and the depth and ingenuity with which you cover them, that weighs far harder. I want to stress that this is not some 16 year old posting his first tentative gaming thoughts on tumblr (although I could certainly have been fooled). This is Luka Rejec, an OSR professional who writes modules for OSE, the largest B/X clone currently in circulation, and receives theoretically critical acclaim.

But, every roleplaying book is limited in three ways:

First, it is a product of its time and place and author. Every time a different group of players uses it, they are translating it to their own circumstances. This means the book changes unpredictably every time it is brought to a table.

This is a failure to abstract properly as the argument does not take into account the degree of change and any divergence in the neccessarily open-ended game is taken as proof that rules-as-written is impossible. Will there by minor changes in interpretation between different tables? Yes. Is my B2 campaign different from Gary’s B2 campaign? Undoubtedly. But if we take 100 games of B2, the similarities between them are going to be much higher then, say, the similarities between B2 and G1. There are still attributes that are recognizably B2. There still exists, even if we cannot pinpoint the exact spot, a point where most of us would say that the B2 Frank runs that replaces all the Goblins with Taliban and the players with self-replicating nano-machines is no longer recongisably B2. Also, a firm and consistent set of rules and procedures to run the adventure actually makes it easier to change, not harder.

Second, it is limited in how much information it can store and transmit. Each book leaves out things on purpose. This is a decision by the people making it. They can try to guess what will be helpful, but they never have perfect knowledge.

And one of those things that allows authors to figure out what to include and exclude is PLAY-TESTING, something you lazy @#!$!@^& might consider as an alternative to ‘guessing.’ Also if you have procedures to incentivize certain types of behavior, like gold for XP, it becomes much easier to anticipate the actions the players might take, once again underlining the deficiency in this entire approach.

Finally, it is limited by the nature of roleplaying as an art form. Every player at a table can push and pull a session in unexpected directions. The way a session moves will surprise even other players. The author of a roleplaying book has no hope of guessing where every session or any session will go.

Yeah but so what? You can anticipate the majority of events. There is no demand for perfect accuracy, merely one for utility. Either your scenario gives enough tools for the GM so the PCs can meaningfully explore the place (or participate in the murder mystery) or it does not and the module is useless to that particular group. If your scenario is useless to enough groups, it becomes known as a useless scenario. If the above argument is valid, it simply means that no game book is any good, which by extension includes yours.

Railroad Sidetrack

I know there’s some division. Some people enjoy structured roleplaying sessions that are a lot like board games. Others enjoy very fluid sessions, which are a lot like a writer’s room. Yet others want a preplanned storyline, like playing a screenplay.

I didn’t write this post to say that one is better than the other. Each is a tool—a playstyle that can be deployed for different effects at the table.

Cowardly equivocation.

The Unwritten Blessing

The open nature of roleplaying is a liberation for playful imagination.

Notice choice of words, open, liberation, playful. How mortally afraid are we, that anyone at the table could take anything that transpires there the least bit serious. I would be interested in a sort of breakdown of mathematical intelligence among the Artpunkmen. It has long been my suspicion, from interaction as well as reviewing, that Zak S and Patrick Stuart have a high verbal/creative but very low mathematical intelligence that enables them to come up with fun concepts but generally causes them to stumble when they have to work with considerations like scale, integrated systems of resolution or abstractions. Is there a self-selection in this process that causes this tendency to exacerbate over time? Low math guys go for Artpunk and start making their own artpunk, which is even less math/system until you get the position that you shouldn’t really have them anyway and they don’t matter? Food for thought.

No roleplaying product needs to be used “just so” as written for every participant to have a good time.

That is not the issue. The issue is that it should be useful as is, so any modification can be easily integrated into an extant framework. If I have to do most of the work, I might as well come up with something myself. If I read it for ‘inspiration’ I can just read Gene Wolfe.

A player running the material does not have to memorize all the material and all the rules. By adapting and improvising, they make the game unique to their table, more creative, and closer to their players.

It is not mandatory, but which creates the better game? A GM honestly absorbing the material, and making a few well-considered alterations, or a lazy, drug-addled pothead ad-libbing some shit on the fly and going ‘uhh….uh…fuck’ when he figures out he missed a crucial component to the adventure and now its a meaningless piece of shit and everybody facepalms and groans ‘NOT AGAIN LUKA, THIS IS EXACTLY WHY MR. GERALD TOLD YOU TO STUDY HARDER’.

A role player does not have to stick precisely to a character or storyline. They create unique characters with unpredictable story arcs and shared experiences that belong just to them and their table by adapting and improvising.

What storyline? Story is, by your own definition, something that is created afterward, as a result of play. A lack of firm guidelines for success and failure causes people to act in the manner you describe, like a competitive Stewey-from-Family-Guy impression contest. Short lived, short time preference, no impact. Spit.

A writer or game designer does not need to write a perfectly plotted module or a rule system where every rule locks into a flawless structure. Providing a toybox of procedures, guides, rules, moods, ideas, story seeds, characters, complications, scenes, and events gives the players a sandbox in which they can play to their hearts’ content and create stories no one author could dream of.

First, and this should be re-iterated, nearly any Nu-OSR toolbox I have seen is lazily thrown together junk that leaves the actual design work in the hands of the GM. It is what separates amateurs from people like Kevin Crawford, Alexander Macris or Gary Gygax, who actually consider how rules operate when they are integrated into a system and provide a robust framework that can be easily altered or expanded in the manner you describe. Your approach is just lazy. You don’t like doing the work. Creativity is fun, actually considering how that creativity can be integrated into a game system takes work, you don’t like doing that work or you are bad at it but you have to come up with elaborate rationales to avoid admitting that. And this is not a personal attack, in the sense that this is hardly a flaw unique to mr. Rejec.

Never As Written

Hence my call to all roleplayers. Embrace the NAW.

Writers and designers should accept that they cannot provide a total roleplaying experience.

Players should accept that every rulebook and adventure module is a skeleton that they must animate and make their own at their table.

And there we have it. A justification for incompetence. Not only should you not strive for making something that can be run as written, as a player you should just accept that nothing you buy will be runnable without you doing considerable amounts of work. Just ‘make it your own.’ Of course, guidelines to doing that would almost be procedures so we will omit those also. Incidentally, if you do want to buy something that you can run, pretty much as written (or with guidelines for conversion), might I be so bold as to recommend Palace of Unquiet Repose (now Electrum/Silver/Copper bestseller depending on the edition) and Red Prophet Rises (Gold bestseller). If you are out of cash, fear not, No Artpunk Vol 1. is a splendid collection of adventures that can all be run as written.

The meat and motion of roleplaying emerge over and again with each session and cannot be predicted or bottled with inks and papers.

That’s fantastic. So we won’t be needing any of your stuff then?

Finally, for anyone running or playing any of my settings or adventures: I’m just a person who puts words and pictures and toys together on a page. I’m no omniscient sage with a secret plan that can reveal a perfect roleplay. None of my works is perfect. None should be run as written.

And how glad we are to learn you will not even make the attempt.

There is no perfection, only the roleplaying that comes to life with every session when some friends sit down to imagine they were someone else, somewhere else, embarking on some quest with ends unknown. Players that fit their roleplaying to themselves will have a kind of perfection.

Continuum fallacy. Just because Perfection is an unattainable goal does not mean it should not be striven for or that quality does not matter, or that use at the table does not matter. You are making excuses for being lazy.

If you are going to pretend to make games that people can play, one of your tasks is to make sure that they can actually do so. Don’t fall for these self-indulgent attempts to lower the bar, and trick some honest module cobbling guy just looking for something nice to throw in his campaign to buy a busted shoddy mess with pretty layout. Do better.

Never as Written? Nuh uh. AAW.

Taking criticism is tough, but it must be done. Until mr. Rejec stops making excuses for himself and decides to rethink his ill-considered position, he certainly won’t get anything from me.

Canada is pretty good so far. Hope we don’t get nuclear war soon. More reviews soon-ish? Peace!

EDIT: I might as well take his postscriptum into account as it provides additional context that I might otherwise be accused of omitting.

Communication Post Script

And one last injunction: if a roleplaying session is not enjoyable, the players should stop playing and discuss why. Should an event be retconned? Should the rules and modules be changed? Are the players exhausted and would prefer some simpler fare, like Ticket to Ride?

It sounds like Ticket to Ride might be the superior alternative, if you are considering the alteration of modules and retconning of events to please a player base. This is all terrible and incentivizes the worst type of whining. No you do not stop play during a session even if you bomb hard. No you do not arbitrarily retconn events because the game has no meaning then. Best break out that Ticket to ride set.

Roleplaying is a language game, and language is often about communication. And sometimes, some games or plays just don’t work for some people at a particular time. And that’s perfectly ok. It’s ok to say when something doesn’t work for a person: that’s how folks figure out what works. After all, any time a group of friends do something together, they’re balancing and compromising and finding common ground, and that’s the joy (and often annoyance) of the human condition.

What are you actually saying, beyond the written equivalent of the heart-shaped rainbow-ray the carebears fire from their chests?

Of course there was a post- postscript.

Clarification Post Script

Some feedback I received suggested that I was lowering the bar for adventure design with this post. This could not be further from the truth, but – in a tragic way, this misunderstanding of my intent illustrates my point:

So not only was I not the only one to point out your self-indulgent narcissism but you are now doubling down on it by taking the position that anyone doing so is actually only validating your point. This is going to be special.

Every written text, on its journey from author to medium to reader, suffers information loss. Roleplaying, as a performance style of play, inevitably suffers more information loss than a book or a board game because it has more layers of interpretation between the designer and the eventual play experience.

I am going to give you a tip. Every time you start an argument with ‘Every […] has […]’ I want you to take a handful of ground glass (could be a broken bong) and contemplatively chew on it while mulling over whether or not it proves anything that you want it to prove. You are just pointing out its harder, but that only cements my point that you don’t want to do the work and are now making excuses for that. You are lazy.

There is an inevitable gap between idea, intent, and execution. Every rpg product is thus necessarily incomplete and doomed to failure. It can still be good. It should be good.

A buyer and a player have a right to expect a good product. But – every rp product will fail at some point: there will be edge cases, gaps, openings. And these are necessary to the structure of roleplaying. 

Equivocation. Everything is flawed, therefore making something good shouldn’t be the goal. You then hinder your own point by re-stating that quality is important. You then double down yet again, by implying that an rpg having flaws is actually good, meaning that your (presumably flawed) Witchburner rpg, is actually BETTER because IT HAS FLAWS.

It doesn’t matter. Edge cases are, as you say, on the edge. This entire line of argumentation is predicated upon an ultra-autistic interpretation of RAW, that implies that any deviation not covered by the rules is automatically invalidated. No you simpleton! Your Witchburner game missed THE FUNDAMENTALS and as such PEOPLE COULDNT PLAY IT EVEN WITH GM IMPROVISATION. No one is saying a game should cover all the eventualities, but it should most certainly cover the majority of cases.

That’s my point.

Listen, I fuck up some sentences and I have the tendency to repeat myself so take it with a grain of salt but maybe the written word is not for you.

It’s like books. The best book possible will still end with things unsaid. And it will, of course, end. The failure is part of the necessity of its existence.

If it is the best book possible (?) then leaving things open is not a failure but a necessary condition for its success. Why are we comparing books with roleplaying games? They are fundamentally different mediums. Why not compare calculators. The best calculator possible performs consistently across conditions. Why not make that comparison?

The ideal roleplaying adventure will be written in such a way that it is easy to pick up and play with minimal preparation. It will be enjoyable today and the sixty years later. It will work out of the box. It will have a wide audience. It will be memorable, and fun, and bring friends closer together.

Having to improvise a lot, or providing only a skeletal structure that people have to tinker with heavily means it cannot be run out of the box. Stop hitting yourself. I would have had some respect if you would have just come out and said: ‘The ideal roleplaying game will be written in such a way that it looks pretty on a coffee-table and can be flipped through and tittered and marvelled over endlessly and then put down again with a minimum of fuss.’

But, even this adventure will still have gaps and failings. It will be impossible to run as written. Words will change. Ideas will fall out of fashion. Jokes will not work anymore. Styles of play will change. The cultural context will be different.

Players will inevitably be exhausted by the gaps in the adventure. Because players are different. They will come with different concepts. A writer does not start a novel by explaining how gravity works, but someday a reader on a space station may be confused by many novels of Old Earth.

Yes enthropy exists what are you actually saying? Someone said ‘your game sucks’ and your counter is essentially ‘Perfection is impossible’ smug eye-closing optional.

An adventure will assume a certain play style and leave “obvious” things out – because to repeat obvious things is boring. leave some things out. Then, people from a different play tradition will have problems.

Yes but so what. This is a solved problem.

A 20 year old player from Virginia and a 40 year old player from Slovakia and a 60 year old player from Travancore will inevitably read the same text differently at the same time. And parts of it will fail unpredictably.

Yes so you write the work in a manner that makes it easy for your presumed demographic to work with and if a key percentage is unable to use it we can conclude you have failed. You still have to do the work dude.

Ideally, a roleplaying product will address as many issues and leave as few gaps as possible. But, this is a matter of practice, experience, and fit. Unfortunately, the solutions to this issue—of inevitable rpg failure—do not scale. They are at the levels of individuals and tables.

The conclusion, and I shit you not, is that failure is inevitable, and therefore Luka could not have done anything else, nor will he be able to do anything else in the future, to change that. Also you are wrong. They do scale, your users are going to fall into a few statistically likely categories and you can (and should) absolutely aim to please the majority of your supposed audience. Stop coping, stop making excuses, take a shower and clean your room bucko!

I hope to address some possible solutions in a future post. Roughly, a writer learns from their mistakes and does better in later products (my personal hope as a game designer), a player learns from their experiences and chooses materials that suit their tastes, and a table (and especially the player running a session) figures out what and how to adapt.

But that’s another topic and a future post.

A writer learns by taking feedback earnestly and owning up to their mistakes instead of profligating self-serving midwit-theories about the futility of ever trying to make something that can be run as written. If you had just written this paragraph in response to the feedback, we would have had the same take-away, although you would have looked considerably smarter in doing so.

I award this post 3/5 Bubble Boys.

A fine week to everyone, and remember: Gatekeep, Gaslight, Girlboss! Thank you.


101 thoughts on “That is why you fail – An analysis of the corrosive effect of Artpunkmanry in the essay ‘Never As Written’ by Luka Rejec

  1. This is why I’ve nearly abandoned the adjective “Roleplaying” for “Adventure”, as in “Adventure Games”. It’s easier to recruit using it too – everyone wants more adventure in their lives within risking a prospective newbie mistaking my offer for a night of therapy or kink.

    It would be so much easier if the hobby just entirely, clearly, and publicly split. The Venn Diagrams do not overlap.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “Adventure gaming” is definitely the superior label. It’s a historical tragedy than Fantastic Adventure Gaming has an unfortunate acronym preventing it from catching on past the covers of the LBBs. A lot of stupid shit could have been preemptively averted.


      1. I shed a tear every time I open one of my Arduin books and it says “Adventure Gaming”.


      1. Declining to insert “Roleplaying” in the category name shouldn’t be seen as a statement on roleplaying, anymore than declining to call them “dice rolling games” is a statement on whether dice are useful to play.

        The use of “Roleplaying” allows the essay you’re reviewing to argue from its primacy. It was put into the name because a minor element was the major distinction between it and other games at the time; on the surface it seemed useful because no one considered if it would invite and legitimize the redefinition of the category.


  2. I spent 5 years trying to run storygames and to make them as fun and satisfying as I knew rpgs to be. In the end I realized the type of games I ran when I was 15 were superior and with the wisdom and hardness of age I returned and ran the best games of my life. Even or especially games that focus on immersion and characterization run best when the hard work of designing scenarios and playtesting them is done with deliberation.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. In highschool and college I was a big Dark Heresy kid and everyone else came in through WoD. Deep immersion is cool but there was always something missing, and that something was the game part.


  3. You should review at least one his stuff, if you didn’t, already . He did an Official OSE module that haven’t got a lot reviews online, like the other modules. It’s called “holy moutain shaker”.


    1. I can put it somewhere on the list. My next one is The Dying Sword by U.B.C., then a donation, and then further into Jaqueys I think, but I’ll pick it up along the way.


      1. What really needs to go on your list are the ACKS modules. Review more good material and less junk! A recommendation of quality work is worth much more than a warning to stay away as a DM. At least more Jaquays is in the queue.

        By the way, I appreciate that you’ve been including maps in more recent reviews. It’s significantly bumped up how helpful they’ve been. Thanks for doing what you do.


      2. Awesome. ACKS has some real winners in its lineup that seem to have mostly stayed under the radar, in particular AX1, AX2, AX3, and their bestiary/lair compendium book Lairs & Encounters.

        Olle, who submitted Temple of Hypnos for the first NoArtPunk, made a really nice ACKS mini module called Tidal Terror Tower for the recent tenfootpole competition. Unfortunately its review mostly consisted of Bryce lamenting that he had no idea how to review a module which included rules to (optionally) resolve the scenario via army-scale field combat. Would love to see your take on that one.


    2. I have Holy Mountain Shaker. And a couple other Rejec products (Ultraviolet Wasteland). They read better as a literary setting than a game. It saddens me to say this, because you can smell the unfocused potential.


  4. There is significantly more people participating in the hobby through reading and discussion online instead of playing. This perversely incentivizes the authors to focus on look and feel, make the product pleasant to read and attractive for unboxing videos. It also enables people who disregard the gaming aspect or don’t even play to publish content without any regard for playability.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. ==Luka Rejec: A player doesn’t become a better roleplayer by mastering the rules and using the game procedures better than other players.

    This is very true. The best naturally gifted player I have had dropped in for one session and never played again, he was self-confident, witty, full of ideas. He dominated play and yet my regular players sat back and were pleasantly entertained by this guy who had no idea what an RPG was coming in.

    The lesson I learned reflecting on this much later is that the rules are a crutch for ordinary uninventive players which prompts them with things to do. The DM should have a firm grasp on the balancing probabilities which is plausibility, but the players don’t need it at all. In the end from 7th – 8th level onwards there was little to no dice rolling in my AD&D campaign; though I would always reintroduce dicer for the first three levels but wean them off beyond that.

    See here an example of someone who knows nothing about RPGs make an entrance as a villain. This is a dull game enlivened by someone with personality who is funny. I could manage her but would fire the other players.

    ==Luka Rejec: No roleplaying product needs to be used “just so” as written for every participant to have a good time. A player running the material does not have to memorize all the material and all the rules. By adapting and improvising, they make the game unique to their table, more creative, and closer to their players.

    Absolutely true.

    ==Luka Rejec: All roleplaying books are to a roleplaying session a little bit like what a script is to a play.

    No they are not. The closest that a book might approach a session would be an insightful in depth newspaper review of a play from which a theatre troupe attempts to recreate that play.

    ==Luka Rejec: Writers and designers should accept that they cannot provide a total roleplaying experience.


    Though DMs who write their own material can.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. And yet, you should absolutely strive to make something that can be run as written, with details of connecting tissue for the campaing world kept somewhat ambiguous so the adventure is easy to integrate. It is possible to reach a false conclusion using true statements.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. You are begging the question by assuming it is preferable to write material that can be “run as written” as if this was a perfection at which to aim. You are assuming your conclusion, a conclusion which in my opinion is good advice only for DMs who are learning the game. It is not *hard* to write something to be “run as written”, the basic introductory material is all of this kind.

        A healthier approach to writing would be to expect DMs are experienced and have gone their own way to some degree in using their own classes, monsters and magic. Instead, presenting your creations to a staid audience of btb literalists willing to adopt your inventions “as written” is patronising. If your readership were creative themselves they could not.


      2. The conclusion is self-evident. The process of creating something that can be run ‘out of the box’ does not preclude any creativity on the part of the DM, by your own admission does not consume a great degree of time and skill and renders a module more broadly useable. I will admit there are rare cases when a more open-ended work can attract more fascination, but the Rejec’s statement is perscriptive i.e. it must apply in the majority of cases.


      3. =PoN= The conclusion is self-evident.

        This is unpersuasive guff and you know it.

        =PoN= Rejec’s statement is ‘prescriptive’

        It is not ‘prescriptive’ because he has no authority. He makes an argument, with mixed success, which he summarises by: “Writers and designers should accept that they cannot provide a total roleplaying experience. Players should accept that every rulebook and adventure module is a skeleton that they must animate and make their own at their table.”

        That is reasonable.

        =PoN= And yet, you should absolutely strive to make something that can be run as written …

        That … reads like someone trying to lay down the law as ‘self-evident’ with no argument (beyond: it can appeal to beginners).

        Have you read the AD&D DMG from 1979? I suspect you have not.


      4. It is annoying to argue a point that has already been argued in a post that the commenter declines to read. You point out that having something that can be run as is is helpful to less experienced GMs, I point out that making something that can be run as is does not necessarily interfere with an experienced GM making it his own, therefore the overal utility is higher. I can envision a subset of modules, like the D series, where expanding upon it is part of the allure, but I do not consider that this applies in the majority of cases.


        Semantics. A call to all roleplayers to adopt a design method is sufficient.

        -Read the DMG-

        Calling me out on my supposed fake gamer credentials is getting tiresome. I read both the PHb and the 1e DMG and am currently playing a high level Anthony Huso module.


  6. Know, oh prince, that this is a well-written analysis of a wrong-headed argument. I want to draw a little attention to a subtle error in Luka’s argument which you mostly skim over.
    Luka is correct when he says a module is a skeleton that will be fleshed out during play. The play is the point of the module. (Obviously.) But who is to flesh out the skeleton? Luka cannot say, because he lumps the DM in with the normal players, as you note. Therefore he cannot distinguish between the DM working before running a module, modifying it to fit the campaign; the players working as they run the module, reacting to its situations; and the DM working as they run the module, reacting to the players.
    The players, not the DM, flesh out the skeleton in the course of play. They provide the “meat”. This is the tiny, obvious kernel of truth in his claim that the meat and motion cannot be bottled up. If the meat could be bottled up, players would be unnecessary.
    Luka gives his argument plausibility by filling it with half-truths and uncontroversial but unrelated claims, as you note. Too bad.


    1. It depends on what you mean by fleshing out. There is the act of actualizing elements, which happens when the players interact with them and the GM responds accordingly, true, but there is also the act of making the scenario. A good scenario is neither an encyclopedic list of room contents, nor a list of gold piece values and monster stats. Some subtle details, some notes on tactics, responses, or unconventional movements are key. This, I should say, is fleshing out.


      1. Well, you seem to be convinced that the thesis for Luka’s post is “Making bad modules is ok, because the imperfect nature of author-to-reader communication means that the players will never experience the module as intended by the author.”, despite the fact that the first part not even being implied by the text. Additionally you insist that the separation of ‘roleplaying’ from ‘roleplaying game’ in Luka’s post must have been made to obfuscate the fact that he is too lazy write “good” adventures for RPGs, which ignores the fact that the two of you not only prefer vastly different playstyles, you also are looking for completely different things in a roleplaying game. So you attribute lazyness and incompetence to the author, instead of realizing Luka is talking about something completely different than you are.


      2. You did pick up the gauntlet, which is the correct move.

        The article is prompted by a youtube comment that complains that as written, Witch-burner is unsatisfactory. Instead of taking the criticism to heart and considering the difficulty with presentation, which is done at the very end, the article aims to relativize the very idea that effort should be expended to create something that can be used without significant modification, i.e. to integrate creativity with the underlying system so it can be of use. The goal is to avoid culpability for deficiencies in this regard, something that is essentially walked back in the post-scriptum. The correct move would be to expend effort or analyze the flaw in presentation and move on. Yes it is lazy, i.e. meant to avoid expending effort.

        Yes I insist that the treatment of roleplaying is framed in a way to support a thesis that makes little sense and omits vital components for no discernable reason, and since we are both inhabiting a sphere with a set of common assumptions regarding that play (i.e. the OSR), and Rejec does in fact make games for the same set I like, it is reasonable for me to take umbrage. Yes this article is written to avoid dealing with criticism.


      3. The problem with your interpretation is that the statement “…and therefore writing bad modules is ok” does not actually follow from anything Luka wrote. If indeed his aim was to justify that position, he failed miserably. Now, you may very well be right in your assessment about his motives, but in that case, why write a blogpost about his blogpost, instead of about the entire event chain?
        As for the separation of roleplaying from the rest of the activity, I have seen this attitude crop up in various places since I started playing. Back then it was mostly people who played Vampire, a few years ago it was the Apocalypse World/Blades in the Dark crowd. It’s not new, and I am skeptical about it being brought up just as a justification. As for the umbrage and taking thereof: unfortunately we cannot force people to produce things we like, even in a small, dedicated community, and we cannot force people to like things for the same reason we like them either. So while you and I (probably, I have never read anything he wrote) don’t enjoy the style of play he apparently enjoys, it doesn’t make any of us wrong.


      4. You are losing steam but we are, I think, communicating beyond snarky invective so that is positive.

        =Bad modules is ok=

        The generalization is deceptive because Bad covers a plethora of other conditions that he does not call for. He calls for roleplayers to write material that can never be run as written. I say that this is less utile then making something that can be run as written because it will be adapted anyway. He is calling for people to make material less useful without expended effort.


        The origins of this idea stretch back into Trad gaming, but what of it? It is used to support a position relating to how material is written, and is prompted by criticism.

        =Talking about talking=

        Consider the following: People prefer different types of play it is true. Some have entrenched positions. There is, however, a constant influx of new people that have not yet made up their mind. In order to shorten the time they will take to reach their natural preferred position, whether that is roleplay-heavy or more war-gamey you should argue a position, if only to let people know it is there.


  7. So now that thankfully to Mr Rejec we know that shitty module are OK, I guess he still wants my money and me buying his products, right?

    I think what he is trying to do is to take the value out of good work in RPG products and label everything as irrelevant and as an inspiration source. This way everything is being stored in a bag of shit, so it doesn’t matter what you will pick (but please pick mine and give me monies).

    Francesco Petrarca or Adam Mickiewicz (I’m Polish, so I know this guy) were not creating good sonnets because they were creative. Or maybe not only due to that. They had to understand and adjust to this party of poetry and within sonnet’s boundaries they created their art. You cannot craft without knowledge about the thing you are trying to create. It’s a very lazy attitude that art is only creativity.

    And yeah, I’m comparing adventure modules to sonnet, but I think you get my point. What makes a valuable adventure is the combination of creativity and knowledge about the tool (i.e. game) you are using. Adventure design is not about random, weird and creative shit that no one can relate to.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m serious when I say this reads to me like a defensive reaction in response to negative feedback.

      I think there is a place for random weird and creative shit that no one can relate too but its frequency should be low and it should still be a playable scenario. Upending your orc-murder campaign with a planar jaunt to a land of endless radiant mirrors and their arrogant kings is all well and good, but you need a normal baseline.


      1. It reads precise that way to me too. That his argument is abstract rhetoric about “what is really possible” is pretty common for someone trying to weasel out of an uncomfortable spot to avoid embarrassment or ego-damage. He’s doubled down rather than owning it…and made matters worse.

        He comes off as an immature teenager arguing with his parents after getting caught in some bad business. Bad is bad—we all know it, and no amount of digital apologia or twisting of words is going to hide that (or fool anyone).


  8. “A writer learns by taking feedback earnestly and owning up to their mistakes instead of profligating self-serving midwit-theories about the futility of ever trying to make something that can be run as written”
    You can best bet that I have a notepad file with every criticism my various modules have received so that when I sit and write (maybe something like Swords and Sewercery II: The Quest for More Money) I don’t make the same mistakes


    1. Hah! Good man. The trick with accepting feedback is to figure out how considered it is and how much sense it makes, but most well-intentioned feedback is worth listening too.


  9. Curious. Luka Rejec seems to have provided a counterexample to his own argument with Holy Mountain Shaker. My views are only based on a read through, not play, but the module appears well organised, has a range of materials to support play (and different PC actions), has been edited, and credits a number of playtesters.
    Maybe he got the wrong end of the stick concerning the criticism of Witchburner? SPOILERS follow. I’ve only read the free version, but isn’t it one of those investigations where there is no witch, just a few co-incidences? That might fall apart as easily as a dungeon exploration where there is nothing to find. I think the authorities/paymasters would need to spell it out very clearly to the PCs that they must find a scapegoat to preserve the status quo, manufacturing evidence as necessary, as the locals are muttering. And various interested parties might be approaching the PCs with bribes.


      1. You make the strong point that if mechanics are not your strong point, borrow (modifying as necessary) from past masters. And run some trials. Well, it should be the transparently obvious, but stopping people inventing the hexagonal wheel is a triumph these days.
        I think there are many Artpunkmen who can be saved.


      2. I don’t think the majority really needs ‘saving’ in the sense that the priorities are manifestly different but we are both stuck under the same umbrella. While the delineation is vague, there will be argument over the correct methodology and the way to introduce newcomers. There are weird overlaps (I think Goblinpunch knows how to do dungeons properly while also being very artpunky) and some guys like Patrick Stuart have adopted something like play-testing but for the most part the friction is caused by two radically different interpretations of the same thing.


      3. That is well summarised, but perhaps the two groups can help each other and admire/aid what the other produces. Some Artpunk offerings would benefit from a more thorough understanding of the rules, knowledge of past solutions, playtesting of mechanics to make sure they have the desired effect. For authors who are more aligned to this blog, the bounty might be a welcome boost to numbers supporting Kickstarters, offers of collaboration.
        Admiration goes not always equate to lavish praise of course. Those who think they have no room for improvement are on the decline.
        If Aaron the Pedantic is running out of topics for his roundtables, try him with “How necessary is playtesting?”


  10. “If a setting is to have consistency and weight, if the players actions are to actually matter, it must have attributes that are, in a sense, fixed, and cannot be altered by the GM on a whim, and there must be ways in which the PCs can interact with this imaginary world that are at least somewhat predictable so meaningful decisions can be made.”

    This should be somewhere on the first page of every GM section of every TTRPG.


  11. 1) I do not appreciate the usage of the word ‘gay’ as has been done in this article by the PoN. I think the age bracket for doing this without rhymes and a beat has been eclipsed by our host by now.

    2) Don’t put pot-head DMs in a corner!

    3) Gospodin Rejec seems to have lost sight of the ‘value of process’. I really like his graphical work. As he is an artist, I give him a free pass for rambling himself into a corner. That is what musicians and graphical artists do from time to time, trying the disagreeable, the outre, the radical in words as in their main form. Doing this constanly will make you be wrong often. Also, someone who is way above average talent from time to time gets the urge to vent at the world for not getting his or her proper credit. Another free pass.

    4) Re the actual arguments: Flashbacks from the swine wars… I shall call my sponsor and thus refrain from going into the bushes of those lines of thought, so I can keep my 10-year-plaque of not engaging in swine-war-activities, tirades, deep background checks or shitposting. See also free passes in 3)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. 1) Implying that my posts are not rap music
      2) Hah! Prep THEN indulge!
      3) I love creatives. But they can’t analyze what they are doing properly because the mindset is antithetical. A healthy scene has both creatives and analysts.
      4) Hah, war no more old soldier.


    2. == 1) I do not appreciate the usage of the word ‘gay’

      I can’t let this pass. The Germans were a prodigious race martially and in philosophy. In recent decades after the flower of German manhood has been wiped out, Germany is dominated by green climate lunies and women studies cretins. Germany has a testosterone deficit. Shutting down nuclear power so you depend on Russia for energy — you fucking morons.

      Europe has no army to defend itself because the Germans are faggots. In Afghanistan Germans refused to fly by night or fly anywhere dangerous but did not oppose the war. Perfect hypocrisy. Germany has no army. No army then shut the fuck up about foreign affairs. If Europe had an army then Europe would not be pathetically and effeminately subservient to US NATO.

      The German race today is the most ‘gay’ in the world. By gay I mean effeminate, pathetic, crybaby, green. This blubbering mess should not be at the heart of europe, Viktor Orban of Hungary should.

      In sum, Settembrini, presume you are despised when you promote a degenerate sexual culture and the associated sexual abuse of children.


      1. Kent, you are swapping out your own resentments for truth.

        Reality does not conform to your romantic and simple world view. The so called non-effeminate experiments have been plenty. And they so far have lost all the wars. The city has beat the savage since time immemorial. “Manly” Russians are dying by the droves as we speak.
        Nazi-Germany, truly a gay-hating place of ‘fierceness’ you so admire, lost bad, it beggars description. Against communists and shop-keepers. Against beret-wearing artsy frenchies. ‘Hedonist’ gum chewing Americans.

        What about Japanese Bushido? What a shitshow of military incompetence fueled by such romantic, Kent-approved, ideals in WWII.

        Islamic fundamentalist armies are quicker to rout than all others. Or look at the Tik-Tok Battallions of oh-so manly chechens. The marxist ‘effeminates’ and women of Kurdistan repeatedly defeated the “manly” IS.

        Tito won over not only manly beard-wearing-churchgoing chetniki, but also utlra-religious, gay-hating Ustasha and acutal German Nazis to boot. Oh, and Italians, gay-hating fascists they had in power at the time too.

        The ‘girly’ North won over the allegedly ‘gentlemanly and god-loving’ Confederate states.

        Rome in all its ‘decadence and deviancy’ of the city kept winning so much, its history of its downfall is longer in years, took longer to play out than the ‘races’ or languages of its constituent parts exist(ed).

        The most able leader and general on german soil, Frederick the Great, definitely was much more effeminate than is comfortable for you.

        The ‘savage and manly’ Ottomans were defeated by wig-wearing, ‘decadent’ Austrians of the most ‘effeminate’ operatic city in Europe, Vienna. Truly with help of Polish riders who had costumes that would look splendid at a gay wedding.

        What do you say of the Venice carnival? Well, they ruled the adriatic over and against many more ‘manly’ competitors.

        Take a look at who Frederick II, ‘stupor mundi’, emperor was and what cosmopolitan stuff he did, how he fared against the ‘normies’ of the time.

        Was not wig & stocking wearing Louis XIV the master of Europe, militarily?

        I tako dalje, i tako dalje

        You do not have actual arguments, you just have ahistorical disgust spilling out of you on a drunken weeknight. In fact, retrograde anti-gay prejudice and a longing for ‘manlyness’ over ‘effemination’ seems to be much more a sign of a crisis than calm tolerance. The history is pretty clear on that.

        As for your last sentence mentioning child abuse, it shows let your mask slip. Wereas ‘effemination of cultures’ might be a (sorta Victorian?) talking point/argument going back to Gibbon, you are in the true sense of the word homophobic.

        Liked by 6 people

      2. Viktor Orban of Hungary? You mean the guy who whines about how bad and evil the European Union is, then – as soon as the video cameras from his crony-run TV stations are switched off – takes all the billions of aid money that the EU sends to his shithole excuse for a nation and stuffs them in his pocket? That Viktor Orban?


      3. Wow, Settembrini, that was honestly masterful. You ably summed up so much of what I’ve recently thought about the recent deluge of macho insecurity that a generation of small-minded men has dressed up in so much blather. I’m going to copy-paste that text for later.

        Liked by 2 people

      4. @Inverse

        Listen dude. I have among my commentariat burnt out SJWs, commies, catholics, libertarians, pundit-fans, ex-YDIS troll warbuddies, liberals, east-european nationalists, social workers, autistic nerds, metal-heads, coomers, grognards and NPCs such as yourself. And I have Kent. He is an unquestionably an asshole, he goes on occassional drunken racist rants that are either addressed in the comments or deleted, and he occasionally engages in good faith or is funny. I have no desire to cultivate a monoculture of ideological dopplegangers, I don’t engage in cancellation and I don’t respect perscriptive views on my mode of expression. Disagreement and norming is settled via trial by comment section here. I like my audience quite a bit actually. You either deal with that or this is not the place for you.


      5. @PoN

        Tolerance is fun! But I can’t take previous claims seriously that this blog/movement/project will endeavor to remain apolitical. Expect future shitshows where the threads leave gaming long behind and instead focus on bitter arguments between incel trolls and the people who can’t resist breaking out the acid. Do those conversations add value to what you’re doing here? Did this one? I return to a point I made earlier, that overreaction against one trend (cancellation, in this case) leads to an equally-wrongheaded course of action. This thread was no big deal, but just you wait, and expect me to be there with a big fat I-told-you-so.

        Say, who is playing Elden Ring? So good. I can’t wait till I finish so I can get on with my life.


      6. @Edge

        If this shit starts to eat most of the comments sections I’ll consider pruning it with fire. I advocate positions r.e. gameplay and design, I will never check your political affiliations, who you sleep with or where you are from. However, there is a natural assymetry to all arguments and unfortunately, the modus operandi of the opposite side is to politicize immediately and take any excuse to do so. Pruning is done with a light touch.

        Elden Ring is grand.

        Liked by 1 person

  12. Um. I read the linked post. I found it so ignorantly wrong-headed as to actually be offensive. Clearly, this individual knows little about role-playing games and even less about the theater (at least, with regard to scripted theater and not improvisational acting of the “theater sports” variety…the latter of which STILL has rules that are followed).

    As such…my apologies Prince, I could not bring myself to read your point-by-point analysis with more than a cursory skimming. Such answering is a waste of time except, perhaps as a writing exercise (i.e. “practice”)…but even then, you *could* have been writing something constructive rather than giving this drivel more effort than its worth.

    [yes, I know, I know. “The heart wants what the heart wants” and sometimes the creative impulse is to dissect this type of blathering nonsense…I’m a blogger, too, and often fall into the same pit]

    But…no. Just…*sigh* What an idiot.

    Is Mr. Rejec really an “indie darling?” And he’s taking a hard stance to justify why his work is good after receiving a poor review rather then accepting the critique? And his justification to a reviewer stating “after 10 sessions this game sucked all the joy out” is, yeah you’re not supposed to play the game AS WRITTEN because you should NEVER play a game AS WRITTEN, so hey Mr. Reviewer this is YOUR FAULT for DOING RPGs WRONG.

    What a fucking idiot.

    *sigh* This hobby sometimes…


    1. Hmm. After actually listening to the Questing Beast Review (time I will never have back sadly) and rereading Luka’s essay, I will adjust my stance. I now see that he was responding to a commenter’s statement, not anything in the review itself, and was using it as a platform for jumping off on his discussion rather than defending his work (except, perhaps, secondarily).

      So…yeah. Me implying he can’t take criticism was idiotic on MY part. Apologies to Mr. Rejec.

      [that being said, I still find his thesis to be ignorant to the point of offensiveness]


    1. Ooof, under the waterline. If I can’t, every once in a blue moon, in between reviews, poke fun at something dumb without getting labelled thusly then by golly get me a yoga mat and call me tarnowski!


  13. It sounds like this guy doesn’t understand the difference between one-off games and extended campaigns, and also maybe doesn’t understand the difference between creating stuff to use at your own table and stuff to put up for sale. There’s an unfortunate self-reinforcing trend in the hobby-publishing space that overvalues visual elements and undervalues written elements, and among at least some folks the goal is to do away with writing completely, replacing all words and numbers with symbols and diagrams.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Yep. Look at the OSR offerings on – mostly 1-2 page pamphlets with 100 words or less, and some completely text free (maps of 5 room dungeons or 7-hex wildernesses with icons and pictures showing monsters and traps)


  14. The desire to houserule a game immediately upon playing is a sign of either lacking the desire to really learn the game or playing a dogshit game.
    For example, I’m running g an openquest game and it’s been a decade since I messed with brp games. It’s taken months of weekly play to actually understand why the initiative system works the way it does.

    If I had added a random element to initiative, I would have eventually started turning openquest into d&d. Never rules as written just turns all games the GM runs into whatever system they’re most familiar with. This prevents any real broad understanding of game design long run.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. This! I had the same experience when I first tried to run a serious campaign in OD&D (actually, in S&W Complete, with all the missing tidbits added from OD&D). I forced myself not to use houserules and rulings based on reflexes from newer D&D games. Later I started tinkering with the rules, of course, but only after I have gained some understanding and familiarity with the game’s own playstyle. This approach opened up new horizons for me. If I had went with the easy approach, I would have missed half of the original experience.

      Interestingly, I have met people who used Matt Finch’s Quick Primer – the ‘Rulings, not Rules’ part – as a principle reason for why not giving a shit about rules that are important. I think it is a total, if convenient misunderstanding of the point.


  15. This is the problem of punditry (pun intended!) in the current era: one bad take incites an excessive counterreaction. Rejec is mostly wrong, but you’ve let your disgust get the better of you, Prince.

    First of all, I’d like to represent for pothead GMs everywhere. A upright young conservative like yourself, far removed from the dank 70s from which the hobby emerged, just can’t understand. Loosen that collar, kid!

    Second of all, the 90s guy deep down in me giggles at your gay jokes (regrettably), but in this era, that’s so very edgelord. Come now; we’re too mature for this sort of “rebellion,” aren’t we?

    That dispenses with the preamble. To the matter at hand…a lot of Rejec’s points are valid in the abstract, and a lot of your points are valid in the concrete. So I mostly agree with you on matters of substance.

    I don’t think that anyone benefits from some kind of strict RAW 3e/3.5e/4e approach to RPGs. The rules really are guidelines, and so is the adventure text. But that doesn’t mean we can throw out our books and dance among the lilies.

    Even though specific rules don’t matter, consequences do. And if you discard all adherence to rules, then consequences feel arbitrary at best. So you have to strike a balance. Between you and Luka, that’s what’s missing here. A decent set of rules provide a solid basis for resolution 80% of the time. But a core realization of the OSR is that the GM is there to cover the other 20%. The important thing here is that the GM uses his or her best unbiased judgement, and has the players’ trust to do so.

    That trust is crucial. It allows a GM to levy reasonable consequences, pleasing or not, and for the players to accept this as their characters’ reality. You don’t get that trust by running the game strictly RAW, you don’t get it by being a killer GM, and you don’t get it by being the players’ fairy godparent. It’s a fuzzy concept, and there is no fixed point to the concept of “fair objectivity.” See: journalism.

    Likewise, Luka suggests that the adventure text is just some kind of whimsical baseline for improvisation. Sure, I guess, but the thing is that it has to inspire the GM for that to work. Giving the GM just a vibe and some unformed ideas just doesn’t cut it. At least not for me. You’ve got to give them something meaty to sink their teeth into. The improvisation is easiest at the edges, like coming up with silly foibles for the NPCs, or adjudicating how players attempt to solve challenges. There really is an art to it, and again, it’s very difficult to nail down exactly what gets us there. Crazy thought: it might even vary from GM-to-GM.

    I think that Rejec overreacts to a negative comment he encountered to his work in a youtube comment section, which is a classic blunder like texting your ex while drunk, or starting a land war in Asia. Meanwhile, I think that you (Prince) overreact to his overreaction a little bit. In my opinion, good GMing is a balancing act about finding the right place between too rigid and too flaccid (haha!—stop laughing, you’re so immature). At least, that’s what works at my table.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I leave the nuance to you, the carefully cultivated audience, my muses, my panel of talking monkeys.

      I make the point that a RAW does not mean to account for every eventuality but to provide a firm structure which can be expanded upon confidently and with gusto.


      1. “Talking monkey,” you say?! I’ve never been described so…accurately.

        When I cook pasta, I always “expand confidently and with gusto.” I’m not sure that’s what RAW is supposed to entail, but words matter less than meaning, and you’ve made yourself clear. That said, I still contend that the sweet spot lies somewhere in the hazy DMZ between RAW fantasy adventure gaming and the thespian fripperies of your hated artpunkers. There may even be a sprinkle of YMMV in there—that cultural relativism which all right and goodly folk despise.

        I’ve corresponded with Luka a tiny tiny bit, and he seemed like a smart and righteous dude. I’m not a huge fan of his content, but I think this is a regrettable case of him being defensive towards criticism, and so I suspect this post of his doesn’t exactly represent the totality of his thought on the matter.


      2. “I leave the nuance to you, the carefully cultivated audience, my muses, my panel of talking monkeys.”
        -Isn’t that essentially Rejec’s position?


      3. @tpman

        It is but the scope is different. If you want to argue something I find it works to state something in strong, unequivocal terms first and add nuance through discussion. If the same approach is used for an rpg product, you get something that cannot be used as written and requires considerable modification. One is free, the other is a finished product. The expected quality nor the use is the same.


  16. For the record: Luka Rejec HAS played in at least one RPG campaign, mine. For a bit. And he was creative and thinking outside the box (character sheet) for solutions to problems, but abode the rules of the game. It wasn’t freeform or amateur improv when he was at the table.

    As for the issue at hand, I think it’s a bit ridiculous to assume that you cannot play a module/scenario as written. Of course you can. Usually, that won’t happen, but it surely could, especially with players who are not all that experienced but aren’t completely new to the game, either. Or with a DM who IS new to running the game. And of course it requires a scenario that is pretty straightforward so that players/DMs aren’t tempted to “go off script.”

    But of course, any DM or group of players who have more than a little experience are likely to push things in directions that take them off script. Module writers can’t prepare for all eventualities, unless they resort to trashy railroad design to force certain actions. So I can see Luka’s point, but also Prince’s. So put me somewhere in the middle of this debate.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hah! The statement was meant rhetorically, I did not genuinely think Luka did not play games, but your clarification is a good one.

      You can (and should) probably modify things to suit your own campaign, that is no more then expected. However, you should indeed strive for something that may be run as is, if only as a template from which modification may be spurred on.


  17. Are we not all in agreement that the primary purpose of engaging in roleplaying games is immersion?


    1. You might not be. Some people play detached, more as a wargame, others play to lose themselves, as you say. Where you stand and what you prioritize varies. I think the majority of the OSR is still very much focused on immersion.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think Venger was being cheeky, harkening to flamewars of generations past. As early as the earliest proto-RuneQuestian inklings on the west coast, this old horse has been beaten.


  18. This guy writes for OSE? That’s not a good sign.

    I have no common ground (play-wise) with Mr. Rejec’s type of thinking. Pure crazy talk when it comes to D&D. There is no system/rules/game in there. It’s all just communal make-believe.

    I like EOTB’s “Adventure Game” suggestion. Put’s role-playing firmly in the backseat where it belongs.


      1. Personally, I am all about the FAGs…although I quit smoking in 2001.
        ; )


  19. A reminder not to lose sight of the fact that lateral thinking, unconventional outside the box problem solving, and incidental role-playing and in-character dialogue (and the DM adapting and improvising in response to all of them) are all included within “as written” play – at least in the 20th century all three of those were expected and assumed to always be occurring, which is why they aren’t usually explicitly spelled out in the rules and adventures. NOT assuming those elements to be ubiquitous and designing a set of rules or an adventure in such a way that they would fall outside its scope or “break” it would be very poor design.

    There’s a sense among smug OSR types like they invented unconventional approaches and outside the box problem solving and that prior to 2012 (or whenever) everybody was unimaginative drones just playing by rote habit, that nobody was creative or clever the way they are, when in fact the truth is closer to the opposite.

    Steading of the Hill Giant Chief isn’t 8 pages long because they didn’t think anybody would do anything off-script, it’s 8 pages long because they knew everybody was going to go off-script and they could never predict or account for every possibility so they just laid the groundwork (the situation, the facts – the maps, the monster & treasure stats, the situation) and understood that every group will have a different experience with those raw materials when they are fleshed out through the process of play: “this does not mean that you, as Dungeon Master, must surrender your creativity and become a mere script reader. You must supply considerable amounts of additional material. You will have to make up certain details of areas. There will be actions which are not allowed for here, and you will have to judge whether or not you will permit them. Finally, you can amend and alter monsters and treasures as you see fit, hopefully within the parameters of this module, and with an eye towards the whole, but to suit your particular players.”

    That is literally “as written” – it’s a direct quote from the module text. An rpg adventure (a good one, at least) isn’t a script – it’s a scenario outline and a bunch of facts that are intended to come to life in play at the table. Which is actually pretty close to the point Rejec was trying to make, but he (probably from lack of familiarity with the original source material) bungled the explanation and in so doing both tilted against a non-existent straw man and came to a dumb conclusion (that because no rpg text can ever be complete that means that the text doesn’t really matter).

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Yeah. I was thinking of writing a similar post (on my blog) about what “running a scenario” actually means, but was still trying decide whether I wanted to take a more (positive) constructive approach or go full-blown snark and criticism.

      However, it just makes me fatigued to think about rebutting such wrong-headed thinking. Clearly, it’s not going to change this dude’s mind…his approach has been successful for him and he has his admirers and fans. Clearly it wouldn’t change the minds of lazy idiots who favor the same approach. And just as clearly it would end up being “nothing new” for folks who already understand what a pre-written scenario is, what it’s for, and how it’s used…nothing that wouldn’t elicit a stark “duh” from the masses of DMs who already “get it.”

      So…a waste of my limited time, in other words.

      Thanks for taking the time to write the succinct comment that (in my annoyance and ennui) could not find the gumption to put together.

      Liked by 1 person

  20. I *am* having a go at you but largely to encourage you to tighten your argument. Think before you speak. You are one of the few blogs I look at because your instinct is sound if premature but I don’t read your posts because you are far too long winded. Make a poll about it if you don’t believe me. If you hired an editor of any worth he would insist that you cut your word count to one third and spend longer thinking before you speak.

    Make a poll: More words, fine as is, less words. far less words FFS.


  21. There are a couple of major problems with Luka’s thinking. First is his definition of what “run as written” means. He describes it as being a total perfect RPG experience. Which you point out. It is absurd and obviously impossible to such a degree that it hardly bears mentioning. Of course, RAW is impossible if perfect and total fidelity to the designer’s intent is what RAW means.

    Of course, it doesn’t mean that at all. It means; Can the GM run the adventure without significant divergence from the text? IMO, any well written adventure can be run this way.

    The second problem with his thinking is that he then goes on to say that all RPGs fail because they can’t achieve the perfection he describes. Again. Nonsense.

    To me, the real question is: If a GM is not running an adventure RAW then why not?

    If the answer is because they can’t due to some problem with the design or presentation of the product then that’s on the designer/publisher.

    If the answer is because the GM who bought the module and is attempting to run it is not the target audience of the product, is using for a purpose the designer didn’t intend, or a game system other than the adventure was written for, using a playstyle other than the designer put forth… then it’s not necessarily the designer’s failure.

    I expand on these thoughts more in my blog post, but that’s the summary of my thoughts about it.

    The Run as Written Debate


  22. Interesting.

    Rejec’s basis is not disagreeable. The roleplaying game is not wholly contained in its originating rules text. That text is interpreted, ruled-upon and transformed in the act of actual play and *that* is the roleplaying game: it comes into existence through the engagement of its players. *In that sense* the game text is akin to the playscript: analysis of the text alone is a job half done and thought must be given to the production and its circumstances.

    (Analogy: you do not “have your Shakespeare” if all you have done is read it. Watch some performances in diverse styles and compare. Perform on stage yourself if you can. The play’s the thing.)

    I’ve also made the “writer’s room” argument myself, with ref. storygames. Such an approach is necessary if you’re trying to curate the outcome of play; players have to become informed participants in a process and establish what their characters’ stake in a scene is and what they want out of it and how they’ll proceed if they don’t. Your dungeon crawlers need to consider the puzzle or tactical challenge in front of them and formulate a plan before they commit to it – it’s the same step in the order of operations, really.

    But without robustly applied mechanics, that scene or puzzle or challenge has no substance, and the alleged game is not a game – it’s a plaything at best (work your way through Chris Crawford’s dichotomies – I don’t agree with him on money being the difference between art and entertainment, but the rest is sound).

    I have tried (in my youth, with a chestnut-smooth brain to my name) to run games by ignoring most of their mechanics, and I have ultimately rejected that approach. You are not performing the Tempest as you sit around riffing about wizards on islands. You are not playing a game if you are not engaging with the mechanism of its rules. Some rules are superfluous and you don’t need to engage with them, but you develop a sense for those by playing and reflecting on play. Those games I ran with next to no system were enjoyable but they were not VtM or CoC or WFRP, they were Mother-May-I played with a teenager drunk on his own precocity (and Smirnoff Red Ice).

    As I age I find myself leaning harder into the rules than the majority of my peers: players have learned to flex over the optimised build but storytellers are lagging behind, relying on fiat and feel instead of reifying their creativity so that it exists in the terms by which the players navigate the world, and advising others to do likewise. I spit on this bullshit. Do the work and it will show itself in how your game functions.


    1. You are a true ‘roleplayer,’ I respect this. Rejec’s point r.e. completeness is not wrong in itself, but the implication, the direction of the argument is not a good one. Do the work is almost always the correct answer. I can envision some sort of hexcrawl where the density of the information is too high, or the work becomes unwieldy, but for the most part, this is true.


  23. “It is possible to play entirely without rules yet there are no play reports of long campaigns performed entirely without rules.”
    Did not M.A.R. Barker’s Tekumel campaign and Dave Arneson’s later campaigns eventually both strip their rules down to just some variation of “the DM decides on the spot how hard something is and the player roll against that”?


    1. I was not aware, though I can imagine there is some truth to that. I could find a 2009 play report by Spinachat that had Arneson use his D20 rules to run the Dungeon under Blackmoor.

      I think a Barker scholar would be able to answer the second one. I have heard of games where entire sessions go by without rolling a single dice (this is mentioned in the 2e DMG), but stripping down everything (spells & magic items) would be very intensive I think. Maybe if you are experienced enough as a GM and your players are already familiar, you could do so without the game falling to the tyranny of an arbitrary standard.


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