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I love RPGs, but there's something I love more than RPGs: RPG rules. RPG rules are models of reality. They attempt to represent historical or fictional peoples, creatures, and words. Of course, there's more to role playing than rules, but there's no role playing without rules.

Role playing became an hobby because of the rules.

Yes, I know, there's no RPGs without setting or the actual experience of playing a character, be it a PC or an NPC (what some people call the storytelling or the acting aspects of the game). Yes, storytelling - either written or oral - and acting predate RPGs. Yet they are not RPGs.

What makes an RPG is the fact that it supposes:

  1. an agreement on the fact that the participants are playing a game...
  2. where they incarnate some characters living their lives...
  3. according to some constrains on the way the players may make decisions on behalf of the said characters.
In other words, RPGs are RPGs because they have rules about all this.

Before I move on, let me just mention an important aspect: by rules I mean all those things that can be designated with words like "rules", "norms", "principles", or even "meta-rules". If you don't know the difference between those terms, ask a lawyer or buy a book on the theory of law. Anyway, I will not attempt to enter the subtle distinctions between those concepts when I speak about RPG rules.

For me, one of the most gratifying aspects of role playing is the meta game: the level at which I try to find the best way to deal with game situations. In other words, I love exploring the rules that allow us to game.

In my column I'll share with you my passion for RPG rule design. This is a passion we share with a lot of people, namely everybody that attempted to write his own rule system, or to make a rule for a particular situation to be used with its preferred rule system. For instance, we share this passion with the people behind any commercial RPG, or with the dozens of people that published the free RPGs you can access at http://www.rpg.net/directory/diy.html.

One of the ways I found for fueling my passion for RPG rules is by analyzing other people's rules (*). That's one of the reasons why I buy and collect RPGs. I love to read new rule systems. I always look at the nuggets that provide new and creative ways to represent game situations. Yet, I found that a lot of people have brilliant ideas, but don't have the drive, opportunity or resources to design a full blown, salable game. These are the people that allow us to access their creations for free at the internet.

So, we finally reach the purpose of this column. It's going to be about RPG rules. But the way in which I'm going to discuss RPG rules is by discussing free games that can be accessed in the internet. Those are going to be picked at the address I provided above, http://www.rpg.net/directory/diy.html, the free games page at RPGnet. Each month I'll discuss a particular game, highlighting and discussing the coolest rules it contains.

Why restrict myself to free games and not to salable games? Because this column is about rules. People reading this column should not be forced to buy any products in order to understand what is being discussed. Also what I'll try to highlight is the cool ideas people have put forward, not the quality of the expression of those ideas. As we will see, many of those cool ideas appear in the middle of otherwise useless documents, and don't have the polish and usability we require of a commercial product.

If I'm going to write about public free games, why not reviewing them in the RPGnet Reviews section instead of writing a column about them? For two reasons:

  1. Once more, because this column is about rules. I may pick and discuss a paragraph taken from an one hundred pages game, completely forgetting the rest
  2. I think that the rating system used in the Reviews section, while adequate for reviewing commercial products, is not suited to judge the kind of games you can find at the Free Games section. Judging a free draft requires different criteria from the ones used to judge something you paid for.

So, I'll be back in October with the first true column of Ruleslawyer For Free.

Of course, feel free to mail any comment, criticism, or suggestion to my email address.

(*) The other way is by designing my own RPG. This has been a project on which I've been working for the past years. The game is still unfinished, but the fun didn't fade away so far.

Sergio Mascarenhas

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