One of the reasons I prefer old school renaissance games is that their designers recognize a very important principle of complex systems and people.

You cannot anticipate all the fuckery that people will get up to.

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Table top RPG’s were born out of a desire among the Minneapolis war gamers to play games that allow you to attempt anything if it makes logical sense. The great example of this is the Braunstein game Dave Wesley ran about the fake country of Banannia. Dave Arneson made up fake documents, brought a brief case, and wore a suit. He made all the other players believe he was playing a CIA operative, which he wasn’t. At the end of the game he flew off with a brief case of money and a helicopter ride out of the country.

If you want a game like that, the designer has to build in a way to deal with the nonsense players will come up with in real time. The easiest and most effective way to do that is to tell the game master to use their own discernment and experience to make a ruling on the spot.

Yes, some game masters are going to be better at this than others. Yes, it may take a while to develop the skill and experience to do this competently and some game masters may never get the hang of it. It is a skill that requires effort and practice.

You can anticipate certain actions and building in rules and procedures for those actions makes sense. Depending on the intention and priorities of the design, those rules may be complicated or not. I prefer the most simple rule set possible. I don’t have the executive brain function to handle a lot of fiddly bits all at once. I don’t like slowing down the action to go through a complicated rule or procedural process unless that process is a sort of mini game like random treasure determination.

If a designer tries to anticipate every possible action a player might want to do and invent a specific unique set of rules or procedures for it, they are going to create an unwieldy behemoth of a rule set. No matter how precise and specific your rule set, certain players will try to subvert the rules in ways that are…unanticipated. You end up in the same position you were in without the complicated rules and relying on the game master to be a reasonable, creative and intelligent person.

If players are going to come up with unanticipated solutions to obstacles they encounter, you might as well make it easy on the GM to adjudicate.

Make an attack roll with a +2 for strength against an AC of 10 +1 for the target’s Dex. You got a 15? That hits. A 300 lb anvil falling from 50′ does 5d6 damage. Roll.

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