The Art Of Rule Text

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Written by Smith, February 11, 2005

This page is devoted to suggestions and recommendations for writing rule text.

  • Use clear referents. Pronouns that do not clearly indicate their reference are fair game for "creative interpretation".
  • Beware self-reference. A rule or concept that has a circular reference to itself can get very confusing, and even crash the game by paradox.
  • Be consistent with keywords. Varying the language may sound better, but using different words like "hold" and "carry" for the same concept will cause confusion. The rule is more secure if the keywords are kept monotonously consistent.
  • Verify you haven't accidentally used a defined term. Check the glossary and rest of the ruleset for any important words you use. They may have unexpected meanings.
  • Consider your assumptions. The rules of logic always apply, but the underlying assumptions are subject to the whim of the players, so it is a good idea to assess what the current game environment will permit. Is the game simulationist or purely abstract? Generally, assumptions about a concrete concept are slightly safer than assumptions about a fantastical concept. (Can one have a negative number of Bananas? Or give the same Banana to three people simultaneously? Or eat a Banana and have it, too? What about if we are talking about Magical Energy instead of Bananas?)
  • Specify rule interactions. It is better to specify rule interactions explicitly. In particular, conflicts with other rules should be addressed by establishing a precedence order between them.
  • Keep it short and sweet. Concise text is easier to work with. Unless obscuration is your goal...
  • Build components. A complex rule proposal is more likely to pass if it is built out of rule "chunks". It may also be easier to judge its effect by observing the smaller components in play.
  • Use examples. (hmmm, these guidelines could use some examples!)

(it would be nice to add sample blocks of rule text we consider "solid" which could be copied and re-used.)