Saturday, May 20, 2017

How to Include Justifications in a Rules Document?

As a final thought to the wilderness rules ideas the last two weeks: You'll notice that each of the separate sections had an appendix of notes and references for different rules at the bottom of each page.

This is something I struggle with a lot in the context of paper rules documents. You want the rules to be terse, be immediately interpretable in play, and be easy to memorize. But on the other hand I think it's useful to include specific justifications, motivations, and references; I have the feeling that without those, I (and maybe many others) wind up repeating the same research projects over and over again, often recreating the same conclusions as other game designers. Now, those justifications may actually be longer than the rules themselves. My OED House Rules document has copious sidebar annotations (invisible in the distributed PDF form), likely longer than the rules themselves.

So I ask: What's the best way to include reference/citation/justifications in a rules document? Sidebar notes on each page? Footnotes? A block of references in each section? A consolidated appendix of commentary at the back of the book? A separate supplemental document entirely? Hyperlinks to multiple outside articles?


22 comments:

  1. I would use an annotated list of sources, sorted by (broad) topic, in the rear matter. Those who are interested will find it there easily, and the text won't be cluttered with footnote superscripts or sidebars for every topic and subtopic. (And thus you can use sidebars just for the discursions from the text that you especially wish to include.)

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  2. I have a blog post to go along with it.

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  3. I like endnotes, personally. They don't disrupt the flow of the text, but they give users the information they need if they want to start tinkering with the material.

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    1. This is the direction I'm currently leaning towards.

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  4. Stay terse and to the point, and point people to your blog, G+ circle, or message board you frequent if they want to see the thought process behind everything. It's not like we live in an age of near-instant communication or anything. :-D

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  5. Create a Wiki site that lists the references with hyperlinks to the relevant webpages or books (through Amazon, Google books or other site). Include those hyperlinks in the digital version of the book and list the URL to your Wiki in the paper copy.

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  6. I'm a fan of footnotes, preferably with hyper-links to references included.

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  7. I would make two documents: One to use in the table and another to read as inspiration with all justification.

    You could name it the "Delta's Master Guide". Heheh

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    1. LOL now that's an image!

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    2. This is basically what I'd like to see. One short player-reference document, easily printed, and a longer document to be consulted by tinkerers where the explanations and discussions make up 50-80% of the page.

      Kinda like Talmud.

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  8. It's a tough one...a dilemma I've struggled with myself at times. In the one document where I felt I really needed to explain myself, I felt the sidebar (box text) "felt right" (and looked right aesthetically).

    That being said, my main thought is you can't worry too much about it. Many people won't care much: if the thing plays well, it won't be important; and if they want to modify it to their taste...well, of course they'll do so regardless of any justifications you give them.

    In a situation like yours (knowing a bit about the way you work), you might just want some sort of blanket statement that the rules were "meticulously researched" and include a bibliography at the end (and a link to your blog), for the die hard design-types who are truly interested in the nuts and bolts.

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    1. Glad to know I'm not the only one wrestling with this.

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    2. Agree, save page space for rules. I would likely only have to review the justification once, but the rules will need to be referenced quickly and more often. Plus if it is a reference I want to hand to players, I don't want them to get bogged down in sidebars etc. For a digital product it would be trivial to have a large appendix of notes etc. For a print product, direct them to the (free?)PDF supplement of notes and justifications (or the blog)

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  9. Put the "why" in one sentence if you can. Otherwise save it for the interviews and memoirs.

    A good rule will insist upon itself without any defense.

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  10. That's traditionally one purpose of Designer's Notes, so I'd go with endnotes or a summary chapter at the end. Though, when it's done in RPGs, I've often seen it in either magazine articles (most GURPS products) or initial chapters (Fantasy Wargaming spent much of the first half of the book discussing the rationale behind the rules). If the rationale is particularly important, then sidebars would seem like the way to go.

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  11. I'm leaning towards Appendices, myself. They can be essays or terse technical notations, either way they won't interrupt the flow the main body of text. Just an opinion.

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  12. If the justification is interesting to read about and clarifies during play, sidebar. If it's a huge technical digression, footnote a reference to the separate technical work that's of little interest to typical players. I prefer the split between a user manual for a car vs. the technical manual that defines and diagrams every single nut and bolt in the vehicle with repair processes and mechanic's tolerances.

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  13. Kevin Crawford has a chapter at the end of Stars Without Number in which he goes through each chapters again from a designer's point of view and talk about why he made these rules choice and what they accomplish, and ideas on how to tinker with them.

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  14. Endnotes are fine, however another approach could be the one adopted in the old Avalon Hill Squad Leader expansion rulebooks. Instead of a comprehensive set of designer's notes at the end of the rulebook, each rule section had a brief introduction explaining the purpose of the mechanic to follow. The explanation was set off in italics and a smaller font size so you could skip them easily when referencing the rules.

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  15. I don't trust the general thrust of observations here, because 1) previously published games are really horrible about this and 2) published games worry about page count, because printing pages costs money.

    A digital document that is intended for a smaller readership interested in the process and justifications for the rules should not be limited by economic concerns and the accidents of history from another century.

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  16. Designer's notes at the end or 2 documents. I love reading that stuff.

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