Rules and Language


Great video about “Rules”

I have often found that finding a common language about a topic is beneficial to comunication, and clear communication is beneficial to understanding one another.

Assuming that is correct, it is not conducive to gaming (entertains yourself and others through skill and chance) to have to read hundreds of pages of lore to come to an agreement of language.

As experienced gamers we describe concepts by the games that expressed and explored those concepts, not that “x was a situational exploding D6 in direct opposition of the same”.

As such we lack a common language or “Langua Franca” about RPG systems. ICRPG tries to do this with standard D20 roll system. But it does this by simplifying.

My grand question… is it worth while to create a “Common Language” for Table Top Role Playing Games?

Or would most rather skim the top for what works?


The AngryGM is already working on that, read his articles a lot, best of luck! :smiley:


Not to be di(KC)ly but what article? I know you will fill in the blank, and I may need to delete this post, but what are we talking about?

That said, @BlazingPolyhedron is someone I look for in this forum. @Lon, @Alex, and many others not mentioned but you know I value your input…@…I forget how to spell your names…if you know me you know I am not joking. Names are not my specialty… or better yet, I forget all nouns.


If we are talking a interactive world, I’m already there. It’s 30 years of predicting what players might do, while knowing : coughs, coughs…that they will probably take the most unexpected path and succeed on rolls to it.

Oh, you need two 20 rolls to go down this path……2 20s happen.
That is why I know my NPCs and their goals. What is going on in the world regardless of what the PCs ( Player Characters) are doing. As well as how to keep it entertaining for the players who are not front and center.


You ain’t being mean, it’s fine to ask: there’s no particular article in which he speaks of creating a language, but he defines a lot of terms gamers use willy-nilly as vaguely as possible to win arguments. You’ve just gotta read his articles once in a while. I used to obsess over them, now I am more relaxed about it. Besides, room designs from Runehammer usually has me inspired more.

The reason I take some distance from this conversation is because I’ve watched the video as well and it seems to me it’s, once again, more of a pitch than anything: I think the real issue is gamers don’t know how to argue. We talk a lot in parallel and it never really accomplish anything. And there’s that issue that there is a lot that is degraded to subjectivity/relativity, and it doesn’t allow conversations to go anywhere and it’s annoying.


The rules lawyers always want an unfair advantage so they will interpret the rules in their favor.

I have decided that an TTRPG group is really a group of musicians. The type of people you bring together has such a huge impact, and every group is different.

To argue that one way is better than another is to argue that one style of jazz is better than another. Or that metal is the only kind of music. There are different forms of music and there are different playing styles.

I will agree that having a common set of terms, much like law with its definition, can be helpful; I fear the opposition will simply create more interpretations for the purposes of remaining vague just to give themselves wiggle room to say they’re right.


My quick take is that each system is its own Language and the Lingua Franca you’re looking for is never going to exist. But we will always have the “Common Tongue” or Pidgin dialect that is more or less understood most of the time because certain broad concepts are just timeless.


I agree that there are different types of music, but they all pretty much do the same thing. They are an intentional arrangement of selected sounds.

That said, some people have an angle that isn’t TRPG-like, we just have to figure out what a TRPG is relative to, instead of always dragging the conversation down to:“Let’s agree to disagree.”


Uggg, I spent a couple of hours searching for a very large writeup from around 2009 about “all major game systems” D&D 5 was mentioned as D&D Next in the document…or the website hosting the document???

Found it…long story Design Patterns of Successful Role-Playing Games

Anyway, it was written in a semi-academic way. Giving names to the top 15 methods of RPGs of the day.

It scratched an itch I didn’t know I had, however since I was the only one in my circle who read the whole thing…and the systems stated where dated, it’s use to exchange ideas was limited.

Without a common language and easily exchangeable words, RPG design will always remain an art.

For good or ill, we are at a weird point where we can create stunningly complex games and offset the cognitive load to our gadgets. However that is not how we ( table top role playing gamers) want to interact with our tables per say.

Simplifying as much as we can seems the flavor I’m attracted to, so that character choices have the most impact. But crunchy always calls to me…in the dark culdesacs of my mind.

However like music, perhaps having a common language is pointless…but knowing the language helps when creating masterpieces, and I’ll argue that role playing games in any format have not yet made an Ode de Joy, we are at best Louie Louie by The Kingsmen.

Not bad, fun as hell…but not yet plummeting the depths of what it can be.


I’ve played with rules lawyers and have been one myself in 5e. I’ve tried to ease back and let things flow a little more, but when you’re in position to be a difference maker, but things don’t work out as you expected (not necessarily as you would have liked), it can be hard not to argue.

Ultimately that’s why I decided I wanted to run ICRPG as my core instead of 5e, or something even crunchier.

I try to establish early and often what my intentions are as a GM - to run a fair, fun, often dangerous game. If we’re not establishing a common language, at least we’re setting expectations. I prefer working out solutions in the moment, using the stats we have on hand, with the player to having a system with codified rules for every situation. I want to make sure the roll makes sense and seems fair to the player before they make it.

To me, that’s the common understanding that everyone is really seeking, and why the advice for frustrated players and GMs always seems to boil down to “just talk to your players (or GM)”


A friend gave me an interesting thought once, that maybe we should show players the Dungeon Master’s Guide first before we give them a Player’s Handbook, so that they understand what game they’re actually playing first. If you go strictly by the DMG for 5e, then there’s a very specific and defined set of the kinds of campaigns you can run. It’ll have dungeons, there will be an antagonist, there’s a roster of magic items that appear in loot hauls, towns will have up to 6000 people, one of 10 potential world shaking events will happen, and so on and so forth. For a 5th edition forgotten realms campaign, this is what you’ll be getting.

The reason I hold onto this thought is because the DMG is a toolkit, not a rulebook. Matt Colville’s video to me is part of the discussion that’s circling this same idea: that the rules are a means to an end, we use them as tools to create a shared experience. They can be important depending on what you’re trying to accomplish, and some players and DMs can relish in the sense of system mastery of it, while others are very content to wing it, but neither method is wrong as long as the table decides if its right for their table. It would seem very odd (maybe even toxic) if an actual play on youtube got to the episode where there’s a world shattering event, and the audience had a major negative reaction because it wasn’t one of the 10 from the table in the DMG.


Small clarification, I’m speaking from a game design perspective, not a rules lawyer perspective…if it is worth pursuing that end, use the rule books, not the description of the levers to difficulty and resolution.

About 25 minutes after typing this, I found a hard copy of the document I reference above as an attempt at common design language…
Design Patterns of Successful Role-Playing Games
Don’t be too intimidated it is only 273 pages of dense material :slight_smile:


I think part of the problem is that our critical brain jumps with joy with the idea of rules.

Rules are little containers. The critical brain thinks that if there are enough rules then every possible situation can be answered. The artistic side of the brain works with ranges or degrees of an amount. Not a finite on/off value. This might be the root cause.

Touching on the ‘rules lawyers’ briefly, there will always be people trying to gain a competitive edge. We normally call this “cheating”. That is a discussion for a different day. I wanted to touch on it, though that is not the reason for the post.

I’m thinkin’ that we have some kind of inner-wired stuff happening with regards to this topic. Oddly enough, the more rules one has, the less likely I am to play it. That’s why I’m looking at ICRPG. (I’m unemployed right now and have to save money, but I published a short story on WattPad!) :slight_smile:

There was a nifty post by someone here regarding Loot. That it wasn’t so much of a finite N gold pieces but instead a concept. This block of stuff is worth (comparatively) to this block of stuff. You, as a player, need 4 blocks of Loot to equal 1 super sword. Isn’t that what we are doing with gp? A 1,000 gp is 2% of something nifty.

We are changing the game. No longer are we playing a turn-based game with resource management (OSR), we are now creating and moving through stories. We need different tools for a different job. I think ICRPG might be that better tool.

Just some thoughts. Nothing else. All the best.


Oh, my!!!
That is very insightful.
There is something that loves knowing (my character can jump 4 meter long from standing on an average roll). But the same thing hates that there is a 5% chance I can’t step over a 50 Centimeter wide chasm.

TLTR summary: Modern OSR is a bit larger and much more nuanced than you are giving it credit for.

And 2/3 years ago I had a semi-negative view of Old School Renaissance (OSR). Mostly that it was a nostalgic thing and people wanted their 30+ year old books to have value…and I feel that is how OSR started. And having played many of those games 30 years ago, and recognized how much better newer games where to play…my experience fit my assumptions.

However now I feel I know better, the OSR movement has introduced many radical innovations.

Super simple character creation, massive tables to randomize anything, simplicity of play.

Now all of this existed prior, but was not used to simplify play….the full fumble table in Role Master could have you throwing your sword accidentally and killing the Dragon. But that would take 5 to 10 minutes of page turning and a bit of Rolls and Math to calculate, all slowed down by the GM giggles and cursing.

However, if the tables and calculators are all done prior, or at least selected (narrowed down) prior to play…there is almost no page flipping. Almost no slowdown.

The real strength of OSR is not OSR, but what has come out of it as new things.

Dungeon Crawl Classics (DDC) while everyone talks about the step dice system, fun, interesting, unnecessary. It gives the game a unique feel.
The real glory of the game is the Funnel Meat Grinder as character creator at the beginning.

The characters who survive are typically “sub-par” and in any other game not necessarily playable…but when asked at the tavern “who are you?” The player characters know their answer, and they are unified by it, the players played through the assault against the big bad, and those 5 are the only survivors of dozens or hundreds. They love their Characters!!!

And then beyond that, they most (of the good ones) have quick adventure creating systems in their book.

However, taking a step or two out of the OSR setting but rooted in it, you have games like Into the Odd, MotherShip, Electric Bastionland (arguably Into the Odd 2)…
These games do a great job of making the Fluff/Lore of the games, most of the rules.

They have taken the concept of exception rules (introduced globally with Magic the Gathering) to modern heights.

In D&D third edition or Pathfinder feats and abilities played this role, in Icrpg 2nd certain Loot or Tags do.

In many of the latest large OSR like rules lite games, the rules are very very basic, the lore and items change everything. It is too chaotic to remember everything, and your characters will never be superhero level.

In 7 rolls or less and some page flipping you have a pretty unique character with some back story and the seeds of motivation. (Page flipping is very minor).

The GM might need the book to familiarize themselves with items or abilities your character has.

But most of it, is created through play.

ICRPG came out of D20 (D&D 3rd Ed), video games, Hankerin’s unique ability to cut fat and add excitement with lite cognitive requirements.

This community however, attracted by his enthusiasm and unique take. Curated and maintained by @Alex, has been my favorite online community for years.

Basic free rules of arguably the most popular OSR.

Free version of Electric Bastionland

List of modified games on into the odd…same system…for the most part.
Most of them free

Free version of Mother Ship.

Free version of Dungeon Crawl Classics
Very cool West coast community.

All in all, not promoting these games, these are all games along with ICRPG that I have enjoyed in the last 4 years.

The community on this forum is exceptional. And there are a ton of great games out there right now.
What these and ICRPG really share, DIY, Indi concepts, simple play. While not all rules lite, they mostly are.

Great Gaming on the cheap today is totally doable. Getting together with friends just takes a bit of planning.
Agreeing on what to play can be a bit of a challenge.


That post echos my own.

I thought originally that stoggie old people just didn’t want to learn anything. After poking around Questing Beast’s web site and reading some articles that he linked, it opened up a lot of the reasoning to why I felt something was “off” with 3rd edition.

3rd edition DnD really started a whole lot of dialog and discussion. The myriad game systems that we have today in the Indie market is unreal. ClownfishTV did a video today regarding a non-WOTC “Dragonlance” project, so it seems mainstream authors are breaking away from corporations.

I think the dialog that surrounds all of this is the important part. Instead of “my game system is better than the old system” it seems to be more of a “I wanted to focus on this instead of that”. There is so much out there it’s almost too much. I’m grateful for that. And this community here is quite the bonus.


I don’t know that I agree with the off about 3rd edition, by the time 3.5 came out, almost every new game system has been exception based.
Most of the “modern” Old School Renaissance games have that under the hood.

It is 4th edition that felt off, not D&D…I loved the game but it was not D&D.
5th edition was probably their best ever. But it went wrong in large part because of D&D adventures league. Though that added a lot to its popularity. It took away much of the GM autonomy. Since this introduced a ton of new players, it destroyed what many including myself thought was playing D&D was.

Funny to think of now, but I became very rigid about it, and did not feel that way about any other game system.

But in today’s table top role playing sphere…we have 5 pages of rules, with tables and lore that explain the exceptions and expand the world. And ICRPG sits as a very good introduction game, that is enjoyed by many veteran players.


Sorry about that, part of a different discussion.

The argument was in regards to treasure as XP vs only killing monsters for XP. 3rd began the divide and, some would argue, the creation of the another branch that we now call OSR. This created people researching 1st edition and its definition.

The research into why 3rd was different than 1st continued. As 4th developed into Pathfinder, then 5th replacing Pathfinder, there was quite a bit of dialog going. Oddly enough, the popularity of DnD mirrored that of MS-DOS (version 4 was skipped by most people; v3.3 and v5 were used in embedded devices for years).

What has developed now is a hybrid system. Developers have researched OSR, taken things they like. Took some components from official DnD then took some things developed elsewhere all the while asking the question, “What are we trying to do?!” I did the same thing a while ago when developing my own system.

As we are now quite a few years into this, and as Hank has pointed out, with POD there are opportunities to getting your work out there. Most of this is love based publishing, projects of personal interest meant to share vs. make a business product.

There was discussion regarding Indie development being near its height right now. I agree. Board games went through this incredible development. Parcheesi being of the original class of games to Settlers of Catan defining a new generation of board games. There is a lot of cool stuff out there.

Even this site. I can toss out ideas or if I have a problem with something and I get great quality feedback. Does this take my time to read the posts and add a bit here or there? Yes. But I think there is a return on investment. Keeping a place like this up an running with some silly post or a simple reply is worth the time for me.

Thanks for the dialog and the corrections were applicable. I’m off to do some fiction writing.


To cut straight to your questions:

  • … is it worth while to create a “Common Language” for Table Top Role Playing Games?

  • … would most rather skim the top for what works?

These questions strike me as unrelated to each other.

For the former, you wrote that it was scratching a particular itch for you. If you’re enjoying conceiving of and thinking of and organizing a common language or langua franca for TTRPGs, then to me it’d be hard to argue it isn’t worth while. Shine on you crazy diamond :smiley:

For the latter, I think it’s hard to argue about what “most” in the hobby would rather do or not do. I know quite a few people for instance won’t want to read the academic book you linked about RPG design. On the other hand, I happen to enjoy reading that kind of stuff for fun, and I appreciate you sharing it. My impression is: a lot of folks want to have fun at their table, and a segment of those folks are willing to do deep dives on how to have more fun at their table, and a segment of those folks may be interested in an RPG langua franca. Is that most hobbyists? Who knows!


Just thought of this. A Domain Specific Language might be useful from an academic perspective. A Backus-Naur form is occasionally used to describe the language for parsing.


@BambooHare thanks for the linked documents…didn’t understand the relevance immediately, but it certainly added to my thinking of the topic.


I should have targeted my audience better. I was thinking game creation, not player or user. Language is also the wrong word.

Common Glossary of Terms is probably better.
Stats is universally recognized, generally means what it is, even if the game uses adjectives for stats, they function like stats.

However, Randomization Method ( a Rolling System) is not. And since Rolling is not the only method, “rolling system” is very inaccurate, to the point of misleading at times.
examples of Randomization methods:
shuffling a deck of cards
rolling a D20
Rolling 3D6
Pulling from a Jenga tower.
Coin flip
phone app

The list can be nearly infinite but listing the most 20 or 30 common methods as well as their probability spreads and time used for the result;

for example, counting the sum of 12d6 takes most people longer than counting the number of 12d6 that rolled over 4.

The time a random resolution takes affects the pacing of a game.
Playing a Speed race game would not be a fast game if every maneuver made you had to pull X number of Jenga blocks. However, it may add to the sense of tension you want in a submarine or stealth space battle game.

Anyway it is a random question, and hope that someone had already has done it :slight_smile:


Have you seen this book? They discuss ‘Critical Hits and Failures’ (p. 119), ‘Turn order and structure terminology’ (chapter 2) and more! Building Blocks of Tabletop Game Design (Amazon link)

If one uses the phrase ‘Rolling System’ to refer to any mechanism to acquire a randomized value, then that would be incorrect. Multiple divination systems have been designed over the centuries to accomplish such things. It is a short hand way of saying ‘random’ however. Not so good for technical dialog.

1d6 has a different curve than 3d6. See (link) Interesting bell curve.

True! That’s a problem I ran across when designing a game system.

Maybe that book will help. There is a preview available on Amazon. One can also expand the search using the keywords in and around the subject matter. It seems to be, roughly, in the ‘Game Theory’ space and there are probably other books out there. I didn’t see anything in particular via Google Scholar (Google Scholar Search (link)).

All the best.