I’m a pretty easy-going, rules light GM. At the end of the day, I really don’t like a lot of crunch in my games (my undying love for Rolemaster not withstanding). A recent conversation on Fear the Boot discussed the necessity of rules adherence – when the rules drive the story. This resonates with me intensely and really got me thinking about messing with rules when they inhibit the story.
Let’s be clear, game designers generally have a reason for every rule they put into a game. But they really can’t be expected to foresee every situation – particularly in the case of a roleplaying game. That isn’t to say that there aren’t situations where the rules just don’t match the game. For all these situations, I think GMs need to be willing (heck, eager) to hack the rules.
One of my favorite examples is the Robotech RPG from Palladium. I love Robotech. A lot. But the Palladium system doesn’t make a lot of sense for replicating the feel of the classic series. The core Palladium system was developed before D&D 4th edition’s minions or Fate’s mooks – and let’s face it, the vast majority of bad guys in Robotech are minions. Seriously, those Zentradi Battlepods blow up if you look at them wrong… Unfortunately, attritional systems are slow in terms of play time which really contrasts with the dynamic, fast-paced combat scenes of Robotech. In my games, I fixed this problem by just vastly reducing the hit points of most opponents (MDC for all you Rifts/Palladium die-hards) and setting a 15 second time limit for player actions during combat. This kept things constantly hectic during combat and made the players feel like the aces they were (at least until the Zentradi officers showed up).
But sometimes it’s not the systems fault. In these cases, simple hacks can do what you need. I’ve borrowed the initiative system from Marvel Heroic Roleplaying (where each player gets to choose who acts after them) in many Fate hacks. Not because the initiative system in Fate is wrong or broken, but because sometimes a different initiative just fits the setting better.
So don’t be afraid to play with the rules – make them your own. It’s your game after all! And be sure to share any rules hacks you come up with – I love seeing what others have come up with!