I’ve been waiting on moving into a new house and I’ve been away from the internet. In the meantime I’ve been thinking about 4e. The problem I’m running into with the writing is while everything is intended to be modular, everything is so integrated that it’s hard to explain one concept without having to explain all the rules for five other concepts just for it to make some sense.

I realized that the central metaphor for how to explain the game is broken. Often the mechanics of a game are called an engine and that’s what was tripping me up.

An engine has a reoccurring cycle and that makes sense up to a point. In general, play occurs in a cycle of turns, with players carrying out their own cyclic input.

Except not everything is cyclic. Not everything is used on every turn. There are plenty of optional rules that can be employed. So there’s an engine, but a lot of the rules aren’t always needed. The better metaphor for these are tools. You have to know why you might need a tool and where it works or doesn’t.

I used to call that an optional rule but that implies that you could ignore it without impacting the game. It’s intuitive that a tool has a specific effect.

The surprising part is that nearly everything that I started out being part of the game “engine” really turns out to be a tool, useful only in certain situations. Even something normally considered a “core part” of an engine like initiative is really only a tool, useful in specific situations. Even something as basic as an attribute is a tool. They’re a very useful tool but there are plenty of times they aren’t needed.

So now I’m going to have to re-write the rules section and create a new chapter in the book… Tools.

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