Thursday, June 16, 2022




“Here we come across another, very positive feature of play : it creates order, is order. Into an imperfect world and into the confusion of life it brings a temporary, a limited perfection. Play demands order absolute and supreme. The least deviation from it "spoils the game", robs it of its character and makes it worthless.”

- Homo Ludens

Homo Ludens is a foundational work in the scholarship of games or “play” and of cultural history more generally. Written by the Dutch historian Johan Huizinga and published in 1938, it defines play as a distinct natural activity that exists outside everyday survival, only for the purpose of freedom and fun. However, a major element separates play from other leisure activities
play requires rules.

Play produces “games” or what RPG communities like to call “systems”, each of which has a set of rules, even the games of animals. Huzinga’s example is dogs playing at fighting, pretending to be furious. The dogs nip and mouth each other, but never bite to injure as they would in a real conflict. Even the play of puppies has unwritten rules that fall largely into the concept of “fairplay”, exactly the same concerns that dominate human play, including RPGs. RPGs though are a complex game, and have correspondingly complex sets of rules, including unspoken ones.

Rules come in more than one variety as well, especially in complex games. In RPGs we often focus on what I differentiate as “Mechanics”; rules that largely cover how events within the fiction of the game work. What dice we roll and what they mean when the system models a fight for example. Mechanics are almost always the primary focus of rule books, because without them it’s impossible to play the game at all, or at least it’s impossible to play as a distinct system, and that’s the goal of most designers: to share their distinct vision of play with others.

Yet there’s another sort of rules. Rules about why and how we play more generally that I will call “Procedure”. Procedures are a form of rules for outside of play itself, the rules for using the rules. While mechanics define why and what is happening in a game, procedures define how it happens at the table. Procedure is the way we, the players, do something in the game.

This is a somewhat loose definition, and there’s overlap between procedures and mechanics
edge cases where rules may be both, where they serve different purposes at different times, or where it’s hard to tell which category they fit in. However, the existence of troublesome borderline rules isn’t grounds to dismiss this entire distinction, because most of the time the distinction is intuitively obvious, and more importantly it’s useful. The distinction between mechanics and procedure allows one to look at games: rules, design principles, ethics, and cultures of play in a new way, viewing what might seem like eccentricities as necessary parts of the entire rules structure, interrogating them as potential elements of intentional design. However, even with this distinction in mind the relationship between how, what, and why in a rules-based system is complex, but this complexity isn’t just for RPGs or games, similar issues appear with all complex rules-based disciplines and there are applicable tools available for a better understanding of Procedure.

I am not adapting my definitions of procedure from Huizinga, or from the theory of games at all. Instead, to dig into the meaning of Procedure, I went to theory of another rules-based structure, an older and more fiercely contested space, with far more theory around the distinction between substantive and procedural rules—legal theory.

Proceduralism is a significant approach in the theory and practice of law, and especially American jurisprudence. This may feel like an odd leap, from law to games and back, but it’s not entirely my own, it's also Huizinga’s and he makes a compelling argument that the legal system shares many elements with a game or contest.

“The judicial contest is always subject to a system of restrictive rules which, quite apart from the limitations of time and place, set the lawsuit firmly and squarely in the domain of orderly, antithetical play. [...] The lawsuit can be regarded as a game of chance, a contest, or a verbal battle.”

- Homo Ludens


“The fallacy underlying the […] [t]he doctrine rests upon the assumption that there is 'a transcendental body of law outside of any particular State but obligatory within it unless and until changed by statute,' that federal courts have the power to use their judgment as to what the rules of common law are; and that in the federal courts 'the parties are entitled to an independent judgment on matters of general law':

But law in the sense in which courts speak of it today does not exist without some definite authority behind it. The common law so far as it is enforced in a State, whether called common law or not, is not the common law generally but the law of that State existing by the authority of that State without regard to what it may have been in England or anywhere else.”

- Erie Railroad Co. v. Tompkins (304 U.S. 64)

Looking towards the larger and far more detailed body of scholarship and ideas around the law provides an interesting approach the complex rules-based activity of RPGs. In law, procedure is the set of rules that govern how a case is brought and decided
the logistics and processes of the court. Procedure doesn’t tell you what conduct is allowed or punished outside the court (what is “against the law”), but it defines how and when you can act within the court. Detractors see it as pure ritual, wigs and nicetieslegal procedure can certainly be fussy. Most “Rules of Court” in the US define the proper fonts for anything you file: Times New Roman, Arial, or Courier New usually and you can tell your lawyer is a bit of a rebel when they use Garamond…

However, procedure, when it succeeds, also offers clear and universal guidelines for accessing justice—it’s an effort to limit the power of status, and make sure that judges base their decisions on a set of publicly transparent criteria. Obviously it doesn’t always work, corruption still thrives in most legal systems (even or especially in the US where procedure is emphasized). At its core though procedure stands in opposition to arbitrary power.

In the United States, legal procedure is an extremely important part of law generally and especially its practice, perhaps more so then in many other legal systems. Federal Civil Procedure (ironically mostly useless for practicing all but the more rarefied kinds of law) is the cornerstone of the 1st year of legal education along with things like “contracts” and “property”. The basis of procedure’s hold on American jurisprudence is likely the distinction between Federal and State courts, and the 1938 holding in Erie Railroad Co. v. Tompkins (304 U.S. 64) that Federal Courts judging cases between parties in different states cannot invent and apply a generalized Federal common law, but must use State Law for the substantive questions in the suit, but do use Federal procedure. Obviously the issue of what’s substantive and what’s procedural law becomes very important after Erie, as it determines the rules and outcome of many cases. This fixation, whatever else its implications about the collective psyche of the United States (perhaps atomized, personal freedom obsessed individuals need some source of extrinsic authority to function as a society), has spawned an entire legal theory known as “Proceduralism”.

Legal procedure is defined as the laws that determine when, where, and how other specific bodies of law are used.

RPG Procedures are the rules one uses to determine when and how to apply the Mechanics
the rules that determine the results of action or events in the game’s setting/fiction/world.

So what is Proceduralism?

Legal Proceduralism is loosely defined as the idea that a legal decision is correct to the degree that it is the result of a consistent, transparent, and public process. Rather than worry about the intangibles such as the moral and ethical implications of a decision, the court should only assure that the procedures have been followed, and it derives its authority from following them. This can be a fairly cynical legal philosophy, the sort of thing that says “better an innocent man be executed then a filing deadline missed”, but it has interesting implications for games where the stakes are far lower.

Taking Homo Ludens' observations about the essential nature of play as structured leisure, and the legal concept of procedure as the law or rules governing the processes of the court, creates an interesting space for discussing roleplaying games, especially classic ones. It also helps us define what RPG Proceduralism, beyond being an appreciation of Procedure in RPGs, might look like, and why it could be usefulwhat problems it can help answer. The goal of this manifesto is to define what Proceduralism in RPGs means. Before presenting definition and claim, it's worth looking at why Procedures are important and how they function in RPGs.


Procedures matter, mostly because they are always there, we can’t avoid them when playing gameswhen applying rules. In RPGs they matter more than most games, precisely because the complexity RPGs means that RPG Procedure will be complex, and that with the broad expanse of moves, actions, or solutions available to RPG players Procedure will be similarly expansive.

This presents a problem because any Procedures that the designer doesn’t share in the rules book will be invented anew by each table that plays the game, based on that table's idiosyncratic understanding of the game's purposes, and their preferred or learned culture of play. Procedures also matter because when they’re a mismatch for the play style and Mechanics of a game they become discouraging, and the system often becomes incoherent.  For designers this makes transmitting the intended Procedure of a game important to sharing an intended style of play or experience with others. Yet many RPG designers, especially those with a limited grasp of Procedure's importance, or limited exposure to multiple styles of play don't provide examples of play or codified procedure, relying that their game will only be played by tables that more or less share their play culture and aim for the same play style. 

The breakdown between rules as written and play culture has been one of the abiding problems of RPG design since the 1970's. Designers often struggle with how to replicate the intended play experience of a game for others who have no prior experience with their game or intended play style. How to share the experience of your game with people you aren’t playing with or even talking to so they can replicate it?

Proceduralism has an answer to this issue, and one that’s been with the hobby since its inception, even if it has rarely been a focus for discussion because it offers it's own difficulties exacerbated by the tactically infinite options players have in RPGs, the complexity of rules necessary to constrain them, the need to offer rules in a concise fashion, and the limited resources most RPG designers can bring to bare on the problem.

In a somewhat sour 2019 interview, Rob Kuntz, one of the original Lake Geneva players in Gary Gygax’s circle, described his (and Gygax’s) first experience with what would become Dungeons & Dragons. Kuntz highlights precisely the issue of propagating and replicating intended play. Kuntz describes a demonstration session of Blackmoor, Arneson's version of proto-D&D, that Dave Arneson ran for Gygax, Kuntz, and a few others—it was revolutionary to the wargamers of Gygax’s club. Arneson’s game had freedom to act and creative opportunities beyond the tactical decisions of a war game. However, Gygax was also frustrated because Blackmoor was largely played from Arneson's binder of personal notes and lacked a set of clear rules that Gygax and Kuntz could read, copy, and understand to play on their own. Kuntz recounts that immediately after playing with Arneson, Gygax attempted to set down his memories of the game into a coherent rule set. These notes and Arneson's would ultimately become Dungeons & Dragons, but only by being codified could the game really be propagated and begin to gather a following. This same problem persists for designers today.

An issue for Dungeons & Dragons has always been the conflict between its popularity and complexity. When D&D appeared it grew suddenly, massively in popularity, and far outraced the control of its creators. The Mechanics of any roleplaying game need to cover a lot of situations, and along with the setting content needed to support them (monsters, treasures, and such) they quickly fill rule books. What is often left out has been the context of play—for the 1974 version of Dungeons & Dragons that was the war gaming culture that Gygax and Arneson shared. War game culture informed Gygax and Arenson’s expectations as designers and players and so formed the basis of Dungeons & Dragons’ designit’s likely unspoken Procedures. The majority of this Procedure wasn't directly codified in Dungeons & Dragons. Gygax and Arneson assumed they were making a war game, and that players would come from the same culture, with the same preoccupations they had. Alternatively it’s possible that the concept of the RPG was so novel and its ethics of play so new in 1974, that Gygax and Arneson didn’t really know themselvesthat thier own goals and play style as well as the Procedures to support them evolved and changed while they were writing Dungeons & Dragons and after publication.

Still, Procedure gets a very few mentions in the original Dungeons & Dragons, outside combat it’s largely relegated to a few pages of “Underworld & Wilderness Adventures”. In a short section that mostly covers dungeon design, with a few Mechanics and a procedural skeleton for dungeon exploration. They are worth a read, but insufficient. Insufficient, again, most likely because what Dungeons & Dragons as a distinct type of game wasn’t a firm concept for its creators—in 1974 the entire idea of roleplaying games was evolving, new, and I suspect that both Gygax and Arneson thought they were designing a new kind of war game, not something categorically different. As hinted above, the rules of D&D even change during the writing of the 1974 “Little Brown Books” with the recognition that the Chainmail combat system is too lethal to match players' engagement with their characters, and the creation of the “alternate combat system”.

Original Dungeons & Dragons Procedures for exploration don’t seem to have been similarly updated during the design process, and a history of D&D can be written as a history of their insufficiency. The original dungeon exploration rules contain fascinating and valuable ideas that weren’t retained, the “no surprise for parties with light except when opening a door" and the “monsters attack if they have surprise” Mechanics make dungeon exploration more tense without limiting the effect of the reaction roll. These useful nuggets are scattered among less useful rules that express a far greater focus on board-gamesque exploration: traps as a random risk/penalty for movement (instead of a puzzle-like obstacle), and a design that appears to depend on mapping and very maze-like environments. These board game like ideas don’t add much to Dungeons & Dragons as a game of exploration and creative problem solving and have been largely set aside, even by those attempting the fruitless task of “rediscovering” classic play. However, the scattered and minimal nature of early D&D’s exploration Procedures (wilderness exploration is famously handed off to another game almost entirely), has had interesting effects on the evolution of RPG design.

The result of 1974’s Dungeons & Dragons understandably unsure beginning is that very little exploration Procedure is clearly codified in the first editions, less perhaps with each new iteration, especially when it expresses war game values and conventions such a logistics. Exploration and supply issues are largely left as a void for individual tables to fill. This means that almost immediately after publication we find Gygax fighting a losing battle for his vision of how Dungeons & Dragons is played, not the rules, but the ethos behind them, the expectations of the players and the Procedure to support them. The CalTech style of play and its conception of D&D as a means of recreating novelistic narrative with powerful heroes fated to success soon dominates as the game escapes the confines of war gaming. In turn this play style and culture evolve into the 1980's and 1990's "Trad" style of play, adventure paths, and ultimately the Contemporary Traditional style of 5th edition as it is reflected in Wizard’s of the Coast’s adventure design. D&D's war game inheritances that may have seemed natural to Gygax and Arneson, (for example a concern for logistics and movement) have largely been replaced with narrative elements such as concern for story structure and character development. Without them many of the mechanics that support exploration play become incoherent and later D&D dismisses or retains them only as vestiges to prove its ancestry. When someone coming from classic design wonders how 5E can work without utilizing asymmetrical and random encounters, morale, reaction rolls, turnkeeping, encumbrance and complex maps

—all almost entirely omitted from its official adventures even when (clumsy) rules exist for them—it's because of Gygax and Arneson's early assumptions about play style. Because the original Dungeons & Dragons wasn’t clear enough about its exploration Procedure and how it interacted with various mechanics, multiple play styles quickly evolved and pushed the game away from what the classic and OSR cultures of play claim were its designers’ preferred play style.

None of these changes to play style and culture are wrong or bad, and they don't offer a reason to scorn 5th edition or the “OC” play style. Trad and OC play styles have evolved and like 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons function to deliver the play style and experience that many of thier players desire. This evolution however does present an issue for players who want a different sort of game, and designers like me who enjoy logistics heavy exploration focused games—the common understanding of what the game D&D is, or even fantasy roleplaying as a whole is, now rejects exploration as a primary locus of play. Navigation, supply, and risk management are not viewed by most fantasy RPG designers as the key to successful play, or even as part of it. Even where supporting Mechanics such as encumbrance, random encounters, and movement rates are included in a game the Procedures to support them most often aren’t, and so for players and referees used to a culture of play where exploration isn’t important, these Mechanics seem purposeless, unnecessary, and burdensome.

When Procedures aren’t recognized as rules, they instead become naturalized and are seen as essential elements of play, an absolute and universal aspect of role-playing games as a whole rather than a specific system, play style, or culture. This not only prevents some players from enjoying older style games, but can create unnecessary intractable conflict between various cultures of play who may recognize another culture's Mechanics, but don't recognize the Procedure or play style involved and so see the system as incomprehensible, incoherent or broken. This often prevents the creative exchange of ideas and a constant churn of designers rediscovering the same Procedural insights. Acknowledging the importance of Procedure and the ways that it structures play lets designers and communities both better understand how they play to achieve a certain play style, and pass this information on
without corrosive appeals to the idea that their methods are more proper than others, except as they can be clearly explained to support a specific intended play style.

So what exactly is Proceduralism in the context of role playing games?

American legal proceduralism is the proposition that legal decisions are good to the degree that they follow clear procedure rather than meet some higher and idiosyncratic ideal of justice. This won't work for RPGs exactly, but something similar is possible. A Proceduralist reading of an RPG looks at the play style and how well a specific design decision manifests that intent
how well Mechanics and supporting materials (such as adventures) mesh with the Procedures, written and unwritten, to recreate a specific experience in play. Where Procedure hasn’t been codified the Proceduralist attempts to understand or create it by examining the Mechanics and presumed goals of the play style. Proceduralist design then has three practical aims: codification of Procedure, production of supporting works that function within a systems and play style, and when necessary innovation or modification of Procedure and Mechanics.
The first goal is to codify unwritten Procedure or to explain it so that others can better replicate a play style.

The second is to intentionally produce supporting works that function within the Procedural and mechanical constraints of a system and play style.

The third, is to implement new innovations that streamline, simplify, or change Procedure and Mechanics to make playing the game easier and still deliver an intended play style.

Obviously there are limits to this, first, since the many of the Procedures for most games aren't provided, and may not have been intentional at all, but rather accreted over time as support for additional ad hoc Mechanics (as in OD&D’s Greyhawk supplement) or evolved down multiple paths based around different play styles, determining authentic Procedure is almost always impossible. This can lead to dead ends and frequent moments when a system seems incoherent even for a dedicated Proceduralist. Often, and especially when looking at classic systems, the best one can do is to begin with an understanding of what play style or experience one wants or that one believes the system will work with.

A second limit is the same one described above that Gygax and Arneson faced with OD&D, limited space and time
both the designer's and the readers'. Writing down Procedure, explaining its purpose, and providing examples of how it interacts with Mechanics takes up a lot of space, both in any rule book and in the potential player or referee’s mind. It also takes a lot of time both to produce and to take in, time that the majority of RPG hobbyist don't want to or can't spend.

This first challenge, the issue of systems or Mechanics which appear incoherent, isn’t a new one, and back in 2008, James Maliszewski who would later become one of the founding writers of the OSR with his blog Grognardia, wrote about it. On his Livejournal Maliszewski posted a short discussion of the then still rumored Dungeon’s & Dragons’ 4th edition and its potential decision to remove spell-casting from the ranger class titled “The Glories of Incoherence”. After acknowledging that the ranger presented in early D&D appears incoherent he suggests that “D&D is always right”. At first glance this sounds like something objectionable, every referee is in charge of their own table, and one of the real joys of the RPG hobby is to make changes to a game’s rules that fit the sort of setting and play style you want to run. Maliszewski isn’t really suggesting not doing this though and like many maxims about game design that come out of the OSR movement the phrase is slightly polemical without a bit of explanation.

As he puts it:

“The "D&D is always right" principle means that many times you're left wrestling with things that simply don't make sense or at least whose meaning is obscure. There are two ways to resolve the confusion. The simplest one is simply to assume that the original text must be "wrong," which is to say, that the author had no idea what he was talking about and that you can safely substitute your own preference in their place. The more difficult approach is to step back and assume the author actually intended something and that, simply because that something isn't immediately obvious, it isn't any less real. “

When looking at Mechanics that don’t have Procedures obviously attached, "D&D is always right" is a great place to start.

Why might the system include incoherent seeming rules?

It’s a less important question with implied setting elements like the ranger class, but many Mechanics in classic systems that look incoherent or burdensome at first such as encumbrance, the reaction roll, morale, random encounters and movement rates work together in unexpected important ways to deliver a distinct and unique play style. The “D&D is always right” principle or the “Mechanics are always right” principle is an excellent place to start looking for or building missing Procedures. The next step of course is play-testing the old rules, no matter how incoherent they might seem. This doesn’t always lead to a revelation, and there are certainly Mechanics that provide a different play style then one might want, don’t seem to have any benefit at all, or even work in a way that conflicts with other mechanics. Starting from the idea that even Mechanics one viscerally doesn’t like have a purpose and are a functional part of a system’s rule structure (for me it was hard to accept the rest structure of 5E for example) makes the supporting Procedure much easier to unravel, recreate or modify.

The second issue, that codified Procedure can itself be burdensome, is also worth looking at. Another OSR blogger of note, Brendan at Necropraxis, wrote a post titled “Proceduralism” about the lack of codified Procedures in older systems, how it shapes play style, and the ways that codified Procedure is both a weakness and a strength:

“It is a weakness because it is notoriously hard to learn how to play an RPG (which involves conversational form, conflict resolution, rules math, and many other components) from a text alone. It is a strength because it leaves the borders of potential wide open, assuming that you want to use the rules more like a toolkit than a how-to manual.”

Brendan is someone I consider a Proceduralist, if not one of the originators of the idea within the OSR. My own interest in how unwritten Procedures of original D&D form the basis of a system that supports robust dungeon crawl play developed from his multi-year Pahvelorn OD&D campaign, which started as a test of the system using its rules as written, but ultimately led to innovations such as the Overloaded Encounter Die/Hazard System. As such, I take his criticism of codification seriously, it increase complexity, and it creates spaces where player and referee creativity are more constrained, where “The game grabs hold of you and does not let you go until you have performed the necessary steps.” This is a somewhat different definition of Proceduralism than the one presented here, one closer to the legal proceduralist idea
that Proceduralism in games is the preference for a clear Procedural structure which must be followed step by step to use the system properly.

Like the post by Maleweski, Necropraxis’ contains both a description of a problem for Proceduralism, and a solution. Brendan notes that even games lacking much codified Procedure, early Dungeons & Dragons specifically, have “islands” of Proceduralism, even if they don’t explain how to move between these islands. Areas of emphasis and greater Procedural codification allow for much of the game to remain open and creatively more accessible, while better focusing play on a play style’s specific, preferred loci, perhaps exploration, combat, character development, or base building. The goal of Proceduralism should not be a
totalizing system of Procedures and Mechanics to cover every possible fictional situationas is sometimes presented in systems with universal mechanics, but instead be to add, clarify, and explain the Procedures for specific aspects of play that are either focal points for a system or require greater control by the rules. 

This goal is somewhat unintuitive, because one often wants to control areas of play that need to be de-emphasized, and dense rules and codified Procedures can streamline them, reducing the amount of time they will take up during play. In classic dungeon crawl games such as 1974 Dungeon’s & Dragons rules are generally heaviest around times where player knowledge is insufficient and risk to the characters is highsuch as combat. This need not be because these areas are the primary locus of play, as in the case of combat when playing early Dungeons & Dragons as an exploration game. The simple and clear combat mechanics and codified Procedure around them do grab hold of the players, but their function is to take combat largely out of player and referee control, to add risk and uncertainty to it, making it less attractive as a problem solving solution.

Procedure to support the primary loci of the play however is equally important, and can also be codified. In the case of the dungeon crawl, or other exploration games this means elevating the risks of exploration to the same level as the risk of combat, only without taking control from the players and referee to the same degree. It may seem contradictory to say that a good approach to Proceduralist design is to both codify the primary focus of play and areas that can detract from it, but to avoid universal mechanics, but doesn’t have to be
looking at dungeon crawl systems as an example, it’s possible to see how this emphasis works. Much of most classic dungeon crawl systems isn’t supported by codified Procedure, and in areas where they are, the Procedure isn't built around universal Mechanics. Entire areas that have Mechanics and Procedure in other systems such as adventure design (via rules on balancing encounters), or wilderness travel are left largely untouched. One of the primary loci or modes of play, problem and puzzle solving, is also largely free of Mechanics and Procedures instead asking the players to use the referee’s descriptions of the fantastical world and their own knowledge and judgment to interact with and solve problems such as faction intrigue, magical traps, secret doors and navigating the dungeon. This works well because it's depends on an overarching, larger Procedural framework of turnkeeping, supply, and random risk to encourage less cautious decision making by players, and risk management over risk avoidance. However, Procedural this framework is, it largely directs the focus of play without overtly Proceduralizing the core problem solving play loop.


With these risks or issues addressed and the basic structure of a Proceduralist approach to design sketched, I can put forward a few rules that define Proceduralism in RPGs as I understand it:

1) Proceduralism is the acknowledgement that RPGs have two forms of rules: “Mechanics” and “Procedure”.

1a) Rules that control how the characters functions within the RPG’s setting are Mechanics.
1b) Rules that determine when and how specific Mechanics are applied are Procedure.
1c) Mechanics will almost always be written, but Procedure can be unwritten, codified or vary across multiple cultures of play using the same system for different play styles.
1d) The line between Mechanics and Procedure is soft, some rules can function as both to varying degrees and/or vary in purpose depending on when they are used.

2) Proceduralism is the belief that RPG Procedure has a profound effect on play style and experience.

2a) Proceduralism seeks to encourage intentional design, meaning design that specifically considers and promotes a chosen play style.
2b) Proceduralism hopes to reduce conflict between communities and play styles by recognizing that different play cultures exist and want different experiences from RPGs.

3) Proceduralism interrogates the mechanics of systems, play styles, and play culture for missing or uncodified procedures.

3 a)Procedurialism trusts the inherent functionality of systems as written, that designers intend to provide the rules they offer, and that system incoherence is likely the result of a failure to understand a system’s intent, Procedure, and implied play style.
3 b)Proceduralism tests systems and implied or invented Procedure to see how and if they work prior to efforts to streamline or modify them.

4) Proceduralism tries to codify and explain Procedure as a necessary part of intentionally designing both systems and adventures to provide distinct play styles and experiences.

4a) Proceduralism accepts that codified Procedure and explanation of its relation to Mechanics or a specific play style takes space and time, and seeks to limit it to the degree necessary to provide an intended play style and experience.
4b) Proceduralism acknowledges that much of the creativity and enjoyment in RPGs is found in filling the unavoidable empty spaces or ‘fruitful voids’ in the rules and setting, and that codified Procedure should be limited to allow these spaces.
4c) Proceduralism accepts that rules and Procedures require and can monopolize energy and attention on the part of players and referee that could be used for other, more creative parts of play. Therefore, Proceduralism prefers the rules that are limited in number and complexity whose functionality is aimed at producing specific play styles.

5) Proceduralism rejects the idea that there is a historically or otherwise correct way to play RPGs as a whole or systems, except to the degree that one utilizes Mechanics and Procedures in a way to deliver the play style and experience that the referee seeks to create.

5a) Proceduralism holds that there is no need to divine the authorial intent or historical way to play a specific system or play style to understand how its rules can work, and that many ideas about a fixed nature of early play are nostalgic inventions rather then rediscovery.
5b) Proceduralism suggests that codification and written theory of Procedure serves the secondary purpose of maintaining individual contributions to RPG play style, rules and culture.
5c) Proceduralism cautions that codification and theorizing on Procedure doesn’t imply rejection of experimentation, evolution, streamling, changing, or removing existing Mechanics or Procedures. These activities are essential to the continued viability of RPGs as an artform or hobby.
5d) Proceduralism promotes the distinction between specific rules, setting and aesthetics, while acknowledging that setting and aesthetics can work better with certain loci of play and play styles, themselves supported by specific rules.


  1. Well now you've got me all fired up to interrogate and codify the procedures in ORWA!

    Regarding 1d, is there a good example of a rule that functions both as a mechanic and a procedure?

    (Apologies in advance if I missed an example while reading the post!)

    1. It's been a while since I wrote this, but I think I was thinking of stuff like "torches last 6 Turns" - which is obviously a rule, very likely to be codified, and both is something in and of the game world but also determines the procedural flow of play? To some extent it's also a sort of dodge, because the line is a bit fuzzy.


Old Games

Let’s talk about old tabletop roleplaying games - specifically the kind of games played in the 1980’s and recently depicted in the nostalgia...