Clerics, Magic Users, Fighters, and Thieves: Theoretical Approaches to Rules Questions on the Role-Playing Games Stack Exchange.
By me, @mxyzplk and @cross
There are many different ways of thinking about the rules of a role-playing game. Some people want to use the “rules as written.” Others argue for the “rules as intended.” Still others think that the “rule of cool” trumps both of them. We present a description of how people on the Role-Playing Games Stack Exchange answer questions about RPGs. We borrow the four classes from the most popular iteration of early Dungeons & Dragons to lend memorable labels to these ways of thinking.
A cleric, or Jurist, likes the rules as written. The cleric prefers to get rules from external books and believes that the rules trump reality. The rules as written make for a fair, fun, and predictable game. If the rules aren’t working, they try to find a better game.
A magic user, or Innovator, likes to make house rules and improve on the rules. The magic user will make new rules to fit particular situations within their game, acting as god, game master, and game designer for their players.
A fighter, or Realist, likes the rules as intended, and that intent is to simulate the world of the game. The fighter knows that the game mimics reality. When the rules present silly results, reality wins, and real-world history, tactics, and equipment are as valid an argument as anything in the rulebook.
A thief, or Imaginative, likes the rule of cool. The thief knows games are for entertainment. If something isn’t fun, it shouldn’t be in the game. If something is awesome, it will be in their game (even if they have to ignore the rules and any sense of reality to have it).
This case study looks at how people answered questions that cut across these concerns - about how to make players not focus on the rules, how to make players not be “a bunch of murderous cretins,” and the natural spread of adventurers hiking in the woods in the D&D Fourth Edition game. We have selected answers from all four classes in order to show how each class answers the same question in a distinctly different way.