Thursday, May 3, 2012

Special Rules: Clarity from Order


Eriochrome here again. Today we will look at all the concepts that go into special rules so that when we write them we can do it clearly and succinctly. Now this should all seem like basic and unnecessary to discuss ideas but if all publishers remembered these things we would not see forums with 10,000 topics of rules questions.

Obviously each special rules has the five questions of Who, Where, How, When and finally What. Most of the problems with clarity occur in cases where one or more of these questions is not answered and that lack of knowledge causes problems when one rule interacts with another. Answering each of these questions for every individual special rule will get time consuming and boring to read but properly generated categories/keywords and rules of how the categories work in general can remove most of the confusion. It also makes rules summaries in the back of codex all you need to play the game instead of arguing over what is rules and what is fluff text from the body of the book.

First we will look at Who and Where as they are closely related. Who has the special rule? Is it a Model Special Rule, or a Unit Special Rule? The difference I see here is whether when model joins a unit with a unit special rule they get the benefit while if the models in the unit have the model special rule then the new model does not. Making this concept explicit cuts down on the asterisk issues in certain game's rules. Who also tells us about the concept of when the special rule will no longer be in effect for example the model being lost. Where is the special rule active: on a model, a unit, a limited range area, the battlefield, or the game meaning both on and off table. For example a model can have a Model Special Rule (Medic) which grants his unit the Unit Special Rule (Resist Damage) which is different from a Unit (Fallen Plague Knights) in which the models all have the Model Special Rule (Resist Damage).

How does the special rule work? This is a concept usually left in the fluff but with proper key words can make rules issues less likely. Keywords like Line of Sight, Mental, Physical, and Psionic come to mind for this. Line of sight is obvious as you must see the target, physical is more about having no materials blocking the path from source to target so cover saves and not out of transports, Mental represent abilities that are not blocked by physical barriers like for example just knowing that the Holy Relic is in that APC spurs a nearby unit on to great valor, psionic provides a keyword to make it clear that it can be affected rules related to psionic affects.

When is a special rule active? This requires clear naming conventions for the units of time in the game for example game, game turn (round), player turn(turn), phase, round(assault cycle), step (assault step). While the first 4 are clear, I have added rounds and steps since the close combat is currently defined as repetitive cycle until combat is finished. You go from Step 1 to 2 up to Step X and then you start a new round at Step 1 again. I would prefer to have different words for game turn and player turn but if you always use the 2 word expression there is no ambiguity. Now that we have time definitions, we can look at how long special rules last or when they are checked for activity. Keywords like Continuous implies any time the affects of the rule come into play you check to see if the rule is still active. Another keyword Duration X specifically states for how long a model, models, or unit is affected. Active X would be used to specify when the special rule is check to see who it was affecting. For example Active Player Turn and Duration Player Turn would check to see who is affected at the start of the player turn and all those affects would last until the end of the player turn regardless of the distances moved later or if the original model generating the affect was lost.

What a special rule does is going to get pretty specific but the issues here are mainly due to multiple rules conflicting or acting simulatonuosly. This would just need a general description that if two rules come into direct conflict where they both cannot be followed then neither have any affect in the instance. For example 2 units in combat both have rules saying they win combat priority checks then they cancel each other and the normal prioirty check process is used. A different example would be a dice roll that has a rule that says "reroll all successes" and a rule that says "reroll all fails" on it. In such a case there is actually no conflict and you can follow both rules just generating a little wasted effort. Another place of conflict is for rules that modify stats. Here rules can both add(subtract) or multiply(divide) on the characteristic so order of application matters. A general order of multiple(divide) first then add (subtract) needs to be define in the standard rules. Now you might think what about a rule that says it reduces something to 1 or zero, well this rule is not defined properly and should be written as a pure numerical operation using the original value (ie divide the models movement by its base movement or subtract a models base movement from its movement). Then its ordering is perfectly defined and you will always know what the value is even if you might not love the result.

Now in a game where there are like 200 different units made up of models that are built to a level to easily show those differences between units and between models, players are going to expect those figures differences to have meaning play presence on the battlefield. Many of those differences will be represented by special rules so it is vital to have a structure designed for formulating those special rules so that you end up with a unified form as opposed to a hodpodge of stuff held together by good "sportsmanship".

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