Writing Rules

Writing rules is hard, and I’m not going to pretend I’m perfect at it. This skill alone, you could devote decades of your life to, and still find yourself learning new things.

The Basics

Always proof read whatever you write.

Read out loud and slowly.

If you make any change at all, even adding or removing a comma, you’re not finished yet.

If you can read through the entire document, slowly, without wanting to change anything, look at it again tomorrow.

If you can read through the entire document for the first time of a new day and you can’t see any changes to make, show it to someone else. You’ve probably missed something.

Remember, this is a published document, not an editable blog. Printed rules don’t have as many features as WordPress, so get it right the first time.

Things To Look For While Editing

Excess flavour or humour. It can be nice reading “knight” instead of “cube”, but when paragraphs are devoted to making the reader laugh or setting the right tone of the rules, it’s time to ask yourself if they’re really necessary. You need to imagine a group of very impatient players who only have enough space in their heads to remember the important stuff.

That said, if I can’t talk you out of it, as it’s clearly a heavily themed game or your joke made everyone who read it laugh so uncontrollably that they cried, then at least write it in italics. A reader can quickly understand that anything in italics won’t help him learn the rules better.

Trying To Explain the Rules. A good example is Settlers of Catan. Players can, at any time, trade four identical resources for a resource of choice with the bank. Think about this a moment. Who set up the bank of Catan? How is it that there is always someone willing to trade 4 brick for wheat, even when there has clearly been a wheat drought since the start of the game? Is it a bank as we understand banks, or is the bank a metaphor? Maybe it’s a series of individual self interested traders travelling from place to place, or maybe citizens have their own private supply of resources which are distinct from the government owned resources that you control.

Settlers could’ve explained the economics here, and it’s quite likely that Klaus Teuber thought of a perfectly logical reason why 4 for 1 trades would always be possible on this island. Still, he didn’t write it.

Likewise, don’t explain your rules unless you are absolutely certain doing so will make them easier to learn. Don’t be afraid to just let rules not make sense. People prefer a simple nonsensical rule to the same rule with a detailed paragraph explaining why it should make sense.

Wrong Font Size. 9-16pt is appropriate for rules depending on the sort of game and audience. When determining the size of anything small for print, I always send a copy to my phone. Your average smart phone can display small images much more clearly than your average computer monitor. Once you’re sure you viewing it at the correct size, your phone won’t give you any loss of quality. (Unless you’re printing well beyond 300 ppi)

Using Words Instead of a Picture. I know, pictures are hard to make and they take lots of time. However, if you don’t have lots of time, consider finding a different hobby. When writing rules, you need to consider how much space a clearly readable picture takes up. If a picture can explain a concept in less space than words can, explain it with a picture.

Over-Clarifying. You may move the rook any number of spaces. The rook must land on a space, and cannot land in such a way that causes the base to overlap two, three our four distinct spaces. Moving is performed by placing either the left or right hand anywhere along the shaft of the rook, griping tightly, raising it at least a millimetre off the chess board then with an outward, inward or sideways motion of your arm…

Over clarifying causes people to doubt things they thought they had understood, as well as giving too many unnecessary words to read. Often over-clarifying happens because you used words where you should’ve used a picture.

Repeating Yourself. If you must explain the same thing in a second way, use “i.e.” or “therefore” and write both ways next to each other. If you find yourself having to say anything the same way twice in different parts of the rules, your rules need a radical restructuring.

Too Many Defined Terms. Often words must be made up to describe rules. Perhaps you have an “action phase”, “set up round”, “resource gathering action”, “defence mode” or “base attack modifier”.

Every term you make up, players must learn. This is why some of the more complex games can feel like learning a second language. If you can avoid making up a term and instead explain a concept by using a word they already know, your rules will be better for it.

What Do You Think?

Any other sneaky things to watch out for? How do you improve your rules?


2 thoughts on “Writing Rules

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