In the article "passing the role-playing experience" I talked about designing rules as the act of defining certain interactions between the players in a gaming group, and it is these interactions that will create the role-playing. But I am beginning to wonder if all the rules you typically find in a RPG rule book actually can be called rules for role-playing.
I am beginning to look at systems as describing two types of rules: There are rules for role-playing, and there are rules for setting, and, actually, in many traditional RPGs, far the most of the rules are rules for the setting.
Here are how I define the two types of rules.
Rules for the setting are the rules that describe the limitations of what you can do in the gaming world. These include rules like: Weapon damage, how (un)handy a weapon is, how well an armour protects, falling damage, how hard it is to destroy different materials, how magic works and what it can do, and so on. All of these rules will of course interact with the role-playing, but it will be no more than other rules or elements of the setting. These rules does not directly result in role-playing and they are not directly affected by role-playing; they do not interact with the role-playing.
So what are rules for role-playing then. These are rules that have strong interaction with your role-playing, by motivate certain types of role-play and can be affected by role-play. In the traditional games you will, for example, have the procedure of a combat round, which will direct your role-playing and which can be affected by your role-playing. An other example is the insanity mechanic in Call of Cthulhu which is also affected by what you do in the game, and it then affect you back. The same can be said for harmony in Werewolf and humanity in Vampire. In many indi-RPGs most of the rules are role-playing rules, for example: Keys in Shadows of Yesterday and humanity in Sorcerer and trust and dark fate in The Mountain Witch.
I really don't know what is possible to conclude from this. But it is interesting to see that RPGs that focus on role-playing rules, can be interesting and effective with lot less rules than RPGs that are based around setting rules. The reason for this is properly that role-playing rules tie directly into what is important in a RPG, and that is, of course, role-playing. Where setting rules only describe some constant factors in the world, and don't really do very much.
I am beginning to think that it would be interesting to categorise the different types of rules, and describe what effect they have on a role-playing game.