Monday, 16 January 2012

Rantette: Official Forumites

Time for a Rantette (patent still pending).

I seriously hate the system with people who are afforded the authority to make official rules decisions on forums.

I'm going to be referring to these people as 'Infernals', ignoring the fact that this is the specific name for Privateer's forum. Wyrd's 'Infernals' are called Rule Marshall, or something like that. The basic principle is the same, and I'm sure there are other games that have similar systems.

First, I get it. Infernals offer a way for a games manufacturer to not only answer rules questions in a way that cannot be argued, but also make on-the-fly adjustments when something pops up.

It's a brilliant idea, and I laud both Wyrd and Privateer for providing this service. Similarly, I have no beef with the Infernals themselves (though I don't always agree with their decisions).

But - and here it is - the system has serious flaws.

First, it causes the situation that eventually made Games Workshop stop answering rules questions at all. The rules get scattered across a potentially incredibly large number of places. Not only do you need the rulebook - potentially more than one: a main ruleset, any expansions, and any army book(s) that are relevant to your force - but you also need the official FAQ, Errata, or whatever. These are inevitable if the games system isn't published as a single release, and then left alone (which is not what I want).

What the Official Forum and Infernal solution does, is add an entirely new level of complexity. Centrally released documents are easily found (hopefully) and gathered in a limited number of places. You bring your rulebooks and print any applicable Erratas and FAQs, and you're set. When forums are introduced as an official source of rules clarifications, however, the information is spread across threads, potentially very, very many threads.

Essentially, it becomes impossible to access all the rules for the game without constant Internet access and serious searching sessions on the relevant forums. Speaking as a member of a club where this is not easy to come by (the Troll Cave is located in a basement - no mobile reception), this is not good.

When a rule set becomes difficult to acces, it loses reliability. We can no longer be sure we play by the same rules, as not everyone has the time and energy to spend on the forums. I do not have either in enough abundance to read through all the threads on the Privateer rules forum. It would take for bloody ever.

And this brings us neatly to my second point. Rules answers would be fine. "Well, if you check pages X, Y and Z, you'll see that that question has an answer in the rule book" is not a problem. Someone is directing you to what a rule actually says. Most questions on the Privateer rules forum seem to be this type; easily answered. I'm also fine with "Well, that's not really covered, but here's what we do..."

Call me conservative, but the rules are in the rule book. That's the game, right there. Oh, sure, they messed up, and have published these corrections and clarifications over here, but those are all to be found in this official document. They're not spread out across the forums like biblical commandments spread out, scribbled in among the Graffiti under every bridge and overpass in London.

If you want to have Infernals, you'll have to make them note down every adjustment they make to the rules in one, easily located place. I get that this is a bit of extra work, but I think it's the only way of making this system work.

GW have got a lot of frag over their infrequent FAQ and Errata updates. And sure, they could probably do more to answer questions quickly (and Thor knows they don't always get it right). But at least I know where to find every single official ruling for their games. It would take me three minutes to find out whether any single rule has been modified in any way. And I can print all of it, easily, and bring it with me.

Doing the same for Malifaux would probably take me six, and they have a limited number of posts, and a system for filing away resolved rules questions in a sub-forum, not to mention a working search engine. And even then, I would only have that specific answer. I would have to do it all over again next time a question arises.  A complicated issue could (and has) take me anything up to half an hour of searching on Privateer's forum. Not something I want to do in the middle of a game.

And thirdly, and most importantly.

They're wrong way to often. I can accept (barely) when GW's official documents contradict the rulebooks, because at least they're very clear about what's their official rule. I would like them to plaster it all over their website every time they change anything, but hey...

Anyway, when an Infernal does the same thing, there is no way for the rest of us to know, short of keeping the forums under constant surveillance. The post will disappear in the sea of old threads within much too short a time. Which means that the two players across the table might be playing by two separate rule sets.

With all that said, I hope everyone realizes I'm not talking about anyone in specific, use the term generally, and mean nothing personal, when I say:

I hate Infernals!

So, there you have it. Unscheduled post, Rantette, Wall o'Text and heavily self-censored opinion piece all in one. Trust me, there was a lot of swearing cut out in the process of writing this. I try to keep up some semblance of standards, after all...


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