The Rut of the Game
by Digga Dominus
Was on an RPG message board a few weeks back – the one with the purple theme, no podcast but plenty of pretension – and a poster brought up a new jargon term for the gaming lexicon that really gelled with me: Rut.
“It’s the mode of play. It’s what PCs actually do for their living.”
It is, of course, also the mating period of antlered ungulates, however peeing musk on your fur before butting heads with rival males at full charge is usually most common when LARPing. This inspired my idea for Stag: The Mounting RPG, which has not been licensed as of this writing, so game developers may wish to give the concept some consideration. It is also the activity groove the party hits in the course of adventuring. Prep spells, kill dozen goblins, loot, kill bugbear squads, loot, try to disarm magic riddle trap, resurrect thief, and then breakfast.
Terms are important in summing up experience and communicating insight, something we at da Dominion take “seriously”. When describing games to others we have two big common terms that get mentioned ubiquitously. Crunch, the intricacy of game mechanics involved in playing the game and the number of tables that need to referenced to determine if you succeeded in putting your codpiece on. Fluff, the descriptive details of the game setting and traits of the buxom barmaid whom is worth 5 XP should your Seduction check succeed, which modifies how fast the codpiece comes off.
Most any game is described with these terms. Hero system is high on Crunch. Vampire is high in Fluff. Rifts is high in Crunch and Fluff, but neither help. Though used often, these two terms can be very subjective to interpret. Comments to this article may feature abundant proclamations of my stupidity for choosing the examples I did – or just my general stupidity.
Rut is pretty clear in contrast. In D&D your Rut is a team of specially trained nomadic murderers, pronounced “heroes”. Battletech is a game of armored combat; its Rut is right on the cover. There’s no skill for cookie baking. Different levels of Crunch and Fluff can work from game to game, but if you don’t care about the what most of the campaign is going to be about – it might as well be Bella Sera (no, ponies mate, not rut).
The most popular games have very clear roles for what the characters are going to be doing, whether serving the Will of the Force or being driven insane trying to learn of the Old Ones’ plots. Settings that focus strongly on creating a large world to explore can often suffer from having no roles for the characters to step into from the start, like Mage the Ascension. It is important, however, to ensure a bit of conceptual leeway for the ideas of players coming to the table with specific characters in mind.
What a party does in the game world is the story, and a more important consideration than either Crunch or Fluff. Yet, Rut isn’t often discussed since there’s no wrongbadfun when considering such a subjective trait. What Ruts do you like as a player? Is Rut a good term – soft U sound and single syllabic do make it aesthetically pleasing to me when added to Fluff and Crunch. Should GM’s have Rut ready for the players or should players decide the Rut of the party?
– From the mind of Digga