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.”
— Belphanior

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

Comments (5)

John EllamFebruary 27th, 2009 at 3:24 pm

‘A team of specially trained nomadic murderers, pronounced “heroes”.’
There was a Gobbledigook cartoon in the UK games magazine White Dwarf years ago which summed it up brilliantly. The eponymous goblin and some of his goblinoid mates were sitting playing a game when a party bursts into the room, zaps them with spells, kicks the crap out of them & leave the room with the comment, “All that for four copper pieces”.
There’s not much worse at a game table than having your party go through the motions and run down the standard room clearing procedure: set guards at the door, check for traps, search for secret doors, search for treasure yadda yadda yadda…

MikeMarch 1st, 2009 at 4:50 pm

I like the term and the thought needs its place in the games discussion. I dig it! It is easy enough to fill volumes with crunch and fluff, but if you never get around to selling the Rut, then where are you?

Now there are a lot of games where the Rut is mighty flexible, but the thought needs discussion even in those games, at least in getting the characters together. It’s the why of them being together, dig.

Light in the darkness. Thanks.

DiggaMarch 1st, 2009 at 10:31 pm

@ John

Agreed. Gimme a nice challenge to solve with an open ended solution and I’ll be happier than a goblin in fool’s gold.

Repetitive procedures makes it like role playing a golem – but even Warforged have imagination.

DiggaMarch 1st, 2009 at 10:53 pm

@ Mike

Often timesIi’ve had a GM limit the rut talk by asking what class I want to play with in certain level and resource limits; and, you end up with a hodgepodge party with no unifying theme. I’m a ghoul rogue; he’s a meglomanical vampire cleric of Orcus; she’s a zombie gnome ranger.

Obvious Rut: kill whatever bad guy the DM tosses our way. Though a common, even traditional, path to greater power and riches, the story itself can often come out hackneyed. The cleric wants to enthrall and add the target to our party. The ranger wants to kill them with duel wielded hook hammers from the back of an undead Great Dane. I want to pickpocket the prey and use the gold buy some Oil of Stench Obscurement … then eat’em.

DiggaMarch 5th, 2009 at 1:55 am

Further discussion:

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