Prior to having Gaslands out in the public domain, my rules writing was obsessed with keywords. This was rooted in my adjacent obsession with treating rules like software functions, but had its own special madness.
Rules writing is a funny business. You are using the beautiful, expressive, inconsistent, endlessly interpretable, inexact and approximate communication technology known as “
The Good Kind Of Jargon
In my personal quest for clarity in my rules, I hooked onto the idea that clearly demarcated KEYWORDS would be the secret to unambiguous communication. If a word was clearly and visually demarcated as one of these magical words of power, it would be a simple thing to string these runes into ever more complex structures without ever losing the reader, as
These keywords would become the internal jargon of the game, able to
Of course, there are at least two problems with this dream. The first, which I explored in more depth here, is that players don’t always remember the exact meaning of a given
The Design Games podcast, (which I have listened to all of twice, revisit often and thoroughly recommend) has an episode on this topic. In it, Nathan Paoletta and Will Hindmarsh describe how a tabletop game must take ordinary language and overlay a secondary level of meaning on it. Words like “turn” gain a secondary game meaning, and the rules text (and the players at the table) must be able to distinguish effortlessly between a statement such as “the judge indicates it is your turn to speak, if you wish” (which likely has no mechanical meaning within the rules of the game) and “the goblin is readying his pike, but you are going to get the first turn” (which probably does).
My attempted solution to this ambiguity was to start visually differentiating words used as GAME TERMS and those used in “natural” ways. The PROBLEM was that the RULES started to become an absolute SOUP of this random CAPITALISED TERMS, and it looked ridiculous.
As a compromise, I limited myself to
The thing is, a really good game term should flow naturally within the text of other rules, without the need for special attention being drawn to it. Once we know that a “wipeout” is a particular game term in Gaslands, sentences such as “Vehicles in this team only wipeout when they have 8 hazards” are perfectly readable. Even Title Case starts to look pretty ridiculous once you tighten up the wording and make everything flow naturally. You aren’t going to
In editing the revised and expanded version of Gaslands, I have moved towards a more “natural language” usage for game terms. Indeed, where a game term is proving clunky to use in normal English sentences, I look for similar words that function more
Before & After
Here are a few comparisons from Gaslands to Gaslands: Refuelled to illustrate this.
A game consists of multiple TURNS. Each turn is split into six GEAR PHASES. Each gear phase consists of a number of ACTIVATIONS: one for each vehicle that is currently in the matching gear or higher. Each activation consists of a MOVEMENT STEP, an ATTACK STEP, and a WIPEOUT STEPGaslands (2017)
A game of Gaslands is played in rounds. Each round is then divided into 6 gear phases, from 1 to 6. In each gear phase, starting with the player with pole position, players alternate the activation of qualifying vehicles, until all qualifying vehicles have activated in that gear phase. When a vehicle activates, it will first move in the Movement Step, then potentially attack in the Attack Step, and then any vehicle with too many hazard tokens will wipeout in the Wipeout Step.Gaslands: Refuelled (2019)
After the attacker has rolled all their attack dice for this attack step and calculated the total number of hits the target is suffering, the target may make a single EVADE attempt. To evade, roll a number of EVADE DICE equal to the vehicle’s current gear. A roll of a 6+ on an evade dice is a SUCCESS and cancels one hit.Gaslands (2017)
After the attacker has rolled all their attack dice for this attack step against a single target and calculated the total number of hits the target is suffering, the target may make a single Evade attempt. To evade, the target vehicle’s controller rolls a number ofGaslands: Refuelled (2019)
evadedice equal to the vehicle’s current gear. Each roll of a 6+ on an evade dice cancels one hit.
Perks represent the skills and experience of the members of yourGaslands (2017)
team,and allow you to further personaliseyour team. Each PERK has a CLASS. Each Sponsor provides access to the following SPONSORED PERKS CLASSES:
Perks represent the skills and experience of the members of your team, and allow you to further personalise your team. They are divided into a set of perk classes. Vehicles may only purchase perks from those perks classes lists under their chosen sponsor.Gaslands: Refuelled (2019)
As with all things, this is just one step on the journey of mastering this craft, and every experiment has a risk of failure. In a year’s time, the reaction to the new book might suggest that I’ve gone slightly too far towards natural language and have obfuscated the game terms, making decoding the rules more difficult… Right now, I’m happy that the rules text looks and reads better as a result of this thought process.