Another rambling post; sorry.
Right now there are three revisions of rules sets going on that I’m paying attention to.
One is the ‘next’ edition of D&D, which is the most opaque of the three processes. I hear bits and pieces about what the designers are going for, and see some polls on the WotC web site which are both uninformative and relatively uniformed — the questions tend to be very vague and the pool of respondents appears to be a tiny slice of D&D players (the ones who spend a lot of time online debating D&D). Whatever D&D “Next” looks like, I’ll probably try it out but I don’t really need it, both because I have more than enough players and because I’m pretty happy running older versions, homebrews, and clones.
Another game undergoing a revision is DBA — De Bellis Antiquitatis, my go-to war game. Truth be told, I probably haven’t played it at all since I began running D&D a couple of years ago. Before that, I played DBA a few times a year, with a brief period when I played it a lot. I only played in one convention tournament, and that was seven years ago. So the rules will be the third edition, although DBA went through various minor tweaks — I think the official versions, with amendments offered by the author, would be: 1.0, 1.1, 1.2, 2.0, 2.1, and 2.2. The revision process has been fairly open, with drafts of the rules offered for playtest, comments accepted, and lots of discussion. In fact things took a fairly ugly turn in the last few months, with some rifts in the online community, at least, among those who like the 3.0 changes and those who’d rather just tweak 2.2 a bit. Honestly I don’t find the changes to be all that radical, but partly because DBA is very popular as a tournament rule set, there is a lot of angst over what changes will be made. Also, the changes will certainly include changes to army lists, which may make some existing DBA armies ‘out of date’ and require some changes for tournament play. This does not really affect me, and I have my perfectly serviceable 2.2 rules. I may buy 3.0 just to see what is changed, or may wait for the long-promised introductory version which is supposed to include some illustrations, more detailed explanations, and perhaps some modeling advice for new wargamers.
Lastly, a rule revision that is likely to affect me is not a game at all but the cataloging rules which libraries will most likely adopt in the coming year or so. To some extent this revision of rules is of interest only to librarians, although I suspect they will impact library users and information seekers generally for a long time, whether or not they are aware of the changes. The current Anglo-American cataloging rules (which were adopted more or less universally in the English-speaking world and very close in principle to most European cataloging conventions, as they are all tied to an international standard for bibliographic description known as ISBD) are perfectly serviceable, of course, but there are some concern that all that ‘metadata’ created by publishers, internet users, advertising firms, and so on could be more easily imported into library catalogs (and library data more easily ported to the metadata formats used outside libraries), and the new rules are purported to do be able to do this. Having seen the current version of the new rules (called “RDA”) I am aghast at both how technical and jargony they are on one hand, and how loose they are on the other. This is one set of rules that I think it would be nice to keep standardized…we’re not talking about a game here! Leave game rules open to options and house rules, fine. But if you are creating a standard for a professionals to use for collaboration…well how about making them standards. You know, in the sense that we all actually adhere to the same set of rules. The chief author of the previous set of rules offers a hilarious and devastating critique of the new rules here, although this essay is a few years old and based on a more incomplete version of the new rules then being floated. The unfortunate thing is that while input on various drafts has been solicited from the library community, some of the most important criticisms have been largely ignored so far (e.g. revising the rules will cost a lot at time when libraries are already very strapped; many new terms are introduced that confuse librarians and will be impenetrable to library users; the rules fail to actually address some of the ‘big’ concerns that led us to want to update the cataloging rules in the first place; academic (college & university) libraries have disproportionate influence because public librarians generally have much less time and support for engaging in the discussion; and much more…)
So these three rules revisions — two to games that I hold pretty dear and one to professional standards I work with every day — are very interesting to watch, although it’s rather distressing to me personally and professionally to watch the cataloging rules being revised, with limited input from those most affected. It’s fascinating to see these three very different processes, as processes, too.
The DBA rules are being tested by a fair sized group of players, and largely incremental rather than wholesale revisions, and have been freely available for all to see at each iteration.
In contrast the D&D revision is hidden behind an NDA, although have still felt free to discuss what they think is, should be, or is not in it, and the design team has frequently editorialized on the process albeit without giving any clear examples nor disclosing any actual rules.
The RDA process has been open to the extent that sections were released for comments as they were completed, although at the time it was difficult to comment on incomplete rules, and many of the public comments seem to have fallen on deaf ears. Following that there were extensive ‘tests’ of the still very incomplete rules, conducted at various libraries including the Library of Congress. It is a little shocking that despite years of work on the rules, some of the most critical parts (e.g. subject analysis) have still not been released and much of what is there basically rephrases the old rules with slight emendations, many of which are rather dubious attempts to fix display issues by entering different data (e.g., not everyone knows what the English and Latin abbreviations in the old rules mean, but rather than asking for an interface that displays them spelled out, RDA eliminates abbreviation!).
The reception of each set of rules has been very polarizing too. This really shouldn’t surprise me; some people hate change because it is change, and some people love change because it is change. Apart from the purely emotional responses (aka nerdrage), each constituency can expect to be affected to some degree by whatever the changes are, and we all hate have changes thrust upon us without our input.
I think the D&D players are actually the least affected — we can just keep playing whatever we were before. Of course the newer generation of players doesn’t realize this and there are cries of “betrayal!” by loyal 4e players and a great deal of angst about how their preferred verison will be ‘supported’ by WotC and which pre-packaged settings will continue to be ‘supported’ because obviously you can’t just make up your own stuff.
The DBA players have tournaments so they are a little less free to ignore new editions. Depending on the particular tournaments, they may be asked to use the rules and/or army lists, which may involve some re-basing of minis (a legitimate concern). Indeed one ‘rogue’ group who in past published a lucid and popular guide to understanding the very terse and brief rules of the game has stated their intent to publish their own amendments to the current version of the game, which has angered the author of DBA and created enough vitriol (between ‘loyalists’ who want to adopt the new edition and ‘rebels’ who want to keep playing 2.2 with a few amendments) that I’ve dropped out of even following the discussions. As small and mature as the DBA community is, it has all the appearances of the sort of ‘edition war’ we saw in D&D over the last few years. 😦
But obviously catalogers will be the least free to ignore RDA — in the US, as the Library of Congress goes, so goes the whole cataloging world for the most part. A few attempts to delay or derail the RDA train have largely failed to stopped what I see as “a solution in search of a problem,” but life will go on.
So, interesting times.