Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Permissiveness vs. Restrictiveness: The Whitelist vs. The Blacklist

It started as an interesting discussion on a message board over at Giant in the Playground: over here. I'm not going to go over the crux of the entire thing here, you can read it for yourself, or not, as you please.

Suffice to say that, from my perspective, the entire thing boils down to whether one (the DM in particular) is permissive, or restrictive. The whitelist is, in short, a list of those rules that are positively accessible to the players while the blacklist is the polar opposite, being a list of those rules, books, and bric-a-brac specifically forbidden them.

I suspect, but cannot confirm due to terminal youngness, that D&D "back in the old days" was very permissive/whitelisted, simply because there was so little in the way of official material to go around. A GM was forced to create a list of what was available for the use of his players for two simple reasons. First, that only a very few people actually had the books to begin with in the early days. Players didn't need copies of the three little brown books to play, they only needed a quick run down of "need to know" rules such as how many of what kind of dice to roll to get ability scores, and the basic gist of each class. The rest of it is GM knowledge. Second, in the case of at least the LBB's, the game was as much a GM creation as it was a creation of TSR. The material there was was simply too thin to be called a complete game really, and so one GM's game was vastly different than another as each filled in the perceived gaps with their own material. The Arduin Grimoire's are, frankly, the best example of this, in my opinion. Those books are a giant whitelist of the weirdest and highest caliber.

Blacklisting has, supposedly, become far more popular in modern games. Rather than going through the entire list of what is allowed, the much shorter list of what is forbidden is dropped on the table on day one and players are expected to abide by it, or more accurately, in my experience, whine about it inccessantly as their favorite super power is not permitted until the GM relents in a fit of exasperation or fear of loosing players.

At first blush, I thought this was all due to the simple volume of material available at any given time. The more books available to players, the more material the GM is going to have to go through with the red pen.

In the end, though, I think it has much more to do with a shift in paradigm. With the advent of D20 and much of White Wolf (and to a lesser extent, AD&D 2nd edition), players seemed to be operating under the assumption that anything not specifically forbidden was permitted, and even then that anything in print in an "official" D&D sourcebook must be permissable. This last point is viciously lampooned in The Gamers: Dorkness Rising.

The change came about not because of the increase in material, but when the D&D rules were codified into a solid, cohesive whole like a computer program, all designed to work together and be enlarged with various expansion packs. After all, if the campaign doesn't allow elf ninja swashbucklers, how can it be D&D at all? Look, they're right there in the rules!

The thing about it all, though, is that like my favorite edition, I find myself straddling that particular fence. I'm halfway between writing up a document with all the "acceptable rules" and additions to the system that I make, and simply going at everything with a red sharpie marker and crossing out vast tracts of text.

Is there such a thing as a "Greylist"?

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