In conversation with another gamer that I chanced upon here in South Korea, he mentioned that he's not really a D&D fan. Instead, he seems to prefer games with a more storytelling, less random aspect to them. While not exactly my cup of tea, I don't believe in the One True Way or the dreaded Wrongbadfun. Thus, I was interested to hear a bit about his games of choice. He mentioned that, while he likes certain games, he prefers to run a system of his own invention.
This got me thinking about our own tolerance for house rules and experimentation in RPGs run by other people. While I'm as obsessive a tinkerer as they come, I have always found it important to try to adhere to the core of the rules as written for whatever game I'm GMing at the time. When I add houserules (and I do), I try to keep them in the spirit of the original system and only add them for good reasons.
This idea also applies to setting/genre tropes that may or may not be part of the rules. If you're telling people that you want to run D&D, but you're excluding all demi-humans, changing out Vancian Fire-and-Forget-Magic, and making orcs the most dominate race in the world, are you really still playing D&D? At that point, I feel like you've invited me to a movie and instead offered me a circus. I might enjoy the latter, but I came here expecting the former.
There's nothing wrong with throwing all the rules or expectations out the window, of course. I'm certainly not disparaging my new-found gamer buddy's homebrewed system. In fact, I think it's awesome that he's taken the time to write a game that reflects the way he wants to play. I'd love to take a look at it sometime. I love games of all kinds and I can certainly admire his do-it-yourself attitude.
I do wonder, though, how much tolerance each of us has for other people's house rules. I once played in a 2E campaign that started with the GM telling us there are no halflings or gnomes in his world because he thinks that those two races are “stupid.” Maybe it was the crass way he presented the idea, but I was immediately turned off by this. I don't think gnomes or halflings are stupid and I'm playing this game too, man. If you have a neat idea that certain rules don't mesh with, I'm all for it. If you're just kind of winging rules options based on a whim...that sucks.
There are two extreme directions one can take this philosophy. One is the ultimate pioneer-spirit approach where everyone's game is different, subject to myriad houserules and basic setting assumptions getting tossed right out the window. The other side is a blind adherence to the rules, treating RPGs more like traditional games like Poker or Chess where the rules are universal so that everyone involved knows what they're getting into.
The best approach is probably somewhere in the middle. I think I'm more in the second camp. I want to be in the first camp, totally trusting that the GM is tweaking and houseruling the game in order to maximize the awesome and minimize flaws he's found through actual play. In reality, though, I'm far too wary of encountering another “halflings are dumb” guy. Therefore, I err on the side of caution and trust the professional game designers.
I would still love to read through someone's self-written game, though. That sounds awesome.