Pathfinder Society is an organized international community with unifying goals. One primary goal is promoting the existence of pathfinder gaming sessions outside of closed home group gaming, with the ability to progress the same characters in many different real life settings. In order for an voluntary organized community to exist, there must be a mutually understood language, at least a begrudging commitment of its members, and common practices. This post is primarily aimed at discussing how we best maintain our common practices.
The juridical approach is one of creating rules and enforcing them often enough to at least scare most of the members of the community into abiding by enough of them to keep things working. It is the approach used by most governments. Indeed, communities that aren't strictly voluntary are somewhat forced into this approach. The members of these communities are often part of it by chance, and don't always have the practical ability to leave.
In a way, the juridical path is actually the easier one for members as well as leaders. It facilitates the members' considerations to be things like: "What am I required to do?" or "How far can I push it before I hit enforcement?" or "How can I avoid getting caught?". It makes it easier to for someone whose natural inclination would be absolve themselves of responsibility to follow up on that temptation.
It makes it easy to see one's personal conflict as being against the system of rules and enforcement itself. The result of this conflict is that the people creating the rules start to adjust them to be more stringent than what they actually desire, aiming at the point at which member's willingness to push against the rules will land them at the desired action. (For instance, see the many jurisdictions that set their speed limits to 5 mph under the average speed the road was designed to carry traffic at.) Equilibrium comes, but at the price of some people feeling arbitrarily singled out for following the common practice on the occasions that the letter of the law is strictly enforced.
On the messageboard and in the guide, PFS feels like a very juridical culture. It is felt most the very rules lawyering threads, discussions of possible loopholes, but also in the posts of people seeking advice on how and when to enforce the rules. This messageboard section of PFS's culture seems to have forced Mike Brock and the rest of the leadership into strict language and endless clarifications, sometimes with great cost to common sense rulings.
With little to no enforcement powers, however, PFS on the ground is generally not run in a juridical manner. Making bad notes on chronicle sheets can be instantly "rectified" by throwing the chronicle in the trash bin, a practice that would never be found out by the next GM unless the perpetrator tried to replay it. The most permanent effect a GM can have is to ban a player from their table, something that doesn't change their life at their next venue at all.
In reality, the approach that is keeping practices common from one region and group to another isn't juridical at all, it is ascetical. The community is kept functional by thousands of individuals putting aside their personal preferences in order to stay in step with the campaign as a whole. As with any ascetical community, which sacrifices hurt the most varies from member to member, but it is those sacrifices being made by all that makes PFS exist. The success of the society as a whole is advanced by the integrity and willing rigor of its members to police themselves.
Some of these choices are made just by electing to participate in PFS at all. Compared to a home game situation, we instantly give up any palpable feeling of affecting the game world's future. We put aside character building options from unapproved sources, as well as the ability to build a character who is immediately going to be able to play with our friends' favorite characters. We relinquish the ability to replay an adventure with rewards, no matter how badly it was run or how little of it we saw the first time. We surrender the full roleplaying of our characters, limiting them to fit within the rules of the campaign (no evil actions, no being a jerk, no direct confrontation) and the constraints of the scenario.
There are a lot of less automatic sacrifices, and this is really where self-discipline comes into it. To support the campaign financially, we need to spend more money on Paizo materials than pure pragmatism requires. To maintain our interoperability and accountability, we need to keep clear and accurate documentation. To keep the community healthy and growing, we need to make choices as we play with the fun of all the other players in mind. We also need to be willing to teach new players in a winsome manner. Instead of cheating the details that would seem to make the session less fun, we should play them honestly and then report the problem so it can be fixed for everyone. We need to do whatever is in our ability to keep our GMs from burning out, whether that be taking our turn or buying them tasty snacks. Ultimately, we should make decisions with more than ourselves in mind, considering the impact on our gaming group, our local gaming store, our GMs, and the campaign as a whole.
Intentional asceticism is a very different throught process than just following the rules. Instead of saying, "What am I required to do?" we ask ourselves "How could I/we be doing better?", and that is a huge difference. We look at our personal situation and abilities and then see how we can best contribute and align ourselves to the society's ways.
A huge swath of PFS is already in practice run this way, or it wouldn't be functioning at all. My challenge to us all is to encourage this part of PFS culture. If you're still here, PFS must have some value to you, something worth working for. If we all stepped up our self-enforcement, if we encouraged those around us to be responsible society players, there would be a strong social pressure in that direction. Instead of wielding the rules as weapons in debate, our rules debates could center on what would work best for the society as a whole, not how to evade the current rule. In the end, it could make much more room for common sense and dispensations for those who need them.
On the leadership side, this is greatly aided whenever you guys let us know what the spirit of the law really is. Those times when you post about where you want to go with the campaign are fantastic, especially when you seek feedback. I think those sorts of things really add morale to those trying to follow the rules as best as they can, which is at least a plurality of PFS members.