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  Click here to go to the first special guest post in this thread.   Thread: Ask a GM [07/15/08]: Handling Rules Lawyers

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    Ask a GM [07/15/08]: Handling Rules Lawyers

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    Inquisitor Tremayne asks,

    "How do you deal with a player who knows the rules backward and forward and corrects you, the DM/GM, on the mechanics of a game system?"
    Robert A. Howard
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    Fortunately, I have never had to deal with this problem. However, I would probably ask them if they wanted to DM/GM. Of course, if they answer yes, then i would say that they need to create a campaign and run it. Until then, while I'm running my game, there maybe some bending or changing of a rule here and there. When they run their own campaign, they are of course allowed to do the same if they wish.

    Also, I'm not sure about other genres or versions of D&D, but in the forward to the AD&D second edition DMG, one paragraph states, "Take the time to have fun with the AD&D rules. Add, create, expand, and extrapolate. Don't just let the game sit there, and don't become a rules lawyer worrying about each piddly little detail. If you can't figure out the answer, MAKE IT UP! And whatever you do, don't fall into the trap of believing these rules are complete. They are not. You cannot sit back and let the rule book do everything for you. Take the time and effort to become not just a good DM, but a brilliant one."

    The next paragraph continues as, "At conventions, in letters, and over the phone I'm often asked for the instant answer to a fine point of the game rules. More often than not, I come back with the question--what do you feel is right? And the people asking the questions discover that not only can they create an answer, but that their answeris as good as anyone else's. The rules are only guidelines."

    Just lends more credit to the statement that the DM/GM is the final arbritrator when it comes to decissions being made.

    Just read Web's response and wanted to add that I also don't have a problem with being reminded of something that I might have overlooked while being busy with everything that the DM/GM has to do while running the game. Yes, when it gets to be constant and after decissions have been made, then it does become a problem that slows the game down.

    There have been a couple of times that the party has presented their arguement about a particular rule interpretation that I did go with, even though it was a change in what had been the previous interpretation. As the DM/GM, you have to be willing to listen to other ideas and be willing to make changes that will enhance the game.
    Last edited by cplmac; 07-09-2008 at 12:27 PM.

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    Rule-lawyering is a tricky problem. To the player, in their mind, they are only doing the game a service by trying to encourage "consistency". Unfortunately, if the act of rules-lawyering is overpowering the GM's ability to maintain the pace of the game and interest of the group, it can be a distraction at best and a fun-wrecker at worst. The player is not the one given the role of adjudicator for the game. That is the responsibility of the GM. It is the GM's duty to decide which rules to follow strictly, which to overlook and which to make up when needed.

    Now, as GMs, we've got a lot on our minds. NPCs, statistics, background developments, plots and subplots to weave. GMs forget things too...sometimes even obvious things. While the players should remind the GM of obvious oversights, they need to leave the final decision about a ruling to the GM. If there is concern over a ruling, that concern should be quiety recorded in some way and address at some point outside of the game. It could be before or after a game session, during a snack or bathroom break, via e-mail or phone call at a later date...whatever. But the game should not be burdened with arguements simply because someone doesn't think that a rule is being interpreted correctly or that they are forgetting about special circumstantial modifiers, etc. It is one thing to draw attention to these things, but it is another to stop the flow of the game because of them.

    The Star Wars Role Playing Game Second Edition Revised and Expanded corebook gives the following advice and details the following about the role of a Game Master:

    "The game is about having fun...the rules are only as important as you think they are. Ignore the rules you don't like and get on with the game. Have fun. Make sure your players have fun. And if it takes throwing out the rulebook to have fun, hey, that's your call. That's why you're in charge of the game..."

    "The GM as Referee: Never Let the Rules Get in the Way of a Good Story...Keep the Game Moving Quickly...Use Your Judgement...Interpret the Rules...Be Fair and Impartial...Your Word is Final."

    The idea is that the GM should make a rules decision based on what is best for the integrity of the game and the fun of the group. I have no problem with players reminding me on occasion of rules that I've forgotten or overlooked, but when a player takes a "rules-reminder" past the point at which I've already announced a judgement call, that is where the discussion belongs away from the game table, or at least, away from the game.

    As S. John Ross once wrote: "The GM is not God. God is one of his little NPCs."

    Just kidding...
    Last edited by Webhead; 07-09-2008 at 11:50 AM.
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    The key to handling "Rules Lawyers" is to remember that they are only exhibiting what they enjoy most in the game: Mastery of the system. They enjoy delving into the fundamentals of a design system and exploring the systems in action.

    Make them your b#%#
    Forgive my attempt at humor there, but a very powerful technique is to co-opt that "Rules Lawyer" into the process of the game. When in doubt, ask them how the rules work. Then, when they cite something just go for it and trust them on the spot.

    "OK Bill, Jim wants to jump over the banister and onto the cluster of orc's. That's falling damage due to the fifteen foot drop; but really the orcs are going to break the fall before ten feet are crossed... what kind of roll do you think we should do for success there? If he fails I'll give Jim's character normal falling damage..."

    That's all hypothetical, but in a situation like that you are validating a players love of mastering the rules and giving them a chance to exhibit it at the table. Provided they can answer fast "How about a reflex save, and if he makes it a hit roll do pass the falling damage to the orcs?" go with it. If they can't answer fast you need to do something else...

    Theorize with them
    Before the game, after the game, in emails or any other communication point you have with your rules master validate their love of knowing the rules and talk game theory with them.

    "Hey Bill, how well do you think I handled Jim's character jumping on the orcs? I wasn't comfortable waiving his falling damage, but thought that the hit roll agains the orcs to have them take it too worked fast and was a little funny!"

    Discuss things that have happened in the campaign and how you handled those rules, and also chat about hypothetical ideas, hidden rules synergies, and whatever else comes up. This reaps two rewards: you are having a great conversation with a friend, and they are being validated for enjoying the game the way they like it.

    What if he's lawyering over inconsequential rules?
    What if it's Bill citing rules and telling you that you handled the jumping rules incorrectly and cost his character three inches (when he made the jump by two feet)? These inconsequential quips at the table don't help at all, and can get annoying. That's when you table the discussion fast and clearly.

    "You could be right Bill; but your character still made the jump and had no negative consequences, so let's talk about it after the game since no characters were impacted. Jim, Bill's character lands next to you and your pile of orcs, who are all starting to stand, what do you do?"

    It's important to take the inconsequential rules quips and route them away from the action. If they continue, on trivial points, it's even acceptable to take that rules master aside and just tell them that they are free to take notes and discuss the rules with you after the game; but you are only interested in having them stop the game on a rule if someone's going to die.

    What if he's a jerk?
    So what do you do when the rules master just does not get it and constantly breaks the flow of the game up over differences in rulings, even when they are trivial? If you tell them you have GM fiat and that they need to stuff it you are killing their joy of the game; but if they can't find an outlet for that joy without killing the joy that others get... ask them to find a new table.

    One of the best things about these games for me is that they are flexible. There is no single right way to play any of them and that allows people to focus on the parts they like the most, and then find like minded people to game with. If your rules lawyer can't contain himself enough to enjoy the game in a collaborative sense -- allow them to find a new game. Challenge them to run a game that you can play in. Do something to get them out of your game. Even if they are a friend.

    Whatever you do, don't let them kill it for the other people at the table. RPG's are compromise, everyone gives up a little of what they enjoy most such that everyone else gets to enjoy it their way every now and then too. Anyone who can't make that compromise, anyone who runs all over the enjoyment for others, is not welcome in my games.

    Reality check
    If you remember that your "Rules Lawyer" is actually someone who just gets pleasure from knowing the rules; and find ways to route that enjoyment productively at your game table; you will find that the rules lawyer is actually one of the most content folks in the game. They are playing along, laughing, sharing adventures, and having a good time because you made it possible. Just as you should provide opportunities for the role player to actually role play, the rules lawyer needs opportunities to let their knowledge shine.

    Do it right, and the overwhelming majority of them are very happy campers who contribute to the fun at the table. If you find yourself faced with someone in the extreme minority; who uses the rules to kill it for everyone and does not respond to your outreach and instead uses it against you... cut the cord and let them go. It won't be easy when you do it; but your game will be a heck of a lot better without them.
    --
    Grimwell

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    I suppose I am lucky enough to only have seen 2 rules lawyers, once when I DMed and other when I was a player.

    I had played in a group with someone who I'd call a pseudo-rules lawyer and he'd always picked up thinks on variant rules and odd rulings in regards to the monster manuals (it was really irritating). He'd pick up on the weirdest variant rule and say how the DM needed to use that particular variant rule at that second, even if the DM didn't use that rule before he brought it up. We eventually trained him to keep this to himself-unless it was a rule that the DM forgot and then he was free to bring it up at that time.

    To sum, use your best judgement, and on occasion, rules lawyers have something useful to add to the game. (And of course read the other posts-they're probably more useful than mine!)
    Last edited by Anaesthesia; 07-13-2008 at 07:19 PM.
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    The Two Minute Rule

    Hmm. I've never had that happen to me... *scoff*

    Actually, I have just such a player in my current game. And to be honest, most of the time it is a boon. Games like D&D, GURPS and many others can be very complicated and sometimes (some might say often) convoluted. I like to think that I can put together a fairly decent story, but I am not the best "referee," if you will. Having a player in the group that I can turn to and use as a human version of a rpg-wikipedia often speeds things up, and keeps me from having to whip out a rulebook and start looking for XYZ rule.

    However, this same type of player can be also detract from the game. In fact, any player, not just the rules-lawyer, might bring the game to a crashing halt when they argue with you over a ruling. It is for this very reason that I have the "Two Minute Rule," in my games. Often, if a player points out a rule that I didn't realize, I'll adjust my ruling. However, sometimes I just don't agree with the player's interpretation or the rule itself. If that happens, I give my players two minutes to argue their case. After two minutes, I make a judgment-call one way or the other and we move on. The one exception I make to the "Two Minute Rule," is if the disputed rule literally means the difference between life or death for the character. If that's so, I'll take the time needed to make sure we get the ruling right.

    Having a limit on how long these kinds of rule-disputes can go on goes a long way to keep things moving. And sometimes, even two minutes might be to disruptive to the flow of a scene. If that's the case, don't be afraid to make a ruling and table the discussion for later. Either way, it is a good idea to commit to discussing any rules-disputes after the game and before your next session to get everyone on board as much as possible. Take it offline and figure out exactly how your group is going to handle that situation if it comes up again. If you find that you made a mistake, be ready to admit it just as boldly as you were making the on-the-spot ruling. Sometimes, you're going to be wrong, and that's okay. Just remember that your job as GM isn't to always be right. Your job is to keep the game going and make sure everyone (including yourself) has fun.
    Robert A. Howard
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    Arch Lich Thoth-Amon is offline Cursed by the Gods
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    I pretty much follow the rules. I also realize that i dont know everything for i allow *all* printed source books to be used... that can be easily over 50(I know it's more... just throwing out a number). So, it is understood that one should know ones character and be ready to be questioned. As far as gaming rules are concerned, everyone knows that if one can make a great argument... that i may side with this person over the rules. When Rules-Lawyers see this, and realize that our games dont go exactly by the rules, they have a choice. They either need to relax and enjoy the game or, for if they are the Felix Ungers of the world, realize they wont be happy and need to move on.

    Thoth-Amon

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    Gm/dm Corrections

    It's not a good feeling to have someone always telling you that you are wrong. I think the gamemaster is the ultimate referee. You say what will happen and what will not happen. Have anyone heard of house rules!

    Also, on the flip side, the DM/GM should seek to increase his knowledge of the game that is being played.

    And better yet, run a game no one knows but the GM and get new players; like me!

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    Rules lawyers were pretty much the reason I left most game rules behind. Taking what i liked from all these games and coming up with my own homegrown rules I have a very rules lite game that no one really has to focus on the rules so much that they can't RP well. I don't really explain the rules so much as use them to decide the outcome of actions. Players can do pretty mush anything they want with the logical outcome and consequences.

    It is so nice to play in a game that so much of the time is not taken up with debates.

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    Being a bit of a rules-lawyer I'll throw my two coppers in.
    I agree with Grimwell and Farcaster. Use us. If we are anal enough to read and remember the books that well, using that knowledge is like getting paid.
    Rules manipulations are different however. Varients and such should not be introduced mid-stream. These should be discussed in private with the GM/DM before/after sessions.
    Trivial matters are grey areas. Most of the time it depends on just how impactful the ruling was, and just how much of my OCD kicks in.

    Even being a rules-lawyer, the story is still key. A good player will bend for story. Maybe the GM/DM wants it to not work for "drama". (although, being a powergamer, I usually try to give the GM extra wiggle room since I know I try to overpower things)

    And at the end of the day its about fun. Rules-lawyers like using the rules as stated and/or agree'd upon. Disruption is disruption however, and a good role-player will seek to prevent it.

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    For me it depends on a couple of things. If it is minor, like reminding me about a skill or something that I remember quickly then No Problem. If it is something that is going to delay the game then I ask them to not worry about it until after the game. Now, that said there may be a reason why something doesn't work the way they think, in a world of Magic there could be an effect that the PCs simply have no way of knowing. I don't allow arguments at my table. The GM is Always Right(simply because the GM knows things happening in the World that the Players don't).

    When in doubt I simply remind the Player that there maybe something happening that they don't know about. Heck, perhaps that is a Great BIG Clue that "something aint right", i.e. Illusion...

    On the flip side if I'm a player and the GM makes a call I don't agree with I'll bring up my disagreement and if the GM says that is the ruling then I won't argue about it until after the game time. Rules-lawyering can be fun but it shouldn't interrupt the fun at the whole table...

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    nobody ever admits this...

    I am a rules lawyer... in the last campaign I played I chose my first and last names. We always left our characters at the GM's house in case one of us couldn't show up (though we could take them with us if we were positive we would be there the following week). One of the rare weeks I didn't take my character home I came back to find "Esquire" written after my name.

    That said, I NEVER interrupt game flow with the only exception being someone dying. I always talk to the GM in private during a break or after the session. He did respect that as well as on-the-fly help on rare occasions. If you are a rules lawyer reading this... if you don't know something, don't make it up. There were a few instances where I didn't know the answer but was able to tell the GM what source to use. Or I would race him to find it in my "session library".

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    I feel (since I am the one who posed the question) that Grimwell is spot on.

    Being a rules-lawyer myself it has only been recently that I have noticed how disruptive it can be to the game so I have been making a conscious effort not to be so outspoken.

    I see it as a boon to the game most of the time. I believe fair is fair for all since all of us at the table have unspokenly agreed to abide by the RAW and the GM/DM's house rules. So I feel it is my fair duty to point out flaws in whatever circumstance should arise.

    However, I will leave any GM/DM adhocing up to the GM/DM, those tend to be judgement calls that are not covered by the rules therefore it is not my place to question the GM/DM.

    Plus I REALLY enjoy strategy and tactics and knowing and bending the rules to gain the best tactical advantage is something I enjoy immensely!
    "I'm afraid it is you who are mistaken. About a great, many things."

    "It is not the rules that make or break a game, it's the GM and the players."


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    i have a simple rule: if you want to argue a rule, wait until the break.

    i also have another rule: (screw) the book, meaning this: i'm about flow, no rule is going to interrupt said flow, and, as i wind up winging it a lot (my players couldn't follow a script if their eternal souls depended on it), i don't want my mojo broken by a rules "discussion".

    luckily, my group doesn't care about mechanics, just about having fun. if i allow someone to join my game, and they start "rule lawyering", my players tell him or her "um, we don't DO that here, sorry".

    god, i love them...
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    i always make a point to thank them for their input. that helps put the discussion on a more non-confrontational level right off the bat. i make a point to visibly listen to what they are saying. they tend to take my answer more seriously if everyone can see i took them seriously. if they can quote the source i'll glance through it real quick, if not i simply make a "feels right this time" ruling and look it up after the session.

    i like using the lawyers as an in-house reference tool by tossing them questions like, "how do i accomplish 'x' using the rules?" and if things are still not working out, i'll come up with an item or ability that explains why they are allowed to circumvent that rule, usually with a limited or x-times only usage, just in case the party gets the item version. one thing i've noticed is that rules lawyers typically enjoy getting something that allows them to break a rule 3 times. i suspect this works because this brings the "rules violation" to within the understandable framework of the rules-at least in the case of the item. as for the ability version... there are all sorts of monestaries dotting the landscapes of my worlds where some oddball ability or another can be learned. ;D besides, it makes for great in-character soliloquies during the death scene where he explains how and why he was able to do that. maybe now the characters will want to quest out that way to get it for themselves....

    i am polite, respectful, and keep it short.
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