Friday, November 12, 2010

DM Advice - Rules Lawyers - Turning Questions into Answers

Today I start a new topic entitled DM Help.  These articles will focus on helping the DM/GM to run their games and will help players with interaction and rulings.  I attempt to explain situations that I have encountered in the past and how I dealt with these situations.  In addition, I may present adventures, magic items, tidbits, NPCs and other useful DM/GM bits.  This topic will focus on Roleplaying but not any specific system or genre and indeed multiple systems and genres maybe used.  This will be a somewhat regular topic featured on my blog. Feel free to comment.

“Hey, I know you’re the DM but it says right here on page 35 under Combat Effects that I can do it!” As a veteran gamer of many sessions, I have heard this question many times.  Rules Lawyers - almost every group has one, but what is considered by some to be a rules lawyer question others may consider the question necessary or even more important than the GMs call.  Oftentimes their questions can and do interrupt the flow of the game and have even been known to bring a session to a standstill.  What can we do about it?  What should we do about it? 

If you are like me then you probably find a bit of rules lawyer inside yourself but do not despair for I believe that there is a fair balance between being a rules lawyer and being a helpful player or DM.  Yes, even DM’s can become rules lawyers – just ask some of my players.  The trick is as a GM to be sure to give the rules lawyer adequate feedback when they are presenting rules.  Now if you are the rules lawyer we all know deep down inside it is more important to be part of the group than to be correct, right?  What if you presented your findings to the group instead of demanded that they listened?  How would you want something presented to you if you were running a game? 

I find that by gently reminding the GM that a rule may directly affect my character this tends to go over much better.   In the end, it is always the GMs call as to a particular rule but if you follow the below guidelines they might help you to keep the rules lawyer in your group happy and to keep yourself sane if you are a rules lawyer.

Be sure to set up front if you are going to allow any feedback on rulings you make.   What I mean by this is you can either tell your group that it’s your way or the highway (does not make for a very fun time for all) or you can establish the whens and wheres that a ruling may be questioned.  For instance, you may not allow the questioning of a monster’s abilities but you may allow a rogue to question why they are unable to use their sneak attack on a particular foe.  Generally, I find that for most rules lawyers if a GM sets the boundaries up front the game runs much more smoothly.

Establish when rulings can be questioned.  This is partly already discussed above but it bears mentioning a second time because I cannot stress enough how important it is to set these guidelines.  Maybe all rulings have to be discussed after a game with the exception of any ruling that would result in the death of a character.

What books are you allowing?  Are all the associated new books automatically allowed in the game as they are published or do you have to give them a read through and clear them before you let your players use them?  Make sure this is also stated up front.  No GM likes to be blind-sided by a player who wants to try a new ability from a new book that they have not been able to read yet.

Finally set the platform for discussions.  It is your job as the GM to facilitate the game and part of this includes the tone of any questions that arise in the game.  If you insist that all players address you as “Lord Master On High” each time they question a ruling they may be less prone to ask although I find that just by asking players to be more specific in their questions and more friendly when a disagreement occurs works much better than lofty titles. 

Also, and this one take a special kind of party to not run roughshod over the GM afterwards, admit when you made a mistake.  I know, I know this breaks DM/GM etiquette  but it works believe me.  When a group of players really knows you are trying to work hard on your understanding of the rules they really do appreciate the effort you put into the game on making sure that all has a good time at the table.

Finally, make sure that once you make a ruling it remains consistent throughout the campaign.  Even if you disagree with a rule in the book and decide to make your own house rule on the spot, write the house rule down so that you and all the players now know the change.  I cannot stress enough how important this really is.  I have been guilty of making a house rule in the past (charging for 3.0 comes to mind) and I actually forgot the house ruling in between sessions – my players didn’t though.  I have learned from my mistakes as a GM and very much value my rules lawyers in my game.  Rules lawyers really are not all that bad for they tend to be very helpful during conflicts and other odd rulings but always make sure that your players know that at the end of the day you are the GM and that you will and you reserve final ruling.

For the rules lawyers let me give you my own personal thank you for the challenge you present GMs everywhere and also a personal thank you on behalf of all the GMs who failed to tell you and show you their appreciation for helping them through the sometimes arduous rules that come with any Role Playing Game.

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