Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Rules Lawyering: How Much Do Rules Really Matter?

So, if you were to ask anyone in a forum, what is the kind of RP player that is known to annoy a GM the most?; most people would say the rules lawyer. For those of you who don’t know, a rules lawyer is a player who always insists that the rules must be followed to the letter, and don’t have any problem telling the GM that they broke a rule or two (or three or four). The caricature of the rules lawyer is a know-at-all, someone who will disrupt a game and annoy the GM and all the other players, all to make sure the rules are followed. However, one unwritten rule of classic RPG is the one they ignore, the GM is always right.

Is this caricature fair? In the world of RPG, rules are how the players interact with the GM’s world and it is what keeps the GM from having too much power over the world. They are why we use dice and add the third element of chance, to GM and player decisions, which create the game and its world. Therefore, changing the rules too much can be confusing and overwhelming to a player. I was once in a game where the combining of systems and types of characters led to constant questions about whether various mechanics still applied. Our questions of “Is her werewolf pregnant if he’s technically dead?” or “Can this potion you thought up really affect us in this way?” were never explained, and it made it hard to focus on the game.

However, can we sometimes forgive GMs who deviate from the rules? Is it possible to move away from the rules if it makes the game more exciting or interesting? I think this works best when the GM makes the changes exist within the world they are creating, and there is an explanation given to the players. My co-Gm for the game I’m currently running supports this, throwing out some rules when they slow down game.

I think, as usual, how much rules matter really depends on the gaming group. And there is always a kind way to say, “You missed this thing,” and not be a stereotypical rules lawyer. Because, here’s a secret: GMs miss things all the time. We forget continuity. We forget rules. We mess up. And if you can help us out, while not embarrassing us, that’s not annoying. That’s awesome.

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