When people talk about games and unwritten rules, frequently you'll have things come up and be referenced as "rule 0." In other words, it is a rule that comes before any of the rules in the book and thus takes precedent over them. Sometimes this is just a world advice or philosophical point for the game. Othertimes it can be something more. Strangely enough, from various conversations with people in my group I've come to realize that depending on who you ask what rule 0 is changes. Today I thought I'd share three of them, what they mean, and ask what other rule zeroes exist at your table.
#1 Real Life Before Game
Real Life Before Game is a simple rule. In short it means that game is secondary to things you need to do for real life. Yes, game is a serious commitment to be some where and hang out with specific people on a regular basis, but sometimes life happens. Work gets in the way, you have to do something for your family, it is your significant other's birthday. This rule 0 tells you that it is ok for these things to happen. Tell the group you'll be missing game as quickly as possible and everything will work around your absence. Interestingly enough, this isn't cart blanche to just miss every session if you want. Every group has certain thresholds, and if someone crosses it they may have to decide if they can stay with the game or not. However, leaving because RL is in the way tends to not cause problems. After all, RL before game.
As a note, this has numerous and more specific variants such as: work before game, significant other before game, health before game, and so on. RL before game just catches all that in one go.
#2 Remember Why You're Here
Everyone games for different reasons. Ask six different gamers and you could get ten different answers why they show up to their various RPGs and table top sessions. However, it is important to remember why you're there. Yes, game time is a great chance to catch up with friends, joke, laugh, and tell stories about the work week, but everyone has agreed to play a RPG and that is why you're there. If people want to get down to game, try not to distract or take away from it. This is less about forcing people to shutting up and playing their character as it is about respecting the reason the group is there as a whole. You may not care about playing the game or not that night, and just want to see some of your friends, but others may have been looking forward to the session all week and really want to get into character for their own reasons. Ultimately, everyone agreed to get together to play the game, so when you show up be prepared - and willing - to play the game. If you can't do that, let folks know. Maybe it will be a better night for you to not be around. Or maybe the group will agree to do something else. But be respectful about it.
#3 All Rules Are Subject To The GM
There is a longer form of this rule and it shows up in some books that goes more like this: the GM is the final arbiter and decider of what rules are in use and how they work; they can change that definition at any time but are encouraged to be consistent. In short it means that the GM has the final say on all outcomes involving the game and mechanics of the rules. If the GM says you can't use a technique in a certain area, then you can't use it. If something is ruled to be possible or impossible, then it is possible/impossible. It means the GM can hand waive complicated mechanics in the name of fun, and over-rule the rule book when a straight reading threatens to violate the consistency of the game. It means you have to trust your GM to be fair and run a game that is fun to play in, but it also means that the GM wins all arguments during play about how things work and in what way they will be applied. This is the oldest reference to rule 0 I know, and is one I heavily use in my games. I try to be fair and by the book when I can, but ultimately the rulebook is secondary, especially when looking up exactly how a certain thing is supposed to work will kill the tension in a scene.
What about you? Does your table have other rule 0s? If so, what are they? How do they work? and what are they supposed to solve ahead of time for you?