Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Handling A Rules Dispute At The Table

 I've seen some conversations online with people wondering where the line is between bringing up a rules question and with being a rules lawyer. If you're new to the hobby this can definitely be confusing. Very few things in gaming are as loathed and despised as the dreaded 'rules lawyer' player. it is probably the most despised player type that is at least somewhat acceptable to have at the table. At the same time, gaming is also rife with stories of GMs causing players harm and decreasing the fun at the table through bad rulings that seem aimed to make the players lose even when the rules indicate otherwise.

With that in mind, let's break down the ideal way a rules dispute happens and plays out at a table. The order of events for that looks like this:

  1. The GM states something, makes a call, or otherwise makes a ruling that is counter to expected rules interactions in some way shape or form.
  2. A player brings up the discrepancy and asks for clarification
  3. The GM now makes a choice:
    1. Check the rule, make sure the ruling is correct, and adjust based on how the rule/ruling should work.
    2. Trust the player and adjust based on player's understanding of how the rule/ruling should work
    3. Confirm ruling stands as stated, and invite player to discuss in detail after
  4. The Game Continues
There is an alternative. If you are unsure of the ruling as the player - but it doesn't negatively impact the game, or even makes it more awesome by your estimation - you can wait until after the game to ask. But that isn't the kind of interaction we're talking about here.

Where Does Being A Rules Lawyer Enter?
The Rules Lawyer comes in on two places. One, the Rules Lawyer does not accept the ruling in the moment and continues to argue based on the Rules As Written in the book - or the Rules as Intended by their Interpretation. This argument continues until someone gets flustered, or the GM caves and goes by the book. This is the more common use of rules lawyer, and they're so hated because they bring games to a screeching halt. Often they also only care about the RAW when it is in their favor, and are perfectly fine for bad rulings in their favor to happen all the time (even against other players.)

The second type of Rules Lawyer is someone who questions every not by the book ruling the GM makes. This slows the game down to a crawl at times with the insistence that the game be run RAW. This one at least has the decency to apply the rulebook equally all the time - even when it kills their character - and can be slightly less annoying depending on the group.

In either case though, the problem is the same. The rules lawyer constantly and consistently challenges the GM on the rulings made for the game to the detriment of the enjoyment of the game.

Where Do Problematic GMs Enter?
Problematic GMs enter in basically the same way. They are - for whatever reason - more concerned with 'winning' or executing 'their vision of the story' than they are in running a fun game. And so they take advantage of the fact the game gives them the power to change rules to ignore rules when it suits them. 

This is different than making a monster that is able to avoid/ignore a specific rule that is a consistent part of an encounter or story. This is perfectly fine GMing - provided you are doing it for the fun of the game and in ways that are clearly communicated to your players.

No, at their worst the problematic GM will have a rule work one way one round of combat, and then another a second round because it is better for their monster/encounter. Rules will be enforced strictly for players, but not for their monsters. 

Most of all, and consistent with the rules laywer, this is done to the detriment of the enjoyment of the game.

What Do You Do With A Problematic Player?
If you're running a game with a problematic player, the best thing to do is to talk to them. Do it in private. List your concerns. Re-establish expectations and how you intend to run the game. Ask them if that is a game they think they can be a part of and would enjoy. If not? Well, that's fine. There's no rule saying every game has to be for every player. 

Be open to compromise if the player has fun with certain things, but not if it is going to make things worse for everyone. And if you need to part ways for that game, be polite and cordial about it. No need to burn bridges because you like playing the game differently.

What Do You Do With A Problematic GM?
It is basically the same thing as above. Have a private conversation, lay out your concerns, see if you can re-establish expectations. If the game is going to continue to be a thing that isn't fun or good for you? Leave, but be cordial about it. Bad gaming is worse than no gaming with the amount of stress and anger it can cause.

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