Confessions of a Rules Lawyer

I know what I am, and I know that you hate me. Admitting the truth is the first step to recovery they say, so here goes: I am a rules lawyer.

Why I’m a Rules Lawyer

I love rules. I like playing with them and fiddling with them. I spend time considering how my character can function within the confines of the rules. I’ll take the time to read a rulebook from cover to cover, and then reread sections so I know how things work.

And I hate when other people break the rules. It drives me crazy, because I know how it’s supposed to be done, and if you break the rules I can no longer trust the game.

So apparently I have trust issues too.

Why Most Players Hate Me

Most players aren’t playing a game for the rules. The rules are just there to facilitate a complex game of make-believe. When I start to comment on the rules, the game that they enjoy lurches to a halt. Arguments ensue. By pointing out that the rules are being handledincorrectly , I’m also telling the game master that he doesn’t know what he’s doing. Even if that’s true, he doesn’t want to hear it, and neither do the other players.

Why the Rules *Do* Matter

The rules of a roleplaying game exist to protect the players from the game master’s whims. When you were a child, playing any sort of make believe game, at some point an argument would always break out. “I got you!”. “No, you didn’t!”. And soon enough the game was over and everyone was mad at each other.

So, rules are created. Even in a roleplaying game with a game master, the possibility exists that the game master will favor one player over another. A ruleset, when followed, provides protection against this.

The Compromise: Keep the Game Moving

The first rule to being a good player is don’t be selfish. I have learned that it is important for me to not interrupt when other people are enjoying themselves. Usually, I try to talk to my game master away from the table, and make it clear that it’s important to me that the rules be followed properly when possible, and that if he isn’t clear on something that he can ask me for assistance.

These days, if we’re at the table, and I see something being done wrong, I might quickly mention that it’s incorrect, but that we should “go with it for now”. Then, when it doesn’t disrupt the flow of the game, the game master and I might discuss the actual rule.

There is an exception. If breaking the rule is grossly detrimental to anyone involved, I will let this be known. But in this case, I talk directly to the game master, and as politely as possible. Even so, I try to keep this to a minimum.

  • http://dungeonsmaster.com/ Ameron

    I too am a huge rules lawyer. There’s a guy at my FLGS who is the slowest D&D player I’ve ever met or played with. Not only is he slow, he doesn’t seem to know the rules very well. He’s constantly taking 4 immediate reactions on his turn and adding modifiers that clearly don’t apply. I’m torn between correcting him (as the rules lawyer in me so desperately wants to) and not wanting to slow him down any more. It’s a tough choice.

    • http://www.apathygames.com Tyson J. Hayes

      I wouldn’t really consider it rules lawyering per say, but you may be able to use your understanding of the rules to your advantage.

      You may want to consider offering assistance to him. I’d suggest doing it outside of the table so you don’t appear to be shooting him down or attacking him for taking to long. Just nicely say, “Hey I noticed that you seem to be confused on the rules sometimes, I’m open to helping you if you’d like.” And leave it there. If he wants your help then he’ll take it (and he hopefully will).

      Thanks for sharing your story!

  • http://dungeonsmaster.com Ameron

    I too am a huge rules lawyer. There’s a guy at my FLGS who is the slowest D&D player I’ve ever met or played with. Not only is he slow, he doesn’t seem to know the rules very well. He’s constantly taking 4 immediate reactions on his turn and adding modifiers that clearly don’t apply. I’m torn between correcting him (as the rules lawyer in me so desperately wants to) and not wanting to slow him down any more. It’s a tough choice.

    • http://www.apathygames.com Tyson J. Hayes

      I wouldn’t really consider it rules lawyering per say, but you may be able to use your understanding of the rules to your advantage.

      You may want to consider offering assistance to him. I’d suggest doing it outside of the table so you don’t appear to be shooting him down or attacking him for taking to long. Just nicely say, “Hey I noticed that you seem to be confused on the rules sometimes, I’m open to helping you if you’d like.” And leave it there. If he wants your help then he’ll take it (and he hopefully will).

      Thanks for sharing your story!

  • http://www.thediceoflife.com/ Kristian

    When I played D&D 3e, I was called a rules lawyer, munchkin, power gamer, and/or a min-maxer, but these were misnomers for what I really was: a rules adherent.

    My reason for being a stickler for rules was because I made sure I understood and followed the rules myself. I played a rogue/fighter/thief-acrobat, and I made it a point to understand when I could or couldn’t do something or when I could prevent something from happening to me (survival is critical for a rogue).

    To me, the rules were a contract. I made sure not to break them and I even restricted my own actions based on such assumptions of rules, but if I saw my DM or another player ignoring a rule, I’d call it out. Why? Because I was making it a point to adhere to that rule; otherwise, I would have ignored it myself.

    With that said, I learned over time to not assume any rules but to ask the GM to determine certain circumstances so we could both adjudicate the results together. This turned it into a more cooperative effort than a competitive one.

    • http://www.apathygames.com Tyson J. Hayes

      I find it interesting that you think of the rules as a contract. When you DM do you always play by all the rules or have you been known to disregard some?

      I’ve been known to let players argue it out with me at the table if death is on the line, mostly because I’m playing in an Iron Kingdoms campagin and death is pretty final, so I try to give them every out they can but will kill them if it comes to it. Granted they usually are arguing the rules but if they make a really good pleas I might wan and spare their life. I think it’s cause of the ego boost. :)

      • Jeff Carlsen

        @Tyson J. Hayes, Disregarding rules? Are you sick in the head?

  • http://thediceoflife.com/ Kristian

    When I played D&D 3e, I was called a rules lawyer, munchkin, power gamer, and/or a min-maxer, but these were misnomers for what I really was: a rules adherent.

    My reason for being a stickler for rules was because I made sure I understood and followed the rules myself. I played a rogue/fighter/thief-acrobat, and I made it a point to understand when I could or couldn’t do something or when I could prevent something from happening to me (survival is critical for a rogue).

    To me, the rules were a contract. I made sure not to break them and I even restricted my own actions based on such assumptions of rules, but if I saw my DM or another player ignoring a rule, I’d call it out. Why? Because I was making it a point to adhere to that rule; otherwise, I would have ignored it myself.

    With that said, I learned over time to not assume any rules but to ask the GM to determine certain circumstances so we could both adjudicate the results together. This turned it into a more cooperative effort than a competitive one.

    • http://www.apathygames.com Tyson J. Hayes

      I find it interesting that you think of the rules as a contract. When you DM do you always play by all the rules or have you been known to disregard some?

      I’ve been known to let players argue it out with me at the table if death is on the line, mostly because I’m playing in an Iron Kingdoms campagin and death is pretty final, so I try to give them every out they can but will kill them if it comes to it. Granted they usually are arguing the rules but if they make a really good pleas I might wan and spare their life. I think it’s cause of the ego boost. :)

      • Jeff Carlsen

        @Tyson J. Hayes, Disregarding rules? Are you sick in the head?

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  • http://www.thediceoflife.com/ Kristian

    @Tyson: When I say the rules, I mean the rules as assumed at the beginning of a campaign unless otherwise altered by the DM. I’ve often changed rules of the game in my own campaigns as a DM, and other DMs have, too. Unless a change is indicated, however, I assume the rules as is even if it means restricting my own actions based on those rules.

    I also know that I can use rules to take advantage of circumstances such as being a half-elf with low-light vision in a poorly lit area that has small amounts of shadowy illumination. I know I can hide in a darker area from a human, but that area appears like shadowy illumination to me, giving me the edge on a sneak attack. If the GM suddenly decides that the human can see me just because he wants the human to see me, I’ll get annoyed because I’m trying to use the benefits of my race and class.

    Another example is when I once had a friend who was trying to decipher an illustrated book in an unkown language. I simply blurted out, “Make a decipher script check, but only if you’ve trained in it.” He tried to argue that he wasn’t deciphering the script, he was only trying to match recurring images with recurring characters/words and determine their meaning. We all looked at him and said “That’s what decipher script is for.” (First sentence in the skill description: “You can decipher writing in an unfamiliar language or a message written in an incomplete or archaic form.”)

    If I wanted my character to be able to decipher another language, I’d spend skill points on decipher script, and I would be pissed if another player was able to do the same thing without sacrificing precious skill points.

  • http://thediceoflife.com/ Kristian

    @Tyson: When I say the rules, I mean the rules as assumed at the beginning of a campaign unless otherwise altered by the DM. I’ve often changed rules of the game in my own campaigns as a DM, and other DMs have, too. Unless a change is indicated, however, I assume the rules as is even if it means restricting my own actions based on those rules.

    I also know that I can use rules to take advantage of circumstances such as being a half-elf with low-light vision in a poorly lit area that has small amounts of shadowy illumination. I know I can hide in a darker area from a human, but that area appears like shadowy illumination to me, giving me the edge on a sneak attack. If the GM suddenly decides that the human can see me just because he wants the human to see me, I’ll get annoyed because I’m trying to use the benefits of my race and class.

    Another example is when I once had a friend who was trying to decipher an illustrated book in an unkown language. I simply blurted out, “Make a decipher script check, but only if you’ve trained in it.” He tried to argue that he wasn’t deciphering the script, he was only trying to match recurring images with recurring characters/words and determine their meaning. We all looked at him and said “That’s what decipher script is for.” (First sentence in the skill description: “You can decipher writing in an unfamiliar language or a message written in an incomplete or archaic form.”)

    If I wanted my character to be able to decipher another language, I’d spend skill points on decipher script, and I would be pissed if another player was able to do the same thing without sacrificing precious skill points.

  • Jeff Carlsen

    @Kristian I think you just hit the crux of the problem with us, the rules lawyers. In the decipher script example, you had a player who was trying to solve a problem. He was engaged and probably enjoying himself, and you ended that by pointing out the rules.

    You were right to do so, of course. The rules are there to ensure fairness, so have to be adhered to, but at that moment you stepped in to ruin his fun. Thus adding to the negative opinion of rules lawyers.

    In the end, I guess it’s all about how you present the rules-lawyering, and accepting that at some time the rules will be turned against each player in the name of keeping things fair.

  • Jeff Carlsen

    @Kristian I think you just hit the crux of the problem with us, the rules lawyers. In the decipher script example, you had a player who was trying to solve a problem. He was engaged and probably enjoying himself, and you ended that by pointing out the rules.

    You were right to do so, of course. The rules are there to ensure fairness, so have to be adhered to, but at that moment you stepped in to ruin his fun. Thus adding to the negative opinion of rules lawyers.

    In the end, I guess it’s all about how you present the rules-lawyering, and accepting that at some time the rules will be turned against each player in the name of keeping things fair.

  • Aloysius

    If I wanted a system where roleplay was not a viable solution to a puzzle, I would hang up my dice and play WOW.

  • Aloysius

    If I wanted a system where roleplay was not a viable solution to a puzzle, I would hang up my dice and play WOW.

  • Jeff Carlsen

    @Aloysius If you take it to extremes, you are correct. In the cited example, if no one in the party had taken decipher script, then roleplaying it out is the best option. But if someone had, then it would be unfair to let the unskilled character roleplay in lieu of a skill that he hadn’t paid for, when someone else had.

    In most cases, a skill check needs to be merely one method of success, and others should be available and encouraged. But the rules should be followed, as they describe what limitations characters are expected to have within the setting. To play your character without those limitations is cheating and selfish.

  • Jeff Carlsen

    @Aloysius If you take it to extremes, you are correct. In the cited example, if no one in the party had taken decipher script, then roleplaying it out is the best option. But if someone had, then it would be unfair to let the unskilled character roleplay in lieu of a skill that he hadn’t paid for, when someone else had.

    In most cases, a skill check needs to be merely one method of success, and others should be available and encouraged. But the rules should be followed, as they describe what limitations characters are expected to have within the setting. To play your character without those limitations is cheating and selfish.

  • http://spyderzt.blogspot.com/ Spyder Z

    Heh, I’m the worst person to comment on this. (So of course I will. ;P ) I am very fast and free with the rules when I run a game. As far as I’m concerned, the Roleplaying is why we’re here. Anyone can point 1D20 +15 at something and generally find success. Even if it doesn’t make as much sense situationally for it to be so. I would rather hear you explain why your character should be able to do something, and see you Play it out, than to give you success at the roll of a Die. Then you roll the die to see if what you tried works, with possible modifiers based on your creativity in the situation. ;P (I did run a custom game though, so the “Skill Checks” didn’t even operate the same anywho. ;P )

  • http://spyderzt.blogspot.com/ Spyder Z

    Heh, I’m the worst person to comment on this. (So of course I will. ;P ) I am very fast and free with the rules when I run a game. As far as I’m concerned, the Roleplaying is why we’re here. Anyone can point 1D20 +15 at something and generally find success. Even if it doesn’t make as much sense situationally for it to be so. I would rather hear you explain why your character should be able to do something, and see you Play it out, than to give you success at the roll of a Die. Then you roll the die to see if what you tried works, with possible modifiers based on your creativity in the situation. ;P (I did run a custom game though, so the “Skill Checks” didn’t even operate the same anywho. ;P )

  • Jeff Carlsen

    @Spyder Z Besides the sheer awesomeness that is Savage Worlds, which I think everyone should play (but I may be biased), it sounds like you need to try Wushu. It’s a dice pool system where you get more dice based on the amount of description you put into your actions.

    http://wiki.saberpunk.net/Wushu/HomePage

  • Jeff Carlsen

    @Spyder Z Besides the sheer awesomeness that is Savage Worlds, which I think everyone should play (but I may be biased), it sounds like you need to try Wushu. It’s a dice pool system where you get more dice based on the amount of description you put into your actions.

    http://wiki.saberpunk.net/Wushu/HomePage

  • http://www.apathygames.com Tyson J. Hayes

    I have to agree with Jeff on the Wushu it would fit exactly what you are describing.

  • http://www.apathygames.com Tyson J. Hayes

    I have to agree with Jeff on the Wushu it would fit exactly what you are describing.

  • Aloysius

    +1 Wushu

  • Aloysius

    +1 Wushu

  • http://spyderzt.blogspot.com/ Spyder Z

    Heh, I’d rather keep to my system. Wushu looks like it’s gone a little “Too Far” for my tastes. ;P Though who knows, maybe I’ll find someone who runs it, give it a try, and like it. But It’s certainly not something I’d seek out.

  • http://spyderzt.blogspot.com/ Spyder Z

    Heh, I’d rather keep to my system. Wushu looks like it’s gone a little “Too Far” for my tastes. ;P Though who knows, maybe I’ll find someone who runs it, give it a try, and like it. But It’s certainly not something I’d seek out.

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  • Hillary Crenshaw

    The system certainly does seem to reward the ridiculous, if you're looking to run a game similar to a Wachowski Brothers film. I like the concept that everyone is working together to describe the scene; all the actions flowing together would feel less disjointed than turn-based systems. And anyway, you as the GM could definitely encourage you players to performs more realistic actions. Ultimately it's only as absurd as you allow it to be.

    How does your system handle combat?

  • Hillary Crenshaw

    The system certainly does seem to reward the ridiculous, if you're looking to run a game similar to a Wachowski Brothers film. I like the concept that everyone is working together to describe the scene; all the actions flowing together would feel less disjointed than turn-based systems. And anyway, you as the GM could definitely encourage you players to performs more realistic actions. Ultimately it's only as absurd as you allow it to be.

    How does your system handle combat?