“That’s not how it goes according to the rules.”

As could be deducted from reading a few of my earlier posts, I’ve recently had a sort of burn-out regarding D&D 3.5/Pathfinder RPG. I’ve simply been playing too much of the same thing. This has caused a few things:

1) The problems with the rules-system have really started to chafe, where earlier they just annoyed. There really are a lot of fiddly bits in the system, which the game, in my opinion really doesn’t need.

2) All the games I’m currently playing have started looking alike. Its like having steak for dinner every day. Sure, its meaty, full of proteins, fat, seasonings and all that, making for very good eating. But who want’s to eat steak every damn day? I’m sure someone does, but me, I prefer a bit of variety.

Point one brings me to the topic line of this post:

“That’s not how it goes according to the rules.”

There are few things in gaming I detest more than this This Sentence, when coming from a player during a game I’m running. Its like saying: “The rules are more important than the contents of the game session, and I don’t trust your judgment as a game master enough to let you break the rules for the sake of the game session’s needs.” Its like a slap in the face.

Actually, just thinking about the last time this happened during a game gets my blood boiling. If you’re ever playing in one of my games, and you get the sudden urge to speak up about a ruling or interpretation I’m making: Don’t. It will ruin the whole session for me, and, as a consequence, for you as well. Seriously. As a disclaimer: I have nothing against players speaking their minds about anything relating to the game I’m running. Just not during the game.

Damn.

More on point two, the current state of my games, and future projects later on.

6 responses to ““That’s not how it goes according to the rules.”

  1. I prefer using rules which create good fiction and good gaming; as this is the case, the dichotomy you build seems alien.

    If we need to break rules to make a better game experience, then we are using the wrong rules. Using the wrong rules is too much trouble IME to be worth it.

    • A few examples of cases when I might “break to rules”:

      * The rules don’t cover a situation which comes up during play exactly, so I’m forced to make a ruling based on the rules. A player, armed with his own rulebook know-how, disagrees on my ruling based on another rule tangentially related to the situation at hand.

      * The situation in the game isn’t important to the main narrative, or, for one reason or another, I feel the need to pick up the pace. I decide to cut corners with the rules, making up fast and loose rulings instead. A player might feel his character gets short-changed and decides to start an argument.

      * A situation comes up during play, which is mentioned in the rules, but no one at the table can remember how the rules go. I decide to “wing it”, to prevent the game from loosing its tempo.

      So really its more about a certain attitude than about an actual fault of the rules. The rules set IMO are built for a purpose, which is supporting the game, not the other way around.

      That being said, I’m aware of the faults of the rules system, and by no means am I claiming its perfect by any stretch.

      • How common is it your group to consult players for adjudication advice, or have them make suggestions in terms of rules?

        I’m running Burning Wheel and since at least one other player is quite adept with the rules, I often ask how he would handle a particularly thorny area (or just let the player decide which skill to use, say). Thanks to this it is very rare for a player to disagree with my calls, since in they are in edge cases part of the adjudication process.

        On glossing things over: I can see how that could be a problem with games that are not flexible on the level of detail afforded to a given situation. (I might consider running D&D 3rd again if it had one-roll resolution system for fights.)

        I’d go as far as to say that the perceived problem can be handled with minimal alterations in rules text: Whereas D&D 3rd (I am reasonably familiar with it, this applies to several other games) implies, or the culture of play surrounding it implies, to roll climb in order to climb a steep cliff, another approach would be to roll climb when there is a steep cliff and time is of essence, or there is another condition that makes the roll pivotal. This is what the take 20 rules do to some extent, I think. Also: One roll per cliff with difficult of the feat adjusted by the distance to climb. Cuts down the need to fudge in situations where one thing would be rolled several times to handle one situation.

      • Quite common, as most of my players are quite rules-savvy. We don’t really go into the nitty-gritty of the rules that often, though. Usually I’ll just wing it instead. The problems only arise in situations in which the PC stands to lose something the players considers worthwhile. Funny that, really, when comparing to, say, White Wolf games, where the player characters get short-changed all the time and the players are liking it for the story seeds provided by failing at something critical.

        This is exactly how I use the Take 10 and Take 20 rules. That is, dice rolls aren’t used at all in non-critical situations, provided the player gives me a good enough description of what exactly his character is doing.

  2. Its like saying: “The rules are more important than the contents of the game session, and I don’t trust your judgment as a game master enough to let you break the rules for the sake of the game session’s needs.”

    I’m most likely getting you wrong here. You don’t really mean that players aren’t allowed to express their concern during playing about your game mastering, do you? The lack of trust is a serious issue to me and I myself wish to know immediately if one of the players feels uneasy for whatever reason. I mean that this thing you write here is probably more about different gaming styles (dramatist storytelling vs. “tactical” gaming) than trusting per se (someone brings into the game such subject matter that it makes someone else feel uneasy), but I still wonder if you really don’t want to hear your players’ feelings during the gaming. The game session isn’t more important than the enjoyment of all the participants, right?

    • That’s not what I’m saying. Its more of an attitude thing, really. If a player has an issue during a game, he can certainly bring it up, and I’ll make a note of bringing the issue up after the game, or even change my stance during the game, if I feel the argument presented is in my opinion feasible and relevant. Bringing something up just because “it goes like this according to the rules” is, however, in my opinion, quite different from “I feel that my character is getting shafted because of your unfair ruling.”

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