Go With the Flow Gaming

Go With the Flow Gaming

Recently, while bouncing around on various RPG message boards, I’ve noticed that there is a lot of attention and time spent on minute details of games. For instance, someone wanted to know the size of a goblins middle finger in order for the GM to make a difficulty check for the ranger of this player, to see if he saw the gesture from across the bar.

Okay, maybe I made that up, but you get the point that I’m making here? Not every situation is going to be covered in the rules, yet some players, (affectionately known as rules lawyers), want a solid decision made from their GM, based on game mechanics.  Don’t get me wrong, whatever floats your riverboat is fine with me, however, it seems that a lot of time and energy is spent on details that couldn’t possibly be covered within any rule book.

They are known for bogging down the game, unless everyone else at the table is of the same mind. Other players find them tedious and the rules lawyer is often the cause of normally confident GM’s to second guess their rulings. Here are a few suggestions to help the GM sit undaunted behind their shield, and laugh in the face of the dreaded rules lawyer

If you’ve been stagnated by the rules lawyer at the table and feel chained to the rule books, this article may help you return to your game feeling refreshed and having a whole new perspective on how you play your game. So, if you’re just a lowly player in a game, you can bugger off, this article is meant for the game masters.

There seems to be one of these guys or gals at most gaming tables at some time or another. The bane of GM’s everywhere-the rules lawyer. They sneak into the game unimposing, smiling even, and then once the game begins and someone falls off the table at the inn during a drunken brawl, they pounce. The rules lawyer is quick to respond with gaming data to indicate just how much damage one would take from this sort of fall. Then with an even more devilish glint in their eye, they recite the page number that this ruling can be found.

As they say in the theater, the show must go on, well so must the story. This means that the monsters need to keep coming; the villains need to be caught; or the orcish rod needs to be found. Let the game dictate the pace of the adventure and take back control from the rules lawyer who would willingly spend half an hour debating the precise tacticals of fighting a beholder while single file on a rotting suspension bridge. When looking up from behind your screen what do you see? Do you see bored faces and rolling eyes while the rules lawyer is looking up some insignificant fact? Or do you see players leaning forward in their seats, actively talking about how they should proceed with the current situation and shaking palmful’s of dice?

Hopefully it’s the second. Because if your players are bored it means they aren’t having fun. Get them to engage in the story again.

The tedious rules lawyer is often the most outspoken or boisterous person at the table, while others tend to sit back and just let the player take over. Don’t allow this! It’s your game and you decide what is and isn’t going to happen. You don’t need the rules. It’s your game. Make the rules lawyer understand this. There are many tactful ways of going about this that shouldn’t upset this type of player much, and what if they do get offended? Would you rather keep your mouth shut and everyone at the table be bored but one, or have one person be offended while everyone else is able to carry on and have a great time with the adventure you’re running?

Here is one little rule that the rules lawyer can never seem to recall.  You, mighty Game Master, can make a ruling on anything and discard any rules that you don’t want to use. Why, you might ask? Because it is your game, and don’t forget it. Better yet, don’t let the rules lawyer forget it, as they all seem to do. There shouldn’t be a rules lawyer worth their salt who would deny that it says plain as day, that the GM has the final word.

You are the final arbitrator of your game. Don’t be intimidated by a player that might know the rules better than you. Stand up for your game and for the experience of everyone who sat down at your table. You are the one who ultimately will make or break the game.

So what if the rules lawyer may point out a rule that you hadn’t considered and that now has an in game effect? Politely inform this player that this is your game the he or she is sitting down at, and even though the rules do reflect what they are saying, in this instance your ruling is the one that is going to prevail. You could back this up with a plausible explanation, but not everything has to be pointed out, clear as day, for your players. Quite possibly there could be a reasonable plot point that the characters have not figured out, that is the root cause of the rules infraction. Who knows? Certainly not the player.

So what about when the rules don’t conform to what you want to have happen? You might already be able to guess the answer to this one. Don’t let the rules get in the way of your story or of you and your group of players having a good time.

Let’s say that the players have been combing through a lich’s tomb for the past several hours. They’ve made a few mistakes along the way and didn’t spot some traps that caused them to be low on hit points. Now the group finally runs into the lich and is getting womped on since they are down on spells, healing, and hit points. What do you do?

Well, you could let the dice fall where they may, or you could ignore the dice, for the moment, and give the players an out. What I mean by this is allow for the story of the adventure to work for you and allow the players a chance to high tail it out of there until they are better able to face that lich. Possibly the lich needs to rest at this time and decides not to pursue the characters if they are smart enough to try and flee. However, if they are in a tight spot and don’t try to make a hasty get away, well, you don’t want to reward bad decisions, so see the event through. This is the story line that the characters had a hand in writing and their decisions are how they decided the story will go.

Now the rules lawyer, if they are on the ball, will have memorized how many hit points the lich should have, so you know what you have to do now don’t you? You need to change things up a bit. Possibly lower the amount of hit points of the lich but give it some sort of offensive, or better yet, defensive power. Basically, if you know that the rules lawyers is going to foresee the strengths and weaknesses of your NPC’s, then change thing up; tweak the hit points, give a few new powers, or add or subtract some abilities. You can smile confidently over the top of your shield at the rules lawyer and tell him or her that this particular beasty isn’t like the rest. It’s perfectly plausible within the context of the story to have this happen. Let the story line dictate your adventure, not the game mechanics.

So bottom line is that the game is meant for everyone to get together and have a good time, enjoying a wonderful hobby. Don’t let the players disrupt your game and don’t be a slave to the rules when the story could be so much more exciting if you did or didn’t allow something to happen. When you look over your shield at your players, you should see interested players slinging dice this way and that, conquering foes and bringing glory to their names. Keep the players interest in mind; just don’t let them run the game. And finally, when the rules don’t fit or seem to get in the way of the story or the fun, throw them out.

Hopefully taking in a few of these tips will help your campaign rise to a new level and have your players eager for more adventures to come.

One thought on “Go With the Flow Gaming

  1. Matthew,
    I hope this article encourages some novice DM’s no matter what game or version they’re playing. And the advice about changing monster stats and abilities doesn’t only apply to “Rules Lawyers” – any players who’ve gone through the current module before, or have Monster Manuals of their own, should get this same treatment. Change the trap location, damage, effect, etc. I do this with my modules, and it will come in handy for me when I DM “White Plume Mountain.” Just last night one of my players was recounting his adventures in the Mountain, and I replied with “yes,” “that’s right,” and “mm-hmm,” all the while laughing inside because I had changed roughly 50% or so. I can’t wait!
    Thanks for the article,

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