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Thread: Rules Lawyers

  1. #1

    Rules Lawyers

    I just finished running my weekly game and I'm not sure I want to run another.

    My normally pretty easy to run players had a fit of rules lawyering that made me want to puke. It seemed like every 5 minutes they fought. In almost every case I was 100% right but much time was spent shooting down their arguments and looking up rules. I know I could have just put my foot down and said this is the way it is but I'm generally pretty laid back and like to let the players use whatever abilities or advantages they have, so I fact checked everything in case I was somehow wrong. Give an inch and they take a mile would be a good way to describe my campaign.

    I'm about an inch from removing two of my four players, if I even run again. Just venting, I didn't kill anyone off, rage quit, or anything but damn I'm drained.

    How do you guys deal with rules lawyers and argumentative players?

  2. #2
    LordEntrails's Avatar
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    Vent with the other folks who see things the way I do?

    Understandable. Give it a day or two and then reach out to all of your players together. Tell them you did not enjoy the last session and how you felt. Tell them you want it to change and ask them how you all together can get to a place you all enjoy.

    In general I run my games where when things start to degenerate into rules look-ups etc, I state that hey, I'm not sure I'm right, but this is how I'm going to rule it for now. We can discuss after the session and figure out how things might change for future sessions. I try to make sure everyone knows that the focus is on moving forward and keeping the game, and fun, moving forward.

  3. #3
    Quote Originally Posted by LordEntrails View Post
    Vent with the other folks who see things the way I do?

    Understandable. Give it a day or two and then reach out to all of your players together. Tell them you did not enjoy the last session and how you felt. Tell them you want it to change and ask them how you all together can get to a place you all enjoy.

    In general I run my games where when things start to degenerate into rules look-ups etc, I state that hey, I'm not sure I'm right, but this is how I'm going to rule it for now. We can discuss after the session and figure out how things might change for future sessions. I try to make sure everyone knows that the focus is on moving forward and keeping the game, and fun, moving forward.
    I agree this is also my approach. In addition i also talk about this in my session zero for any new game i run. I call myself a "non technical " dm which is just my self deprecating humor for' "hey i play for fun this isn't my job and i forget things...often.".

    Im very open to my players ive found the vast majority of folks appreciate that and will be less of a problem with issues like rules lawyering. Mostly anyway. Lol

  4. #4
    Quote Originally Posted by malvok View Post
    I just finished running my weekly game and I'm not sure I want to run another.

    I'm about an inch from removing two of my four players, if I even run again. Just venting, I didn't kill anyone off, rage quit, or anything but damn I'm drained.

    How do you guys deal with rules lawyers and argumentative players?
    This gets to Rule Zero. Pretty much every edition of DND as well as most other games, have had a version of it either vaguely or specifically.

    D&D 5e DMG page 263 says "If the rule or game element isn't functioning as intended or isn't adding much to your game, you can refine it or ditch it. No matter what a rule's source, a rule serves you, not the other way around."

    The most explicit was back in Basic D&D:
    "Anything in this booklet (and other D&D booklets) should be thought of as changeable -- anything, that is, that the DM thinks should be changed... The purpose of these 'rules' is to provide guidelines that enable you to play and have fun, so don't feel absolutely bound to them."
    D&D 3.5 DMG on page 6: "Good players will always recognize that you have ultimate authority over the game mechanics, even superseding something in a rulebook."

    Many other games have something similar. Rolemaster, GURPS, Vampire, hell even Teenagers from Outer Space says a variation of it. That is the GM's role.

    My response to rule lawyers is two tiered: First, I point out this is what happens in game this time. If I forgot something significant I'll either handwave it or retcon it quickly and keep moving. If it wasn't significant, I'll ad lib it into a plot point "you're right, that seems weird to <character name> do you want to do anything to figure out why?" This usually resolves things in character, which is easy and doesn't disrupt the game much. Also it can turn a rule mistake into a cool new thing in the world.

    If they really want to step out of character and push an issue, we can discuss a rule for a few minutes. If it drags on or the other players voice frustration with the argument it is hurting the game, it is wasting the time of everyone else at the table, and therefore we are dropping it. I'm making a decision and we move on. If the player cannot drop it and move on, then they are free to drop the game right then and there.

    I also make it very clear in my session zero that I use a LOT of houserules. Not many creatures in my games work the way they expect, regardless of what system we're playing. I think warhammer fantasy roleplay was the only system I didn't extensively houserule. So no one should be surprised if they bump into something and it works a little differently. This prevents most of those situations.

    I have players that have bent a lot of their schedule to be able to play. I don't need trouble and grief at the table. I have more players than I have time to run games for. As far as I'm concerned, rules lawyers who argue at the table during the game are "that guy" and no one wants to play with "that guy". Rules lawyers who come up to me after a session and say "hey remember when this happened... the rules actually say this" are people I very much appreciate.
    Last edited by GavinRuneblade; July 20th, 2020 at 18:15.

  5. #5
    Ardem's Avatar
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    Rules are best to be sorted out offline.
    \
    I play Rolemaster with my group and that more rules then any DnD, but it about having the right players more so then anything else. I would sit the two players down and say guys I really did not think last game worked very well, and would appreciate that if we run with a rule stumbling block I rule on it for now and later we can sort it out. Otherwise we are not roleplaying we just playing a strategy game.

  6. #6
    Hard to tell without knowing what the complaints/conflicts were about.

    I tend to be pretty straight with rules, I adjust for sensibility but find it important to be consistent so that players know what to expect and there is a solid baseline in my games.

    I refuse to discuss rules during games unless someone has a quick and clear ruling to something that I am not confident in.

    A rule of thumb for me is to make rulings that lean towards players when possible, make it clear it is a ruling for now and that I will look into it after the session and then send out a post with my findings later when I am happy, calm and knocked it out. The players know I will rule in their favour or fairly when I can and people don't complain even when I have messed things up in the past (heck last session I messed up a couple of rules in PF2e).

    Another option is to ask the players directly "hey guys, last session's rules talk really brought down the game for me and I wasn't able to focus on running it as I wanted. Could we bring things up outside of the game from now on, I will try my best to stick to the rules when possible but I don't feel comfortable analysing them mid game".

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by malvok View Post
    How do you guys deal with rules lawyers and argumentative players?

    .
    you sound really frustrated. i've been there (still am sometimes).

    here's a tough-love approach. (keep in mind that you are running a table that you as well as those you invite can have fun; don't let anyone hijack and dictate the flow and your enjoyment).

    1) this is your game. always remember that you are in control; be flexible, but never relinquish that control. find others who have same game style attitude as you. weed out those who don't. take nothing personal at the beginning. attrition happens as people try to find a good match. it's an opportunity to put together a table that works for everyone. it takes time, but will be worth it. the process will feel frustrating -- even disruptive to game flow. it's not ever perfect: gathering a bunch of strangers at a table, you should expect disagreements and head-butting. but only up a tolerable degree.

    2) tell each player as you enlist that the gm has final words. period. make a rule that rule discussions has to be done off-line. if something comes up during session, call the shot and rule based on your best interpretation. announce in next session if you found a better interpretation. most importantly, whatever you rule needs to be consistent: what's good for the goose is good for the gander (i.e. applies to pcs as well as npcs; do your best to not be partial).

    3) spend literally a couple of minutes to hear players' thinking / interpretation, make your ruling, then move along. not up for debate. not up for long discussion. if any player insists and prolongs in lawyering, shut it down right then and there (as firm and as nice as you can). be assertive and be in control. if player continues, the player is not respecting the gm and others at the table. if player continues to escalate, pause the game. have a brief private side conversation: ask player to a) bow out now, b) rejoin in next session and don't do it again, or c) ideally, let it go, respect your current ruling, and rejoin game.

    4) during vetting, ask candidates straight up this question: "how do you deal with rules inconsistencies at table." hold them to it if they say "gm has final words." any answer referencing to rules lawyering, don't invite such players.

    5) it helps to know the rules well. this is hard because it requires time and experience. having the confidence in knowing the rule will help when you put your foot down. even if you rule something wrong due to misinterpretation, it's not final. have the courage to say you were wrong and correct your ruling. we can't know / remember all the rules all the time.

    finally, rules lawyers and argumentative players have a chip on their shoulder to prove something to themselves and others who are similar. they get a kick out of having the final word. fine... just not at your table. if these folks cannot learn to chill out, respect your ruling, and other players' time at the table, you have to do your part as gm to nip it in the bud. let them go and find more agreeable players.

    depending on your personality, this gm'ing style can be uncomfortable for you, but it really cuts down on the bs and helps prolong the life of table, especially a long-term campaign. also you will cultivate a bunch of cool people who play well with you.

    good luck and game on!
    Last edited by tahl_liadon; July 31st, 2020 at 22:34.
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  8. #8
    JohnD's Avatar
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    I play almost exclusively with people who began back in the early 1980s, or are in the age bracket of say 40s+.

    We actually get excited and interested whenever a situation comes up that requires the DM (usually me) and/or players to open up a PDF or even better, go to the physical book shelf and pull the hard cover CKG, PHB or DMG out and do some searching.

    In general though, I am happy to listen to an interpretation in game, and have a discussion as needed outside of game time. I have a personal rule that if we've spent more than 3-5 minutes and can't find an answer, we just go with what seems reasonable and if someone finds something in between sessions we table it for next time.

    Personally I'd reach out to the offending player(s) and have a talk. You're the DM meaning you put a lot more effort and time into the game by definition. You need to enjoy yourself too or the games stop.
    DMing since February 1979. FGC & FGU Ultimate License holder.

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    Thanks for 8+ years of gaming via FG my friends (AD&D 2e / 3.5e / Rolemaster Classic / Castles & Crusades / Pathfinder / Savage Worlds / 5e).

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  9. #9
    I can relate so well with others have said. There is some great advice here. I find that the D&D 5E rule set sets up situations for players to argue with the DM. Here is a classic example:

    Danger Sense: "you gain an uncanny sense of when things nearby aren't as they should be..."I see this as flavor text only. Others see it as the main feature of the ability, and ask things like, "What does my danger sense ability tell me?"

    There are lots more examples like this, but I always go over this one with a new player in order to let the player know how I will most likely rule these sort of "is this flavor text or my awesome ability?" situations when they come up.

  10. #10
    "Rules lawyers are crunchy and good with ketchup"
    That used to be on my DM screen.

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