Save My Game 08/04/2006

Wrong-Rules Lawyers

This column provides advice for DMs whose campaigns are in trouble. Do your players constantly bicker or complain about issues both inside and outside of the main campaign action? Do your best ideas fall flat? Have you set up a situation that you now wish you hadn't? Worry no more, because Jason Nelson-Brown has the answers to save your game!

Problem: Players Who Don't Understand the Rules

Recently we have been playing with a group of random people we found living near each other. Now we are deep into sessions and it has come to this, it seems that some of the players don't have any knowledge or lack of knowledge in D&D and continue to think they do. It we get into stupid arguments like rulings on Ambidexerity in 3.5....?? Any suggestions on how to handle this?

-- Andrew,

Sure. Find a new group.

Seriously, a lot of the questions we receive could be answered with the 'vote with your feet' response, but ultimately that's not a very productive response. That means you need to find a new group (that's looking for a new player), your old group needs to find a replacement player, and nobody really learns anything from the experience. If you want to actually address the problem, then here are some ideas.

First, I don't know who "we" are in this question; presumably you and some other(s). Does this mean that the concerns you raise are shared among multiple members of the group, rather than just yourself? The concern isn't diminished if it is only yours -- as Gandhi said, "You may be a minority of one, but the truth is the truth." Accomplishing change is easier, however, when you have allies who also see the problem the way you do.

I have another problem understanding the situation, though, because you state you are gaming with a group of random people. What does that mean? Were they a group before you met them, or did the group come into existence only at the point when you (yourself as well as the group as a whole) began gaming together? Are they well known to one another but seem random to you? Did you all just come together with no one knowing any of the others? Gaming groups can be like that, especially if you met electronically and arranged the game that way before actually getting together in person.

The relevance of the question is that if you are coming into a group that is already in existence, you may have to lay some of your preferences aside as you become part of the group and accommodate their norms. If, on the other hand, the group coalesced around the game without historical precedents, you should have been able to establish the structure of the game in a way that was mutually agreeable.

I know that rule is in here somewhere ...Maybe the problem is that it all seemed fine at first, but it was only through the course of playing that you realized you were gaming with idiots. The worst kind of idiot is the one who doesn't know he is an idiot or even thinks he's quite knowledgeable. The best solution is to educate the ignorant. There should not be a conversation about ambidexterity in 3.5, because that feat doesn't exist in 3.5. This isn't a point for argument -- it's a simple fact. You get out the Player's Handbook and you show them where the feat should be -- but it's not there! Better still, if you have a 3.0 Player's Handbook, you can compare and contrast the differences. You can also download the free conversion guide PDF and walk them through the changes. The document shows what rules were added, subtracted, modified, or melded together with other things. This has nothing to do with opinion, taste, or preference. It's what's there in black and white.

That doesn't necessarily stop the conversation, but it moves it to a different place. If after shoving the rulebook in their faces (figuratively or maybe even literally) and proving that you are right and they are wrong, they may still keep arguing about it, but then you're not really arguing anymore. At that point you may as well be trying to explain physics to a lemon.

Now the approach I have just suggested is confrontational, which is on purpose. What you really are asking for is permission not to argue but to assert, to demonstrate the rightness of your way of thinking and the wrongness of theirs. The rules are there and you want them to be used. It's like 2+2=4. That's not up for debate or argument, it just is.

It may be that your compatriots have come from a 3.0 background (or even from other games, whether newer d20-based systems or any of a zillion older games with all kinds of mechanics), and you want to play 3.5. That's a separate conversation, because the problem may be that neither of you is 'right' (or more correctly, that both of you are right) but that you are arguing from different premises. The other gamers think they're playing 3.0 and you are messing it up, and you think you're playing 3.5 and they are the ones with a problem. So before you start throwing books around the table, make sure to have the initial conversation that sets the terms of the debate. What are we playing here, and do we all understand and have the right books for it?

You also want to be careful asserting errata as rules, because not every gamer scrutinizes this website on a regular basis looking for rule fixes. There may be rules out there, official errata or not, that some folks in the group may have never heard of.

Of course, in a game such as D&D, the black and white in the rulebook is never the final answer. Rule Zero is the real final answer. The rules interpretation or house rule is the one the DM makes and sticks to and the one that applies. What you need to do, if you value continuing to game in this group, is to make sure everyone understands which set of written rules, web errata, printed optional rules, and in-group house rules are being used. It may be that communication is as big a problem here as simple ignorance, and it may be that you won't come to an agreement on how the game is to be played. In that case, the group is destined to split, but that should be your last resort, not your first option.

About the Author

Jason Nelson-Brown lives in Seattle with his wife Kelle, daughters Meshia and Indigo, son Allen, and dog Bear. He is an active and committed born-again Christian who began playing D&D in 1981 and currently runs one weekly campaign while playing intermittently in two others.

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