Rules Lawyers – Raising the Bar

 Posted by on May 30, 2010  Filed as: Better Gameplay?  Add comments  Topic(s):
May 302010

Rules LawyerThe rules lawyer knows the ins and outs of the game system like I know the curves of every turn in Gran Tourismo. It’s their specialty, their baby, their forte. Give them the opportunity to throttle into the turn… er, I mean spout out a rule infraction, and they take it. Meaning, the referee is not always the gamemaster.

On my first session with a new gaming group (my current group), I was shocked to see a player tell another player that his character couldn’t perform an action because of rule X,Y,Z.

Excuse me? Why was this player throwing a rule at another player? Isn’t that the GM’s job? I mean, if my character is about to do something and another player tells me I can’t “per the rules,” I think I’d get a little peeved.

Later that same night, a different player interrupted the gamemaster to tell him that a monster should get a +4 to hit instead of the +2 that the GM figured. Whuh??? What was up with this group?

I asked the first player about this later. I wanted to know why he was stunting the other player’s action, since I didn’t feel that was very team-like. I also wanted to know why the other player was giving extra bonuses to the GM. I was so righteous and sure of myself, that this veteran gamer had no idea what it meant to be part of a team.

This is where I got schooled-

He told me that everyone at the table took on the role of “rules lawyer.” That way

  • everyone had a terrific grasp of the rules
  • everyone always played with consistent rules
  • no one ever felt cheated
  • no one was ever shown favoritism
  • the GM was less burdened
  • and everything that applied to us also applied to the monsters

He finished his lesson by saying that because of all the teamwork, the GM was more apt to rule in our favor when not sure of something. And, because the GM knew we weren’t the type to cheat him or the system, he was very generous with throwing bonuses our way.


That pretty much summed up my first experience with a grown-up gaming group.   These guys were the real deal, and I felt kind of humbled…

Still, at least I can kick their butts in Gran Tourismo. So there.

Now, I know that a rules lawyer can sometimes upset the game. Tell the GM that he can’t do something, and you’ll get on his nerves. Tell the GM that you CAN do something, and you’d get on everyone’s nerves. There has to be a universal way to handle interpreting rules and bringing them up in-game. I know my current group does it very easily, and in truth my gaming experience has never been better.

I’m curious, though. How does your group handle the role of rules lawyer?

Charisma Keller

Charisma is a self-proclaimed Gran Tourismo champion, and swears that it’s official (or that it should be). She loves strength and beauty, so she usually tries to combine the two. Her characters are confident, humble, foolish, and heroic, and has named at least two of them after her favorite drink, the Lemon Drop. Oh yeah, her favorite muscle car would be the 67 GT-500E.

  6 Responses to “Rules Lawyers – Raising the Bar”

  1. You know, it’s not everyday that your world gets turned upside down.

    Going into this article, I thought it was going to be about how to stomp out the rules lawyer. Instead, it’s about how to rules lawyer for everyone’s benefit. I’m going to take this article to heart (not that I have one – I’m just sayin’).

  2. Charisma, if I didn’t know better, I would’ve sworn you’d been sitting at our table. This approach is one I have long fostered and has been supported by my GM. That being said, Some of the newer games coming out have also embraced this concept.
    DnD 4E and the latest edition of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying both have put power in the players’ hands to dictate to the GM how events play out. “When I successfully hit, I impose this condition or move this monster to that location.” The games inherently give some of the rules mastery to the players to allow them to tell the DM what to do. This has taken some of the story-telling power from the DM and shifted it to the players, causing the story-telling experience to become even more consensual. I love it both as a player and as a DM!

  3. It was definitely an eye-opener. In the end, the group just plays really well… no in-game fighting over rules.

  4. I have played with a few groups over the years, and my old group (I left) was all about individuals. Teamwork was genuinely the last thing on everyones minds. It was all about – screwing over your neighbor, and waiting for him to fail, so your character was the hero in the end, in turn, giving you bragging rights that your character was the one who was most important to the party etc etc. Pretty bad, eh?
    My current group, is 110% opposite. They are all about team 1st. It’s a refreshing feeling with these guys, and I really like it. Everyone wants their character to be awesome and collect oohs and ahhs – but in the end, it’s all about teamwork and helping your buddy.

  5. I’ve been running a game of WFRP for 32 game sessions now, or ~2 years in real time. During that time there has been one established rule that has always allowed us to keep playing, and that is that if I don’t remember a rule, or there is a contention about a rule, we look it up. We don’t argue about a rule, we look it up right there and then, and all of that advice given about not looking up the rules during gameplay get’s tossed out the window.

    I’ve played games, and even run games, for groups that disfavor or, when I wasn’t running, disallowed looking up the rules during play. They were near constant arguments between player and GM, and maybe it was the GM vs. Player style that they fostered, but I think this rule about not looking up rules is an intrinsic part of that. Our group also has a rule about no GM screens, but that’s another topic.

  6. @ Argonnosi –

    You make a goog point, but I think you could take it further by looking up rules when needed, and if the action is going fast – look it up later or have another player look it up, just so that the game doesn’t lose momentum.

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