Skip navigation

Recently, I wrote a blog post about Metagaming, my number one annoyance at a gaming table.  And I maintain, it’s my greatest sticking point when it comes to the games I run.  But I have to say, the second in line is a term that honestly makes me ready for a fight: Rules Lawyers.

What is a Rules Lawyer, you say?  If you don’t know, count yourself lucky, for you are a rarity.  A Rules Lawyer is a player in a game who uses the letter of the rules and ignores the spirit of the rules, most usually in order to gain an advantage in the game.  This kind of personality reveals itself in argument over the judgments of the GM and choices of the other players.  This is actually a form of metagaming, if you think about it.  You are using out of game knowledge in order to influence your position in game.

Anyway, a Rules Lawyer is the person who can and will quote the line, verse, paragraph, page number, book and edition that the rules are written in.  They use the rules only in the context that it forwards their own agenda, sometimes at the cost of undermining other players and the flow of the game.

Now before I go any further, let me say right now that I do believe that the rules are there for a reason.  They are there to keep things fair.  But, and that is a heavy but, they can also constrict the game, and conspire to prevent you, the GM, from accomplishing what you wish with your game.  They can go from a great safety rope to a noose with but one mouthy player who feels they have been slighted, or who wants to get one up on the rest of the party.

Let’s say, for example, you have led the party into a dank dungeon that was just uncovered by an aberrant earthquake.  They have delved into the depths of the lost catacombs, and they activate a magical light spell.  Now, the spell itself is listed as having a 50 foot radius around the item it is cast upon.  But you, with your GM Knowledge, have decided that there is a lingering malignancy that inhibits certain spells.  It isn’t magic of its own, just a side effect of containing a horrible evil for centuries.  So, you tell your group that the light spells only illuminates 20 of the 50 feet.  They don’t know why, because to tell them would be to give them metagame knowledge, and ruin the atmosphere.  Many players would assume there is some reason for this, but wait to discover it.

Not the Rules Lawyer.

You see, to the Rules Lawyer, you can’t do that.  It says, in the rulebook, that the spell has a 50 foot radius.  Therefore, to the Rules Lawyer, you are just trying to screw him over.  He never takes into account that you have a reason for it.  He just thinks that it is you not bothering to pay attention to the rules.  And what is worst, is that he will argue it with you.  Oh yes, ladies and gentlemen, he will argue it.  This, my friends, is a lot like argue with a tree that just fell on you.  This little runt is being a bit too big for his britches.  He is asserting, in fact, the he is you, the GM.  And this is not so.  In point of fact, he hasn’t put in the hours.  So now we have identifies this little parasite on the ass of our games.  What we have to do now is figure out how to get rid of the little bastard.

There are a couple of great techniques to do this.  One of my favorites, and I am giving away a secret here, is to then take steps to turn the rest of the party against him.  You heard me right; I said turn the rest of them against him.  You see, when the repercussions of the Rules Lawyer’s mouth comes down like the fist of an angry god on everyone, and they know he is the one that pissed that god off, they are more than willing to cry Judas, and throw him to the wolves.

In the above case, one of the best things you could do is, after a small amount of fuss, say something to the effect of: “Fine!  You get the 50 radius, which illuminates some odd forms that look made of steel.  Before you can extinguish the light, a couple of glowing red-purple eyes open, and this horrid metallic rattling sound fills the air.  What have you awakened?!  Roll initiative!”  With a little improvisation, you have suddenly shown that there is something that would not have happened, had the Rules Lawyers just kept his yap shut.  But oh no, he had to fight with the GM.

There is another technique, and this is what I call the Platinum Rule.  The GM is always right, for a reason!  All too often, players forget that this is not a game of them versus the GM.  Yes, it is our job to foment disorder and chaos, and to through exceedingly more difficult challenges.  But it is not our job to screw you over intentionally, for kicks.  Everything a good GM does, he or she does for a reason.  The light is dimmed for a reason related to the story; the barmaid doesn’t fall for your charm spell for a reason; your Jedi Mind Trick doesn’t get that particular Stormtrooper for a reason.  And honestly, it isn’t your job to find a way around the reason, but go through the story and find out the reason.  When your Rules Lawyer gets uppity, slap him with the “I am right for a reason”, and remind him that the reason may be to the benefit.  If the jackhole persists, use the previous method.

There is another method that I call the self-correcting system.  Now this method is fraught with peril.  You are going to be treading a very fine line wherein you may fall from your lofty height, and land square in the territory of the Rules Lawyer himself.  And the way you try to do this is to out-Rules Lawyer him.  I said it, you out-Rules Lawyer him.  You take his challenge as a personal affront to your honor, and you start to become a nit-picker, a fussy pain in the ass.  Go over his sheet with a fine toothed comb.  Call him out on every little infraction.  This is not as easy as it sounds, as the Rules Lawyer is often pretty damned picky himself.  Start paying stark attention to the rules, even when it applies to other players.  The Rules Lawyer will soon come to see how often it is that the rules have been fudged for the party’s benefit.

One of the other things I would like to write about is the Former GM Rules Lawyer.  These can actually be the worst of the group.  Far too infrequently, as GMs, do we get to step from behind the screen and play the game.  And when we do, we can actually be some of the worst players in the game.  It is a sad statement, but too often we measure other GMs style by our own, and can be damnably harsh about it.  We also have a tendency to look at any interpretation of the rules that differs from our own as wrong.  This makes us one of the worst kinds of Rules Lawyers: the hypocrite.

Honestly, this is one of the worst Judas moments you can ever have.  You are betraying one of your own for thirty pieces of silver.  Instead, enjoy the game for what it is, and afterwards speak to the GM and compare notes.  Just compare notes, and figure out ways for both of you to improve as GMs.

Rules Lawyering is damaging to the game.  It slows down play, it halts flow, and it ruins immersion.  This is usually an indication, in my opinion, on a very insecure player.  They are more concerned with advancing their own standing than enjoying the experience of the game.  Now, you don’t really have to get as mean as I do.  In fact, I only tend to do that after I have warned a person.  After the second warning, I will pull them aside privately and talk to them about their behavior, and that they don’t have to participate in the game if they feel it’s unfair.  After the third warning, all bets are off.

Rules Lawyers have the same potential as any other player, and we cannot forget that in our anger.  They have the potential to become just as great a player as the Dramaticist or the Pro from Dover.  (Look them up, good terms to know.)  But after a while, if a Rules Lawyer is showing no desire to improve, you may have to take some of the drastic measures I have spoken of.

And whatever you do, if you notice yourself becoming one, stop yourself.

What do you think?

PS: I am going to open up to suggestions in general now.  If you have an idea for a post, please leave it for me to see here, or even email it to me at emf5396@sru.edu.  I hope you all enjoy the blog. EF.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: