Tuesday, September 27, 2011

No rules lookups in play

We played our inaugural GURPS DF game on Sunday. We had to shake the rust off as gamers - we hadn't played as a group in a while. Last time we did, we were using 4e rules with a number of house rules carried over from our 3e days, with long-running PCs who equally had holdovers from GURPS 3e.

When we playtested the upcoming DF adventure, we found a number of problems with "I thought this works like [whatever]" followed by looking up the rules.

This would not do for a fast-paced game. I noodled around with some ideas and then just said:

"Finally I have one idea I want to try - I'm going to ban all books
from the game table. No rules lookups during play. I'll make a ruling
and it'll stand. You can correct me on official break. If you want to
be sure to have some arcane rule correct, read it and write it on your
sheet. Otherwise . . . my goal is fast play, not accurate rules

We'll give it a shot and if it works for me, we'll keep doing it."

(Actual quote from my email the day or so before game)

We tried it.

It worked really well.

Don't know the rules for Slams in 4e? Screw it, we know the 3e ones. Use them until an official break, let the results stand, and we'll use the new ones after that.

Can't remember the lighting penalty for a torch (-2 or -3?)? Eh, -3 and we'll look it up later.

Can't find the cost of a flask of oil? They are out of stock.

This really kept the game rolling, and there wasn't a single complaint about it. I didn't get annoyed and disrupted by rules arguments. We did have one about what "velocity" meant for slams (whose velocity? How would this allow for rule such-and-such in that case?) but it was on official break, while I drinking a beer and we all had time to look in the books.

We're definitely keeping this one. Seriously, how important can the correct rule really be, compared to keeping the game going at a fast and fun pace? Not very. Be a bit generous in your rulings, accept help from players ("I'll tell him his slam modifiers" or "can we just say it's -3?"), and it'll work fine.

I'll try to get a rough summary of the game up soon, but for now I need to go write something for work.


  1. Cool -- that sounds like an excellent rule.

  2. Yeah. Taking all the books away helped. I let the mage use GURPS Magic just in case we had an odd spell question or he used one I didn't know off-hand. But every other book - in the pile behind me. Don't look up anything you can make up just as easily. :)

  3. And I see my suggestion on an earlier post was developed independently! It's a great way to run a game.

  4. One thing to be captious about: This can be a horrible turnoff to players who don't know the rules well. When playing D&D I'll often have to look up how a spell of a feat works if I haven't used it in a while, and I've been playing D&D for years and years. Now, I try and do this off my turn, but sometimes I don't realize I want to cast a spell until the player right before me does something. I really don't want the DM screwing up my rather carefully chooses spells by ruling on it from memory, you know? I picked them for a reason (Often to provide me with a range of saving throws; For example Blindness/Deafness is a fort save, which wizards and terrible at, and it is really hard to cast spells when blind. Impossible for a targeted spell. Now, I know that one off the top of my head, but suppose a player and DM forgot. Instinct is that it would be a will save, as most enchantments are, which totally removes the point of the spell and makes it into a weaker Glitterdust (which is will).

    1. That's a good point, but when I have to choose between "slow down play and look stuff up, to make sure it works the way you think it does" and "make a decision and keep things going" I choose the latter at least 4 times out of 5. I think it might be a turnoff to people who are particular about the rules, but to me even that is a positive - I don't want people to be obsessed with what the books say but with what's going on at the table in play.

    2. I think the solution then is either move to a lighter game (I can keep all the relevant rules for The Call of Cthulhu in my head, except for obscure spells that are only cast during downtime anyway) or make up cheat sheets that you can look up rules in more quickly. For example: I keep a sheet of all the spells my character knows, a basic description including damage, what save it uses, range, casting time and page number. Then if I can't look it up on the sheet, I can at least find it really fast, cutting down on how long the game stalls for.

    3. It's not like we play from memory - people have character sheets, and they're welcome to write down whatever they want.

      And I will occasionally let people look stuff up, if it's both critical and more fun to do so.

      But in general, the rule stands - and works. It keeps things moving on focused on what's happening on the table. It's not what's in the books, so why spend time looking there? Plenty of time to do that during an official break.

  5. I'm actually starting a "new" AD&D 2e campaign due to rulebook shenanigans bogging down play. Since we play once a month I'd rather have a more abstract combat/decision schema.

    1. Ug, why 2e? It doesn't have the simplicity of earlier editions, or the decent rules that make sense of 3e or on? At the very least, I'd look into OSIRC which rewrites and reorganizes the rules of 2nd ed. Also it is free and easier to give everyone a copy.

      There are also a number of retroclones that take older editions and improve them, reducing the hellish amounts of special exceptions and some even get rid of that abomination against common sense, TACH0.


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