Saturday, August 20, 2011

Possible Table Rules

Here are a few table rules I am considering. I have not done these at all, or at least not across the board and consistently. Not yet . . .

1) Roll in the Open. I am a GM screen sort of guy. I have my laptop and soon-to-spring minis and scenario notes behind it. I also roll behind it. Partly this is to allow for nonsense rolls (rolling when the situation is pre-determined), mostly to cover up target numbers (more on that below), and partly because rolling past the screen is tough.

I'm considering rolling everything in the open. I'd use the screen to hide minis, etc. but otherwise roll in front of everyone. This will totally eliminate even the temptation for GM fiat rescues. It means the tension level of combat will go up - you know I can't save you even if I wanted to. It also means I can offload some of the combat burden on players by rolling hit locations and damage rolls in front of them and let them figure out what happens.

The big concern I have is players deriving target numbers. My players are extremely sharp, and one of them (Andy) is capable of great and accurate intuitive leaps. If I roll, they'll quickly determine the exact skills, stats, damage resistance (DR), target numbers, resistance numbers, immunities and damage reductions, etc. of monsters and opponents. Not everything, of course, since I won't be telling them how my HP an opponent has left or whatever. But if I roll a 15 and say "He makes his feint by 10" he's got a 25 skill, period. They can't wonder at his luck and skill, but rather know it. If I roll a 17 (automatic failure) or 18 (automatic critical failure) on a resistance roll and say "He resists anyway" they will know he's immune. My concern here is that it will take away from the atmosphere as they try to figure out game stats instead of adding to it by making it a boardgame/wargame like experience of "roll and pray."

I may just roll damage in the open, which is intimidating enough . . .

2) One Rules Question Per Session. I really hate rules questions, rules complaints (gah!), and rules commentary during play. Hate, hate, hate. I hate "I thought we were using rule X, but I guess not," I really hate "I'm pretty sure he gets a situational +2 on this because of blah blah blah, we should look it up," and I utterly explicative deleted despise "I don't like this rule but I'm going to accept the results even though it's a bad rule" comments.

I feel all of these trash the game system, break the atmosphere, and poison my enthusiasm for running the game. I think all of them are some form of "I don't like rules that don't favor my guy" combined with "let's maximize our benefits at all times, not matter how slow the game gets."

So my idea is to pass out a poker chip or other chit to each player at the beginning of the session. You can cash it in with a rules question or book lookup challenge at any time, but that's all you get. You can't ask for another chit, you can't borrow another player's chit unless you ask during an official break (see Table Rules. Here's the catch - if I deem it a good question, on topic and directly related to your power/skill/spell/etc. I may return the chip to you. That leaves the possibility open that you can ask something on topic that adds to the game and that you won't get penalized for doing so.

I'm hoping this one reduces the amount of "we should look that up" comments that leads to page flipping, disrupted game flow, and other things that chop up the focus of the game and change the atmosphere from "brooding but light-hearted dungeon fantasy" to "miniature wargame with non-disposable units."

3) Egg Time Action Plans. You have at most 5 minutes x the number of players to make a plan. After that, the action starts up. This is meant to cut down on the amount of time spent planning and re-planning and re-re-planning how to open that door and charge the orcs within. These plans usually end up with some elaborate use of magic and more mana than the group has to get some minor effect that has no material effect on the battle ahead ("We use Shape Stone to dig a 2' deep, 1' wide trench, and maybe the golems will trip" - followed by 10-12 hypothetical questions even an AD&D Wish spell wouldn't answer accurately).

This one I've done before and it works. It works well. But I'm wondering if it makes sense for DF. Do I need it when I have wandering monsters? If I'm rolling for WMs every 10-15 minutes of play time, maybe plans will shorten in and of themselves, and I'm effectively giving them a freeebie "no monsters will bother you while you discuss this out-of-game" situation. The rule works as intended but it might not be necessary in the game I'm intending to run this time.

I'd really like any comments or suggestions on these. I don't know if I'm on the right track or not. Does anyone have experience with these or something similar?


  1. I like the egg-timer idea. I think things were easier when PCs didn't have so many character options. Back in the day, if there weren't any bars to bend or gates to lift, the fighter just attacked.

  2. I know I'm late to this party, but I just discovered your blog and am reading from the beginning.

    One of our regular GMs uses a Rules Rule that says that his word is final - in the moment. Afterwards, when we're on break or whatever, if you find the rule and show him that it should have been different, he'll either grant some sort of benefit later in the game to settle it up all fair and square, or at the very least begin the next part of the game with an explanation of the rule, how it will apply "from now on" and move on. There is no rules lawyering in his game during the game proper.

    Just thought I'd throw that out for you as a possible solution to your anger management issues about rules lawyers. :)

  3. I think your 'One Rules Question Per Session' would unfairly penalize new players, or those less confident in the system.

    1. Oh, sure, it might. But it might equally teach them that the rules questions really don't matter for a fun experience in the game. Just let it slide and go with it, that's what I want the players to do anyway.

    2. True but GURPS is one of the harder rules sets, and rather intimidating. I'd say there is a huge difference between basic 'how do I make an attack in this situation' or 'how do I do a car chase' and 'Are you sure I don't get a +1 from '?

    3. I'm just saying, they don't need to ask most of that during play. They'd get further with just visualizing the situation and telling me what they want to do than asking rules questions.

    4. Fair enough; I was probably being overly literal. Generally I want people to learn the game, so they don't have to ask next time, and so that they will hopefully GM sometime so I can take a break.

    5. I realize this was a year ago, but as a new player to GURPS I love just being able to say "I want to do this" and having all the rules experts tell me how it works out (or if it's impossible). If you don't know how you're limited, it can actually be pretty liberating. And if you fail, so what!

    6. The platonic ideal of gaming, really, is that you play this way, even if you know the rules. Play as if you were that guy you made up in the situation the GM tells you about, not a playing piece in a game.

    7. Very true. I find that I have the most fun the closer I get to that ideal, as well. Double win! Especially when it gets the whole party thrown in jail because the players were too stubborn to abandon my character... ;)


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