Wednesday, January 27, 2016

No Arguments (at the table)

So about 4 1/2 years ago, when I still might have deserved that "Newbie Blogger Award" I refuse to take down, I wrote the following:

"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."
- Possible Table Rules (August 2011)

I was reminded of that post when I was reading about Mark Langsdorf's Caste of Horrors game. I commented there, about rules arguments:

"I have a "no rules arguments" rule at my table for just that reason. You're welcome to argue later, but not during game. You can point out I might be doing something wrong, but that's it. No one person in the history of gaming has ever said, "Wow, that was a great argument about rules that session!" so there is no reason to do it.

I pretty much do the same, though - the NPCs do stuff like the PCs do stuff, I give them the same benefit of the doubt (If you reflexively dodge stuff that is out-of-game known to be a threat, the bad guys can, too) and if the players don't like it, we'll change it next time. Not this time.

It's not a magical solution or anything, but it's the best I've got. Players arguing with the GM over rules and rulings is just pure loss of game time. Arguing during email between sessions? Great time to figure out what everyone expects and wants done.

I'm not singling out Mark here - I look forward to those summaries. It's just that games getting bogged down in rules arguments is not something I have happen that often.

Some of it is group dynamics. We've played together a long time, mostly - the core players have played with me for 20+ years. We've already had many of those arguments out.

Another is the rule I mentioned above. It's not even one argument we tolerate. We're all happy to spend a handful of seconds checking if we've got it right. We're all willing to slow down briefly to settle on a ruling if something seems badly wrong.

Otherwise, we argue later. By email. On breaks. Between sessions. By phone, even (rarely that, these days.) We find a way to resolve it after play. If someone got badly done over by a mistake, we find a way to keep the results that happened in play and make it right.

If it turns out something was wrong, well, it was just a freak occurrence. It must have been a critical failure, or critical success, or the tidal pull of the moon pulled that guy's weapon back into balance, or there was a special on heavy crossbows that day.

We're pretty strict with looking rules up. And strict about arguments.

The GM's decision is final, but you can always argue with me about how it should go in the future, between games.

At the table?

Like I said, no one looks back on the rules arguments and says, "Wow, I really loved that argument!"

That's not why we play.

Is anything, including avoiding character death, worth making the game more argument than game?

I think not.

I'm glad my group and I have managed to settle on that, even if we argue about spells and weird edge cases during our breaks in play. The play is the thing, after all.


  1. Is the play always the thing? There are groups that I game with as an excuse to socialize, and if we're not really paying attention to Castle Ravenloft or whatever, that's okay because we're chatting with friends.

    So I wrote up some more thoughts in response to this article:

    My summary would be "I admire Peter's approach, but I don't know if I can or want to impose it on my table."

    1. This discussion is quite interesting.

      Like Peter, I strongly dislike rules debate at the table, but think in the end I fall more or less into Mark's camp here: I would usually err on the side of leaving this implicit.

      Hmmm... do you know what? This seems like a long enough thought to justify a blog post. Excuse me!

      Right - here it is, for anyone interested!

    2. We socialize as well, but during play the game is really the main thing. Arguing about rules isn't really conducive to gaming, in my experience. If we decide to do something besides game, that's fine, too. We're not laser-focused - we just don't argue about rules instead of actually gaming!

    3. By the way, I'm very happy I inspired some posts on this topic!

  2. I am not sure if this would be a problem to me. I would almost be happy if someone corrected me once in a while as a GM, but it probably depends on your type of players too. Mine never seem to know the rules well enough... just less than I'd like them to know, so some kinda objection to a ruling that says, "yup, I read the manual, and yup, I know how this works," would probably blow my mind. I think it might be due to my abstract GMing though where I try to avoid mentioning what mechanics I'm invoking and try to keep the game more in the realm of "make believe, but with rules," so I do all the dice rolling without telling people what it means in mechanical terms.

    1. I don't mind being corrected - someone did an Acrobatic Dodge on Sunday and I recalled it at -2 or +2, and the player made the roll exactly . . . if it was +2. So we checked, because it would take a few seconds and matter. But I'm not cool with people spending time on a back-and-forth. That's not the fun part, and rarely enables additional fun to be had, so why do it?

    2. My table includes 1-2 published GURPS authors and 3+ people with multiple GURPS playtest credits. We houserule extensively and people are well enough informed to argue the rules if that's what they want to do.

      Corrections are fairly common, and those aren't even a bother: someone says something, someone gets delegated to look up the rule, and life moves on (and I update my rules wiki if it's a big enough issue). But the rules discussions are a problem, to at least some people, and the arguments are definitely a problem.

    3. I can dig that. I wouldn't mind the corrections like I said, but I can relate to the whole idea that "now is the time to play a game, not the time to author a treatise on the appropriate usage and application of fast-talk in combat." Now that I recollect, I've had a very troubling and very unfun argument on whether RPM magic was too slow or not. My ruling: it's as slow as I want it to be.

  3. Now this makes me want to talk about MY position on the subject. TL;DR don't do it. If you continue to do it you lose cahracter points for the session. If you get three strikes you're out for a month or just gone. I don't run games with rules lawyers nor do I expect those I run for to suffer one.

  4. Well, this is all very interesting. I guess my GMing experience is a bit less typical than I thought - I've just never been in a situation where I needed to lay down hard rules about this sort of thing.

    I can totally see myself doing it, under the right circumstances; it's just that those circumstances have never come up. So far, at least!

  5. Hear hear!

    My stance is that I will make mistakes and make bad rulings, because I am human, and RPGs are complicated. We'll discuss it after the game, not during, and in so doing, I will improve my understanding of GURPS. But in the meantime, run with it.

  6. We had an interesting situation last night in a new game I played in. I was flying up an elevator shaft with a grav belt and a force sword, with my quarry in the elevator above me. I said my character was going to cut a hole in the floor, to get into the elevator.

    The GM and one of the players started saying "hmmm. . . how many hit points does the floor have?" My reply, confined to chat because my microphone was not being taken as input by Roll20, was "no no no. It's either awesome, and it works (the belly of the AT-AT), or it's stupid, and it doesn't (the blast doors from Ep 1). Pick one by fiat and move on."

    We can worry about details later. He ruled it couldn't be done, and we moved on. No fuss.

  7. My only GURPS GM decided to switch from not even having us calculate our Parry scores "because it will never come up" to allowing one of our dwarf characters to parry and still attack with her Throwing Axe because "if it's balanced for throwing then it's Balanced for parrying".I always spoke up when I thought he had a rule wrong, I always accepted his ruling anyway, but I was more frustrated by the inconsistency than by the illogic.

    I was trying to help him with prep for his next campaign for most of 2008-2012, but he is GURPS Indecisive and has since discovered Minecraft and Skyrim so I've moved on to prepping my own potential campaign instead.

    1. It can be frustrating to sit through something that's wrong, but yes, it's got nothing compared to sitting through inconsistency.

      Either way, though, even when I've played and the GM is doing something wrong, I won't argue. Say something, sure - "I think that's wrong." GM wants to move on? Done. It's fine to ask questions, but stop game to decide who wins the rules discussion before you move on? Not for me, thanks.


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