Some role-playing games have a lot of rules. Like, A LOT of rules, and hundreds of source books to add even more rules, and then errata to fix it when the new rules mess up the original rules. On the other hand some role-playing games are very rules-light, where the only real instruction from the writers and designers is “make it up,” to which I respond: Then why the f*ck am I paying you for this game? Making shit up is your job.
No matter what volume of rules is included within those mysterious, ancient covers, there are a few that should be included in every gaming book ever produced. And no, it isn’t “HAVE FUN.”
I will freely admit that this post is very much
inspired by 5
Crucial Rules of Every Game (Not Found in the Rulebook) by Chris Bucholz at Cracked.com, but I’m taking this
in a completely different direction. The
illustrious Mr Bucholz primarily focused on sports (you know, those
athleticy-kinda things where they hit balls with sticks and what-not) and
classic card and board games, like poker and Monopoly. He didn't dare touch RPGs, which I will now
dive into with unrestrained abandon.
We’ve all been there. We fought our way through the deepest levels of some mysterious dungeon, through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered, fighting our way to the castle beyond the Goblin City to take back the child that was stolen by a macho rock star. We know the Big Bad and all the rewards and the climax of the campaign are just beyond that final door, with weeks or months of game time all building toward this exact moment… and then one of the characters fails a saving throw and gets killed by a mold.
First of all, that’s a pretty mean GM that would put a trap like that right there (10 points to you, sir!). You can rationalize it because it is supposed to be dangerous and difficult to reach that point, except… what do you do now? You’re suddenly short a character heading into the big encounter the entire campaign has been building towards. That character was an integral part of the close-knit team that got this far. That character may have powers or abilities critical to facing the final battle. Worse, the player who just got shafted now has to sit out the Final Dance, unless they roll-up a new character and throw them into the mix, which is just a terrible idea on so many levels.
Hello, my good fellow. My name is Gam Samgee. I know your last companion was just killed by that ginormous spider, but I will help you finish your quest carrying that gold ring-thingie up this hill!
So do you do-over? Does the GM secretly fudge some rolls behind the screen? Does the game come to a screeching halt? There could be quite a bit of argument over this situation, so everything would be a hell of a lot easier if Mike Mearls or Kevin Siembieda was so kind to write into the book: “You know what? In this situation, just fuck the rules. Do it again.”
In a game with a huge element of chance and dice flying all over the table, there is a terribly disappointing lack of gambling in the average RPG. I don’t mean “bidding” mechanics, where you wager in-game resources to gain some advantage. I mean people saying “I bet you five bucks you can’t make this saving throw.” Imagine how much better D&D would be if your team mates were making wagers on whether or not you make a critical hit? The life or death of your imaginary character is nothing compared to whether you lose or make an extra $20. It raises the stakes, and thus the tension and suspense, a hundred fold. Hell, if spectators could bet on the outcome of encounters and adventures (“The party just ran afoul of a pack of owlbears – I bet $10 on the owlbears!”), role-playing games could become a nationally-televised sport.
If darts, snooker and NASCAR are “sports,” then go to hell, D&D is a sport, too.
If D&D Next doesn't include odds and payout tables for wagering on the amount of damage your magic missile spell inflicts, I’m going to be seriously pissed.
3. Arguing the Rules
Arguments in role-playing games are about as common as Cheetos stains on character sheets and minis with bases sticky from spilled Mountain Dew. That is to say, they are ever-present. If you claim that you have ever played a single session of any game where there wasn't a least a minor disagreement or argument over the rules or a GM’s call then you, Sir, are a liar. RPG instruction manuals should read “Requires dice, pencils, friends and an argumentative personality to play.”
Every game manual that I've ever read says that in the event of an argument, the game master’s decision will stand, and “further discussion will be made after the game.” The problem with this half-assed rule is that 1) Ninety-nine percent of the time, the argument is WITH the game master, so telling them they’re always right really doesn't help anything, and 2) It doesn't tell you how to actually resolve the argument. Having your character die because of a weird interaction of rules is not going to be helped by arguing about it after the game is over. That shit needs to be dealt with, and you’re going to want satisfaction.
I propose putting rules for arguing about rules right into the game. There should be rounds and initiative checks to determine which player or DM makes the first argument. The other players should score each side based on their logic, rules knowledge and vindictiveness. In the case where all else fails, each side should roll a d20, modified by various factors (owning the house you’re playing in would give you a huge bonus, as would going on snack runs) to determine the ultimate victor.
We ain't savages, people. There are better ways to resolve our differences.
2. Timeouts and Time-Ins
If you’re playing street hockey when an SUV rumbles down the street, you yell “CAR!”, move the net out of the way, and pause play until the speeding metal death machine safely passes.
Sally didn't heed this unwritten rule, and to this day now lives with a VW logo embedded in her forehead.
But what do you do if one of your players needs to go to the bathroom in the middle of an encounter? Do you tell them to suck it up and hope they don’t soil themselves on your davenport? Do you make everyone wear a diaper to avoid this situation? Do you pause the game like civilized adults and wait for them to come back? Or do you keep playing, and the guy will just have to evacuate his bowels as quickly as possible so his character doesn't die while he’s on the toilet?
What I am saying is that there should be codified rules and etiquette to handle these situations, because everyone has different requirements and limits as to “what’s an acceptable reason to stop the game.” I once played in a session that ran something like 18-20 hours straight. Only the DM, myself and one other player made it the whole way through, and by the end of it I was delirious and hallucinating. The other four players had to take at least one nap each to get them through the night. One guy fell asleep with his face right on the table. I think he woke up with a d20 stuck to his cheek. But the game just kept going whether you were upright or passed out on the couch. I don’t know what the DM was on but he did not take a break or a time-out for anything.
1. How Much Wrestling is Too Much Wrestling?
I don’t mean Pro-Wrestling. You can never have too much pro-wrestling in RPGs. I am referring of course to physically throwing down with your fellow players or game masters.
This is for those times when rule #3 (see arguing, above), just doesn't cut it. Sometimes, you just need to smack a guy in the face for being a dick. Sometimes you need to put him into a rear naked choke. Dude touched your dice? That’s worth at least a side headlock.
There really needs to be clear, decisive instructions for how to handle this. Imagine if the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition Player’s Handbook clearly stated, on page 10: “If another player fumbles a to-hit roll and his character shoots your character in the back with a crossbow, it is perfectly acceptable to punch him in the kidney. Only one (1) single, closed fist blow is permitted. Additional strikes or attacks to other parts of the body is strictly prohibited unless said fumbled attack results in the death of your character, in which case a swift punch to the throat is also allowed.” You would never have to decide whether it was acceptable or not to punch your friend for being a git! It was spelled out in black and white, right there in the rules. Your buddy wouldn't be able to complain about it, either! Imagine how civilized our gaming sessions would be.
So what do you think of these rules? Yay? Nay? Any others I missed? Talk about them below or on Twitter (follow me @CDGallantKing), and pass the questions around to your friends with those handy little “Share” buttons below. Maybe we can start our own little rules argument in cyberspace…