Understanding Gamers: The Rules Lawyer Makes The Best GM but the Worst Player.


Rules Lawyers: You don't want the sword to glow blue. That's bad for you.

Our topic actually comes from a recent experience with a player very well-known, but highly un-welcomed in my local RPG community. The reason they are not welcome to games in my area? The person is known as a “Rules Layer” who bullies other players. To the point, where a few of my fellow GM’s who have played for many years REFUSE to play with this person. So what is a Rules Lawyer you ask?

Well, luckily for us: Wikipedia has an entry about Rules Lawyers: A rules lawyer is a participant in a rules-based environment who attempts to use the letter of the law without reference to the spirit, usually to gain an advantage within that environment. The term is commonly used in wargaming and role-playing game communities, often pejoratively, as the “rules lawyer” is seen as an impediment to moving the game forward. Nevertheless, the habit of players to argue in a legal fashion over rule implementation was noted early in the history of Dungeons and Dragons

The Short Version: A rules lawyer, is infamous for using the rules to help them only to do what they want to do. In doing such things, they slow down game play, and are infamous for making GM’s so mad, that they stop either GMing, or kick people from their tables.

Now here’s the thing, there is a major difference between a rules checker and a rules lawyer. A Rules checker is someone who really doesn’t know the answer and wants us to actually check the book. In which case, we as GM’s and players, have no problem looking at the book for that person also, rules checkers are very polite and understanding in their actions. Rules lawyers on the other hand, impose a rules check on everyone and everything including harassing a GM. Add a rude and condescending attitude and you have the classic stereotypical rules lawyer.

Rules Lawyers can be dealt with in a few ways PROPERLY. Unfortunately many GM’s don’t realize what they are dealing with until they flip the table or people start leaving. By then, the damage is done. Here are a few ways you can work out with a Rules Lawyer:

1) Conversations are always the best policies: If you are hosting an event with a well-known Rules Lawyer, it is best to pull them aside and have a personal chat with them. In doing this you let them know that if they start bullying players and act like a dick, then you reserve the right to tell them to go home. If the Rules Lawyer is also the host place, then you can easily call it a day early and go home and if the issue is repeated, then perhaps it’s time to tell the player that they are no longer welcome.

2) If you are the GM, remember, it doesn’t matter what the rules ACTUALLY say.. It’s what YOU say. Although many of us GM’s don’t like to use the “GM Card”, you are required to, if needed to tell the player no, or who cares or make a rule that needs to be adjusted. If the rules lawyer doesn’t like it, you can tell them to take it or leave it. Most will take it and not like you, but at the end of the day, your mission is to complete the game, not deal with a rules lawyer and their ego.

3) Turn the tables on them. Make them be the GM and wreak havoc on them. You might be surprised how Rules Lawyers hate their own medicine sometimes. I’ve in the past used this technique to teach humility to Rules Lawyers who bully.

Now I don’t hate rules lawyers. If anything, I personally think that with the right fine tuning, rules lawyers make the best GM’s. Why you ask?

1) Well, you will learn how to play the game properly, because they will know the rules of movement, combat and tactics better than anyone else.

2) They can give you a chance to build a powerful (and sometimes broken) character because you can ask them any question and they will know the answer. And if you ask the right ones, they will tell you things to build your character for the win, and if they have some objection, you can easily remind them that you asked earlier about it and they told you the answer.

3) You as a player benefits, by having to consider deeper and more creative ways to play, while still fitting within the rules. I’ve seen players create infamous moments by playing within the rules creatively.

Just because you have a rules lawyer in your midst, doesn’t mean that it’s all bad. There are many ways to skin a cat as the saying goes, and dealing with rules lawyers is one of them. But as always, use the “Diplomacy” skill check before you use the “Intimidate” check or worse, roll the “Initiative”.

Best Gaming Times to you!

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