Some Thoughts on Being a Rules Lawyer

I wrote about role-playing last time, so I figured I should cover the opposite, “rules lawyering”. What is rules lawerying in a tabletop game? Well, typically it’s when a player(DMs included) halts or derails the game being played to scour the rules for something to make the situation work in their favor and places the rules as written(RAW) above all other interpretations. I don’t believe this is inherently bad. Ultimately, the DM’s job is to present how the rules work in the way they do, and players should also be allowed to make a case about why the rules might or should work in a different way. This has gotten a negative stigma because, stereotypically, a rules lawyer will relentlessly argue their idea long past when the DM has given their ruling and instead of focusing on role-play in the game they only care about minmaxing their character’s stats and abilities.

Every DM at some point will either decide on a rule that differs slightly from the text for one reason or another or introduce a rule that doesn’t exist in a sourcebook. This is suggested in the Dungeon Master’s Guide, it tells the DM to alter the rules if you think it’ll be more fun for your game(It actually gives the DM total authority to modify any rule for any reason). So, in a perfect world all the DM’s deviations from RAW are well thought out, make the game more fun, and the players can simply trust their DM. But your DM isn’t perfect. They might make a rule that detracts from your fun, make a ruling in the moment that is inconsistent with how the game was previously played, or even just forget a rule. It is at these times that I expect you to pick up the mantle of being a rules lawyer and maybe even argue for a bit about what is going on. However, players should also have a good attitude even if you don’t agree with the DM’s final say. If something continues to seriously bother you, talk with your DM about it afterwards but let the game continue.

A different way that a rules lawyer mentality can negatively impact the game is that it can restrict rules to only what is written. Some things or actions should be possible even if there isn’t an explicit rule that covers an exact situation. DMs and players can fall into the trap of thinking “well it’s not in the rules, so I guess it just isn’t possible.” In my opinion, that is an incorrect way to handle the game(please remind me about this if you think I’ve fallen into this trap). One of the beautiful parts of D&D is that you can still figure something out to facilitate how an action might work when it is not explicitly in the rules. For example, if Player A is grappled by an enemy and Player B wants to try to break that grapple with their action, this should be possible to attempt even though the rules only give directions for how Player A can try to escape. This is a danger in always being a rules lawyer or following the rules RAW, it can severely limit how you play game.

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