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.

Some Thoughts on Tabletop Role-play

A game that provides an emphasis on role-playing allow things like freedom of action, seemingly unlimited choices, and an open-ended world or story. Since we’re playing to get immersed in the world, your character’s entire existence can be story based; the more you play your character for the story, the more you are going to get out of the story. On the other hand, you certainly can play a character that constantly changes their desires, has no real fears, and always shares mutual objectives with the party, but I promise you’ll get more out of the game if you don’t.

Think about elements of your character when figuring out their personality. What drove them to become the class they are? What might their stats reveal about their personality? For example, with a low wisdom score they could be fearless, impulsive, or easily influenced. Being fearless might have caused others to look up to you as a brave adventurer your whole life. Maybe you’re used to receiving preferential treatment. Similarly, how do their past experiences manifest? A character with a history involving orcs killing their family doesn’t instantly mean they hate orcs and want to kill them all the time, they could just as well be utterly terrified of orcs and can’t stand being in the same tavern as one.

Ultimately you should have a character you think is interesting to play and will have fun playing. If writing a psychological profile for your character helps you get into the game, great! If you just want a simple smash-and-beat-em-up barbarian to kill things with, great!

Some examples for heightening the role-playing aspects in your game:

  • Don’t forget to share or shine the spotlight on other players
    • The story doesn’t, and really shouldn’t, revolve around your character, it is supposed to revolve around the party together. There might be an aspect if your character that takes a focus in the story, but that can just as easily impact the other characters too.
    • Sometimes your character’s intricate history doesn’t become relevant – it happens and it’s okay.
  • Show more than just tell about your character
    • A 10 minute long monologue or side text chat explaining to everyone that your character really hates dwarves is infinitely less interesting than your character mocking or even attacking a dwarf in the tavern and the group having to deal with the consequences.
  • Build relationships with PCs and NPCs, other beings in the world can be more useful to you alive than dead.
    • Consider allowing the bandits that ambushed you on the road to live, they might spread word of you around town or come to join you on your adventure. As for the dragon that has been terrorizing the kingdom that you have finally hunted down, try striking a deal instead killing it – what can it give you?
    • Making friends in different places can be invaluable if you need a favor or help later.
  • Play your character, especially when it matters
    • It’s good fun to have a low intelligence character to play as an idiot around town. But what about during combat when they need to make a split-second decision?
    • Remember your character’s flaw(s).
  • Putting your character into dangerous and deadly situations is cool
    • Some of the most memorable parts in our favorite stories is when a character sacrifices themselves for the greater good. If a battle means something to your character, they might push their own personal safety aside to take their revenge against the bandit king or to ensure the rest of their party escapes the collapsing dungeon exit.


Staying Fresh When Behind

Dota Match 1246203674

I’m still not exactly sure how we end up winning this game, sheer willpower? The opposing team had a better hero composition, more carries (also better ones in my opinion), they were ahead of us by over 5k xp multiple times within 30 minutes, and we had a player (Slardar) that seemed to be feeding on purpose. The only thing we had going for us was their Lion kept taking all their kills, hard to believe when they have a Sniper and Riki. Within the first 10 minutes my lane partner was calling it game over, and I honestly thought he was right. We couldn’t get much farm and they were killing us if we stepped past our towers. But like any competition, you need to hold onto some small bit of hope in order to win. Giving up is the last thing you want to even think about. So, we kept playing. We held our own at our high ground and they couldn’t break us.

So remember, it doesn’t matter what comes, fresh goes better in life!

Playing with Noobs

Lately I have not been playing many single player games at all. I have a few I would like to play through, but I’m currently immersed in multiplayer team games. The biggest taker of my time is currently DOTA2 followed by Destiny and now that Smash Bros is out, I’ll probably be learning the newer ropes for that too.  Multiplayer games have this innate ability to be easy fun compared to a single player campaign simply because you are playing with other people; friends or not, the game is infinitely more interesting because you are interacting with actual people and can be more fun. Can being the keyword there, because when your game revolves around other players it no longer goes the way you want it to. Just like in a team sport, if someone fails to perform their role then you can fail as a result even if you do yours well. This happens more often than I’d like, or maybe that is confirmation bias, and I’m not ashamed to admit that it can frustrate the hell out of me.

The other day a few buddies and I were playing a game of Dota2 with a player on our team that was almost certainly brand new to the game. This sniper didn’t buy any of the suggested items, instead he only bought items which improved his agility statistic (which does make some sense as agility is the hero’s primary stat). We tried suggesting better items to buy/use, but he kept buying agility items. As a result, he died a lot in the early game, “feeding” the other team gold and exp, making the rest of the game a very one-sided experience. My friends and I didn’t blame or yell at the sniper player over our voice chat, but we all knew who cost us the game, or at least a good game. We all wondered, “Why are playing with a first timer? Why is this possible for the game to match us up?”.

Earlier this week I was going through the Vault of Glass raid on Destiny with 5 other coworkers. A raid is a type of mission that is usually much larger in scale and requires a team of players to work together to conquer obstacles, enemies, and puzzles to finish it. You need above average teamwork to accomplish this challenge, and it can take hours to complete. I have gone through the raid a few times now but this time I believe we had more people on the fireteam that hadn’t finished it than those of us that had, and I was the most experienced player. Throughout the raid I could feel frustration bubbling up when someone didn’t do their part, missed an oracle call out, or just died when they shouldn’t have. Any fault in someone’s play usually result in a team wipe and we would have to start the section over again. Our final time was 3 1/2 hours when it usually takes my more experienced group about 1 hour. I couldn’t get mad though, I had joined this group of my own choice. We were also talking and laughing throughout the entire thing, it was very fun even though it was taking a lot longer. I stayed because every raider has their first raid when they were learning what to do, what not to do, etc. I’m sure I was the same or worse when I first learned it all.

So why is playing with noobs so frustrating when it is an inevitable experience? After all, you can’t truly ever have someone play their first team game without playing with actual teammates, it wouldn’t be a real first game. When you play any game, you feel competent at, you expect to at least do well enough to be satisfied with your performance. But the shtick of any team game is you can’t do your best if someone else holds you back. Just like how a team victory feels that much better when everyone is assisting each other, a team loss feels that much worse when you can’t do your job because someone isn’t doing theirs’. It has happened, it is happening, and it will continue to happen. I think too many noobs face people yelling at and insulting them, so they keep their microphone and speakers off and therefore don’t learn from others who sometimes actually try to help them in game. I’ve found the best response is to take a breathe, pop a mentos, and make the best of the game you can. Talk to the noob, be friendly, and explain things you think he may be confused with. It is surprising how quick they will start asking you more questions or be more eager to help out once they see you as an ally/teacher. Or they might not, refuse to take any advice, drag your team down to a frustrating loss. Oh well, there’s always the next match.

We Need More Spencer Mansions (The Jimquisition)

Resident Evil HD REMASTER is a remastered version of the remake of the original Resident Evil game released in 1996. I didn’t know exactly what it was about Resident Evil, but it stuck in my brain as one-of-those-games since the first time I played it. Years later, playing the REmake on the GameCube in 2002 I realized that it was the mansion atmosphere that made this game special for me.

The Spencer Mansion is almost a main character in its own right, adding an eerie unsettling stillness as you explore. Throughout the game you become intimately familiar with its hallways, puzzles, tenants (alive or dead), sounds/music (or lack thereof), and back story. But it doesn’t stay static, even after backtracking the mansion’s passageways, doors will break if you use them too much, zombies will come back to life, new enemies will burst out of doors you thought to be safe. The design of this game is so well done that it will forever be the definition of Survival Horror for me.

Custom Dungeon World Move: Identify

I’ve been playing a little bit of Dungeon World with friends lately. One thing the game doesn’t have is any kind of an Identify spell. I enjoy the mystery of magic items or spells that players can uncover themselves. I tweeted at the creators and they replied. That last option honestly sounds awesome and very “Dungeon Worldy” to me, but I thought I’d try introducing a custom move in a future game to see how it goes.

This is an advanced move, accessible starting at level 2, available under the Bard and Wizard classes. The downside to picking this advanced move upon leveling up is that the player could just try to figure out the magical item on their own and take a more unique or useful move instead.


When you have some quiet time you can study an item you know to be magical to reveal some of what it does; roll +Int and ask a number of questions to the GM who will answer truthfully.
On a 10+, choose two from the list
On 7-9, choose one from the list

  • You discover the item’s command word. Tell the GM how this happened and he will tell you what the command word is.  If there is no command word, the GM says so as their answer.
  • As you study the item it imparts to you a hint of its use. The GM will give you a one or two word hint/description relating to it’s use.
  • You remember some historical fact relating to the item you’re inspecting. The GM will ask you two questions about the item’s origin.
  • You think that you have figured out a way to reveal the item’s secrets, but it is going to cost you. The GM will tell you the cost and you can decide if you think it is worth it.

To pair with this new player move, in an effort to make things interesting, I will also offer this GM move for use on a 6-, Activate the magical item. Perhaps this isn’t always relevant, the magical properties could be passive, but if the weapon needs to be activated in some way, have some fun and activate it. Afterall, they wanted to find out what it does right?

In this example, the dagger’s magical power is it renders the wielder invisible only if they stab themselves with it.

Cory: Okay, since we’re making camp anyway I want to identify this dagger I found.

GM: Alright sure, roll+Int!

Cory: Okay.  Oh man a 4?  Argh, guess I’ll try some other time.

GM: Not so fast…You’re looking over this dagger, trying to extract some magical energy to clue you in on what it can do. After about 20 minutes you get careless, and it slips accidentally stabbing yourself for d4 damage! However, upon stabbing your leg you turn invisible.

Cory: Whoa, cool!  And I only take d4 – 2 damage because of my armor. This will come in handy…

Observations of a D&D noob

One of the things I’ve always wanted to do is play through a Dungeons and Dragons campaign. There used to be this stigma with people that play D&D, how useless the hobby was, calling it playing make believe way past the acceptable age, passing comments in Sunday School or Christian media when I was young about the spiritual dangers of Dungeons and Dragons(ah yes, the famous black leaf), or see it get poked fun of on TV.

Brief spiel on what Dungeons and Dragons is if you don’t know: Dungeons and Dragons(D&D) is a role-playing system where players create and control a character to interact within the game world usually run by another player known as the Dungeon Master (DM). There are rules that you follow which governs how players can progress, attack, or generally interact with the world itself. There have been many different systems, editions, variations, and rule sets created since the original conception in 1974 by Gary Gygax, but at its heart the goal has stayed the same: keep the system free enough so the players can to do whatever the hell they want to but still have some limitations to keep it fun. You can play an evil wizard seeking revenge, but you can’t play as an invincible dragon archer that shoots swords out of its eyes (well at least not when you’re only level 1! I mean, unless that’s the kind of game you’re playing.).

Fast forward to when I started watching Rollplay. Rollplay was created by twitch/youtube content creator itmejp and the rest of the cast are mostly personalities from the professional USA Starcraft 2 scene. I don’t think any of them had played tabletop D&D proper before, except for their DM who has played for years, so it was really fun and interesting learning how the game works alongside the cast. I also got the opportunity to moderate itmejp’s twitch channel which is cool but also a big chore; sometimes I just want to watch the show and not ban a douchebag in chat every 7 minutes. So, what started in February 2013 has continued over a year to today with Rollplay consisting of four different campaigns/shows, hundreds of exciting plot twists, and thousands of people tuning in each week to see what happens with their favorite characters. If you think Game of Thrones is exciting and keeps you on your toes, try watching Rollplay D&D/Solum. When you have a good DM (a mix of fairness, creativity, and a bit of a desire to kill you) the world and story never seems dull. When you have interesting characters interacting with each other adds more to the story and plot. It can feel like a well written book at times if the harmony is there, except for one thing: the main characters aren’t safe. The Dungeon Master doesn’t want to kill you (at least not outright), but there needs to be drama, otherwise it’s no fun. If there isn’t any danger, well a world without danger is boring. If a player character dies, and the party is out of resurrection scrolls, that’s it. That character is done, and sometimes you don’t get to find out anything more about them. If all the player characters die, the game’s over. And it is this aspect that makes D&D exciting for me. The characters are supposed to save the town by killing the evil dragon on the mountain. If this was The Hobbit, we’re fairly safe in assuming that is what will eventually somehow happen, but in D&D all the dwarves could die, Bilbo gets turned into a toad, and no one ever hears from him again.  “But what happens to The Ring that Bilbo found!?” We don’t find out, not until The Slightly Different Fellowship Of The Ring D&D campaign begins and then the dangers start all over again.

So, after watching 150+ hours of the Rollplay gang do their thing, I decided it was time to take the plunge myself and tried finding a group to play with online. Would the other people in my party be super awkward and weird? Would they all get frustrated with me learning how to play? Would we get along? Would I even enjoy playing? This was all new territory for me, so I was unsure about a lot of things. Luckily everything went super smooth, I found someone asking around r/itmejp, a community mostly for Rollplay fans/content, if anyone was interested in jumping into a campaign for first time players. Cool! Everyone else in the group was brand new or relatively new to D&D and it was the DM’s first time running a campaign. It was very helpful, and a bit of a relief, to know I wasn’t going to be the only noob asking questions. We play online using the webapp which allows us to roll virtual die (with a really good random number generator for dice rolls) and facilitates the DM to create maps, environments, and keep track of player data. A few play sessions into our campaign we started streaming our own sessions via and have even started gathering our own small audience! If you haven’t popped over to the An Adventure For Beginners Page, that is what it’s all about. It’s been a journey in itself playing with my group and we have just passed our 30th play session.

Some thoughts:

  • People who play D&D aren’t weird
    • Well not all of us, but you get that with any activity. They’re just people who enjoy playing the game. I’ve met sport jocks, English majors, theology students, and musicians that all love to play. People from all walks of life enjoy coming together and participating in a common activity, what a concept eh?
  • Playing the game isn’t always super exciting
    • I usually am always having fun but you aren’t always in a battle against hordes of orcs saving the local King every minute. Like in real life, you have to take time to run errands, restock supplies, plan what you’re going to do next, plan again after the road you wanted to take is closed, and even take a rest day or two if your character gets sick. A lot of it can be simplified thanks to the rules/system and a quality DM. A few times an entire session simply revolved around our party staying in a town talking to locals and shopping for items. Learn to embrace it as an opportunity to take the game world for what it is.
  • Our group is awesome
    • I honestly couldn’t have asked for a better group to find. Not only was mostly everyone else in the same newbie boat as I was, but we all get along really well. Most of us are fans of Rollplay and get to discuss the weekly happenings on the show. All of us have very similar humor and love to joke around in game and out. We even started to play other games together. The players, characters, and DM all bring something different to the table and it really makes the game stand out.  Dare I say…I’ve made new friends through a random online D&D party?
  • Streaming our game online adds an interesting dynamic
    • This isn’t something you’ll find in your typical D&D group, but we have had lots of fun doing it. It’s a little frustrating when twitch decides to delete a recording or when parts of the recorded video go corrupt, but we’re learning how to work around the issue and are also hosting our recordings on YouTube, possibly with additional content. Whether it is the audience interaction, hearing how watching us helps others understand D&D better, or just having the last session recorded for an easy recap makes the extra work worth it.
  • You can’t make up these situations
    • The first time we jumped into combat in game my character shot his bow, and I rolled three natural 20s in a row; critical threat, critical confirmation, and instakill! One of our party members got arrested and we had to go through finding witnesses and a trial to get him off of an unfounded murder charge! I can’t count the number of times we’ve gotten ourselves too far into combat with half the party unconscious and our cleric dishes out damage and heal spells to save us all. A bard in our group played Wrecking Ball on his flute and rolled a natural 1 for his skill check. These are moments I will remember for a long time. I look forward to Monday evenings when I can chill out with some friends online and roleplay Cabaan the Elf ranger who sucks at perception checks.

Moving forward, I’m not entirely sure what the future of our game stream looks like.  We finished “Season 1” of our campaign with 30 play sessions, around 26 of them are recorded and online our twitch and youtube channels, and have had over 10,000 viewers.  10k isn’t a whole lot in the world of internet videos but it is pretty damn impressive for what we’re doing.  We will be starting the next season this week and I’m definitely excited to see where our story goes.

If you have any interest in checking out what our D&D sessions look like, jump over to our campaign page or stop by my twitch channel on a Monday evening(8pm EST | 5pm PST) and say hello!

Pre-Order Bonuses – The Dark Side

What do you get when you buy Watch Dogs? Well that all depends on which edition, location, or pass you buy!

When special editions go to far
When special editions go to far

There are eight, EIGHT, different editions to choose from.  Keep in mind, these are just the bonuses for buying a special edition copy of the game. This image doesn’t show all the extra crap you get from preordering from Gamestop, Amazon, BestBuy, etc.

Pre-Order Bonuses

I know that I’m not the only one getting sick and tired of ten different pre-order bonuses depending on what retailer you go to or version of the game you buy. It is getting out of hand. I don’t mind so much when its simple game swag or in-game cosmetics, but sometimes it is extra weapons, maps, even entire DLC chapters that are unique to one of those choices! This is anti-consumer, be design.

So, when Titanfall announced their preorder bonuses I was surprised when they actually did a great job. No exclusive guns, or titans, or maps. A few swag items and a possible guide that you can find on the internet. As an avid gamer, thank you for not contributing to the preorder bonus ecosystem mess we are currently stuck in.

AI Project: Checkers

I figure I’d start revisiting some work I did a couple quarters ago at UCI in an AI project course. We set out to experiment with some different Checker strategies and see how they would fair against each other, against us, and (most importantly) against another team developing another Checkers AI system. I’ve created a simple game from my own ideas, but I haven’t created a game from a preexisting set of rules before or have the game play against the human. The game system is pretty self-explanatory; moves are hi-lighted, jumps are mandatory, a piece becomes a king on the other end of the board, and you win when you lose all your pieces or when you can’t make a move.  I really wanted to build this in something other than a Java applet, since they aren’t used much these days, but UCI programming courses heavily use java and their game courses heavily use a custom library called UCIGame (you-see-ga-me).  The AI depth search uses a min/max and alpha/beta pruning strategy to allow the massive move set to be shortened so a move decision can be made in reasonable time, but a search of depth 10 still makes a noticeable pause.

The most interesting part of this project is the AI strategies we implemented.

  • Random
    • The AI selects a move at random.  Hardly a challenge
  • Basic
    • The AI examines all possible moves within the search depth value.  It then selects the move that allows the AI to be in the position were losses and gains will be the most beneficial.  Ideally, the more pieces it can take and least amount of pieces it can lose will increase the probability to win the entire game.  This strategy is easily countered by tricking the AI with bait, and then trapping and taking its piece.  The best choice is based on an average score derived from a couple of heuristics.
      • Taking pieces(+ for regular; ++ for kings)
      • Loosing computer pieces(- for regular; — for kings)
      • Getting ‘Kinged'(+)
      • Moving a piece from a ‘King Me’ square(–)
  • Piece Table
    • In addition to the heuristics above for the basic strategy, a piece table is also incorporated into the score for a move. The piece table gives each square a value and it is added into the average score for each move. This is the piece table used for our AI.  Each number denotes a square worth value. The higher the value, the higher the worth of keeping a piece on that square. Notice that all ‘King Me’ squares hold the highest value of 4, these spots are very important, and a player would only want to move a piece from this location as a last resort. Squares close to the sides of the board also have the value 4, and closer inside is 3, are the least vulnerable from attacks. On the other hand, the squares in the very middle of the board hold a value of 1. These squares get vacated as fast as possible since they are most susceptible from attacks. The numbers make a sort of spiral from the outside, decreasing in value as they come closer to the middle. This strategy is very strong since it combines the heuristics from the Basic strategy to minimize losses and maximize gains as well as achieve optimal piece placement on the board to further minimize more losses and maximize more gains. I have not been able to beat this strategy with a high depth.

Overall, it was a very enlightening project to work on.  I learned a lot working with massive decision trees, different strategies, implementing given rules, and classifying data sets using a range of scores. I was quite happy with the outcome of an AI that can easily beat its creator, and with the fact that we smoked the other Checkers project team. Checkers is a solved problem after all, so if we were evenly matched it should tie or win ~50% of the time.

EDIT// before java was more or less shuttered from browser support, we had a working embedded applet you could play but not anymore.

I have a couple of planned changes for this application’s future:

  • Simplify the button options
    • The three buttons on the GUI made sense at the time I created them, but many users have reported that they have trouble knowing which one to click when.  Combining the Resign and New Game button into a single one will free space for an AI vs AI option.  Another problem is that when the Make AI Move button is pressed the player switches sides.  They have to click it again to resume play as the original red color.
  • Allow  the player to select his color at start of game
    • Just a nice option for the player to choose.