King Arthur Pendragon

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Rules By the Book

I am a by the book DM. This implies that I apply the rules as written with little deviation from their original form. This also implies a certain degree of impartiality and a lack of DM fiat to override the result of a certain dice roll in order to keep the story flowing, in other others, not to kill the characters too prematurely in order to end the story. Many will abhor the idea of letting the rules decide what happens, but to me this is an important part of DMing an AD&D game, as I see it. Is it the only true way of playing AD&D? Certainly, not. It's my way of playing AD&D. But there are certain preconceptions attached to this sort of thinking.

The first one is that I don't house rule very often. As it is, I tend to choose systems which perfectly suit my gaming style in a certain genre. It's not a blind choice. I usually read a few systems before settling with the one that I like most. This is a choice part intuitive, part based on the rules. Therefore, when I start playing with a specific system, I already know that I like it, although there are other elements that impact on whether a campaign using that system will fly or burn, not least of which is player acceptance of that system. In my 20 years of playing, I must have house rules once or twice, which speaks well about the way I approach the systems I use.

The second preconception is that if I am going to use the system I should use the most of it. If I start house ruling everything, I am deviating from the original system. If I am deviating from the original system, why am I using it? If I'm not playing AD&D anymore, why am I using the rulebooks and not my own system or any other system? Therefore, I choose carefully the system that I'm going to use before deciding on what is best for me.

I could never quite understand people who even start changing the rules BEFORE they actually sit down and play the game. No matter how well you understand a system, certain rule interactions are only made apparent at the table with real people using the rules in unforeseen ways. I've seen this time and over again: DMs who start changing numbers, values, difficulties, whatever, even before the very first session. If you have to house rule something, at least see how it works in play.

Now, is running a game by the book the antithesis of creativity? Again, to my mind, certainly not. No system is complete. No system can ever hope to cover all the situations possible in game. The players will always think of something that they want to do that is not covered by the rules. That's when the DM needs to be creative and improvise, to strike a balance between what's in the rules and what is not. To follow the rules by the book and yet to be able to see and judge beyond those rules is truly an art. Most DMs either choose to follow the rules to the exclusion of all else - even ignoring the players' whims if no rules exist for - or they choose to ignore most of the rules for the sake of history and fluidity, only in this case they are not playing the same game anymore. As for my, I walk between the two. When running AD&D I will strive use the rules as written. What about you? Are you a "by the book" DM, change the rules a lot or somewhere between the two?
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