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?


Doctor Warlock said...

I OMIT rules after Running a game for while IF they interfere with the Fun (the weapon tables in AD&D first edition for example) - and I have only EVER had one "house rule" for (A)D&D, and that was conceived after quite a while running games anyway!

Dwarin said...

That's a sensible approach. Omitting is not the same as house ruling. Although I try to use all the rules at first, if I find something is an obstacle to fun, I drop it. The weapon tables are easily dropped. I would not house rule them simply because I don't see the point. Either I like them as is, or I don't like them but only because I don't want the added calculations to slow down my game.

Doctor Warlock said...

100% Agree Dwarin!

Aplus said...

I am currently running OD&D via the LBBs, and I house rule the crap out of everything. I like playing the game in this style, and rather than viewing the rules as a complete thing in and of themselves, such as the rules that might come packaged with a board game, I view the rules as a toolkit. "Here's some ways to adjudicate some things. Use these methods or make up your own."

Because of this, and the fact that documentation of my house rules is either crappy or non-existent, the players tend to evaluate things outside the scope of the rules, which I find quite desirable for the type of game I like to be involved in.

This guy posted a great example of the experience I like to go for:

I think you're buying into a lot of the stuff in the AD&D DMG that tells you that if you make changes to the rules, you're playing a different game, etc. etc. Now, I'm not going to say that's wrong, but it certainly isn't the only way to do things, and I will say I mostly disagree with the tone of "officialness" that permeates AD&D.

All that being said, I think you make a lot of great points about trying things as written before changing them, and I also think a lot of players enjoy playing within the shared framework of a known rules system. It can be nice to have everyone on the same page in that regard.

Good post!

Dwarin said...

Far from viewing the AD&D rules as the only "official" way of playing, which I don't think they are, I believe they are solid enough for what I want to do. If I didn't like them, I would be playing something else. In any case, I accept other playing styles. The post only reflects my current AD&D playing style. Perhaps I also house rule a lot when I decide upon things which the rules don't cover, but to me that is ruling about a non-existent rule than house ruling (which change what already exists). But then again, made up rules tend to become house rules. :-)