Rules Debate at the Table

Peter Dell’Orto over at Dungeon Fantastic and Mark Langsdorf over at No School Grognard have just had an interesting exchange about rules arguments and table-talk during the game.   Basically, Peter Dell’Orto’s game runs with a blanket policy of “no rules arguments at the table, ever”, whereas Mark Langsdorf’s game has no strict policy on that sort of thing.

I thought I’d add my two cents worth here.

Rules Debate at the Table

Generally speaking, I strongly dislike debating – or even much discussing – the rules at the table.  Get me to the story!  Yet none of the groups I’ve played in regularly have ever had a strict policy on this – and the lack of the policy hasn’t been a problem.

Is this an argument for having no policy?  Maybe.  But maybe I’ve just been lucky – after all, most of my really regular, long-term gaming has been with groups that are either all close friends who get along well and respect each other’s time, or (by fluke, for a long time) are GM’d by the person who owns the game company, and who therefore has a kind of authority that discourages rules arguments.  In a sense, the groups I’ve been with have been playing with a loose, implicit form of Peter’s policy, enforced just by social convention, and this has worked well.

But perhaps I’ve just been lucky with my RP groups?  Would a merely implicit policy be enough to do the job in most normal cases?

Honestly (and with respect to Peter!) I tend towards saying “yes”, more or less.  Obviously different groups require different modes of play – but to my mind, I’d only want to articulate an explicit policy prohibiting rules debate if I anticipated trouble – which is to say, if I thought that there were some people in the group who would be unable to prevent themselves from getting into extended rules arguments to the detriment of everyone else’s fun.

But – and here’s the point, really – why would I want to play under those conditions?  I can imagine a few circumstances when an explicit rule might be necessary – playing with kids, for example, or introducing the game to particularly ornery beginners, or playing in a very “gamist” mode, in a very competitive fashion – but most of the time, the people I want to play with are people who know not to let rules arguments get in the way of the game – people who recognize that their fun is predicated on everyone else’s fun, and act accordingly.  It seems to me that if you take that as a baseline expectation, then it’s not unreasonable to expect that the ordinary, implicit social expectations about rules debates will be enough to do the job.

Naturally, your mileage may vary!  Different groups have different needs, of course, and the social competence – or just everyday friendliness –  of the players is by no means the only factor: there’s also how competitive a game you’re running, how narrativist or gamist it is, and so on.  But those are my general thoughts on rules debate: best avoided at the table, but the enforcement of that doesn’t usually require explicit policies, and can instead usually simply be left to implicit social conventions.

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