As a player, rules disputes carry with them a certain level of morale-crushing bias. No matter how the game master rules, there is always going to be a player that disagrees with the ruling – whether it is the player who raised the dispute in the first place or someone else at the table. The best way to avoid that disagreement turning into further argument down the road – or the dreaded calls of favoritism – is to be consistent as a game master.
In the fourth installment of the Golden Rule series, Thirdwalling will delve into ensuring consistency from gaming session to gaming session through the creation and implementation of a House Rules system.
Any player that has a fair share of time at the table has seen rules calls go bad. It happens to even the best game masters – and the purpose of this series is to show new (or even experienced) game masters and players that it can be overcome. Some GMs – myself included – toil over their home-brewed effects and on-the-fly rules calls both before and after, while others let the rules fly and don’t give a backward glance. Most game masters – especially the good ones – strike a happy balance between those two extremes.
Even long-time players will not be satisfied with every ruling at the table – and even the most casual player might silently brood over what they perceive as a “bad call”. At the Thirdwalling table, we’ve had experience with this “brooding” developing into something more vocal the next time the situation arises. The easiest way that we’ve found to avoid this is consistency – a jagged pill is easier to swallow when everyone is taking the same pill!
1.) Standards apply to everyone –
The first step to achieving consistency is to start actually doing it. It is surprising the number of game masters that do not even seem to try. Once a ruling has been made, a good game master will hold everyone – PC, NPC, GMPC – everyone – to the same standard. Give a player an additional character point at creation to let them take a skill they really need? Everyone gets a bonus. Pause combat to re-arrange a monster’s stats to better accommodate the flow of the battle? The mage gets the same opportunity to re-arrange the day’s memorized spells should the need arise.
2.) Communicate departures from the rules before it becomes relevant –
Whenever a game master makes a change to the rules – or whenever a monster is going to “break” the standard rules – it should be communicated to the party before the scene where it is going to be relevant. This can be as simple as letting the players know before the first session that they’ll be using point by vs. rolling for stats in Pathfinder – or as complex as emailing out a home-brewed magic system before the first wizard encounter.
Get creative with this! In an ongoing encounter with a Powerful Magic Dude, the players are encountering said PMD during the casting of a fairly powerful – and fragile – ritual that has been years in setup and preparation. The chaotic nature of the ritual means that magic won’t work against him. I talked to The Fez about this beforehand, and he gave me a great idea to “notify” the party ahead of time that I was taking their magic away during that scene. As they’ve been exploring the dungeon leading up to PMD, they’ve noticed a slight “pulling” sensation in the direction that the ritual is taking place – and whenever a spell has been cast (by both PCs and NPCs) the difficulties have been progressively higher. By adding a steadily increasing “situational modifier” to their spells, they know that something wicked is happening with magic in the room they’re fighting toward. That way they can plan for it – and it won’t be such a slap in the face when the doors open and they lose their mojo.
3.) Publish House Rules –
House rules happen. Most game tables wind up with quite a list of them very rapidly – and many systems actually provide options for the game master to choose from. For example – Dresden Files has the various “Submersion” levels, and D6 Fantasy has Hit Points vs. Wound Levels. Whenever a rules dispute, clarification or re-write happens – record it. This way, when the players encounter something similar later, the game master can simply consult the house rules to remember what happened last time. It is important, too, that the players have access to these rules. At the Thirdwalling table, that is accomplished in 2 ways:
a.) Share them via a file sharing site. We like Google Drive, but we’re Googleholics around here.
b.) Print them and bring a copy to every game.
This makes consistency easier and holds both the players and the game master accountable to the rulings that happen at the table.
Well that’s it – 3 easy steps to consistency that will prevent strife.
Thoughts? Questions? Opinions? Take it to the comments!
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