Help! My Players Know the System Better than Me!

Posted: July 11, 2012 in Unrated
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Table top roleplaying as we know it has existed since the early 70s. Naturally, this means that some people picked it up before others did (or before others were born). And while there have been a lot of changes over the years, this still means that there will come a time when, as a GM, you may encounter players who are more familiar with the system than you are. If you’ve already been in this situation, as I have, you know it can be hard. There are different ways that kind of game can go, and I will cover them to the best of my knowledge.

Players As Rules Helpers

The optimal case for you as a young GM is that your experienced players will support you and help out. If the players know the rules well and can tell you the rules that apply in a given situation, they can really streamline the time the game takes. After all, how many people know off the top of their head how to handle a player vaulting across a pool of lava, hitting a wall and falling 20 feet down into a pool of lava by the rules in 3.5 D&D? And how long would it take to look up all the pertinent rules to figure out how much damage the player should take, by the rules. The best rules helpers, however, will offer the knowledge of the rules and then roll with it if the GM decides that no, you fell in the lava, you’re just dead. Rules helpers are also nice for streamlining character creation if you have new players or players playing more complicated characters than usual. My favorite use for the rules helpers is to partner them with a new player to help them through their turns. That really really helps to make it so that the newer player can learn the rules without having to occupy the time and attention of the GM.

Players As Rules Lawyers

Rules lawyers are annoying. There, I said it. Imagine if you will that you’ve written custom rules for a scenario only to discover that there were already rules for that particular situation partway through the session when one of your players informs you about them in full detail. Rules lawyers can be useful if you want to run a game completely by the book, and again for teaching new players, but can be very irritating. If you encounter a rules lawyer, make sure they understand the level of rulesiness your game is going to have and how much lawyeriness you are willing to tolerate. While it isn’t always possible to lay down ground rules for your players in this fashion, it can be useful to at least warn them that you’re going to be running fast and loose with the rules at times. If they can’t deal with your way of handling the game such that the rules make sense for the game rather than the other way around, then you may want to encourage them to find a different GM.

One think that can really help with rules lawyers is that if you know ahead of time that you’re going to be using an alternative or homebrew rules, then tell them what those rules are. In a lot of cases, this will give them the same warm fuzzies of there being logical rules which can be followed that they expect in a tabletop. Just remember that in the end, you need to make sure that what you’re running is what you want to run and not what one or two players are pushing you into running.

Players As Rules Manipulators

Rules manipulators are the worst kind of more experienced player you could have. Everything they do will either be entirely within the rules, or appear to be so, but is something that a more experienced GM would recognize and disallow. For example, an undead with a ring that turns all damage he takes to bashing damage…which undead are immune to. If you suspect that something your player is doing is fishy, ask to see the books they’re getting it from. Do some research on your own, ask other people about it. They may have misinterpreted things or they may be purposefully taking advantage of your lack of experience and knowledge. If you think one of your players is purposefully doing things that are against the rules or going against the spirit of the rules, they are cheating and you should deal with them appropriately. I suggest talking to them one-on-one without any other players there and requesting that they change their behavior. If they are good, give them some kind of reward to let them use their powers legitimately awesomely.


Hopefully this will help you with your endeavors in the future. Remember that you are the narrator of their story and that ultimately the rules are what you make of them.


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