posted Thursday, November 11th 2010 by
Dungeon Mastering Advice
For a large segment of the roleplaying gamer population, familiarity with the rules of their game of choice is something that is almost taken for granted. After more than a few months of playing with any game, to suggest that a player or DM should refamiliarize themselves with the system is a breach of etiquette and often met with dismissal or outright derision. After all, weâ€™ve play once (or more) a week every week over the course of a year, obviously we know what the rules are, right? To suggest otherwise is insulting the intelligence and the integrity of the gamer, especially if itâ€™s directed to a DM, who must adjudicate fairly for his or her players on top of merely knowing the relevant rules for one particular set of actions.
The problem with the knee-jerk defensiveness that can arise so readily from such a suggestion is that in many cases itâ€™s a valid suggestion. As a DM I make a habit of actively reading the rules every three to five monthsâ€”and not just skimming, either. Each time I do so, I discover some nuance of the rules Iâ€™ve missed, or that Iâ€™d misremembered during a session and had to make a quick call on to keep the game running. Each time I make a point of noting down what the correct rule is and make certain to adhere to it more closely in the future.
Something that can exacerbate the issue is that many (or most) groups play with house rules in place, and over time itâ€™s relatively easy to lose sight of which rules are the â€œofficialâ€ rules and which rules are in place only at your particular table. This is less important if you only ever play within the same circle, but when you bring in a new player (or play at someone elseâ€™s, or in a public game at a convention, game day, or Encounters night) itâ€™s crucial to be able to distinguish between the two. Even something relatively minor can throw people for a loop.
Refamiliarizing yourself with the rules isnâ€™t hard, and itâ€™s not a particularly onerous task. The most difficult part is simply forcing yourself not to assume that youâ€™re familiar with a given rule and skim past itâ€”read it again as though for the first time, so as not to miss anything. Your understanding of the game will improve, and youâ€™ll always be able to speak confidently and with assurance when you need to make a rules call, even if itâ€™s a relatively obscure bit of mechanics that doesnâ€™t come up very often. Donâ€™t sweat too much if youâ€™re not always spot on, thoughâ€”nobodyâ€™s perfect.