D&D General Arbitrary and Capricious: Unpacking Rules and Rulings in the Context of Fairness

UngainlyTitan

Legend
Supporter
I have seen all of season 1 and half of season 2. I have seen many resurrection scenes on Critical Role. All are quite dramatic, and seem very high stakes. And every one of them ends in a successful resurrection.

I don't disbelieve you, I've just come to a different conclusion. Actual results matter.
So, to get at what I was indirectly wondering about, regarding your original comment on @billd91's post, what has the DC for resurrection got to do with the sportsmanship or lack thereof at the Critical role table?
 

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At the risk of being "that guy," what do you think a rules lawyer is? I've got no objection to a player pointing out a rule exist, so that in and of itself doesn't make a rules a lawyer. By definition, at least my definition, a rules lawyer is someone who does one or more of the things you list as not liking.
A rules lawyer is a guy who argues what the rules actually are/mean.

They're far less common 5E (or 4E) than previous editions in most cases because the rules tend to be much clearer.

You have an entirely circular and thus pointless definition of rules lawyer as "a guy who argues the what the rules actually are/mean who I disagree with"

See you seem to be adding that pointless bit at the end. The fact is that if we're being real, rules lawyers are often right or at least present a strong case. The problem is that a lot of people just de-classify them as rules lawyers when they happen to agree with them or are convinced. Which is funny but extremely silly. It makes the term completely pointless if it's only ever something you call people when they happen to be wrong (in your opinion).
 


At the risk of being "that guy," what do you think a rules lawyer is? I've got no objection to a player pointing out a rule exist, so that in and of itself doesn't make a rules a lawyer. By definition, at least my definition, a rules lawyer is someone who does one or more of the things you list as not liking.

At least to me, someone is only "rules lawyering" when they're making bad-faith claims or willful misrepresentations of the rules. Inherent to the term and the reason it's pejorative is that the individual argues ad nauseum with the DM or table until they get what they want.

The one that comes to my mind was a thread on Twitter where someone asked Crawford about the Night Hag's Nightmare Haunting ability -- "[T]he target gains no benefit from its rest[.]" The person asked if the ability would prevent a Wizard from regaining spell slots from a long rest, because Wizard says, "You regain all expended spell slots when you finish a long rest." Then asked if the character could start another long rest, since "finish" and "benefit" are different words. And the only reason that mattered is because the game also says, "A character can't benefit from more than one long rest in a 24-hour period," and basically either way you rule the Wizard regains spell slots every 8 hours instead of every 24.

So, asking for a ruling on something you don't actually care about only so that you can take that ruling and apply it's literal meaning in a completely different context in order to get a mechanical benefit that very clearly is neither the literal wording of the rules nor the clear intent.
 

Yora

Legend
I would add that "rulings, not rules" does not preclude player disputes about "rulings." It just shifts the argument at the table from being about the rules to the rulings.
When you make a ruling, you argue "this is what I decide is happening because I feel that it's appropriate and works best in this situation". It's inherently subjective.
In contrast, when evoking a rule, you argue "this is what the book says does happen".

You can argue over the interpretation of the grammar of a sentence and try to objectively prove that another interpretation does not conform to the sentence. If you don't like a ruling, all you can say is "well, I don't like it". The GM's subjective opinion against a player's subjective opinion.
And the whole point of the game having a GM is to make those subjective decisions.
 

nevin

Hero
At least to me, someone is only "rules lawyering" when they're making bad-faith claims or willful misrepresentations of the rules. Inherent to the term and the reason it's pejorative is that the individual argues ad nauseum with the DM or table until they get what they want.

The one that comes to my mind was a thread on Twitter where someone asked Crawford about the Night Hag's Nightmare Haunting ability -- "[T]he target gains no benefit from its rest[.]" The person asked if the ability would prevent a Wizard from regaining spell slots from a long rest, because Wizard says, "You regain all expended spell slots when you finish a long rest." Then asked if the character could start another long rest, since "finish" and "benefit" are different words. And the only reason that mattered is because the game also says, "A character can't benefit from more than one long rest in a 24-hour period," and basically either way you rule the Wizard regains spell slots every 8 hours instead of every 24.

So, asking for a ruling on something you don't actually care about only so that you can take that ruling and apply it's literal meaning in a completely different context in order to get a mechanical benefit that very clearly is neither the literal wording of the rules nor the clear intent.

Well for me it's when the rules are so important to someone that they'll stop the game to argue about the rules or even be the person at the table that make's sure no one breaks a single rule. That brings nothing but unfun and aggravation to the game. Those people are trying to run the game from the sidelines much like watching a football game with the jerk questioning every ruling while your actually trying to have fun and watch the game.
 

Aldarc

Legend
When you make a ruling, you argue "this is what I decide is happening because I feel that it's appropriate and works best in this situation". It's inherently subjective.
In contrast, when evoking a rule, you argue "this is what the book says does happen".

You can argue over the interpretation of the grammar of a sentence and try to objectively prove that another interpretation does not conform to the sentence. If you don't like a ruling, all you can say is "well, I don't like it". The GM's subjective opinion against a player's subjective opinion.
And the whole point of the game having a GM is to make those subjective decisions.
There are advantages and disadvantages to both, and I do think it's largely a matter of preference here. IME, "rulings not rules" just shifts the dispute from the rules to the rulings rather than magically solve all such disputes.
 

TwoSix

Uncomfortably diegetic
The one that comes to my mind was a thread on Twitter where someone asked Crawford about the Night Hag's Nightmare Haunting ability -- "[T]he target gains no benefit from its rest[.]" The person asked if the ability would prevent a Wizard from regaining spell slots from a long rest, because Wizard says, "You regain all expended spell slots when you finish a long rest." Then asked if the character could start another long rest, since "finish" and "benefit" are different words. And the only reason that mattered is because the game also says, "A character can't benefit from more than one long rest in a 24-hour period," and basically either way you rule the Wizard regains spell slots every 8 hours instead of every 24.
As a total aside, after running into one last session, holy hell is the Night Hag a “capricious and arbitrary” encounter.
 

Clint_L

Hero
I think the short answer is that the G in RPG stands for game, and most of us desire fairness in the games we play. Most of us won't enjoy a game that's unfair even if we're the ones benefitting. The long answer is, holy cow, that's actually a pretty deep question. Why is fairness desireable anywhere? Most of us are certainly bothered when we think something is unfair. But why?
A desire for fairness appears to be instinctual at some level:

 

Clint_L

Hero
When I shifted to almost always* rolling the dice openly when I DM, it was a choice that I made to show transparent fairness. Whenever possible (*in a few situations, the fiction demands that DCs or saving throws should be kept secret), the players know the target number in advance, and everyone can see the dice. My reasoning is that this is empowering to the players and increases the dramatic stakes in the story, and both for reasons of fairness. To go back to Snarf's original point, it demonstrates to the player that, at least when it comes to dice rolling, the foundational mechanic of rules arbitration in D&D, our game is never "capricious or arbitrary."

This is empowering, because it shows that player choices matter. Again to go back to the OP, the player's decisions re. how to build their character will be respected when it comes to dice rolls. Clever choices they make to improve the odds will not be tampered with. Players like this; it enhances their ownership of the game.

And it raises the dramatic tension because ultimately, success or failure in the moment has a crucial element of honest chance. I am not going to intervene to save the BBEG because the players have come up with a brilliant strategy that makes the battle much easier than intended...nor if disaster strikes and the BBEG lands an unexpected critical hit. We have found that this makes the game more dramatic.
 

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