D&D 5E Context Switching Paralysis, or Why we Will Always Have the Thief Debate

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He'll flip ya...Flip ya for real...
Pathfinder was horrid for having feats do that (with over a 1000)...

Me: My PC (an alchemist) collects the troll's blood/monster venom/etc so we can use it to make healing potions/poison/etc later
DM: Sorry, you need a feat to do that.
PF2 went one step further and made the skill system follow o_O


I bolded some of the things I take issue with here.

There is definitely at the very least a potential difference between rules and rulings. Even a fair and impartial DM might not always (if ever) be able come up with a waterproof and definitive rule to cover a situation that comes up that the rules as we understand them (or can find in the moment ) do not cover on the fly.

It is much more common, in my experience, for a DM to say, "Let's say it works like this for now and move on, and then revisit it when we have time to think it through in more detail beyond this specific instance." This is because a ruling to cover a specific instance of a situation that comes up may not be good enough to handle the same situation in a different instance because of a bunch of variables we don't have time or ability to account for at the table.

Later when that ruling is returned to between sessions (for example), the table and DM can decide, if they are going to make this ruling into an actual a rule, if another rule or house rule exists that might cover it better, of if the "good enough for now" rule will stay in place until further examples come in.

None of that has to do with whim or tyranny or even an increasingly codified game.

For all your taking issue and disagreeing, you just described the process of rules codification that I just described. I mean you outlined a set of steps that described how rulings become rules and never really tried to defend your claim of the potential difference.

I mean literally the same process can happen with a rule. A fair and impartial DM might look at to the rules that explicitly cover a table situation and then say, "You know, I know what the RAW say, but I don't think this is really fair. Let's use the rules like this for now and move on, and then revisit it when we have time to think it through in more detail beyond this specific instance". Then later when the rules are returned to between sessions, the table and the DM can decide if they can think of a ruling that might be better, or if the "good enough for now" RAW will stay in place until further examples come in.

That has everything to do with increasing codification of the game whether you have as a starting point in rules or rulings.

Whim or tyranny doesn't come into play in that because you basically described the sort of process I'm thinking of. Whim or tyranny comes into play when the GM issues a ruling on how a situation will be handled (using Rule Zero), then proceeds to overrule himself when the situation comes up (again, using Rule Zero), without consulting the rest of the table (which admittedly he has the right to do), and with no apparent rhyme or reason to his rulings so that the table couldn't predict the next time the situation comes up what the rules will be.

No of course there is a difference between a rule and a ruling in that you can know the rule before it happens but not the ruling, but my point is that once you have a rule it becomes a known rule because you've experienced it. The fact that you had the DM explain that the ruling was temporary and conditional is itself part of the ruling so that the player knows what the rule is likely to be in the future. You DM is actually like putting a marker here on the ruling to say, "I need a rule. I don't know if this is it. Please don't be upset if I change the ruling.", precisely because the hypothetical DM understands at some level what I've just outlined.


B/X Known World
Awesome thread, Snarf. Great topic.

Go team chaotic goo!

Part of the trouble with the thief debate is that a lot of DMs in the early days simply ran thieves wrong. Take one thief skill as an example: climb nearly sheer surfaces, upwards or downwards. Most DMs mentally edited out the words "nearly sheer surfaces" and replaced it with "walls." Which meant that thieves didn't operate as they were meant to, thus nerfing the class. At 1st level, the thief has a 13% chance to slip and fall while climbing a sheer surface, reduced by 1% per level. And because of this, lots and lots of people thought that "thieves suck."

That in no way implies that no one else in the game is prevented from climbing ordinary walls. Only that the thief is the best at climbing sheer surfaces, which also strongly implies that they're the best at climbing ordinary walls. The thief can climb nearly sheer surfaces when no one else can. But the rules don't say anything about anyone climbing an ordinary wall.

A Creation Myth​

Once upon a time there was a giant, sleeping afloat in a vast and empty sea. As he slept, he dreamed of fruit-filled gardens and yellow flowers, and he dreamed for so long and with such love that his body hollowed away entirely, until he was nothing but a skeleton among the waves.

One day, a traveling woman docked her boat and set foot among the bones of the sleeping giant, and found the last vestiges of the dream inside his skull. That night, as she slept inside his ribcage, she dreamed the giant’s dream — although it was not exactly his, for the fruits were different and the flowers were blue.

When the woman awoke she took the giant’s dream and her own dream, and used them to plant many flowers nestled among the giant’s bones. And as more people arrived, they brought their own dreams, until what was once a skeleton was filled with countless blooming fruit trees and many flowers of every color there is.

And they called the giant Game Text, and the garden the Game, and these people understood that the process of game design is simply constructing skeletons for dreams.



Mod Squad
Staff member
Among a certain group of people, there is a driven need to use a mocking term (we'll call it "MMI") to refer to playing D&D and other types of games.

Mod Note:
It is a shame that, for such a thoughtful post, you felt a desire to start, in the very first sentence, by taking a jab at people you'd been arguing with, on this very topic, in another thread.

Dragging drama around. As if that's a great way to start a new discussion.

Next time, really, choose to not take the shot, please.

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