What table rules do you have? The Social Contract

AMP

Explorer
I took this from an old blog post of mine since I would like to see what other DMs do similarly at their table. Fire away with your replies.

I am a fan of letting players know up front what sort of campaign they will be experiencing, both in-game and at the table as friends. I find it useful to have a set of guidelines for the table, so they know what to expect in terms of both play and behavior while playing. This is by no means an exhaustive list of what I like to tell players up front (depending on the campaign I run, of course - each campaign may be different with regards to table rules), but when running older games meant to be played a certain way (BECMI D&D, for instance, my favorite iteration of the game, or S&W), these are the guidelines I put forth. I plan on having them out on the table, or on a whiteboard, or on the outside of my GM screen during session 0 and session 1.
Here we go:

* Life is cheap in old style games sometimes, and so are character sheets. Have 3-5 additional characters ready to go, since this may be a high-mortality campaign. You may level up each of your other characters that aren't being played at the same rate your current character is earning experience points, so they may be called upon in the event of death. Plus, creating characters is fun. No switching, however, until someone dies, unless you can make a case for it.

* That all being said, I won't kill your character. You will. Running is not cowardly, it's smart. If you venture into an area to nasty for your current characters, retreat is expected and intelligent. Likewise, don't stick your head or hand in a hole before checking it out thoroughly. You never know what's in there.

* If you steal from another party member, or attack them, I wouldn't be surprised if you disappeared in the depths of the next dungeon crawl. I will look at any motivations for doing this kind of thing, meaning starting intra-party conflict. If it's player vs. player motivated, I'll take action to remove one of you from the game permanently. If it just makes sense in the game that the character acted this way, I want everyone to realize that, and respect it. It's a game of choices, and sometimes choices like this make sense in the story, even if it's not the victimized player's first choice of things to happen. Who's to say a demon didn't possess them at the time?

* Permanent level drain is included in this rule set. Be prepared.

* If you want to play a class from a different OSR ruleset or different iteration of D&D up through AD&D 2nd Edition, it's not hard to convert at all. Let's do it. I don't care if it seems "overpowered". I'll adjust things accordingly.

* No cursing at the table, please. We want kids to be able to play with us if they show interest. Likewise, treat everyone with respect. I am a father of two girls and a stepfather of two boys with autism. Play like they're at the table and set a good example. Also, help new people to learn. Do not deride them as "newbies." That is despicable.

* There will be no rules-lawyering. If you have an issue with a ruling, we can discuss it after the game. If for some reason, I make an error in judging a situation, we can rectify it afterward, up to and including resurrection of a character if necessary. Anger over a game won't be tolerated. It isn't that important. It's a game.

* I am not "out to get" your characters. At the same time, I shall not fudge a die roll. Approach encounters with caution, as well as dungeons and wilderness in general. I promise to be fair. If it kills you, it kills you, and if you kill the bad guy, it dies, too, no matter how much planning went into it. If you hammer the final enemy with one nasty spell and he's down, then I didn't plan properly for what your characters can do.

* Dungeon environments are apt to be an "underworld" environment where the world works a little differently and perhaps unexpectedly. Doors lock and open on their own sometimes and are constantly sticking, closing behind you constantly after a few turns, making the characters' lives difficult, and all or most of the monsters can see in the dark down there. It's the nature of the place. It hates you and doesn't want you there. It has a mind of its own, or at least it seems that way.

* I expect the players to use everything at their disposal, including the depths of their imaginations, and bring it to bear against their antagonists. Likewise, the bad guys will have plans in place to deal with adventurers and thieves. If you outwit me at the table, I will enjoy it and reward good, skilled play accordingly.

* I tend to dislike the whole "speaking with funny accents" aspect of roleplaying and other cliches of this type of game, since I find it grating. I tend to narrate like a story teller rather than act. It's up to you what you choose to do.

* This is a game of exploration. Be prepared to map as you go. It doesn't have to be 100% accurate, nor is it ever expected to be unless you make it clear your characters are going to take the ridiculous amount of time it would take to measure out each chamber, alcove, and tunnel. All you need to know is how to get out of the place you're exploring and where unexplored areas are located.

* I'll let you know of any house rules that we'll be using, like the famous Shields Shall Be Splintered rule, or if we will deviate from the current ruleset in any way. For instance, in BECMI D&D I tend to drop the skill system completely, or award them as special abilities.

* This is a table of respect and fun. Be respectful of the life experiences of others. If the adventure is making you uncomfortable, let me know somehow. We want to have fun, not remind you of something that happened to you that was no fun at all. At the same time, let's all have a sense of humor and not be overly sensitive. Again, we want to have fun. For my part, as far as the themes encountered, the game will be the equivalent of a PG-13 movie rating or less. I won't touch upon certain taboo subject matter for the sake of shock or horror.
 

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Yora

Legend
I wrote these a few months back. Still pretty much apply.
  • My campaigns are set up to be about exploring the world, not the characters. Adventures are expeditions by the party, not personal stories. Players are free to drop in and out of the campaign without disrupting the campaign too much. As long as three players make it to the game, we play.
  • When making characters for the campaign, there’s only two hard rules they have to follow: Every PC must want to go exploring dangerous places, and has to want to cooperate with the party for this. Antisocial loners who are reluctant to go on adventures are simply not viable for the campaign.
  • Create characters with the assumption that they will probably die in some dark hole from an accident or getting stabbed by a nameless critter and that you might go through two, three, or even more characters before the campaign wraps up.
  • Since PCs are replaceable and to some degree interchangeable, backstory is something that the players can create to help deciding on their characters’ personality and stats. It won’t normally be relevant in play.
  • When players want to take an action against other PCs, (attacking PCs or messing with their possessions) the offending players have to openly state the actions their characters are contemplating. It is then up to the targeted players alone to decide if the offending PC goes through with the action or not. If the targeted players decide on no, then the offending players have to accept that their PCs decide not to do it.
  • My role as GM of the campaign is to facilitate the game for the players. I try my best to provide a world that has places to explore and treasures and wonders to find, and villainous NPCs who are doing their villainous things which the players can choose to try to topple and drive out if they want to. I’ll describe what the PCs see, answer questions about the world, and try to make NPCs react plausibly to what the players are doing, given the resources and powers I’ve written up for them.
  • As GM, I don’t have a stake what’s going to happen in the campaign. I describe the situation to the players, the players state what they want to do, we run that input through the mechanics of the game, and I interpret the output of the dice to describe the new situation. I just run the game computer, I don’t plot or conduct the adventures.
  • Everyone can die. All NPCs and monsters have their stats fixed, and the game mechanics and dice decide which attacks and spells succeed and what effect they have. If the big bad dies in the first round or the party gets wiped, that’s the story that is playing out.
  • I will always try my best to make anything that could potentially kill a PC visibly look like a real threat. I want players to always make a conscious choice to put their characters into mortal danger. It will never appear suddenly without warning.
  • Retreat or surrender are almost always an option. (Though the players still need to work to pull it off.) Encounters are not dialed in to ensure the players can win.
  • Any die that falls off the table automatically counts as failure against the player’s favor.
  • Only the GM can call for a roll. Players can not announce a roll.
  • Every roll that will lead to an immediately visible result for the PCs is rolled in the open.
  • For random events like Wandering Monster encounters or a rotten bridge collapsing, the roll is a single die with the probability of “1 in N”. The standing rule is “Something always happens on a 1”. What is going to happen on a 1 is specified before the roll is made. The die is rolled by a player. (Which makes it clear that what happens is not the GM’s personal preferred outcome.)
 

AMP

Explorer
I wrote these a few months back. Still pretty much apply.
  • My campaigns are set up to be about exploring the world, not the characters. Adventures are expeditions by the party, not personal stories. Players are free to drop in and out of the campaign without disrupting the campaign too much. As long as three players make it to the game, we play.
  • When making characters for the campaign, there’s only two hard rules they have to follow: Every PC must want to go exploring dangerous places, and has to want to cooperate with the party for this. Antisocial loners who are reluctant to go on adventures are simply not viable for the campaign.
  • Create characters with the assumption that they will probably die in some dark hole from an accident or getting stabbed by a nameless critter and that you might go through two, three, or even more characters before the campaign wraps up.
  • Since PCs are replaceable and to some degree interchangeable, backstory is something that the players can create to help deciding on their characters’ personality and stats. It won’t normally be relevant in play.
  • When players want to take an action against other PCs, (attacking PCs or messing with their possessions) the offending players have to openly state the actions their characters are contemplating. It is then up to the targeted players alone to decide if the offending PC goes through with the action or not. If the targeted players decide on no, then the offending players have to accept that their PCs decide not to do it.
  • My role as GM of the campaign is to facilitate the game for the players. I try my best to provide a world that has places to explore and treasures and wonders to find, and villainous NPCs who are doing their villainous things which the players can choose to try to topple and drive out if they want to. I’ll describe what the PCs see, answer questions about the world, and try to make NPCs react plausibly to what the players are doing, given the resources and powers I’ve written up for them.
  • As GM, I don’t have a stake what’s going to happen in the campaign. I describe the situation to the players, the players state what they want to do, we run that input through the mechanics of the game, and I interpret the output of the dice to describe the new situation. I just run the game computer, I don’t plot or conduct the adventures.
  • Everyone can die. All NPCs and monsters have their stats fixed, and the game mechanics and dice decide which attacks and spells succeed and what effect they have. If the big bad dies in the first round or the party gets wiped, that’s the story that is playing out.
  • I will always try my best to make anything that could potentially kill a PC visibly look like a real threat. I want players to always make a conscious choice to put their characters into mortal danger. It will never appear suddenly without warning.
  • Retreat or surrender are almost always an option. (Though the players still need to work to pull it off.) Encounters are not dialed in to ensure the players can win.
  • Any die that falls off the table automatically counts as failure against the player’s favor.
  • Only the GM can call for a roll. Players can not announce a roll.
  • Every roll that will lead to an immediately visible result for the PCs is rolled in the open.
  • For random events like Wandering Monster encounters or a rotten bridge collapsing, the roll is a single die with the probability of “1 in N”. The standing rule is “Something always happens on a 1”. What is going to happen on a 1 is specified before the roll is made. The die is rolled by a player. (Which makes it clear that what happens is not the GM’s personal preferred outcome.)
I like it! It sounds as if we are largely of the same mind in a lot of areas. Respect!
 

Scottius

Adventurer
My current gaming group is at this point made up of friends who have been gaming together for anywhere from several years to a couple of decades depending on the indivdual in question. With this group there is an established level of trust & understanding that few table rules are necessary. The only standing one we really maintain is to ban electronic devices at the table to cut down on distractions. The only real exception there is that I sometimes use a phone or tablet for accessing PDFs or adding sound or music to a session via a bluetooth speaker.

Now when I put together another group whether for a one shot, or a second campaign or what have you I don't hesistate to outline far more information to account for playing with strangers or just people I don't know as well as my primary group. In those cases the exact rules vary depending on the system/campaign in question but look a lot like what the previous posters have put forth for the most part. Though I have players reroll off the table rolls rather than failing the players roll.
 

AMP

Explorer
My current gaming group is at this point made up of friends who have been gaming together for anywhere from several years to a couple of decades depending on the indivdual in question. With this group there is an established level of trust & understanding that few table rules are necessary. The only standing one we really maintain is to ban electronic devices at the table to cut down on distractions. The only real exception there is that I sometimes use a phone or tablet for accessing PDFs or adding sound or music to a session via a bluetooth speaker.

Now when I put together another group whether for a one shot, or a second campaign or what have you I don't hesistate to outline far more information to account for playing with strangers or just people I don't know as well as my primary group. In those cases the exact rules vary depending on the system/campaign in question but look a lot like what the previous posters have put forth for the most part. Though I have players reroll off the table rolls rather than failing the players roll.
Hey, even a few rules is what I was looking to see. I was curious about what other DMs out there are using, whether with friends or with new folks. Very interesting about the speaker, you could queue up something rather fast from a play list. Technology working for good there. Pretty cool stuff.
 

Yora

Legend
I would assume such a group to have lots of rules. Though they are established customs rather than something that is explicitly stated anywhere.
 

AMP

Explorer
I would assume such a group to have lots of rules. Though they are established customs rather than something that is explicitly stated anywhere.
Yeah, the tables I had with high school friends had an unwritten set that we all followed, for sure.
 

GMMichael

Guide of Modos
I find that table rules are generally longer than any players want to sit through or read, so it's easier just to let them play a game, and either 1) self-eject or 2) not get a follow-up invitation.

By the way "I won't kill your character. You will," is priceless!
 

AMP

Explorer
I find that table rules are generally longer than any players want to sit through or read, so it's easier just to let them play a game, and either 1) self-eject or 2) not get a follow-up invitation.

By the way "I won't kill your character. You will," is priceless!
Lol well, it is True! Even if there wasn't a trap in there and they just reach in, I might hit 'em with a mild one as a lesson to use a stick first hahah!

I do what I can to warn players who haven't played with me before. I've found handing this table rules sheet to players helps going in, as part of 0 session, especially if they're not aware of how older iterations of D&D are built to act or are unaware of my no fudge ways. They can never say I didn't warn them this way.
 


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