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5E When a rule is clear but leads to illogical efffects

Ath-kethin

Adventurer
So we have all seen, ad nauseum, discussions of situations where vague or non-specific rules can make rulings challenging or complicated (how do characters with the Alert feat react to invisible creatures who are standing motionless?). But something that came up in my game last night that called attention to a different kind of issue: rules that are clear but don't necessarily make logical sense.

Specifically, the party rogue was attacked by a swarm of spiders. He poisoned his weapon and attacked the swarm the same as he would any other foe (he is using a subclass form the Primeval Thule Player's Companion that applies poison to his weapon as a bonus action). He hit and rolled his weapon damage (which was cut in half because of the swarm's resistance). He also rolled his poison damage, which was not reduced because the swarm is not immune or resistant to poison damage. Additionally, the swarm failed its saving throw and therefore suffered from the poisoned condition.

There is no ambiguity over how any part of the encounter should function by the RAW. But basically, the rogue killed dozens or hundreds of tiny spiders, crawling on his body, with the swipe of a poisoned sword. Those who survived the blow were somehow very sick. A round or so later, his brother the barbarian killed the last of them by striking them (again, the tiny spiders crawling all over the rogue) with a morningstar.

Truly, this is a fantasy roleplaying game.

Anybody run into any similar experiences?
 

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iserith

Magic Wordsmith
I can't tell if it's the poisoning of the spiders or the killing of them while on the body of another PC without harming said PC is the thing that bothers you. As to the first, it seems reasonable to me that poison works on spiders. As to the latter, nothing in the rules requires describing the spiders as crawling on the PC's body. They just occupy the same space.
 


ccs

40th lv DM
Well, swarms aren't immune to poison here in real life. I've got a can of RAID on the basement shelf that's been very effective vs swarms of yellow jackets & wasps.
Some fell out of the sky dead (failed save obviously). Others survived bur were definitely affected (I guess they passed the save & only took 1/2?). The ongoing effect took care of those "survivors" a round or two later....

Your rogue just has an odd dilivery system for his poison - slinging it over them bubble-wand style....

Now the barbarian crushing enough of them with a morning star as they swarm over the rogue? :(
I guess that could happen, but I can't imagine it'd be good for the rogue.
 


ThePolarBear

First Post
Also, "dead" for a swarm - and for any creature, really - mustn't really need to mean dead. A swarm could disperse, creatures hit by the blade might be so sick that are unable to move coherently and no longer be a threat. Said spiders could very well be feasting on the bodies of their fallen poisoned comrades or be sickly because the little sploshes of poison on the ground affects them when crawling trough them.

Rationalization? Pretty much. It's also quite possible that while the mechanical effect of the swing are those described, the spiders dead from said swings are exaclty 0 in the fiction while the bodies of the fallen are made via stomping and squishing.

It is quite surprising when you look at how an action would work in real life, but that action does not need to be described strictly as what the action implies most directly.

Instead of swinging the sword, the sword was used vigorously "patting" the poisoned sides of the blade on the body of the rogue, crawling with spiders, leaving a noxious remain on the dress, sickening most of those not killed outright and still climbing. Poisoned flyswatter (well, spiderswatter) blade! :D

... And yes, it happens all the time, expecially when you play with very very very improvisation prone people :D
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
As others have said, "killing" a swarm just means that you've done enough damage that the swarm goes away. I also don't see why poisons would not work on spiders.

Narrating exactly how the swarm is getting smashed? That's a bit weird. The rogue is using the flat of his blade, the barbarian is brushing them off (ala Indiana Jones wiping the spiders off the back of the woman in one of his movies) and then smashing or stomping on them.

What's really odd is the elven ranger firing an arrow in such a way as to damage swarms. That is just weird.

But the issue is, how could you change the rule to be better and more fun? If you want to have swarms in your game, you need some way of defeating them.

I've debated options and honestly I've never come up with a better option. If you say that they can only be killed by area effect, then at lower levels non-magic users can use flasks of alchemist fire or acid but at higher levels it's ineffective.

For example
  • swarms are immune to piercing
  • resistant to slashing and attacks have disadvantage as people use the flat of their blades
  • resistant to bludgeoning
  • if you miss the swarm with an attack, risk hitting any person caught in the swarm
  • you can take an action to brush the swarm off yourself or someone else

Is that better? More fun? Maybe, and it would be fine as a house rule. But it's also more complex and I'm not sure it's adding enough to the game to make it worth while.
 

Celebrim

Legend
Swarms were given more realistic rules in 3e. The result of realism however is that swarms become very difficult for martial combatants to deal with, while being reasonably trivial for arcane spellcasters to deal with. Later editions have wanted to try to balance the game without assumptions about party composition, reduce the number of finicky exceptions to the rules, and as a result the rules for swarms in 5e are clear and balanced but have poor verisimilitude.

In 3e for examples, swarms of fine sized creatures ('tiny spiders') were flat out immune to weapon damage. As a result, you couldn't fight them with a sword or a morningstar, much less poison them with one. A rogue swinging a poisoned blade might kill a few dozen or a few score spiders, but doing so would cause no meaningful harm to a swarm since it was assumed to be composed of thousands of individuals. Each 'hit point' of the swarm might represent hundreds or even thousands of individuals. In order to effect a swarm meaningfully, you had to come up with some sort of area of effect attack - such as flaming hands or a hurling a bottle of flaming oil.

While it is true that a swarm in 3e is destroyed when it disperses, and so in general, a 'dead' swarm might still have hundreds of living (but no longer swarming) members, this fact doesn't help us with verisimilitude at all. We still are going to have problems of believability with dispersing swarms of 10's of thousands of tiny bugs by patting them with a weapon. The implications of coloring the attacks as believably dispersing the swarm remain absurd and remain disassociated from the mechanism in the fiction. For example, mechanically, a morningstar is more effective as a 'fly swatter' for smashing large numbers of spiders in 5e if it is sharper and pointier. But if you actually imagine this in the fiction, it becomes clear that a sharper and pointer morningstar is the last thing you'd want to use to scrape spiders off of your threatened comrade. Meanwhile, if you tried to devise a more effective tool with the terms of the fiction - say a spatula or a frying pan - mechanically as a tool that does less damage than a Morningstar, it would be less effective at killing spiders and no more likely to accidently harm your comrade.

This shows us the inherent problem with trying to solve mechanics disassociated from fiction by coloring the fiction to make them associated. Instead of associating the fiction, we tend to actually just raise more questions. If for example we try to color the poison damage as the thief smearing poison on his clothing, causing the spiders to become poisoned, should not the thief then ask why the poison does not do continuous cumulative damage from round to round? It's not like the spiders would be carefully wiping off all the poison. Could not the thief simply pour the poison himself or on the ground to be even more effective? And is the thief actually now risking poisoning himself with his own poisoned clothing? In short, these sorts of handwaves of the fictional positioning to justify the mechanics are only really effective if you aren't prioritizing the fiction over the rules in the first place.

This leads us to an important observation. Using the very same rules set, we expect to find two very different types of tables playing very different games.

Table #1 sees the fiction has having priority, and tries to use the rules to adjudicate what happens next based on the fictional positioning and the players proposition. This table considers the fiction to be firm but the rules to be flexible. Propositions are given in terms of what the player sees his character doing, and the rule that best fits that proposition is chosen as the means of resolution.

Table #2 sees the rules as having priority, and tries to use the ambiguity of fictional positioning to justify what happens next. This table considers the rules to be firm, but the fiction to be flexible. Propositions are given in terms of the rules, and then the fiction that best fits the rules is chosen as the means of resolution.

I consider this proof of Celebrim's Second Law of Roleplaying, "How you prepare to play the game and how you think about the game is more important than the rules."

The question then is, how do you choose to respond to edge cases like this?
 
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Saelorn

Hero
My second least-favorite clear-cut rule is that anyone with a swim speed can use any melee weapon effectively while underwater. If you can swim, there's no reason to prefer a trident or dagger over your maul.
 

Bawylie

A very OK person
So we have all seen, ad nauseum, discussions of situations where vague or non-specific rules can make rulings challenging or complicated (how do characters with the Alert feat react to invisible creatures who are standing motionless?). But something that came up in my game last night that called attention to a different kind of issue: rules that are clear but don't necessarily make logical sense.

Specifically, the party rogue was attacked by a swarm of spiders. He poisoned his weapon and attacked the swarm the same as he would any other foe (he is using a subclass form the Primeval Thule Player's Companion that applies poison to his weapon as a bonus action). He hit and rolled his weapon damage (which was cut in half because of the swarm's resistance). He also rolled his poison damage, which was not reduced because the swarm is not immune or resistant to poison damage. Additionally, the swarm failed its saving throw and therefore suffered from the poisoned condition.

There is no ambiguity over how any part of the encounter should function by the RAW. But basically, the rogue killed dozens or hundreds of tiny spiders, crawling on his body, with the swipe of a poisoned sword. Those who survived the blow were somehow very sick. A round or so later, his brother the barbarian killed the last of them by striking them (again, the tiny spiders crawling all over the rogue) with a morningstar.

Truly, this is a fantasy roleplaying game.

Anybody run into any similar experiences?
I don't think this is a problem with the rules. I think the issue is how you applied the rule to the situation at hand.

The reason we have DMs (as opposed to some sort of physics simulator) is to adjudicate the outcomes of in-game decisions. The reason we have rules, traditions, texts, etc., is so that those adjudications are consistent, credible, and do not appear arbitrary.

Obviously the rules do not and cannot encompass the totality of possibilities (the rule book that attempted to do so would be preposterous in size and scope). So we must rely on consistent, credible adjudication to resolve ambiguities and weirdo corner cases.

However, from time to time, you're gonna get problems when the DM insists on putting the rules ahead of the decisions, particularly when strict application of the rules would result in a weirdo outcome.

"Your bro is covered in a swarm of bugs... and your plan is to whack the bugs with your Morningstar?" See, the bugs have an AC and HP and so the DM that puts the rules first says Go Ahead and then you get this weirdo scene where the attacker is swinging at bugs but missing his bro with the accuracy and delicacy of a surgeon. That's just not credible. That's an approach that should fail or even harm the bro.

The problem then is that the DM left the decision-making and adjudicating to the rules system instead of positing "just what would be the outcome here?" And making a ruling on the decision that way.

Much has been written about dis/associative mechanics, but that sort of thinking largely ignores in totality the DM's job here. These corner cases don't happen in a vacuum. They have in-game context. And ignoring that context in favor of a rules process is sub-optimal, sometimes even Bad DM-ing. It's shirking the job of the ref/judge, which is really, knowing how and when to apply those rules. Tip: it isn't Always in All Circumstances and it also isn't First, Before Any Consideration of Sense and Sensibility.

See saelorn's example of how a swim speed eliminates the penalties for wielding certain weapons underwater. On its face, that's a nonsensical rule. But if that swim speed were magically granted by some spell or item, then it's free-moving effects may well apply to attacks with weapons that would normally be useless underwater.

Circumstances matter. Judgment is often more important than rules. And rules are not Laws as much as they are guidelines and precedent.

"The mechanic is dissociative" is about as insightful as "This hammer makes a terrible fork." Well, yeah! You're gonna have problems when you apply a tool to a circumstance it isn't designed for! Use your brain and don't eat your spaghetti with a hammer! Don't blame the hammer when you spill your spaghetti.


-Brad

(Spelling edits)
 


MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
I go with RAW, generally, but in situations like this, players have to explain what they are doing. How is the poison delivered. It is more fun that way and gets table buy-in for my rulings. Most of my rulings are consensus based. I may occasionally rule against the group, but it is OUR game, not MY game.

I don't know what I've done in my life to deserve it, besides being insufficiently aware of my environment, but I've encountered a number of real-life swarms, including spiders, bees, wasps/hornets, beetles, bugs, and ants. Well, snakes as well, but they were harmless garter snakes and I love snakes and was seeking them out, so that doesn't count. I've never been in a swarm of bats (they would be pretty much harmless IRL anyway), but I've had pet bats and knew people that were bit by them (one while waiting for the train in NYC of all places). Have disturbed small colonies of mice, which can freak you out when some of them run over you (always careful now when servicing the A/C in the spring). Worked at a company that raised tens of thousands of rats, mice, and guinea pigs for medical testing use, and have also have had pet rats and have kept rats and mice as snake food. never been swarmed but have had to deal with groups in the 10s and have been bitten, and I can certainly imagine the horror of being swarmed by rats (as unrealistic as that is).

Spiders are the scariest but ants are worst to deal with, worse than bees. With bees, if you run enough you are fine (at least where I live, we don't have the african "killer bees" this far north yet, afaik). F'n ants though, if they get all over you, you need to take off all your clothes and spray down. They are the worst. Saw into the wrong tree or start pulling apart some old wood structures and you can find your self in a world of suck right quick. On the positive side, it helps me run swarms in my game. :)

For the poster that said they would not necessarily be crawling ON you. Well, if they small/tiny crawling creatures and are doing damage to you, yes, yes they are crawling on you and in your armor and clothes and that is what makes them horrible and fun to DM.

If you want to be realistic, unarmed combat should do more damage to crawling swarms. A shield should be more effective than a sword, mace, etc.

Poison. Lets assume the poison is a contact poison that works on the critters. Sure, I'll go with RAW but I would explain it as you are sweeping the weapon over wide swath of creepy crawlies or are rubbing the poison on your clothes and armor (risking poisoning yourself). I think flying swarms should be resistant to poison damage unless it is in powder or aerosol form (again risking poisoning the party).

Now that you have me thinking of swarms, I think too many DMs are in-doorsy types that are not making enough use of swarms as opportunities for outdoor encounters.

There are real-life swarms you can harass your party with that can be fun. I've never used, and never heard of anyone using tick swarms (deer ticks, wood ticks), though a quick google search does show stats for this--at least for Pathfinder. Ticks are a real danger and they SUCK. You will need to strip naked and go over your body with the help of a friend ensuring that you got them all, especially in your hairy parts. Also, there is a real risk of contracting lyme disease. You also have to carefully go through all your clothes and belongings and are better off boiling it (since your campaign likely doesn't have clothes-dryers---yes, it is the *dryer* NOT the washer that kills them) to be safe.

Fun quote:

"To these I must add the wood lice [ticks] with which the forests are so pestered that it is impossible to pass through a bush or to sit down, though the place be ever so pleasant, without having a whole swarm of them on your clothes." Pehr Kalm, 18 May 1749. Raccoon [Swedesboro], New Jersey

or this:

The Tick Encounter Resource Center at the University of Rhode Island recommends the use of duct tape to deal with the results of tick swarms. Yes, duct tape really is good for everything and it is worth ripping out your body hair to conveniently deal with a tick infestation. So, the use of spells and supplies that are sticky should be effective against swarms. The Web spell as an obvious example.


Another fun quote:

"We've been receiving a lot of questions about larvae tick encounters. Now's when you may encounter an egg-batch worth of larval stage deer (blacklegged) or Lone Star (seed) ticks. These six-legged larvae hatch from egg masses that can contain 3,000 or more eggs that all hatch at about the same time. That's why people more frequently encounter a tick swarm instead of a single larval tick."

Fun stuff.
 

Ath-kethin

Adventurer
I suppose I should mention that we all had a hearty laugh at the situation last night and moved on; it's not like this scenario was a game stopper or anything. As noted above, better (or at least different) description on my part could have made the scenario make far more sense narratively. As it stood, however, we just noted the funkiness of the rules and kept going.

And at its core, my question here had nothing to do with the narrative, it had to do with the rules themselves. I wasn't asking for clarification on how I could have run the situation differently, I was asking others what similar experiences they'd had (and laughed at). The whole thing reminded me of an encounter with a water elemental in an old Rules Cyclopedia era Thunder Rift adventure where the PCs encountered and fought a water elemental. The cut-budget printing of the adventure left out the (very relevant) bit about the elemental being immune to damage from non-magical weapons, so my PCs were literally able to beat a creature made of water to death with a common shovel (they used swords, but still). Now, had I referenced the Creature Catalog or even the description of the elemental in the Rules Cyclopedia itself, the immunity was listed, but for a DM just using the monster stats out of the adventure, there was nothing to prevent the situation I described.

I don't run a video game, I run an RPG, and I am no slave to rules if they make no sense to me. I ruled on the swarm situation as I described because it wasn't a major or particularly relevant portion of the adventure, and I found the idea of killing a bunch of tiny spiders using a sword (and some amazingly precise morningstar action) to be pretty funny, and my players agreed. Encounters like this are the type my old group and I still talk about 20 years after they happened, and I expect this one will be different.

I don't play D&D to pass judgement on the fine details of international criminal law, I play to hang out with my friends and have fun. Last night we all had fun, and so it was a clear win in my book.
 

Celebrim

Legend
I don't think this is a problem with the rules. I think the issue is how you applied the rule to the situation at hand...
I going to try to cover some of the problems with this answer:

"There is no such thing as bad rules, only bad DMs.": While what makes a rule 'good' is subjective based on what you want the rule to accomplish, it can be the case that a rule does not accomplish anything well. There is such as thing as bad design. I tried in my post to explain what I think the reasoning of the designer was in offering up highly simplified rules with respect to swarms. And, I think you could probably say, "We made the decision in this case to prioritize simplicity and balance over verisimilitude.", and defend that. What you can't claim is that when a DM does apply the rules in a consistent, non-arbitrary, credible manner and encounters results that break suspension of disbelief, that DM fiat is the obvious solution and results in consistent, non-arbitrary, credible rulings. By definition, DM fiat is going to be more arbitrary and less clearly credible than applying the rules as written. We've moved from 'rule of law' to the arbitrary 'whim of the DM'. What might be intuitive common sense to the DM might well not be intuitive common sense to the player, and in particular the player may well object to suddenly finding a rule he was basing his decision making on pulled - as it will seem to him - arbitrarily because the DM just doesn't like the results.

"Rulings not Rules" or "If you don't like the rules, just ignore them": I don't think there are is any phrase that has gained currency in the last few years in RPGs that causes me to pull my hair out more than "Rulings not Rules". You can't excuse away problems with a game system by simply saying, "The DM should just make stuff up." If the job of the DM was just to make stuff up, the DM shouldn't need rules at all. If anyone really believed in "Rulings not Rules", they wouldn't need rule books nor would they try to sell rule books. Rulings are not inherently better than rules. Moreover, the best use of rulings is as an adjutant to rules, to cover cases of rules ambiguity or which are not considered by the rules. This is not such a case. This is a case the rules cover in a clear manner, but which produces outcomes that the table is not happy with. This is not a case where you need a ruling because the rules are silent. This is a case of needing new rules. And moreover, any 'ruling' here would be defacto new common law rules, as post such a 'ruling' any player at the table would rightly expect the 'ruling' to be applied consistently, non-arbitrarily, and credibly in every similar case that came up. Even if you don't write such a ruling down to make it reviewable, it's still going to be a verbal rule that is part of that table's social contract. Finally, "ruling" is a greater burden on an individual DM than "rules" are. That's why DM's buy rules. If rulings were easier on DMs than rules, DMs would never shell out the cost for buying a bunch of rules. DM's buy rules to make their game easier to play and run, because they understand - even if they are unable to verbalize this understanding - that rulings are harder than rules. Smithing out a ruling to handle a problem requires a lot of mental overhead, a lot of understanding of the system, a lot of knowledge of probabilities, and a lot of good judgment. Rules are not easy to make, and making a ruling is just as hard as making a rule (because rulings as I said are rules). The more times a DM has to smith out a new rule in the course of play, the less likely he is to be satisfied with the purchase of the rules set, because while just about every DM has house rules, no DM buys rules for the purpose of making house rules. They go to that extra effort of adjusting the rules not because they like it especially, but because they want the system to just work.

"And ignoring that context in favor of a rules process is sub-optimal, sometimes even Bad DM-ing. It's shirking the job of the ref/judge, which is really, knowing how and when to apply those rules": I'm forced to get personal with this line of thought because it's not part of any sort of common sense consensus that you are drawing from, but exactly when is it the job of a referee to know when to not follow the rules? You aren't actually talking about a case of knowing how and when to apply rules. The referee knew the rules and applied them correctly. The problem isn't that he was a bad referee. Likewise, we don't normally imagine we have judges for the purpose of ignoring what the law says when they don't like the law. A judge is not shirking his responsibility as a judge when he applies the law impartially according to its clear stated purpose. That's his job. He may have under the law certain judicial discretion and authority, but he has no authority to just ignore the law. The problem that you are actually talking about here is that a DM wears more hats than "referee". But by ignoring that and spewing garbage about "Bad DM-ing" like there was some situation where it was objectively bad to actually follow the rules, you are missing that a DM "referee" hat and the associated fairness and neutrality it promises is not something any DM can just throw away when he doesn't like it. DMs have a responsibility to their players to follow the rules, and if they aren't going to do so, then they have to renegotiate the social contract on the spot. It's not a given that a DM can use Rule Zero not only to cover things not covered by the rules, but to decide not to follow the rules when he doesn't like the results of doing so. A player can be justly upset when Rule Zero authority is claimed in a situation that is well covered by the rules, and can justly protest that the referee is in fact being arbitrary, uncreditable, and inconsistent when the referee violates the letter of the rules. No DM that wants to keep his player's long calls Rule Zero when he's going to overturn a rule mid-session, without calling a quorum, explaining his position, and validating his authority in this matter with "the people". What is clear and sensible to one person by no means is going to be clear and sensible to everyone. And don't expect simple "majority rule" to be sufficient here. You need pretty much unanimous consent if you aren't going to harm the player's sense of you as a fair and neutral arbiter.

"Simulation over Game": Look, I'm first and foremost a Simulationist myself in terms of my preferred aesthetics of play. But I recognize that that is just my preferred aesthetics of play. It's not objectively true that having a swim speed eliminates the penalties for wielding certain weapons underwater is a nonsensical rule. It's only nonsense if your preferred aesthetic of play is Simulation. It's not objectively true that the fiction should take priority over the rules. Other groups are perfectly free to prioritize other aesthetics of play over Simulation, and say, "For the purposes of speed of play, game balance, terseness of the rules, and clarity we are willing to accept and overlook certain simulations. Sure, in the real world a swung bludgeoning weapon is hard to employ underwater, but so what." You can't just say that a group that makes that trade off is objectively suffering from "Badly DMing". What you can say is that for a certain groups aesthetic priorities, they are poorly served by a particular rule. In that case, my recommendation would be to talk it over with the group, explain your reasoning, and then come up with a rule that you can better live with. What you are likely to find is that there are various competing aesthetics of play in the group and sometimes even within an individual in a group. There is no simple fix to situations like this.
 

Bawylie

A very OK person
I going to try to cover some of the problems with this answer:

"There is no such thing as bad rules, only bad DMs.": While what makes a rule 'good' is subjective based on what you want the rule to accomplish, it can be the case that a rule does not accomplish anything well. There is such as thing as bad design. I tried in my post to explain what I think the reasoning of the designer was in offering up highly simplified rules with respect to swarms. And, I think you could probably say, "We made the decision in this case to prioritize simplicity and balance over verisimilitude.", and defend that. What you can't claim is that when a DM does apply the rules in a consistent, non-arbitrary, credible manner and encounters results that break suspension of disbelief, that DM fiat is the obvious solution and results in consistent, non-arbitrary, credible rulings. By definition, DM fiat is going to be more arbitrary and less clearly credible than applying the rules as written. We've moved from 'rule of law' to the arbitrary 'whim of the DM'. What might be intuitive common sense to the DM might well not be intuitive common sense to the player, and in particular the player may well object to suddenly finding a rule he was basing his decision making on pulled - as it will seem to him - arbitrarily because the DM just doesn't like the results.

"Rulings not Rules" or "If you don't like the rules, just ignore them": I don't think there are is any phrase that has gained currency in the last few years in RPGs that causes me to pull my hair out more than "Rulings not Rules". You can't excuse away problems with a game system by simply saying, "The DM should just make stuff up." If the job of the DM was just to make stuff up, the DM shouldn't need rules at all. If anyone really believed in "Rulings not Rules", they wouldn't need rule books nor would they try to sell rule books. Rulings are not inherently better than rules. Moreover, the best use of rulings is as an adjutant to rules, to cover cases of rules ambiguity or which are not considered by the rules. This is not such a case. This is a case the rules cover in a clear manner, but which produces outcomes that the table is not happy with. This is not a case where you need a ruling because the rules are silent. This is a case of needing new rules. And moreover, any 'ruling' here would be defacto new common law rules, as post such a 'ruling' any player at the table would rightly expect the 'ruling' to be applied consistently, non-arbitrarily, and credibly in every similar case that came up. Even if you don't write such a ruling down to make it reviewable, it's still going to be a verbal rule that is part of that table's social contract. Finally, "ruling" is a greater burden on an individual DM than "rules" are. That's why DM's buy rules. If rulings were easier on DMs than rules, DMs would never shell out the cost for buying a bunch of rules. DM's buy rules to make their game easier to play and run, because they understand - even if they are unable to verbalize this understanding - that rulings are harder than rules. Smithing out a ruling to handle a problem requires a lot of mental overhead, a lot of understanding of the system, a lot of knowledge of probabilities, and a lot of good judgment. Rules are not easy to make, and making a ruling is just as hard as making a rule (because rulings as I said are rules). The more times a DM has to smith out a new rule in the course of play, the less likely he is to be satisfied with the purchase of the rules set, because while just about every DM has house rules, no DM buys rules for the purpose of making house rules. They go to that extra effort of adjusting the rules not because they like it especially, but because they want the system to just work.

"And ignoring that context in favor of a rules process is sub-optimal, sometimes even Bad DM-ing. It's shirking the job of the ref/judge, which is really, knowing how and when to apply those rules": I'm forced to get personal with this line of thought because it's not part of any sort of common sense consensus that you are drawing from, but exactly when is it the job of a referee to know when to not follow the rules? You aren't actually talking about a case of knowing how and when to apply rules. The referee knew the rules and applied them correctly. The problem isn't that he was a bad referee. Likewise, we don't normally imagine we have judges for the purpose of ignoring what the law says when they don't like the law. A judge is not shirking his responsibility as a judge when he applies the law impartially according to its clear stated purpose. That's his job. He may have under the law certain judicial discretion and authority, but he has no authority to just ignore the law. The problem that you are actually talking about here is that a DM wears more hats than "referee". But by ignoring that and spewing garbage about "Bad DM-ing" like there was some situation where it was objectively bad to actually follow the rules, you are missing that a DM "referee" hat and the associated fairness and neutrality it promises is not something any DM can just throw away when he doesn't like it. DMs have a responsibility to their players to follow the rules, and if they aren't going to do so, then they have to renegotiate the social contract on the spot. It's not a given that a DM can use Rule Zero not only to cover things not covered by the rules, but to decide not to follow the rules when he doesn't like the results of doing so. A player can be justly upset when Rule Zero authority is claimed in a situation that is well covered by the rules, and can justly protest that the referee is in fact being arbitrary, uncreditable, and inconsistent when the referee violates the letter of the rules. No DM that wants to keep his player's long calls Rule Zero when he's going to overturn a rule mid-session, without calling a quorum, explaining his position, and validating his authority in this matter with "the people". What is clear and sensible to one person by no means is going to be clear and sensible to everyone. And don't expect simple "majority rule" to be sufficient here. You need pretty much unanimous consent if you aren't going to harm the player's sense of you as a fair and neutral arbiter.

"Simulation over Game": Look, I'm first and foremost a Simulationist myself in terms of my preferred aesthetics of play. But I recognize that that is just my preferred aesthetics of play. It's not objectively true that having a swim speed eliminates the penalties for wielding certain weapons underwater is a nonsensical rule. It's only nonsense if your preferred aesthetic of play is Simulation. It's not objectively true that the fiction should take priority over the rules. Other groups are perfectly free to prioritize other aesthetics of play over Simulation, and say, "For the purposes of speed of play, game balance, terseness of the rules, and clarity we are willing to accept and overlook certain simulations. Sure, in the real world a swung bludgeoning weapon is hard to employ underwater, but so what." You can't just say that a group that makes that trade off is objectively suffering from "Badly DMing". What you can say is that for a certain groups aesthetic priorities, they are poorly served by a particular rule. In that case, my recommendation would be to talk it over with the group, explain your reasoning, and then come up with a rule that you can better live with. What you are likely to find is that there are various competing aesthetics of play in the group and sometimes even within an individual in a group. There is no simple fix to situations like this.
I refrain from defending or arguing positions I didn't take.


-Brad
 

Celebrim

Legend
And at its core, my question here had nothing to do with the narrative, it had to do with the rules themselves. I wasn't asking for clarification on how I could have run the situation differently, I was asking others what similar experiences they'd had (and laughed at).
I'm afraid I can't think of many that were just laughed at right at the moment. Particularly in 1e, this topic was the result of many a heated table arguments (granted, we were high schoolers). One of the most heated I remember is that per the 1e rules, the ability to detect an invisible creature was entirely a product of intelligence. Having extraordinary senses of smell or hearing had no impact on the table, which was human centric and made no exception for non-human characters. As a result, a rules lawyer tried to argue that being invisible, he could sneak past a group of dogs in the dark because they could not per the rules detect him, despite the fact that it being dark, the dogs were relying not on vision but hearing and scent to locate him. That one got ugly.

As a DM with strong simulationist leanings, and perhaps also having been at tables both as a DM and a player were these expectations and aesthetics of play regarding to rules came into heated conflict, these things bug the heck out of me and I endlessly massage rules to try to achieve fewer illogical results that can't be easily explained in the fiction. Indeed, one of the things that sold me in 3e and brought me back to D&D was reading the 'scent' special ability rules. My mind immediately went back to that table argument, and I thought to myself, "Whoever wrote this has been exactly where I have been."

I don't have deep knowledge of 5e, but if you are looking for bizarreness, one of the longest running issues D&D has is that per the rules, you can usually chop through a stone wall with a sword fairly quickly and with no harm incurred to the sword. In some editions, you can even do this with your bare hands, and likewise incur no harm to your hands.
 


Ristamar

Explorer
I think the real problem is treating the swarm like a creature. It would be better represented within the framework of the existing rules as a trap or hazard.
 

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