Why Rules Lawyering Is a Negative Term

Keldryn

Adventurer
Rules lawyers have a tendency (in my experience) to argue about my interpretation or application of the rules in the moment, grinding the game to a halt. It's difficult enough to actually schedule a game session when all of the players can make it; interrupting the game and making everyone wait while they argue about something that is inconsequential 90% of the time is just disrespectful of everyone's time.

My general policy as DM is that if I don't know the rule for something, I'll make a quick judgement and then look it up/discuss it later. If a PC's life is in the balance, I'll usually take a moment to look it up if it won't take more than about a minute.

In the past, I've engaged with rules lawyer types during the game and watched as the other players tuned out, one at a time. Usually, the RL is the only person who cares, and it just becomes another instance of hogging the spotlight.

These days, I'm always upfront about how I will generally make a ruling then discuss the rule after the game. IMO the greatest sin in DMing is to waste everybody's time.
 

HJFudge

Visitor
Interesting discussion.

I think that the term rules lawyers gets used a bit too often and loosely. A couple posters have at least taken the time to clarify the difference between 'Knowing the rules and using them' and 'Exploiting the rules only when it benefits the player'.

However, I think theres this idea that 'The GM is God of the table' that has made some call anyone who dare question the GM ruling a rules lawyer. This is not so. This idea has gotten so prevalent that, when a new player comes to my table, it is very difficult to get any sort of actionable, honest feedback from them because they are worried that any sort of criticism will bring down my wrath or something silly.

Rules, clear and concise, are important because it empowers the players and fights back against the asinine notion that somehow GMs are lords of the table. I try NOT to make rules mistakes, but when I do? I am very glad that there is a player there willing to point it out to me. Then we can either retcon whatever happened right there, or worst case make a note for later and simply continue on. I don't want them coming to me after the game. I want them to point it out to me as soon as it happens, so it can be fixed as soon as it happens...and thus have as little impact on the game as possible.

The issue I have with 'rules lite' systems is that it too often has way too ambiguous rules and it leads to rules arguments. Now, that can happen with rule heavy systems too (especially badly written rule heavy systems) but in my experience it only is an issue when one party decides that they'd rather be Right than play by the rules. This, too often, happens on the GM side. "Im the GM and what I say goes, and if you don't like it leave my table" is a thing that has been said in this thread, for goodness sake!

Anyway, yes. Rules Lawyering IS bad. But worse is the GM who behaves like a Rules Lawyer but calls it 'What the GM says goes, Rulings not Rules'.

I know, I know. I've an axe to grind here against some frustratingly bad GMs I've had the 'pleasure' of playing with. :)
 

Dannyalcatraz

Moderator
Staff member
Rules lawyers exist, in part, because game designers are building complex systems, and- for a variety of reasons- are not always clear about what they actually mean.

A BIG reason is using ambiguous language that is open to interpretation. This isn’t necessarily intentional. Sometimes people forget or never knew a word has more than one meaning.

Another one is, as the systems increase in complexity- especially as the game’s rule set expands- people forget about or fail to contemplate how the newly accreted rules interact with the older rules. Even attorneys and other legal pros run into this.

Back in the 1990s, I had the privilege of taking Criminal Law with one of the lawyers who had helped the state of Texas revise huge swaths of the Criminal code. He was lecturing on a particular section when one of the foreign students (for whom English was not her primary language) asked about how it worked, because by HER reading, there was a problem.

He stopped class to read the statue in question. He stared at it for several minutes in utter silence. When he spoke, he said (I paraphrase), “Even that would not be the most common interpretation of that language, it is still a completely valid reading of that statute, one that could win a defense attorney a lot of cases. After we finish in here today, I have a lot of phone calls to make so we can get this clarified. Quickly.”

Were I designing a game- and I am NOT*- I’d try my damnnednest to avoid those two pitfalls, starting with having someone else read the rules back to me, telling me what THEY** thought it meant.

Since so many others are doing so, here’s my “Obligatory Lawyer Joke:
Q: How many lawyer jokes are there?
A: Only one. All the rest are true stories.






* Never again, nossireebob. I’m pretty sure I suck at it.

** for those keeping score from another ENWorld thread, that is a singular/plural pronoun.
 

Hussar

Legend
I think it's a good idea to make the distinction between rules lawyer and what my group calls a rules guru. A rules guru is just someone who has an encyclopedic knowledge of the mechanics of the game and you can always ask her (in my group it's a her) for the rules and know that whatever she says is going to be right far, far more often than it's wrong.

I LOVE rules gurus. Hug one today.

OTOH, rules lawyers suck the fun out of the game because they are actively trying to interpret the rules in such a way as to gain advantage. This gets doubly egregious when you have a player who tries to rules lawyer but doesn't bother looking up the rules first and then argues with the DM until the books get broken out.

I once had a player like this. It was so bad, we had a table rule that if you interrupted the game for a rules argument, and you were wrong, you lost all XP for the session. Solved that problem nicely. He still tried to rules lawyer from time to time, but, it meant that he really, REALLY did his homework first.
 

Sword of Spirit

Adventurer
One of my friends sometimes knowingly "rules lawyers" to his own detriment. (He famously killed his own character by remembering to bring up a rule in a game we were in.)

Extreme example, but that tends to be more representative of the sorts of rules-lawyering with have--pausing the game to try to figure out and be consistent with the rules. Personally, while I love consistency, during play I'd rather make a ruling and move on and worry about it after the session, but a couple of my players are happier if we figure out right now (whether it's to their benefit or not).

EDIT: So maybe this is more "applied rules-guruing" that rules lawyering.
 

Fanaelialae

Adventurer
I hear those of you who are saying that someone who simply knows the rules well is not a rules lawyer. I might be inclined to agree. However, I think there is still a fine line between good rules lawyering and bad.

For example, there have been times that I played under DMs who could be described as having a tyrannical side. There were numerous occasions that I could see that another player was upset by what I deemed to be a bad call. At those times I would aggressively engage the DM in debate on the rules. Bad table behavior? Arguably so. Rules lawyering? That's what I'd call it. Yet, I'd do it again in the interest of fairness.

There's a lot of hate for RL lawyers, yet there are those lawyers who seek out clients to defend, Pro Bono, in the interest of Justice. So I think that those who call all lawyers bad are painting with a very broad brush. I've known lawyers who I'd consider scum, except for not wishing to insult scum. But they're not all like that.

As I've gotten older, I've learned to stay away from bad DMs when possible and pick my battles when it isn't. Sometimes rules lawyering can definitely impede the fun of other players more than it helps. On the other hand, sometimes a bad rules call can ruin a night, particularly if it kills an invested character. At those times, I don't think there's anything wrong with talking to the DM, and even ratcheting it up to full on rules lawyering if the DM decides to dig in.

For example, in a 3.x game the DM was doing his worst to engineer a scenario where we would get captured by drow. We were completely outmatched but determined to fight our way out. The drow at one point threatened to poison a teammate of ours (who had been polymorphed into a frog). Still we refused to surrender. Then the DM had the drow inflict the poison (which was the DM's invention) on the frog, which caused instant death with no saving throws. Everyone at the table looked pissed, so I stepped in arguing that in 3.x all poisons allow a saving throw. He argued that he was the DM and could do whatever he wanted. So we walked away from the table and that was the end of that campaign. He could have set an arbitrarily high DC and we might have called it BS but we'd likely have finished the fight, hoping in vain that our friend rolled a 20.

That was arguably the worst incident. There were many cases were I acted more as an arbitor between the DM and player's, even arguing on the DM's behalf when a call was fair but simply didn't go the way a player had hoped.

In essence, I think rules lawyering is more than simply trying to twist the rules to your advantage. I think that's simply a rules lawyer gone bad (like how some lawyers seek out the worst of society to defend). It's like how actor types can be good or bad for a table. Some will seek to hog 99% of the spotlight for themselves. Others help to elevate the quality of role play at the table, and share the spotlight. Or how one power gamer will try to build a character to outshine everyone else, while another will take the rest of the table into consideration when they build a character, either helping the others with their concepts or displaying system mastery by building a character that shines yet doesn't overshadow the others. In other words, I think there are both healthy and unhealthy ways to express an approach to the game at the table. Maybe we need different terms for the two sides of the coin, but if there's an agreed upon terminology, I'm not aware of it.
 

oreofox

Explorer
I pay $25, cash for the heads of Paladin players, and fund research for a time machine for the sole purpose of traveling back in history and removing the class from the D&D timeline.

Some people are like, "Would you kill baby Hitler?"

And I'm all like, "Yeah, because he's the reason we have Paladins. Probably."
I love paladins. They are my most played class from 3rd, Pathfinder, and 5e. I never got to play one in 2e because I just DMed, and I probably wouldn't have gotten the rolls needed to make one. I'm currently playing one in a 5e game. Paladins = <3

More on topic: I know the thread that spawned this one, and read all 500+ responses (I believe it is up that high now). There is no such thing as a good rules lawyer. To me, there's a difference between someone who knows the rules, and a rules lawyer. I like the moniker "rules guru" and might end up using that. But I see "rules lawyer" similarly to what others have described: Someone who goes against the spirit of the game and tries to poke loopholes in everything to get them some sort of advantage. They are almost always minmaxers who choose things (classes, races, feats, etc) that they interpret to give them some absurd advantage. They are never fun to play with, and I notice most don't try to be in the DM chair (so very thankful for that). The ones that do, though, don't make for very fun DMs.
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
I love paladins. They are my most played class from 3rd, Pathfinder, and 5e. I never got to play one in 2e because I just DMed, and I probably wouldn't have gotten the rolls needed to make one. I'm currently playing one in a 5e game. Paladins = <3

More on topic: I know the thread that spawned this one, and read all 500+ responses (I believe it is up that high now). There is no such thing as a good rules lawyer. To me, there's a difference between someone who knows the rules, and a rules lawyer. I like the moniker "rules guru" and might end up using that. But I see "rules lawyer" similarly to what others have described: Someone who goes against the spirit of the game and tries to poke loopholes in everything to get them some sort of advantage. They are almost always minmaxers who choose things (classes, races, feats, etc) that they interpret to give them some absurd advantage. They are never fun to play with, and I notice most don't try to be in the DM chair (so very thankful for that). The ones that do, though, don't make for very fun DMs.
They also tend to ignore the rules that deal with lore or fluff, even arguing that those things aren't rules at all. That rules are only for mechanics. It goes along with the min/maxing thing, and goes back to people who wanted all of the mechanical benefits of playing a paladin, but never wanted to follow the rules on how to play a paladin.
 

Xaelvaen

Explorer
I would much rather deal with human imperfection, than the horrible compromises we make chasing a perfect system that will never happen.

I have seen the future, and it is 6 hour football games, with instant replay looking for offensive line holding on each and every play.
I'm from the Big Blue Nation - Kentucky Basketball is life. I've watched NCAA basketball since I was far too young to remember anything else but basketball. Instant Replays to check the referees' ability to be fair and impartial has been a huge assistance to the game of NCAA basketball, though I agree with the right kind of limitation as you've stated. Flagrant Fouls being able to be reviewed has drastically stopped fouling in the sport by a considerable margin, at least those with animosity behind them, and has barely affected accidental fouls.

I would obviously hate to see every play get an instant replay, but even if every referee just gets their call checked once per game, it does create a better pool of referees. A certain player of a certain school intentionally stepping on the chest of another player from another certain school, and that first player not getting ejected, is the exact reason I'm for instant replay call checking, with limitations. Do I worry those limitations will keep being conflated? Yeah, and it's a valid concern, but I'd never want it done away with altogether, to be certain.
 

Celebrim

Legend
For example, there have been times that I played under DMs who could be described as having a tyrannical side. There were numerous occasions that I could see that another player was upset by what I deemed to be a bad call. At those times I would aggressively engage the DM in debate on the rules. Bad table behavior? Arguably so. Rules lawyering? That's what I'd call it. Yet, I'd do it again in the interest of fairness.
So, speaking as a GM, here is my take on that. Every GM makes a bad call from time to time. Sometimes, you can fix it. Sometimes you can't. As a player, I can certainly sympathize with having been on the receiving end of bad calls. Sometimes they were poor judgment by the GM. Sometimes they were GMs with too much ego. Sometimes they were GMs that wing it too much. Sometimes the problem was the GM simply didn't know the rules of the system they were running very well. There can be a lot of sources of bad calls.

But arguing with the GM about a bad call in the middle of the game pretty much never works and never helps anything, even if the GM is sympathetic to some degree, they are not going to be sympathetic to the delay and distraction from the game.

If you are on the receiving end of a bad call, bring up your case politely and briefly immediately - preferably before any fortune rolls are made. Say something like, "I'm pretty sure the rules don't work like that." or "I thought the rules said in this situation X was the way to handle things." or whatever. But if the GM doesn't want to hear you out then or rules immediately against you, arguing about it won't help.

What you can do is after the session bring up your concerns privately. Have the rules reference ready and say something like, "I thought you might want to know that according to page 76...."

The important thing here to remember is that when dealing with humans they act irrationally and act differently between being corrected and shown to be an idiot publicly and corrected and shown to be an idiot privately. With humans, they'll hate you for showing you to be an idiot in public, but they might actually appreciate the same thing in private. I don't get it, but there it is.

With correcting a DM midgame, it's even worse than that because you are dealing with someone who not only doesn't want to be embarrassed and have his authority challenged, but someone who is in a fairly high stress position who has a responsibility to ensure everyone is focused on the game and enjoying it. So if you start arguing with that person in the middle of play, all you are is an annoying distraction that is increasing his stress and taking away time from the game, most likely (in his mind, and reinforced by past experience) for some anti-social ulterior motive.

And very likely, if you've anointed yourself a Rules Justice Paladin in your mind when you are making the argument, it's going to go even less well.

So my suggestion is give the GM a break, and talk about any issues after a session when he's not as stressed out and not juggling 12 different things.

And if he's still a jerk or a bad GM who makes no effort to master the craft, well there is going to be nothing you can do about that and you'll just have to find a different GM.
 

Celebrim

Legend
I pay $25, cash for the heads of Paladin players, and fund research for a time machine for the sole purpose of traveling back in history and removing the class from the D&D timeline.

Some people are like, "Would you kill baby Hitler?"

And I'm all like, "Yeah, because he's the reason we have Paladins. Probably."
None of that sounds like it would be particularly effective. $25 doesn't buy a lot of assassin, and certainly not one capable of taking on Paladins. Your research into overturning the laws of physics is likely to be poorly funded if not impossible, something further suggested by the size of your bounties on Paladins. And you seem to fail to realize that it's Charlemange you need to go after, and not the megalomaniacs who are trying to grab what he willingly gave away, so even if you get into the time stream I'm skeptical of your ability to actually accomplish anything, not the least of which is that since almost every European is a descendent of Charlemange that any attempt to kill baby Charles would result in your own non-existence, thus rendering you in a time paradox that can only be resolved by your eternal and inevitable failure.

But I'm more concerned about your table contract. I know many groups have a rule where you are not allowed to play an evil character or a non-heroic character so as to minimize table conflict. At your tables do you have a rule where no one is allowed to play anything but anti-villains, criminal anti-heroes, and downright evil gits? Because the problem I'm struggling to understand is that Paladin is a concept, not a class, and can exist even if the class is removed. It turns up in a ton of places, some even surprising - for example, Philip Marlowe is on close inspection a Paladin whose hard-boiled exterior serves partly as a disguise but is also partly the result of Marlowe being too saintly for this corrupt world and having to bear with the pressure that brings on him. Aragorn isn't actually a D&D ranger, but a Paladin who is dressed up as a woodsman to allow him to serve his community without distinction and humbly. Steve Rogers is also a Paladin, who like Marlowe is too saintly to actually continue to serve with the forces of law because he's more lawful and righteous than the institution is.

Monk by contrast (like Ranger or Druid) tends to just be a bundle of mechanics, and it's much easier to get rid of them if you want to get rid of them.
 
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Stalker0

Adventurer
I think rules lawyers are great in the forums, to give us good solid debates on RAW.

I think they are also a good resource for a DM who does need help understanding the RAW of the game.

Where rules lawyers "go dark side" is believing that the rules are above everything else, including the fun of the group and the DMs ruling. I don't mind a player arguing the rules, hears the ruling, and just nods and moves on with the game. But the player that will not back down and keeps arguing, and then sulks when they didn't get their way...that's where the bad rap comes in.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
I'm going to echo [MENTION=4937]Celebrim[/MENTION] on the "challenging the DM" thing. Here's the thing. Let's say I have ... picking a random low level monster ... goblins. Goblins have "Nimble Escape.[FONT=&quot] The goblin can take the [/FONT]Disengage[FONT=&quot] or [/FONT]Hide[FONT=&quot] action as a bonus action on each of its turns[/FONT]." But let's say the rules guru forgets that and asks why they didn't get an opportunity attack. So instead of a dynamic fight scene where small vicious humanoids come running out of the bushes and stabbing the PCs and then ducking back under cover before the PCs can react you have to get into a discussion of rules. It takes people out of the moment and reinforces the rules of the game, not the scene and story.

This doesn't rise to the level of rules lawyer unless the player argues about it, but it's still annoying. I customize monsters on a pretty regular basis and maybe my black cloak orcs have a couple of levels of swashbuckler and can engage in similar hit and run tactics. I don't want to stop a scene to reaffirm, once again, that I'm following the rules. I get it. As a DM (and player for that matter) I make mistakes now and then. If I don't remember specifics of how a rule works, I'll ask if anyone remembers. If I'm consistently doing something wrong, let me know. Discuss it with me outside of combat. But unless it's obvious that I'm screwing up, save it for later. Even if I am screwing up, think twice about whether it's more important to be right than it is for the entire table to have an immersive experience.
 

Eltab

Explorer
I have served as 'rules lawyer' to a table where the DM was not very familiar with the rules. I had a copy of the Players Handbook, and when he got stuck on a decision, I would pull out the book and see what relevant material I could find. Maybe the text provided an answer, maybe he still had to interpret the situation on the fly.
Importantly, unlike the negative stereotype of a rules lawyer, I was not trying to undermine the DM's authority to make that final decision but to buttress him (and his decision) with knowledge.
 

DM Dave1

Adventurer
I have served as 'rules lawyer' to a table where the DM was not very familiar with the rules. I had a copy of the Players Handbook, and when he got stuck on a decision, I would pull out the book and see what relevant material I could find. Maybe the text provided an answer, maybe he still had to interpret the situation on the fly.
Importantly, unlike the negative stereotype of a rules lawyer, I was not trying to undermine the DM's authority to make that final decision but to buttress him (and his decision) with knowledge.
I think that’s what people are calling a Rules Guru - a player who is helpful in reminding folks about RAW while leaving the final word to the DM.
 

MoonSong

Rules-lawyering drama queen... Be nice plz n_n
I think that’s what people are calling a Rules Guru - a player who is helpful in reminding folks about RAW while leaving the final word to the DM.
I'm a self-professed Rules Lawyer. It's there - ok used to be - in my signature. I'm a rules lawyering drama queen...

I don't consider being a Rules Lawyer something negative, just one way to play. What many posters here have an actual problem is not with rules lawyerism is with munchkinism. A rules lawyer finds loopholes and exploits, however annoying that might be. What a rules lawyer doesn't do is outright cheat.
 

Hussar

Legend
I'm a self-professed Rules Lawyer. It's there - ok used to be - in my signature. I'm a rules lawyering drama queen...

I don't consider being a Rules Lawyer something negative, just one way to play. What many posters here have an actual problem is not with rules lawyerism is with munchkinism. A rules lawyer finds loopholes and exploits, however annoying that might be. What a rules lawyer doesn't do is outright cheat.
But, in finding loopholes and exploits, the rules lawyer sucks all the fun out of the game and actively poisons the table. It's one thing to keep to the rules, that's fine, we're playing a game after all. But, deliberately looking for loopholes isn't playing the game that the rest of the table is playing.

It's no different from online gamers who look for exploits in games to get ahead of everyone else. All they do is make the experience worse for everyone else.
 

Kurotowa

Adventurer
As the guy who most often brings up rules citations at the table, here's the important difference I see between me and a rules lawyer. I try to remind people of rules they've forgotten or clarify rules they've gotten wrong. If the rules are fuzzy on a topic I'll say so while asking the DM for a ruling. Once a ruling is given, or if the DM says plainly they're altering the rules, that settles the matter. I serve as a reference and a reminder.

What I don't do is try to exploit an imprecisely stated game element to claim a PC ability can achieve things that are clearly outside the purpose and power scale of its design. Some people will try to sweet talk the DM into allowing things on the basis of "It doesn't say I can't use it to do this." The really serious offenders won't even acknowledge the rules ambiguity and just flat out claim it can do what they want it to do, until someone else bothers to double check their reading. I consider such actions an abuse of the rules and avoid them strenuously.

Rules lawyers have a bad rep because they're always fighting for the most personally beneficial reading of the rules, rather than the one that's fun or balanced or RAI. Creative use of player abilities is well and good, but there is a line where you're clearly just pushing to suspend the rules in your own favor.
 
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Mort

Community Supporter
I'm a self-professed Rules Lawyer. It's there - ok used to be - in my signature. I'm a rules lawyering drama queen...
Interesting, do you truly embrace the actual negative definitions of these stereotypes?

The reason I consider a rules lawyer a negative - they don't use the rules for the betterment of the cooperative game and the good of the table (I like the term rules guru, for someone who actually does). They use the rules(specifically their statement of the rules) for the betterment of their own situation without regard for the fun of the table. This 1) actively sucks fun away from the other players and 2) even worse tends to draw the DM into protracted, generally pointless, rules discussions that massively eat into precious game time (I've seen a player eat up 2 hours of a 4 hour session because the DM was too inexperienced to shut him down).


The drama queen, as I've seen the term used, is also problematic in that the actual stated goal of the player is to make the game all about them. This is generally undesirable in a cooperative game like D&D because it takes too much of the DMs time away from focusing on the fun of the group.

I don't consider being a Rules Lawyer something negative, just one way to play.
What many posters here have an actual problem is not with rules lawyerism is with munchkinism. A rules lawyer finds loopholes and exploits, however annoying that might be. What a rules lawyer doesn't do is outright cheat.
I actually have much less of a problem with munchkins (aka powergamers) than I do with rules lawyers. Munchkins tend to take the straightforward approach of making as powerful a character as they can for a given game. This, IMO, is a fully acceptable play style and can easily be melded into a group.

Rules lawyers, on the other hand, tend to(as stated above) be a disruptive presence to the flow of the table and that's a much worse issue (again, IMO) than anything munchkins do.
 

Fanaelialae

Adventurer
I'm going to echo [MENTION=4937]Celebrim[/MENTION] on the "challenging the DM" thing. Here's the thing. Let's say I have ... picking a random low level monster ... goblins. Goblins have "Nimble Escape.[FONT="] The goblin can take the [/FONT][/COLOR][URL="https://www.dndbeyond.com/compendium/rules/basic-rules/combat#Disengage"]Disengage[/URL][FONT="] or [/FONT][/COLOR][URL="https://www.dndbeyond.com/compendium/rules/basic-rules/combat#Hide"]Hide[/URL][FONT="] action as a bonus action on each of its turns[/FONT]." But let's say the rules guru forgets that and asks why they didn't get an opportunity attack. So instead of a dynamic fight scene where small vicious humanoids come running out of the bushes and stabbing the PCs and then ducking back under cover before the PCs can react you have to get into a discussion of rules. It takes people out of the moment and reinforces the rules of the game, not the scene and story.

This doesn't rise to the level of rules lawyer unless the player argues about it, but it's still annoying. I customize monsters on a pretty regular basis and maybe my black cloak orcs have a couple of levels of swashbuckler and can engage in similar hit and run tactics. I don't want to stop a scene to reaffirm, once again, that I'm following the rules. I get it. As a DM (and player for that matter) I make mistakes now and then. If I don't remember specifics of how a rule works, I'll ask if anyone remembers. If I'm consistently doing something wrong, let me know. Discuss it with me outside of combat. But unless it's obvious that I'm screwing up, save it for later. Even if I am screwing up, think twice about whether it's more important to be right than it is for the entire table to have an immersive experience.


I'm not sure that's the best example. The DM is free to invent any abilities they want for a monster, so I'd never challenge a DM on that basis.

I won't challenge a DM just because I disagree with a ruling, but I might if I consider that the ruling is unfair and is hurting the fun at the table. I don't try to twist the rules, but I will make the DM aware of the rules and even argue on the behalf of other players. If a rules call is ruining the fun at the table already, then IMO there's not much harm in taking the time to hash out the situation.

In fact, I invite the same behavior when I am DMing, even though it goes against the common wisdom. A player who tries to twist the rules in their favor will find themselves shut down hard in my game. But if players have a serious issue with one of my rulings, we put the game on pause and hash it out. IME, it's lead to a table where players really only challenge my rulings when I've made a bad ruling. And I've learned the humility to admit when I make a bad ruling and retcon it.

As another player pointed out, challenging a DM at the table can lead to issues, as some DMs will take it personally. IMO, it's actually a useful and important DMing skill to not take such challenges as personal attacks. It's a matter of hearing your players and recognizing when you've made a poor call that is pulling them out of their engagement with the game. It can definitely be an issue with a DM who hasn't learned those skills. At that point, it's definitely important for the rules guru/lawyer to be able to identify whether the issue is worth pursuing (is the mood already ruined by the call, such that challenging it can only make things better or leave them the same, or is the rest of the table willing to accept it such that you should just swallow your protest and move on).

At it's best it is co-DMing, but admittedly at it's worst it is backseat DMing. I'll grant that there is a peculiar sort of player who tries to rules lawyer in order to twist the rules and power game, but in my personal experience that's been a rarity at my table. Much more often it's been about calls the player disagrees with because they feel it is unfair or simply because the call makes what they were doing play out in an unexpected manner (such as a player who has expertise in Acrobatics wanting to run across a tightrope but the DM calling for an Athletics check).
 

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