In praise of the rules

One of the players in my game is a kid after my own heart. Apparently he got the new D&D rule book for his birthday and spends a lot of time just reading it and studying it. That is what I do and did every time I got into a new game. And it is my belief that knowing the rules makes you a better player (and obviously DM.)

I have played in a lot of different game systems. And within some of those I have played in campaigns with unique rule sets. And I have several books for campaigns I never played in or ran. And I am here to praise all the people who wrote all those rules and campaign settings. Because without people to write all of that, and the play testers we wouldn’t be in this wonderful hobby.

I came across some posts on another blog the past couple of weeks that brought this to my mind. These posts talked about the idea of ‘power gamers’ and what happens when the Dungeon Masters play. This is an interesting idea. Like I commented on one of these posts I have found ways to make this work, even if there are some who might refer to me as a power gamer. And I don’t think that knowing the rules, and therefore how to make an effective character, makes someone a power gamer.

The rules exist for a reason. They provide the games structure and direction. Some games are more rules heavy than others. And I think that if someone wrote a rule, they wrote it for a reason. If I as a player know a rule, and figure out how to make that work for me, than that should be considered an enhancement of the game.  I know some people I have gamed with that play more for the ‘fun’ of it, and just treat the game as an extended improv session. And that is fine. But I still think it is important to know the mechanics.

For example, there is a game called 7th Seas, which is a fine game set in a roughly Three Musketeers era world with some fantasy elements mixed in. We started to play this game when the movie ‘The Man in the Iron Mask’ came out. One of the players declared that his character would be one of those battle scarred veteran musketeers. I played a much younger, arrogant swordsman. This other player became irritated when he found out that my character was a far better swordsman than his. He wanted to play the concept, without looking over the rules to understand how they worked. This threw him off the rest of the session.

But all I did was read the rules and made a character using those rules, while he just wanted the concept, without taking the time to read the rules and make his character what he wanted it to be. That is where my praise of the rules comes in. The rules are written in a certain way, and it is up to the players to work from there.

Many is the time that I have surprised the DM with what my character can do, just by working on the character and developing him. Does all this make me a ‘power gamer’? I guess, to some extent. But most of the people I play with rarely accuse me of it, because I make my characters, as powerful or useful as they are, well rounded enough that people don’t notice. And I do all that because I know the rules and what I can do with them.


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