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40k Teams Tournament @ the Games Nook
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Dropping Dice Handles Rules Lawyers

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This came up on the forums here lately, so I decided that maybe it was a good time to tackle this nebulous issue that faces our hobbies.

Rules Lawyers are a type of player personality that shows up in all games that rely on players performing the mechanics of the game. If you are drawing cards, measuring distances, or rolling dice, you are performing the mechanics of the game. This is different from a computer game, where they program performs the actions and limits your actions; you can't just choose for a Firebat in Starcraft to auto-kill everything it shoots at. In games where you have to perform these mechanics, there is a level of trust and understanding that are required to implement the actions in the game truthfully. If not, it would require looking up the rules each and every time anything happens.


"So, you see, the Dragon can't cast the Stoneskin spell, because it has a Somatic Component that is impossible while I'm holding its tail."

You can already see where this is going I'm sure...

A Rules Lawyer is born when a player stops trusting that the game mechanics they are playing by are the same rules that everyone else is playing by. They begin to re-look and re-examine every single rule, every time. Usually they don't look up rules for their own actions, since they believe they are playing correctly, but they will look up and argue the minute details of your actions. This isn't to say that Rules Lawyers are a bad thing though. A Rules Lawyer can be helpful to make sure that a game is played correctly, and as intended. For example, I've played games with friends, and I've messed up a LOT of rules in those games, thinking something was fine to do when it wasn't. Thankfully, I have a friend who is one of these good Rules Lawyers. He reads the rules for our board games while we're playing, not interrupting anyone, and pointing out what we've gotten wrong, and we end up having better games for it. (FYI, in case you read this, thanks Brett!)


Unfortunately, just like a Rules Lawyer can represent the Good Lawyer whom fights against injustice and those that abuse the system, there's also the Evil Lawyer, whom fights for corporate greed, getting away on technicalities, and scoring big on frivolous lawsuits.

The negative type of Rules Lawyer isn't interested in playing a fair game, but rather on exploiting the rules to either prevent players from playing the game the way it was meant to be played, or exploiting their opponent's lack of rules knowledge to allow them to cheat, while deflecting suspicion by accusing others of cheating instead. When people talk about Rules Lawyers in a negative light, this is the kind of player they're referring to.

Interestingly, the negative type of Rules Lawyer seems to be uniquely, uh, unique, to Tabletop Wargames. I think this is because the rules for moving models in a 3-dimensional space generally become very, very complex, and because no Tabletop Wargame to date has yet to create a comprehensive rules set, only a generic rules set. In Magic: The Gathering, for example, there is no real judging of people negatively for being "Rules Lawyers". People in that game tend to only care that they are playing the game correctly. However, in Magic, these Lawyers can back themselves up with a super impressive 227 page document of comprehensive rules, and can even become accredited Judges within the Magic Tournament system. That's a hard bar to beat! For the rest of the article, I'm going to call this type "Rules Abusers".



These Rules Abusers seem to be more prevalent in tabletop wargames, so what can you do to protect yourself from them?

First off, you need to know if you're dealing with a Rules Lawyer or Rules Abuser. Most of the time you're dealing with the former, and they just aren't very good communicators. Take a moment and consider whether or not the information they're giving you is something very specific that could only possibly hurt you, or something very general that affects everyone in the game. If it's the latter, it's more likely to be a Rules Lawyer. Rules Lawyers will often call themselves out on things they're doing wrong, and will also tell you rules where they help you do something you wanted to do better than normal! In my recent game against Kevin (see; http://recklessassaultgaming.com/index.php?/entry/6-yarium-vs-kevin-40k-competitive-battle-report/), Kevin at one point thought all of his models in a transport were dead because I had surrounded it. However, due to our base sizes, there were spots he could come out, and despite it being in my interest for them to all die, I argued (maybe a bit too heavily even) that they were not dead. A Rules Lawyer like this is trying to make sure you're armed with the most knowledge at your disposal. If you disagree with this Rules Lawyer, offer to help look it up. Put a time limit on it as well. "Hey, if we can't figure this out in 3 minutes, can we just roll for it?" is a great way to diffuse this Rule Lawyer, because it tells them that it's not that important to you, and you'd like to keep the game moving ("rolling for it" means one player picks one side of the argument to win on a 4+, and on a 3 or less the other side wins). A good Rules Lawyer will understand that the fun of the game takes precedence, and spending 15min debating is not fun for most people, and will agree.

However, if the person is a Rules Abuser, then this method isn't going to work. You can tell a Rules Abuser by the fact that they tell you one thing, and then go and do a different thing themselves. That's not 100% the case, but it's a great warning sign. Rules Abusers tell you that they can see your units to shoot at them, but you can't see theirs. The best way to deal with a Rules Abuser is to first talk to them. "I really don't think this is correct. Can we please look it up?" is a great line, because a Rules Lawyer is more than happy to do this, while a Rules Abuser wants to avoid being proven wrong. Make sure they show you the rule. If they do this kind of thing a few times, you can say "I think it would be helpful if you become more familiar with your army's rules before our next game. I didn't really enjoy having to stop so frequently to look up these rules." This is a great line that expresses your frustration without resorting to insults, tells them what they need to do to be a better player, and gives you a reason to decline a game with them in the future - especially if you're hearing from other players that this person has not improved.


Finally, there's a type of Rules Lawyer that seems to not actually want to play the game. These are people that take internet arguments as law, despite clear and obvious reasons why the game is not intended to be played that way. For example, here's a recent "rules discussion" from Dakka Dakka; https://www.dakkadakka.com/dakkaforum/posts/list/749134.page

In this, one user is arguing vehemently that Howling Banshees can't make 15 inch charges. The Howling Banshees have a rule that let them declare charges up to 15 inches away, but the user is pointing out that the rule doesn't work, because it still doesn't let you select a target further than 12 inches away. But, if the rules doesn't work, and literally cannot do anything extra to the basic rules of the game, then GW would not have given them the original "declare 15 inch charge" rule. This is a great case where the intent of the rules, allowing you to both declare a charge and select a target within 15 inches, is clear. If someone tries to argue this kind of rule against you, tell them that the intent is clear. Ask if you can continue the game as normal, and that you'll post this question later and try to get a clear answer (Dakka Dakka really isn't terrible; they try to get to the core RAW, but often will admit what the intent of the rule is too along the way, except for a few purists there that can't seem to get it in their skull that there's an intent to the rules too, and cause 15+ pages of literally arguing the same point circularly. If you see a Dakka Dakka post go more than 5 pages, it's really not worth the time to read more than the first 2 pages.). The local forums here can also be helpful, as these are actually people you can expect to have games with!

Almost forgot too; if this is a tournament, just ask the TO. It's easy to do, and the TO's ruling is law for that event. Don't argue it a bunch, just present your case, and move on. Debate it later.

Finally, if none of this works, it's time to go. "I'm sorry, but I don't believe we can agree to have a friendly and enjoyable game. It seems clear to me that you are more interested in arguing semantics rather than playing an honest game, so thank you, but I concede." They may win the game, but you're not going to give them any satisfaction in that win, and you don't have to play them again. I have never in my adult life come across someone that warrants this level of a response, and I doubt you will either, but it's a last ditch option if you need it.

Thanks for reading!

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Rules lawyering has often taken a bad rap, but I guess it is how you implement it. You almost need two forms of it to different well spirit vs (sensored) lawyering.

One thing I always did to keep things fair was to try and bring up potential conflicts before the game starts. I have mostly done this around the interaction of multiple rules. Like Tesla getting 3 hits on a 5 when paired with my will be done. While it's legitimate how those rules combine, its just rude to surprise someone with that.

There also been one lately that I disagree with. We have a warlord trait that lets us reduce damage by one. We have quantum shields that let us try to roll under damage to avoid it. Personally I think other peoples interpretation that you reduce damage before shields is wrong. But I put it out there to be discussed, and even though I don't agree with the most common answer I am not going to argue it during a game. I am now waiting for an FAQ on the subject and not using the CCB so that I can avoid this. After all it's just a game.

I normally let things slide, I don't care if measurements are slightly off, its a game after all. The exception is in tournaments, I am far more likely to be a jerk. Once on the first turn someone was going to charge me and told me the charge distance.... well I pointed out that since he had to start (what ever the distance was away from me) the charge had to be a minimum of X. I also made people draw line of site on my scarabs if I had deliberately hid them so they couldn't be shot. Not that I am a jerk in tournaments (or if so I don't mean to be sorry) but I think its common for there to be a little less slack in tournaments.

It's nice to try and show how rules lawyering doesn't need to be a bad thing depending how it is implemented. I do like rolling or agreeing on a judge for a quick decision. Many a times I have asked Aaron Davis or one of the Twins about something, and used their judgement as law for the duration of that game.

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So far in all my life I have only had 1 person in a tournament where I said enough is enough I am out if they want to win that badly have the win.  Was playing in Parry Sound tournament years ago and ran into a person that had converted for obvious advantage.  While he used for advantage in his turn, when during my turn he argued that his models couldn't be hit since a normal model would be below the wall.  This was already after a few disagreements on measurements (Seems I might have played the same charge distance persona as above lol) and quick rolling.  Told him I was done.  Not only did the TO apoligize to me and also gave me my next tourney there for free, the guys he came up with bought me lunch and a beer at the restaurant during the break.  There have been times when you play in a regular group you do certain rules one way then when you play people from another group and learn a whole new interpretation.  There has been a few times in my life where I was certain of a rule but once someone else explained how they interpreted it I changed how I played because the way they did it seemed more right.

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