Monday, August 13, 2012

Covering Gen Con for MTV Geek

I'll be headed to Gen Con for the weekend this Thursday.  I'm blogging for MTV Geek, specifically covering RPG news.  If any of the rest of you are headed there, let me know via twitter @realitysalad and we can connect.  Hope to see you there!

The Shiny Side of Rules Lawyers

I am blessed with a very diverse group in my weekly D&D campaign.  A couple of players are old high school buddies that hadn't played since 2nd Edition, as well as some more current players who are very story and character-focused.  Everyone brings a different type of energy and enthusiasm to the (virtual) table, and this has alloyed into a wonderful social experience.  The game itself is great fun, of course, but no game is better than the players playing it.

One player in particular got me thinking the other day.  We've all encountered the ubiquitous Rules Lawyer before, and we've all experienced the buzzkill that this person can engender.  Happily, my Rules Lawyer is no kind of buzzkill at all.

We were engaged in a somewhat risky encounter; down a player, my party of four 2nd-level characters (a Seeker, Warpriest, Battlemind, and Ardent) were battling a pair of Darktentacles (3rd level Aberrant creatures, Elite to boot).  They were in an environment with some very dangerous terrain that heavily favored the Darktentacles' ability to pull from a distance, dragging unfortunates into Acidic Mire or the Far Realm rift that spawned them.  It was definitely a risky combat encounter.

While my entire party achieved greatness that night, it was a special joy to watch our Ardent in action.  This guy was our main tank in my World of Warcraft guild for about six years, and while I was the guild leader in name and spirit, I was nothing more than a mascot once we got into a fight.  This man's tactical genius led us through many triumphs, and it remains undimmed.

Now, it's a simple thing for someone with a reasonably advanced IQ to develop acumen with any ruleset.  There are a lot of clever people in this hobby, and a lot of them have figured out ways to worm inside these rules and tickle them until they produce results.  What makes my Rules Lawyer rare and special is how he uses his talent for good.

I've encountered showboating Rules Lawyers, where everything they do has a bottom line of Look How Clever I Am, or even worse You Can't Do That Because This.  It takes a special kind of player who is willing to use his ability to help the other players.  And not just by healing, or flanking, or using supporting abilities, but actually providing useful information, encouraging tactical analysis, and generally making the party better-coordinated.  As a class choice for this guy, Ardent seems especially apropos; everyone near him really does seem to get bonuses to their skill checks.  Too frequently does the term "Leader" get shorthanded to mean nothing more than "Healer".  The subtle majesty of 4th edition is revealed again, as the synergy between Power and Player synthesizes organically into something greater than the sum of its parts.

Watching them take apart that encounter was a thrill.  It was definitely a challenge for them all, but it seemed to be rewarding in its intangibles.  As a veteran DM, I've been able to leave my ego out of the encounters I create for a long time now; I know that I'm usually building something with the express purpose of watching my players knock it down.  It's especially rewarding when I can have the sheer joy of watching a party do so under the guidance of an adept Leader.