Rules vs. Guidelines

If you are reading this then, like many others, you love tabletop games. There are those that love the structure of those games, cleaving to the rules like a lifeline. There are also the rule of cool people that think a game should be flexible when it fits the situation. They are both valid ways of viewing ttrpg’s. I want to argue however, that we should view the “rules” of ttrpg’s as more like guidelines.

Rules are great. They help draw lines in the sand about what it acceptable and what is not. This extends as far as our laws and regulations. However, ttrpg’s are less strict about the rules they set and the rule of cool has been around for a long time. There are many players and DM/GM’s alike that play by the rules and don’t deviate. That is a perfectly valid way of playing and, in fact, some might say it is the correct way of playing. But fluidity is key to many systems. Being able to bend where something would break instead might be preferable to dissolving the whole table because of a disagreement over a rule or its meaning.

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Viewing the rules as more like guidelines gives enough bend in them to allow all players to feel comfortable trying new or crazier ideas than they normally would have. The rule of cool helps in those situations where a rule might be too vague for the question that is being asked or it simply fits the narrative and would make the story more intriguing. There was a time when my Bard, Aleera, cast a Geas spell during battle without reading the spell carefully. If I had, I would have realized that it takes a full minute to cast. That doesn’t seem like much but in battle, where every turn is the equivalent of six seconds, this spell would take forever to cast.

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The battle was won because I cast that spell. It incapacitated the attacker long enough for the rest of the party to catch up and help. Even though I clearly should not have been able to cast the spell, my DM agreed to keep it because it fit in with the story he wanted to tell and to make it fair he added some other things that the attacker could accomplish before her demise. The rule of cool helped save a session that would have ended in a much different way. If Aleera hadn’t cast Geas, then our rogue would have most likely died. DM/GM’s try to keep track of everything in a game but that isn’t always possible. In the heat of battle it can be easy to overlook minor things like cast times.

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The rule of cool can also lead to players thinking of cool and unique ways around a problem or ways to to something that would not normally be done. Seeing the rules as guidelines had made my table all the better for it. I think it takes a bit of the pressure off from both the players and DM/GM. If the rules are more important than playing the game and having fun, then those things get thrown to the side in favor of upholding the rules. Not always but in some cases. Ultimately it is up to you to decide what you prefer.

If you have a different opinion or a comment, leave a comment below or find me on Twitter @DnDWifeStories and on Instagram @dndwife. I would love to hear from you!


Published by dndwife

My husband and I run a dungeons and dragons table together and I write about our crazy adventures both in and out of the story. My husband DM's and I am the table artist. I paint minis for everyone at the table and provide crafted gifts like dice boxes, bags, and artwork.

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