Skip to content

Rules Lawyers, Min-Maxing, and Rule Number One

July 25, 2017

RulesLawyer-236x300I am a role-player. A ROLE-player. I love to get into stories, characters, world creation–all the non-crunchy, fluffy bits of RPGs. I love that its it’s a living novel. Like Robin D. Laws said, RPGs are the only literary medium (emphasis mine) where the author and the audience are the same person.

When I play an an RPG–and when I run an RPG–I want to work together to tell a fascinating story. To have characters perform great deeds for interesting reasons. I want interaction, drama, dilemmas, NPCs the players care about, and to have sessions that are talked about days, months, years, after the fact. The play is the thing is very much my mantra.

So–in the world of RPGs, rules have become, for me, a means to an end. They are not the point. I’m not a system geek. I only care about the rules so far as they reinforce good role-playing. Encourage immersion. Give players tools to be awesome. But other than that? They’re beside the point.

Phrases like “rules lawyer,” “min-max,” “munchkin,” “character build,” and “optimization,” make me cringe and die a little inside. They represent alien concepts to me. Concepts devoid of emotion. Devoid of that spark of life at the heart of an RPG. Devoid of fun.

I simply don’t get a charge out of tricking out a “character” (if you want to call that monstrous collection of statistics devoid of a personality a “character”) to it’s “maximum potential.” I don’t understand the appeal of examining the minutiae of each rule, every nuanced meaning of what “is” means, to suck every bonus I can from the bones of the system. I don’t enjoy arguing and debating the finer points of what the developers meant every time a ruling is made.

When I’m running a game, I don’t need players whipping out their phones and tablets every time I make a ruling. When I’m a player, I don’t need to bog down the game trying to argue for a bonus that only exists because a game developer didn’t think of this contingency.

I get that if you’re playing a wizard, you might want to play the best wizard you can be. But sometimes, you can make decisions based on WHO the character is more than WHAT the character is. There’s making good choices and trying to be good at what you do and then there’s making the statistical outcome the point of the endeavor.

When telling me about your character, I’d much rather hear about her story than what her DPR is.


I’m not the only one playing the game.

When I’m running a game, my job is to entertain the players. And sometimes, that means giving them what they want–even if it’s not what I want.

When I’m playing a game, my fellow players may be system geeks and into seeing what a rules system can do and how they can push it to the breaking point. For them that’s the point of the game.

Sure, some behaviors are just obnoxious. A old-school Rules Lawyer that bogs down the game pointing out each and every infraction along the way is a pain. But his crime isn’t knowing the rules–his crime is bogging down the game. Find a way around that and utilize his knowledge. Maybe call on him to confirm rulings after the game.

Some players are going to min-max. It’s where their happy place is. And, as GM, I’ve got to breathe, not yell at them to “get offa my lawn,” and find a way to accommodate their fun into OUR campaign. Find places for that kind of play to shine–but also find places for MY kind of play to shine as well. Balance combat encounters with non-combat encounters. Make large battle set-pieces that have story-based reasons for being.

Everybody enjoys the game in different ways. It’s a juggling act. It’s about balance and precision and keeping your eye on the pins (or the goslings, if you’re so inclined).


“Wash Juggling Goslings” by ersheld (

Always remember Rule Number One: Have Fun.

When I’m tempted to nerf a rule, or slam a player’s style, or take away from a player’s enjoyment of the game, I have to remember to refer to Rule Number One.

It will literally make or break the game.

From → Ramblings

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: