Gamemaster’s Guidepost: When to Follow, Make, Ignore, Bend, or Break Rules

GURPS is one of those games where if you try to use every rule for every circumstance you’re going to create an unusable pile of crap. It’s like sticking a bunch of magnets on a refrigerator and then expecting to see what color the fridge is. You can do it – but it’s barely recognizable.

So how do you (the GM) know when to pay attention to a rule or ignore it? Make a new one or break an old one? I’ve got a few guidelines I use:


When to Follow the Rules
The answer most players will say is “All the time!” Many folks aren’t fans of a playing a roleplaying game system where the GM just ignores the rules and does what he feels like. And sometimes those sorts of feelings are totally justified. So when should the GM be “by the book?” When his players are having fun. When the GM is having fun. When a rules does not unfairly encumber the constraints of time or a enjoyable session. This last one is very important – a rule can be complex or even noisome, but if the GM and the players are enjoying themselves than it’s doing its job. Leave it alone.


When to Make New Rules (“House Rules”)
In my experience – rarely. The more complexity you add to a game the more it can bog down. So when do you make new rules? When the players demand unanimously – if your group REALLY doesn’t like something they are going to tell you. And if they are not having fun . . . well, that’s an issue. When you enter new territory within a game and have to have something mechanical to make it make sense. When you are modeling the game to the campaign world. Some GMs like to noodle with the game and the rules – and I’m so GUILTY of this. GURPS tends to attract a certain type and most of us do this. Fight the urge if you can or let your players know in advance they’ll be the testbed for new mechanics.


When to Ignore the Rules
This is the other side of the coin of “When to Follow the Rules” and the advice from there applies here as well – except, well, in reverse. One notable thing about ignoring the rules is to follow all the implications of ignoring that rule. Really think about it. For example, in GURPS the static order of initiative is fixed for a reason – mucking with the combat order can do all kinds of crazy stuff to certain combat actions (e.g., Wait maneuvers).


When to Bend the Rules
Sometimes, to make a rule function for your setting, gaming group, etc. you need to bend it a little. The rule itself is something you like, but there is one nagging part of it you don’t like. So when do you bend the rules? When it messes up your game session in a fundamental way. When it causes consternation on the part of your or your players. When it produces nonsensical results.


When to Break the Rules
This is the other side of the coin of “When to Bend the Rules” except that you simply don’t stop with bending the rules with a small modification. You just flat out break them.


Picking Over the Bones
I’m sure I could probably go over this for dozens of posts – this sort of knowledge is the thing that you hone over years and years of GMing and then being introspective about it. You want to be a better GM? You make sure you take notes about how sessions went and then review them. Ask your players what they think. Change things up until it works the way you expect. This is also how you get good at crafting or modifying rules. First know what rules to throw away and what rules to keep. Know when to read your player’s faces by the way they throw their dice and read their sheets . . . wait. No. That’s Kenny Rogers the Gambler. But that still applies. Basically this: ask questions, pay attention, be prepared to be wrong so you can prepare yourself to be right.

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  1. Pingback: GURPSDay Summary May 4, 2018 – May 10, 2018 - Gaming Ballistic

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