Rule Zero

Players of 3rd Edition will recognize the term “Rule Zero.” It just means any DM ruling supersedes all other rules; his say comes before anything else put to paper. In essence: this is the rule before the rules.

For 4th Edition, the following is my Rule Zero: I side with the players on any rules dispute.

You see, everything in the Dungeons & Dragons game is stacked against the characters as it is; why not give them a break once in a white? Think about it: Once they’re born, their families instantly become persons of interest. Sisters get abducted. Mothers are killed in fires. Cousins travel afar seeking treasure and are lost. Fathers turn out to be evil doppelgangers from the future of a dying, alternate universe. It’s a tough life from the very beginning!

After a decade or two, things don’t get any easier. Enemies of the family come looking for revenge. Long-lost artifacts turn up in the attic. Their country goes to war. If a character’s really unlucky, a transformation occurs and it’s discovered that he’s not even a member of the race he was “born” to, but actually some extra-planar creature that was dropped off to live among those of the lesser races in order to prepare for some epic destiny.

Outside of the story, the odds aren’t any better. The rules are tweaked in order to give each adventuring group a calculated challenge based on their level and firepower. In the end, nothing’s more exciting to players or characters alike than when they see their hard work come to fruition and find the enemy or challenge overcome.

Also, nothing’s more annoying and disheartening than to have that excitement stopped for 30 minutes by a rules discussion or worse—argument.

I don’t profess to know all the ins and outs of how the D&D rules were put together—I know just enough to be dangerous. What I do know, and know really well, is that it’s easier to err on the side of the players when a rules dispute occurs. Nothing feels better than moving on after about 30 seconds of deliberation. If a reasonably satisfactory answer can’t be found—by either flipping through the books or by reciting something from memory—then I side with the players and move on. Nothing creates more solidarity between the players and I than siding with them every time. It avoids any of the hurt feelings or misunderstandings that could erupt from these rules interruptions.

Look up the rule. Pour over hundreds of pages of text. Consult the online Rules Compendium. Post to messageboards like EN World and seek out the advice of over 85,000 members. Just do it during a long break, or better yet—when the game is over.

Lastly, an important piece of advice (and I urge players to turn away now while they still can): You’re the DM. If siding with the players on a rules dispute caused 20 hit points of damage to a creature and you’re sure you were right, just add those hit points back! No one will know.

Insert maniacal laughter here.