After considering if I should write another sorcerer post (seriously, I didn’t even like that class in 3e, 4e or Pathfinder, but I’m seriously intrigued by it in 5e), I rowed back and thought to make my post more lighthearted and less rampant. And teach how why to screw the rules.
First of all, I like Yu-Gi-Oh! Abridged (and the manga, less the anime) and this clip especially. Money can screw most rules in the real world (sadly), but in D&D and as a DM, your most precious thing is imagination. Not that imagination will make you a good DM, even if I have to say, that the idea of using T-Rex Zombies from the Far Realm is really cool, but at least as long as you have imagination, you can at least keep everyone entertained. In a good or bad manner. But let’s just say, that you want your players at least believe, that you aren’t a sadistic, psychological madman, who wants to feed on their despair and grief.
Normally: Play by the rules. This consensus is the safety to ensure that you appear less random as you are. But there are times, when you just can’t stick with RAW (rules as written), but have to improvise. Here are some cases and solutions for the most common reasons why playing RAW won’t really do it. But be sure to remember the following:
1.) Abuse of certain rules. One of the most common is the Lightfoot Halfling’s Naturally Stealthy which allows the halfling to hide behind a at least medium-sized creature. Since Stealth is normally vs. the passive perception and searching for a creature is an actual action, your monster might get killed by an unseen killer. Or at high levels the monk’s quivering palm might kill the Ancient Red Dragon with a too high chance.
- As long it involves d20, you can actually play by the rules by making reasons up to give advantage or disadvantage to the roll, since both happens if the DM sees a reason for it. When the halfing attacked first out of sight, the monster might keep watching him with as much attention as possible. Maybe the Ancient Red Dragon is just too big to get affected by the puny vibrations of a small/medium-sized monk. This will up your chances without sounding too unreasonable.
- House Rule: You should let your players proceed for the rest of the day with the rule and after finishing, start to talk about the problem and how you like to solve it (or announce that you will find a solution at the start of the next session). Since the player is most likely offended, just keep quiet for a while and endure it, because things like these might destroy a whole game-day without finding a solution.
2.) Player tries to outsmart the rules: Players are often inclined to outsmart rules by preparing or announcing stuff, like: “I already have the potion viol half open in my mouth, so I can drink it any time”. Be merciless. First think about what could go wrong, then allow it and if the player is still keen about the idea: Ouch! For the drinking potion problem: “The attack missed you, but as you evaded, the cork of the viol sprang off and got into your throat. Make a DC 14 Con-save for not being stunned until the start of your next turn, since you’re coughing that much. Anyway, the viol falls out of your mouth and the rest of the potion in your mouth is getting coughed up.” Be cruel and let the players remember, that not they are the ones who can screw the rules.
3.) Too many rules: In 3e and Pathfinder especially there are so many rules for certain cases, which makes things like underwater combat and such just even more annoying. If you can think of a quick solution for a quick instance (like one single underwater combat in a dungeon which will most likely take two game days to complete), just screw the rules. Except you or one of your players knows all the needed rules perfectly. If you replace the rules: Keep it simple, remember who will benefit for this and keep giving advantage and disadvantage while rewarding being imaginative.
4.) Your player is calling a cool action: Everyone have different values of calling a cool action. Mine is ‘A smart action which take account of the environmental or enemy features to use them to your benefit’, so nothing like ‘I kick that generic bugbear in the nuts’ or ‘I’m making a somersault over that kobold and stabs it from behind’. But much more like: ‘I want to increase the intensity of my light spell to blind the drow’ (1 action, must be 5ft to the drow when casting, drow gets a wis-save to the caster’s spell DC, works only once) or ‘We’re in a burning mansion, can I use Gust of Wind to fan the flames right behind these cultist’s?’ (maybe, if you want to try, make a Intelligence (Arcana) check DC 15 to reweave the spell for that effect). If you think another interpretations works better for you, be my guest, but normally those kind of improvised actions should be allowed, even though they screw the rules. Here the player uses his/her imagination.
In most cases, your imagination will only serve to support some reasonable choices. In others it is the main-reason why you should just screw the rules. Who cares how a special spell works under normal circumstances? Just roll with it, makes more fun for you and your players. And here and then let the antagonists make use of it, too.
Not only spells (even though they leave the most room), features, skills, a lot of things can be used in different ways than the PHB or Basic Rules let see. Don’t be a rule lawyer, when you’re playing a fantasy game. Because fantasy games without imagination would be like… reality. Uuuhh…