Monday, March 27, 2017

Operator Error is The Biggest Cause of Problems in RPGs

How many times have you been involved in an argument with another player, or even a DM, regarding something happening in your game? How many times did you decide to open the manual, read the section in question, and find out that neither of you were right? Or, alternatively, how many times have you read a section you haven't looked at in a while, and discovered you'd been running a class feature incorrectly for the past six sessions?

My dad was an engineer, and he had a word for this. He called it operator error, and in my own judgment, it's responsible for at least half of the problems people seem to have at their gaming tables.

Shit, my bad, Dave. I've been reading this chart upside down for three sessions.
This may sound simplistic, but you can solve most of your problems by actually opening up the book, and reading what the rules actually say. As opposed to what you think they say, or what your old DM told you they were.

Your Memory is Untrustworthy

Do you know what the least accurate form of evidence in a criminal trial is? The one that is least likely to actually get at the truth of what happened? You might be surprised, but it's eyewitness testimony.

This is my surprised face.
The reason eyewitness testimony is the next best thing to useless is that humans do not have very accurate recollections about details. The sheer number of people who have been exonerated by DNA, and other factual evidence, from sentences given to them based on eyewitness testimony speaks loudly enough on that score. And if it is that hard for people to remember the color of a car involved in a hit-and-run accident, or the facial features of a gunman who robbed them, why would your brain be any better behaved when it comes to remembering whether your bard provides a competence bonus, or a morale bonus?

That's why you should always crack the book, and double check. Because an ounce of preparation is worth a pound of cure in this situation.

You Save Time, Energy, and Ultimately, Face

The longer you play RPGs, the more rules there are to remember. It's perfectly natural for your brain to cross wires and confuse an old 3.5 rule with something in Pathfinder, or to think there was something in the old World of Darkness that made it's way into the new setting when it didn't. Those things happen. Add house rules and playing with different groups into the mix, and you are constantly wading through a morass of half-remembered rules where you find yourself constantly saying, "I know it's in here... somewhere..."

Happy hunting, friend.
You don't need to do this with everything of course. Most of us remember how to roll an attack, make a skill check, and other things that come up every game session. But it pays to sit down and read through the other rules from time to time in order to refresh yourself. Not skipping and skimming, mind you, but actually reading them in their entirety. Also, as I said in my post How to Stop Rules Lawyers From Ruining Your Tabletop Game, you should always go to the book whenever there is a disagreement.

Once you have the rule in question in front of you, and you can read the text out loud, that clears up most problems. When it doesn't clear up a problem, though, that is when the DM weighs in and provides an interpretation for the rules. It's short, simple, and to the point.

It should be mentioned, though, that a DM should rule on what the text actually says instead of getting caught up in semantics and personal opinions. Vital Strike, for instance, is not bound by the same rules as sneak attack. All it does is allow you to take the potential of a full-round attack, condense it into a single swing, and hit extra hard as a standard action. Power Attack already existed, so they had to call it something else. Sneak attack in Pathfinder, despite the name of the class feature, doesn't require the character to be invisible, or to attack from hiding. It simply states that when the target is denied their dexterity bonus, or flanked, that the sneak attacker can hit a vital spot to do extra damage. Only creatures with alien anatomies, incorporeal bodies, and a select few other immunities won't take this damage.

Avoid operator error by opening the book, checking the index, and finding the rule in question. If possible, do all the necessary research before you get to the table, and inform the DM (or the player, if you're the one running the game) how a class feature, spell, feat, etc. actually works. Write it down on your character sheet for future reference, or if the entry is too long, note the page number where the rule is located for quick access.

I guarantee that if you do this your games will run smoother, more regularly, and that your arguments over mechanics will drop. They probably won't go away entirely, but there will be a lot fewer of them.

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday post. Hopefully it helps folks who have been wondering how to minimize "spirited discussion," but who haven't instituted an "open book" policy to solve it. If you'd like to help support Improved Initiative so I can keep bringing content just like this to you week after week, then stop by The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page. Just pledge $1 a month, and you'll receive both my undying gratitude, and some sweet gaming swag. Lastly, if you haven't followed me on Facebook, Tumblr, or Twitter yet, now would be a great time to start!

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