Looking at the Rules

One thing I’ve noticed a number of times while perusing blogs or boards are comments to the effect of “I put the book aside while game mastering and hardly ever open it during play.”

Is this common? I ask because I constantly am referring to the rules while game mastering. Looking up spells, monster stats, and weapon ranges are three things I do a lot, and I also check other various things as needed.

The Tome of the Labyrinth Lord (and his dice)

The Tome of the Labyrinth Lord (and his dice)

It’s not like I GM with my nose in the book or constantly interrupt play to look up something. Not at all. But I do have a book behind my screen and it’s usually open. It’s not unheard of for me to say “give me a sec while I review this” when something unusual comes up, though I definitely try to keep that to a minimum and if it takes me more than a moment to grok whatever it is I’m checking, I revert to a d6 check or something to keep things moving.

Also, I generally do NOT include monster stats in my dungeon write-ups, though sometimes I do roll up monster hit points ahead of time. That’s actually something I should do more often, as it’s a great time saver. I’ve got a system of notation I’ve adopted for tracking monsters (hit points, who is fighting who, etc.) during the game and putting that together before play, ready for use, is something I should consider.

I have weapons charts, spell lists, and other common requirements on my screen, but the need to reference the rules still arises. The idea of knowing it all and running the game completely from memory is something that I cannot fathom. Players, with all the important stuff on a character sheet and a limited number of spells, should be able to manage okay, but I’ve never been comfortable “winging it” to that extent as a GM.

Make stuff up as I go or work from vague ideas when running an adventure? Absolutely. But actually run the mechanics of the game without referencing the game book? Not hardly. This is why I go to the trouble of making my own digest-sized comb or coil bound rule books.

I will fully admit that I do not think I’ve played as much as many of the game bloggers, and I know that playing more often will lead to “just knowing” more of the rules and stats, but the idea of “hardly ever” looking in the book seems so far outside my experience that I don’t know how I’d ever get there.

What do readers think? How do you do it? Does Kilgore need to man up and keep the book closed?

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10 Responses to Looking at the Rules

  1. Chris says:

    The idea of knowing it all and running the game completely from memory is something that I cannot fathom.

    That very thing is what attracted me to LL after I tired of the research orgy that was 3E.

    Thanks to the various reference/cheat sheets available I hardly need to open the book, other than to refer to magic effects. YMMV, but it’s all good.

  2. I just make it up as I go along.

    If one of the players challenges a ruling, I usually go with whatever they think is the correct rule.

    Any rules you really need access to, create a little cheat-sheet for yourself, and paper-clip it to the DM screen.

  3. al says:

    I do keep a copy of Mike’s S&W reference sheets handy, as well as some combat sheets, Grim’s I think

  4. redbeard says:

    If I can recall something that feels right, I run with that.

    If what I remember doesn’t feel right, I often have a player look it up. While they’re looking it up, I try to keep the game going.

    I sometimes have the pdf open on my laptop. If I do, I might take the time.

    But usually, I try to keep things moving rather than slowing or stopping play for a ruling.

    • Kilgore says:

      Having a player look up something specific is a good idea. I only have them look when it’s about their PC, but using them to find something while the game goes I hadn’t thought about.

  5. Brian says:

    That really depends on how the game is going, or, more exactly, where it’s going.

    My solo with Oddysey is largely about social stuff right now. The books rarely get open, but my notes of names and conflicts is always in front of me.

    The Doom & Tea Parties group game recently tangled with some slaadi. For that game, I’m surrounded by books: my old Cook Expert for saving throws and to-hit tables, my Fiend Folio and MM for monsters, and my 1e DMG is never far from reach.

  6. Telecanter says:

    I find that the excitement at the table lulls any time I pause to flip through a rule book. Also, when looking for something particular it seems harder than normal to find it when people are waiting on me.

    For that reason I’ve made sure I have all the relevant monster info prepared on paper for a session (including custom encounter tables and hit dice pre-rolled). Other than that I haven’t even needed The S&W book at the table. I’ve found the system is so uncomplicated that if a ruling question does arise in play, it most likely isn’t answered in the S&W Core rule book 🙂

  7. cyclopeatron says:

    I almost never look at a book while I am DMing. My Ref Sheets (attached to the screen) and notes are sufficient… this keeps the game moving quickly. None of the DMs/GMs I’ve played with really ever look in a book while gaming. One DM I met actually had a policy of NO BOOKS AT THE TABLE, which I thought was pretty cool.

    I am envious of the DMs that are able to memorize EVERYTHING – including maps. I’ve played with a couple old school DMs that don’t use any notes or books at all. They have it all in their heads. (Ascending AC helps with this I think). I can’t do this…

  8. When running D&D 3.5 I have up to four books open at all times. Most of them monster manuals for stats and the players handbook for spells. But I remember thinking that books should stay away from the table back when I was a teenager and playing AD&D 2nd Ed. Looking at a rule book was the first step towards rules lawyering, I felt.

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