I am currently a GM running a four person campaign that has been going for a couple months.

I have one player in particular that is fairly inexperienced and has this habit of skimming technical information about various aspects of the game (feats, spells, skills, etc.) without learning the information fully. He then comes up with an idea of how that feat or spell functions that most benefits him but often is wildly incorrect. For example, after choosing to learn the Gust of Wind Druid spell, he tried to use it believing that it would create a gust of wind going out 60 feet in all directions from himself rather than the appropriate straight line.

When I try to correct him, he almost always insists on arguing about it and wants to look it up in one of the rule books before continuing play. These arguments typically happen two or three times each session and significantly slow down game play which often makes other players become disengaged.

How can I quickly shut down arguments with this player without simply making him feel like I am overriding him each time I am making him change the way he is playing?

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    \$\begingroup\$ You may want to add what game you are playing, since it could be important information for answering the question. \$\endgroup\$
    – Miniman
    Commented Dec 8, 2014 at 0:35

6 Answers 6


I think a lot of the answers in How do you help players not focus on the rules? are on point here as well. They talk about limiting time spent discussing and taking things offline, but perhaps the most important is establishing that your rulings stand and that as a more experienced player, and additionally as the GM, your interpretations of the rules are the ones that take primacy. Even above the books, if it comes to that, but certainly in absence of clarity or obvious error.

You can allow a bounded amount of "look it up time" if you want, but I don't really have the patience for that personally. "You can look it up when we're not in the middle of doing something and prove me wrong later if you'd like, but now's not the time" is a valid GM ruling. This process could be made faster by having the SRD up on a computer, having him perhaps print out his spells he's using for quick reference, etc.

How to handle a rules-lawyer player? is also relevant - though the context there is someone who DOES know the rules being argumentative, most of the answers apply to someone who doesn't as well. One would hope that being wrong all the time would slow your particular rules-lawyer's roll, but it sounds like it's not for whatever reason.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for the "print spells you are using" part. In last adventure I was a player and I did it. Two or three times per session we had this discussion with DM: "DM: Mołot, I don't think it works that way. Me: Here is a print". And he either agreed or made his ruling. Fast and easy. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mołot
    Commented Dec 9, 2014 at 9:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for "print the spells" as well. This should be automatic and it save so much bloody times! No more arguing, just read and that's it. \$\endgroup\$
    – Sava
    Commented Oct 28, 2018 at 1:25

Place a firm but fair and transparent limit on the amount of time that is allowed to be spent discussing rules issues.

I keep a few cheap plastic hourglass timers handy during gaming sessions to fairly and transparently give out time for out-of-character interactions. This includes letting the party decide group tactics, adjudicating rules issues, or providing intermission style breaks for things like snacks, cigarettes, or using the restroom.

During character creation, I instruct each player to note at a minimum what page the full description is located on for each special ability or spell that they plan to have at their disposal. If an issue comes up during play that requires me to adjudicate the rules, I read the relevant passage, and then I give the player exactly 60 seconds to convince me why they are right. If they make a convincing case, I allow them to carry out the action. If not, then I make the ruling I feel is appropriate (which may give the player some but not all of what he wants depending on the case at hand) and then tell the player that he is welcome to discuss it further after the session but not until then. Explain that there is a limit to the amount of time that can be allocated to the session, and wasting it on pointless debate does the rest of the players, his team-mates, a disservice. Players who failed to heed my advice and note the page numbers during character creation must find the relevant rule by hand while they are on the clock.

Have your players research their abilities beforehand, and bring any to your attention that seem to be vague or ambiguous. Deciding the ruling before the session can save you a lot of time.

I have my players keep in touch by email or facebook or whatever between sessions and encourage them to ask me questions outside the game so that they can be successful inside the game.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for asking players to bring things up beforehand, and maintaining good out-of-game contact. I do this as well with my players and it's saved us a bunch of in-game rules questions. \$\endgroup\$
    – thatgirldm
    Commented Dec 8, 2014 at 6:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for hourglasses. That's a really cool way to limit argument time, and hourglasses are more flavorful than a stopwatch. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tack
    Commented Dec 8, 2014 at 18:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ "bring any to your attention that seem to be vague or ambiguous" - for some players, and this seems to be the case here, DM should ask them to discuss all special rules they expect to use, including new spells. Not only ones that player knows he might be misinterpreting. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mołot
    Commented Dec 9, 2014 at 9:08

I'd deal with it differently according to two separate cases.

Either way, first you need to get the the player to acknowledge that he keeps being proved wrong by the lookup, and he doesn't know his spells as well as he'd like, and the lookups are disruptive and undesirable. It might be that this is how he thinks the game should be played. It might be this is how his family played Monopoly, with lots of bluffing and arguing the rules, and demanding lookups, and that he enjoys it that way. So you need to explain that it isn't what you want in this campaign. It does not go without saying, that his behaviour is undesirable.

Your player is still learning, but you see progress

So, your player hasn't found time outside the game to properly read their character's spell list and so on. In most games that's allowed, but it's frustrating that this needs to happen in game time.

Explain that you're the DM, you know the rules pretty well, and that while you do make mistakes he should not always jump straight to assuming he's right and you're wrong over matters like the described effect of a particular spell. If he can't remember something then he should trust your memory (or other players at the table), and if he thinks you're wrong he should accept your ruling for the moment and look it up while the next action is being processed. If you absolutely need to in order to prevent him blocking play, offer that you will retcon in cases where he genuinely is right and you're wrong, and he can prove it by looking up the effect immediately after you demand that play move on (should any such cases occur -- you don't say he's ever been right yet so this is a small risk).

Suggest that if possible he find the time to re-read his own abilities more carefully (and new ones as he takes them), and if not he just accept that you've taken the time to learn this stuff and he hasn't, and he will best benefit from that by trusting you more than he is.

Suggest to him that he prints out or bookmarks his own spells/feats/etc for quick reference.

Your player doesn't respect the rules and is trying it on

A symptom of this would be that you find yourselves looking up the same spell effect over and over, because he makes the same wrong claims (or new wrong claims about the same thing) despite having been corrected by a lookup last time

In that case ultimately you need to call him out for problem behaviour. Regardless of what he's used to or prefers, in your game spells do what the rulebook says they do, not what is convenient for his character, or the drama of the scene, or whatever.

Start by pointing out, when it happens, that it's an undesirable delay. This might be enough to give him a better idea when (and how much) he's annoying you, and he'll self-regulate.

Failing that, explicitly ask for a change in his approach. Do this one to one in private. He needs to co-operate by paying attention to the relevant rules, and he needs to stop blocking the game when a disagreement occurs. Encourage him to ask you what a spell does if the details are important to his plan, not plan according to what he hopes it does and end up needing an argument. As and when he gives ground (for example accepting that he shouldn't do what he did), listen to what he's saying and bear that in mind. He'll quite likely surprise you at some point in the conversation: if he agrees immediately then don't stick to the things you planned to say when you assumed he'd take a lot of persuading because you'll be banging on needlessly.

General advice applies when calling someone out for misbehaviour -- talk about what he did, not what you believe his goals are or what you believe he thinks. Get your ducks in a row and don't accuse him of things that haven't happened. Don't accuse him of more than you need to in order to make your point (that is, don't "pile on" the charges). Don't get sidetracked into arguments about whether his way is better (or easier, or more fair) than what you expect from him. Remember you don't have to tell him (still less get him to agree) that what he was doing was wrong or inconsiderate, just that you want things done differently in your campaign.

Finally, as others have said, you would probably benefit from yourself being able to look this stuff up faster (by getting digital version of the rules or just practicing flicking through the books), or enlisting other players to help with that. If you could just short-circuit the arguments by finding the right page in under 30 seconds, then 2-3 instances of that per session is hardly the end of the world.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm tempted to put "if <player> thinks <gm> is wrong they should accept your ruling for the moment and look it up while the next action is being processed" on the player side of my GM screen. I think this behaviour is one of the cornerstones of good play. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 8, 2014 at 23:06

This is a social contract problem and one of the easy things to do is figure out if this is a miscommunication problem or "this guy is being a jerk" problem. This is actually really easy to determine, quickly.

Consider if you think something works a certain way, you argue for it, but then look it up and find out you're wrong. "Oh, man, I'm sorry, I really thought it worked that way." That's what you say when you are really trying to make sure the rules are correct. These people? The problems with rules checking become less and less as they play more - usually within a few sessions the amount of stuff they have to look up or clarify becomes rare or non-existent.

The person who is angry and argumentative even after you look it up? They're not interested in the rules, they're interested in getting their way. That's also someone not really interested in playing the game everyone has agreed to play, they're playing out some other issue they have and no one at the table signed up for it. Those players? You let go of.

For these people, it's not a matter of presenting rules better, or helping them navigate the rules, because the whole argument has the rules as a pretext for what they really want to do: argue and bully to get their way.


Keep a computer open with a searchable version of the rules available for anyone to use. There should be a quick way to look up rules since not everyone has memorized the entirety of every rule book and even the most avid gamer is going to need to check on a rarely used spell for an unusual situation. The SRD for 3.5, the PRD for Pathfinder are obvious helpful tools (and errata'ed) and most PDF copies are easily searchable (with Ctrl + F, though some are even properly tagged and divided to make it easier).

Make it clear that he needs to understand the rules for whatever he wants to do prior to coming to the game. As a new player, you can give a little slack, but push the fact he's detracting from the experience for everyone else. Make sure he understands how to read the spellblock and feat descriptions and to contact you outside of the game if he has questions as to how they work.

There will be a rules question once a session. Something odd comes up or one of the many vaguely worded spells or feats are used. You'll need to make a decision on the spot for how it will work and there will undoubtedly be a discussion on how you should rule in that situation, which for most decisions is about ten minutes. The best case is to look up the rule later on the official product forums to see how others have dealt with it and by the next session you should have set down how you'll deal with in the future.


Allow him to continue this behaviour but inform him he must "consult the bitter oracle". If he pisses her off by presenting invalid interpretations she ports him to the starting town and to find his party again he must role 5x d6 to achieve a number below the number of turns he has been attempting to rejoin his party.


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