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I've been running a Pathfinder campaign set in my own world for close to three years now. We play using a VTT system (d20pro) since all of my players aren't in the same state. Since the beginning I'd had a wizard that has continuously checked and rechecked the rules as written to deal with interesting scenarios that I have created for example:

The party needed to thwart a cult that had taken up residence in a local temple. The temple grounds had a hallowed effect on it which I decided would have a spell of anti-magic field affixed to it. Now rules as written don't allow for this, however I knew that the wizard in the party was sitting on 3 magical items that would have allowed him to be effective in combat (a Wand of chain lightning x3 charges, a ring of Ram x6 charges, and a staff allowing the wielder to hold any outsider as long as the wielder kept the staff trained on the creature and the creature fails a will save of DC 17). Up until this point the wizard had been spamming all encounters with AOE spells and really making if difficult for other players to get anything accomplished. The second the player discovered the ground was hallowed and he couldn't use his spells, he was looking up rules and fighting the way I had set things up. This eventually led to me giving him a 50% chance of using the spells in the basement level of the temple (where the main part of the encounter was). Needless to say this did not make the player happy.

In the rules for a hallowed site, an anti-magic field is not listed as a spell that can be included. I chose to do this as a kind of house rule. The wizard was not happy. My decision was based off of all the fun gear he could make use of in the situation (wands, ring, and staff). It's not so much a confusion as much as it is dealing with the player's rule-checking and arguing about trying to make him think outside the box of "blast it with a fireball".

My campaign has had a variety of home-brew rules in it, most of which I mistakenly put in when I was inexperienced as a DM, (such as not having to memorize spells) so everyone playing is aware that the rules as written don't always apply. The problem is that this player will constantly fight me on it. How do other DMs deal with players like this?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Wait - the Wizard is ok with not having to memorize spells, but when you add a feature that limits him, he has a problem? I don't think the issue is with metagaming, I think it is the player wanting to play unfairly. \$\endgroup\$ – David Wilkins Feb 9 '15 at 15:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ Terms Check: this isn't "metagaming", it's "rules lawyering". \$\endgroup\$ – RBarryYoung Feb 9 '15 at 22:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ I agree this should not be talking about "metagaming" but instead about rules-lawyering and otherwise oppositional "I must win" play. I have edited the question to that end. This would potentially be a duplicate of rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/158/… but... That question's from 2010 and mostly has crap one-line answers. So I think we should let this one stand. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica Feb 10 '15 at 16:57
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This isn't a rules problem, it's a diva problem.

A player who wants the attention of the game focused on him and his awesomeness - by using attacks that let him dominate the battlefield and prevent other players from participating, or by getting upset and hogging your attention (via arguing about the rules) when he can't do so - is a diva, and needs to be handled as such.

Before doing anything, though, you need to determine how much his spotlight-hogging is bothering the other players. Do they get frustrated when he dominates combat and prevents them from joining in? Or are they happy to sit back and let him kill monsters, while they handle other things?

If everyone except you is generally happy with the status quo, then it's probably best to just let it go, and take that into account when building encounters. Give lots of mooks for the wizard to spam with Chain Lightning during combat, then give the other players spotlight time by including whatever type of scenario they enjoy. Let the wizard have his awesome. (Although if you don't enjoy this, then consider winding down the game and starting a new one that better suits your own style.)

Otherwise, assuming the other players also don't enjoy the wizard's behavior, you have a few options:

Enforce Your DM Authority

You're the DM, and you've already used that authority (however accidentally) to create houserules that benefit the players. Now use your authority to enforce houserules that don't benefit the players. When the wizard complains about a ruling you've made, say, "This game uses a lot of houserules. This is one of those houserules. Because of that, the rule you're citing doesn't apply in this case." As others have suggested, it may help to write down all your houserules explicitly, so that when the wizard tries to argue RAW, you can point to a specific houserule if applicable.

This is a socially tricky option, since it's likely to make the problem player feel punished. However, as long as you're consistent, polite, and firm, any tantrums he throws will reflect badly on him rather than you.

Reset the Rules

You say you have a bunch of houserules that mostly happened because you as a new DM didn't know any better, yet your wizard is trying to fight you with RAW. Explain to your players that keeping track of all your accidental houserules is becoming a problem, especially as the PCs increase in level and the math to balance things gets trickier. Then declare all house rules null and void, and require that play operates strictly on RAW from now on.

This option may be technically tricky, depending on the specific nature of your houserules. It may require reworking characters who've been built around the assumptions in the houserules. You may upset some of your other players who've been benefitting from the power-ups the houserules provide. And you'll almost certainly upset the wizard, who from your description will probably feel like he's being nerfed. However, you can point out - without naming names - that since your group is spending a lot of time during game going over the RAW, making sure all the PCs conform to the RAW will reduce that non-game time and let you spend more time actually playing.

Boot the Wizard

If the wizard's arguing is making the game not fun for you and the other players, but everyone else gets along just fine with each other and your houserules, then it may be best to simply stop playing with him. The easiest way to do this is to speak with the wizard privately. Tell him that you've come to realize that his playstyle is very different than that of the game you're running. Explain that this difference is making the game not fun for you (and if you know that other players don't enjoy his arguing, you can add "and others in the group", but absolutely don't name names). Tell him his character will be dealt with respectfully in game, and (if it's true) say that you'd be happy to game again with him sometime in the future, in a setting more compatible with both your playstyles.

This is another socially tricky option, but if this player is sapping all your game time arguing with you about the rules and hogging the spotlight, then it may be better for everyone to cut him loose.

Nuke the Game and Start Over

This is, well, the nuclear option: wrap up your game (could be as simple as "rocks fall everyone dies", or take a session or two to provide closure), then start a new game that either doesn't use houserules, or which has explicit agreement from all players that houserules will be used, and only minimal game time will be given to debating them (e.g., when dealing with a corner case). You can choose whether or not to invite the wizard back to this new game; if you think he'll continue to argue with you and hog the spotlight, it might be best - for your own sanity - to not continue to game with him.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I would also suggest that any time you are nerfing a character like with the anti-magic field, you give them some means in-game to undo that nerf. If there is nothing they can do about it, it is a punishment. If there is something they can do about it, it becomes a puzzle to be solved. One is frustrating for players, the other leads to interesting gameplay \$\endgroup\$ – D.Spetz Feb 11 '15 at 15:08
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  1. Write down a full list of every house rule.

  2. Make them clear.

  3. Post the list of house rules out to the players. Say that you would like to simplify things and move closer to standard rules, and ask for their feedback on all the house rules.

  4. Taking the feedback into account evaluate each one and decide whether you still need them (for example memorizing spells) and drop or tweak them as appropriate.

How does this help? Because now everything is clear and written down. No more vague hand-waving.

The next step though is going to be harder. Because he's going to moan, he's going to complain, he may threaten to quit or even really quit. It happens, there's only so much you can do about it, but right now his behavior is spoiling the game for everyone else so you need to deal with it.

The worst possible thing you could do was change the rules because he complained a lot. As you rightly pointed out he still wasn't happy, but unfortunately you've now reinforced that behavior. What he's learned is that if he complains then you will give him his way.

These problems are much easier to deal with if you nip them in the bud. A few simple rules help a lot, I always have these in place:

  1. Rules are not debated at the table. They can make their case, being quick about it, I will look at the relevant rules. I make an on-the-spot ruling for that session. After the session anyone interested can help look it up, discuss, and making a ruling that will be used in future. The important thing though is not to delay the game for a long time while someone argues an obscure rules point.

  2. It's not a debate, it is not a democracy. As the DM you decide what the rules are for the benefit of the game as a whole.

  3. In-game problems should be solved using in-game means. Complaining about the rules will not change the anti magic field. If he wants to in game research a way to defeat it, or how it was created, or anything else then that is what he should do.

If you establish your authority and if your players trust you to be fair with them then it makes this a lot easier in the long run.

This particular player seems to like being the center of everything, it's a common type of player and unfortunately the longer you let them get away with it the worst the problem becomes. There are a number of strategies to deal with it:

  1. The best solution but not all players are suitable Work with him, explain that he's too powerful, say that you'd like to let the other players have more to do. Bring him on-board as you work out together ways to limit his character's impact or even retire that character and generate another one.

  2. Train him Stop rewarding his bad behaviour. Start rewarding good behaviour. For example next time he tries to argue the ruling then shut him down. If he won't listen then just move on and ignore him. Just repeat "We're not discussing that now". If on the other hand he waits till the end of the session then sit down with him, and listen, and try and be sympathetic to what he wants (so long as it is reasonable).

  3. Let him leave If he won't adapt then he can leave. Players join and leave games all the time and if he's not fitting into this one then he isn't. That doesn't mean anything about him as a player or you as a DM. Some games just aren't suited to some players..

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    \$\begingroup\$ -1 "Writing down every house rule" is not desirable. His example isn't even a case of house ruling, properly, it's coming up with a random scene/threat that isn't purely built using the existing spell rules, which is fine. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica Feb 10 '15 at 17:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mxyzplk When dealing with a rules lawyer (although I agree with the diagnosis of Diva it does sound like Diva with rules lawyer complications) then having everyone clear on what the rules actually are helps. \$\endgroup\$ – Tim B Feb 10 '15 at 17:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ It helps rule lawyers. I'm not sure it helps anyone else. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica Feb 10 '15 at 19:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ Vague rules give them a lot more scope to work with to find the rules they want, or to subvert a rule to main something that it doesn't. If you don't want to write down your house rules then that's fine. Personally I find it useful. \$\endgroup\$ – Tim B Feb 10 '15 at 21:08
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This might just be (in whole or in part) a wizard problem, which is part of the larger tier problem. Some classes in pathfinder are just vastly more effective than others, and it's hard for them not to overshadow play.

Look at it from the Wizard player's point of view - he thinks he's doing what he's supposed to be doing, trying to pick effective spells and using them to accomplish the party's goals. And it's working, to the point that other players can't get much accomplished, apparently (the question isn't entirely clear) because he's already accomplished it.

Your solution to the other players being overshadowed has basically been to "cheat", by changing the rules in unpredictable ways to nerf his character. You have good reasons for doing so, but for the player it's a bit like playing a game of chess and then being told things like "Nope, you can't move your rook horizontally right now. You're not sure why not."

Of course an RPG isn't supposed to be like a game of chess, but pathfinder has a large body of rules players expect to be followed (at least as a default), and you are changing them without notice in somewhat arbitrary ways that are targeting his character. So, you shouldn't really expect that to go over well.

Here are some things that might help:

  1. Tell the player why the house rules all seem to work against his character. Explain that imbalance among PCs is problem pathfinder often suffers from, and in this campaign the other characters really are being deprived of a chance to be interesting.

  2. When you can, let the player know what the rules are. It's really annoying to feel like your choices as a player don't matter because whatever you decide to do will cause a house rule preventing it to be created. (Sometimes a solution is to decide that broken stuff works the first time, but the house rule goes into effect after. This may cause narrative issues, and wizards have a lot of broken things to choose from, so this may not always work.)

  3. When you nerf wizard abilities, try to be consistent in-game. "Glitterdust doesn't blind creatures, just makes them glittery? Wouldn't my character have known that and not prepared such a weak spell?" "Fireballs don't affect Orcs, never have? Is that well known? How could it not be? I've got 12 ranks in Spellcraft and 6 in knowledge(Orc), couldn't you have told me before I cast it?" If magic is highly variable in its effects for the PC, make it true of magic in general. Have an NPC cast a spell and be surprised it fails to work as expected.

  4. Let the PCs work out what kind of solution to party imbalance they would like to see. Sometimes having the wizard just let the rest of the party try to shine, for some reason (overly cautious in conserving spells, is a jerk that can't be bothered by problems trivial enough for the rest of the party to solve on their own). Though having basically a Deus-Ex-Machina walking around with the party might bore the GM a little. Or you can all agree on ways to nerf the wizard, or strengthen the rest of the party, so that play remains interesting for everyone.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ He didn't nerf the wizard though. He placed a specific encounter in a null-magic area. Introducing different terrain, circumstances, abilities, etc is part of the job of the DM to help keep things interesting. \$\endgroup\$ – Tim B Feb 10 '15 at 17:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ -1 for equating an obstacle in one area preventing a PC from doing something like they had always done it before is cheating. As a DM, it's your job to challenge your players, and if you have a power gamer, you need to devise specific ways to deal with that to present him/her with a challenge while still keeping the game fun. Removing a core component of a class for a game through a mechanic is frustrating for a player, and that's a good thing. Dealing with a power gamer is equally frustrating for a DM. Frustration isn't bad, it's something to be overcome. \$\endgroup\$ – Lino Frank Ciaralli Sep 3 '15 at 13:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ @LinoFrankCiaralli - Thanks for sharing your insight! \$\endgroup\$ – psr Sep 3 '15 at 16:01
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As a GM, I advise you in the future to keep an eye on what you let the players get in items. This can really throw off the power level/CR for the group and make it harder to challenge them and not slaughter them in the process (this is from personal experience).

You are the GM. The rules are guidelines.

Perhaps the cult had the input from the deity in question...thus the effect that is outside the "rules"? For all that the characters know this could be the result of experimental magic, a spell misfire, or a warping of the space-time continuum.

You are the authority. This is your home brew world on top of it. It’s your world. For all intents and purposes you are more than deity yourself. The omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient GAME MASTER.

Be fair, consistent, be fun, and when needed forceful. But above all make it an enjoyable experience. Not just for the players, but for you as well.

That being said, as far as dealing with the player in question: Pull him/her aside, and just lay out the issue/feelings involved. Try explaining to him his effect on the rest of the group, i.e. "…making it difficult for other players to get anything accomplished." That as a result you cooked up a situation that would allow the others to get in the game and would be challenging for him.

This kind of thing in not that farfetched in the grand scheme of things in Pathfinder anyway “rules” or not.

Explain that as a GM your responsibility is to all the players, and that you need to make things challenging, and enjoyable for all. Also explain how the rules’ lawyering is not making it very enjoyable for you as a GM (and probably the other players either).

If you have been fair and objective in your GMing thus far (retconning things when you mess up, and the like) and you are making a concerted effort to know the rules better just ask the player to cut down on the meta and take your word as to what happens in the game.

You should know the player; use whatever approach will work for him/her.

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"Hey, these rules have been pretty consistent. You're constantly arguing about the rules, and given that you have the most powerful character who does the most, all the time, my question is - what are you afraid of happening? What are you trying to see change in this game? It's not like your character is getting stomped on or not getting to do anything. In fact, the other players aren't getting to do a lot because of how powerful your character is. So what's the thing you actually NEED here?"

Some players are... overcontrolling. There's no end to what they need. You could throw softball encounters at them and they'd STILL argue for more advantage. And they often do not even realize that they're under this compulsion.

This out and out conversation is a chance to try to see what is going on, which probably boils down to the very simple fact that whatever this player wants from the game is something that your game cannot, and will never, provide. That said, these kinds of players tend to also not be good at directly articulating that, because just as much as they always come up with a reason to argue, they're also usually unable to engage directly with their desires.

My guess is that this player will not improve, but here's your chance to try to clarify that.

Beyond that, think of it this way: you're playing a game to have fun, but much of your time is eaten up arguing rules with someone who really wants a different game, and the rest of the group doesn't get to have fun because of this.

Either the player can meet you all where you're at, or he should look for folks who play the kind of game he wants and your group can play the kind of game you want - and everyone wins.

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I really like the answers here. Our campaign has some astonishingly powerful characters, and they all (rightfully) want to have moments to shine. We have had a few cases of rules lawyering that threatened the enjoyment of the party.

Here's how we solved it: Houserule #0: DM Wins.

Now, this isn't as arrogant and adversarial as it might sound, nor is it really all that houserule-y. Our little group has a gaming culture of cooperative storytelling rather than DM-vs-the-PCs. What Houserule #0 means to us is that the DM is empowered to craft custom encounters, interesting scenarios, and unique challenges completely from scratch.

This comes with the trust that the DM will create games that are challenging, diverse, and rewarding to the players. We've had our occasional you-can't-use-this-ability moments, but those are best used sparingly. My players recognize that anti-magic fields tend to imply, "Put your weapons away and use soft skills to solve the problem this time," and not, "Bwahaha. I'm gonna melt your face off and there's nothing you can do about it."

Houserule #0 also means that when a rule is unclear, or there is a rules disagreement, gameplay does not stop while we beat out the gritty details. The DM temporarily makes a ruling for the sake of moving gameplay along, with a promise to look things up and get a full understanding to handle it better in future sessions.

I've ruled wrongly before, and when I find the rule the next day, I'll ask the group, "Do you have an imagination? Yesterday it worked that way; but, I learned something and today it works like so..." I find that my players enjoy the faster-paced gameplay that results and are quite tolerant when I make mistakes because they know I'll straighten it out later.

One last thing that Houserule #0 implies is that the DM needs to work hard to win. For me, winning is when we've all had a great evening, stuffed our faces with pizza, and had a chance to be heroic. Every player needs to feel like they overcame interesting challenges and experienced some kind of victory, or the DM didn't win.

Cheers!

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I think your wizard is fighting you because he had a vision for his character development that you struck down via a rule change meant to stop him. Things may have just become dull for him overall since he knows whenever he gets his groove on, a random house rule will nuke it. That's probably why he's upset. He can't get a groove without it being ruined by an "out of game" rule change.

Don't impotentize your wizard. Challenge him. Your challenge as the DM is coming up with sufficiently juicy, smart situations to throw characters like him for a loop. For the sake of argument let's say he's twice as brilliant as everyone else and the game is too easy. Fine. Break his leg. Make him sick. These two examples are admittedly uncreative, but at least they are in game, and if you try harder than I did you can come up with more seamless, believable adversities. Give him something to make the game challenging and where he still has to be awesome and brilliant.

Anyway, you probably want to get a bit more formal about the house rules. As DM you need to become stronger at making up situations without making up rules, and clarify a bit when it's okay to add a house rule with your players. Make sure to record them and get buy-in regarding your authority to make one. Perhaps a fully democratic vote, or perhaps a vote where it takes all players to overrule you - if a mechanism like that fits your group, then great. In exchange your players will respect your rules.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Can you say something more about why anti-magic is bad and makes the character impotent, but breaking their leg is good and challenging? I doubt many reading this will see those as different. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Feb 10 '15 at 21:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ A better challenge: An enemy with spell resistance and improved evasion. If he keeps using the same spells, you'd expect the campaign villain to notice and take steps to counter him. \$\endgroup\$ – Benubird Feb 11 '15 at 10:51

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