So I read this post: How do you help players not focus on the rules? and I can of course see the point that story is the main source of fun.

I would like to ask the opposite question though: what if a player (especially in a party of new people) tries to abuse "story over rules" to just avoid learning the rules? How do you deal with it without being rude?

Example: in our party of new players (i'm new too) we had a lot of conversations similar to the following.

DM: "you can't do that";

Player: "oh i'll 'just' do (thing that makes even less sense) then"

DM: "you can't do"

Player: "how does that even make sense with the story though that I can't even cast spells as a wizard/command my animals as a druid/etc."

We would then correct a mistake that a player made in his choices earlier (i.e. it happened to me once that I forgot to put clay in my initial inventory as a druid. I could then not cast "Stone Shape" and we decided to add it to my inventory in retrospect because it's quite a reasonable thing to have as a druid/not expensive and I just forgot to have it).

Later this stopped happening except for some people who just never spent time on reading up notes etc. This is the people I'm asking about. It's probably something that would wear out with time anyway, so I guess I'm asking for advice on how to speed up that process.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm just going to mention there are roleplaying games (other than D&D) in which this "story over rules" thing isn't really a problem (in part because the rules aren't getting in the way of the story to begin with), in which some of your players - such as that one - may have more fun. You have enough rep to join us in chat, if you want to learn anything about that. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 12, 2016 at 1:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ Please don't answer in comments. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Commented Jan 12, 2016 at 3:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ The question could benefit from clarification. Is the ongoing problem more a "hey he cast stone shape without bothering to have clay written down on his sheet," or is it "can't be bothered to remember how to roll a saving throw?" Your main example in he Q is so vague as to be unhelpful. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Commented Jan 12, 2016 at 13:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ In case of the latter, this question may be related. \$\endgroup\$
    – daze413
    Commented Jan 13, 2016 at 0:29

3 Answers 3


Going with the very same idea of @Angelo, I'd suggest to let players try anything.

If rules, though, don't let that happen you have several ways to react:

Still let it happen

If you are with a group of players who are not familiar with the rules, and you have not much interest in them knowing them, you can try to twist the rules some times, so they don't feel rules are there to annoy them.

Example: A player tries to aim for a body part in D&D5. Rather than saying the player that he can't aim for a body part, and has to simply "attack", you let him roll with disadvantage and let the desired result happen if he's successful. (I would let this happen only agains minor characters and for dramatic purpose)

Let him only try but fail

You'd ask him to describe how he tries to do that action, and when the outcome is about to happen, you step in and describe if simply failing.

Example: A Druid orders a wild wolf to guide the group to the enemies. The Druid speaks in an imperative way. The wolf looks at the Druid very concentrated. You could even let the Druid roll for Animal Handling. Depending on the result of the roll the wolf feels the Druid's aggresive and attack the group or flees scared. Anyway, it never guides the group to the enemies.

Example 2: A Wizard tries to read a spell from his book, even he has no slots available anymore. As he begins to read it and invoke the magic, he feels dizzy and tired, since he can't channel that much magic. If he keeps trying to summon the spell, before finishing a intense headache stops him from finishing the sentence.

In both cases: Explain what happened

The most important, though, whatever you choose to do, is to explain the players what the rules state about that. You can explain that rules say he can't aim for body parts, but you let him now because it was an interesting cinematic scene, but that's what critics are for. Same when what the player tries something and it fails. You not only explain it through flavour but also you tell him the rules make magic and druidic powers work that way.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I personally like this approach a lot, because I generally give my players more latitude when it comes to the actions they can take than the rules explicitly allow; just because it isn't in the rules doesn't mean it can't be done. If the rules were exhaustive, the book would be infinity pages long. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 12, 2016 at 10:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ If the action can only result to failure, and the character would know it's impossible, shouldn't the GM communicate the impossibility? \$\endgroup\$
    – daze413
    Commented Jan 13, 2016 at 0:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ My preferred gm-style is explaining rules through roleplaying. That implies things like that. Of course, if the character is clearly supposed to know that it's impossible, I'd try to explain why it's impossible and how the character knows it is. If possible, I'd do so in-play, if not, directly to the player. \$\endgroup\$
    – Masclins
    Commented Jan 13, 2016 at 6:53

I would suggest the DM should role-play the "You can't do that" situations as opposed to just saying "You can't do that". You'll find that even the most ridiculous player requests when role-played allow the story to continue and may even teach the player(s) some valuable lessons.

Yes, this will be harder for a new DM to handle fluently. However, the more often this approach is taken, the easier it will become to accomplish.

I was going to add some examples to flesh this out some more, however, I don't think anything I add would go above and beyond @Albert Masclans' rather helpful examples.

I will add that you should also add some extra dice-rolls into the mix (either by the player or the DM) for ability checks and things of that nature. Whether they influence the DM's decision to allow the player to succeed or not, if done randomly and not every time a situation like this comes up, they can add an air of mystery.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I like the idea :) could you make an example? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 12, 2016 at 7:37

The simplest and most obvious answer is to read the rule book.

it happened to me once that I forgot to put clay in my initial inventory as a druid. I could then not cast "Stone Shape" and we decided to add it to my inventory in retrospect because it's quite a reasonable thing to have as a druid/not expensive and I just forgot to have it

For example, if you were playing 3rd (including 3.5) or 5th editions and read through the magic section of the appropriate Player's Handbook, you would know that there is a mechanic designed to solve the exact problem you're describing called a Spell Component Pouch.

so I guess I'm asking for advice on how to speed up that process.

In my experience, aside from playing the game and being reminded on a continual basis by a more experienced player (we've all been the newbie at some point in our gaming careers) what the rules are for a particular situation, the only way to speed up the process of learning the rules is by prioritizing how much time you spend reading each section of the book. Instead of simply plopping the book down in front of each player and having them read it from start to finish, have them focus on the sections that are most likely to benefit them.

The GM has to know all the rules, but the players only need to know the rules that apply to them.

As the GM you should have some rough idea of each player's character concept. You can help by making suggestions as to which parts are most important for each player. There are some sections which everyone needs to read:

  • The section introducing the core mechanic (the D20).
  • The section on the six basic attributes and what kind of actions they govern.
  • The section on the core selection of skills and what kind of actions they govern. (if applicable to your edition, I'm not sure if 1st Edition or 2nd Edition had skills)
  • The section describing the character creation process.
  • The section describing how combat works.

If you have a firm grasp of the above as a new player, you're in good shape. If you're playing a magic-user/caster, obviously you want to read the section on magic and the descriptions for the spells your class can cast. If you're playing a martial type like a fighter, you should know all the various kinds of weapons and armor that are available and what makes each of them different mechanically. If you're playing a class that uses pets (animal companions, summons, undead for necromancers, familiars, etcetera), then you should go over those creatures' statblocks.

  • \$\begingroup\$ This is a nice list of rules the player should know, but how do you make a player know this? \$\endgroup\$
    – MrLemon
    Commented Jan 12, 2016 at 10:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MrLemon Read the first sentence of the answer. I know reading is a laborious chore in this day and age, but unfortunately there is simply no substitute for reading the book. While the GM can do a lot to help the players learn the rules, the GM cannot simply read the rule book and telepathically transfer that knowledge directly to the player despite how convenient that would be (unless someone invented the Vulcan Mindmeld and I didn't hear about it...). Tabletop RPGs require some level of time investment from the player. If they aren't willing to read the book, they picked the wrong hobby. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 12, 2016 at 11:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ -1 'The GM has to know all the rules' is a massive generalisation. I've played at tables where certain players shoulder the responsibility of rules expertise specifically so the GM doesn't have to, and it works fine \$\endgroup\$
    – Wibbs
    Commented Jan 12, 2016 at 13:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Wibbs The querent specifically said that his entire group, himself included, is new to the game. If they had a veteran playing with them I might agree with you and suggest that he lean on the vet a bit for rules guidance. But as the GM of a bunch of newbies, he has taken on the responsibility of being the arbiter and referee. He has to be the one to become the "rules guy." Expecting his players to not only become experts on the rules that apply to them but also all the rules that apply to the other players is, quite frankly, a ridiculous and unrealistic flight of fancy. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 12, 2016 at 22:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 this is a good answer, the GM at least should be the rules expert. What happens when the GM and the players don't know the rules? Well, I can tell you that's not dungeons and dragons but it's still a roleplaying game. \$\endgroup\$
    – daze413
    Commented Jan 13, 2016 at 0:22

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