My question is somewhat similar to this question, however I feel I have a different situation in which my question is not covered by the answers stated.

I have a player in my campaign group of 5 players who is constantly "jumping the gun" on a lot of my custom built scenarios. I've seen this as very typical of a rule lawyer, however I do not believe he is doing this out of malice/etc., just simply not understanding the situation fully. I should note, I try to always adhere to the RAW, and I make sure all players are aware that if you can prove it is RAW then it will be used. Here is a better example from a recent campaign we played...

  • Players entered a crypt to fight the main boss. Players (through trial & error) discovered his AC was 18.
  • RuleLaywer argued that it was too high given their level, and impossible to get that high if I had used the monster manuel/etc.
  • I told him it was done using the rules, exactly as written with no hand-waving, he simply did not know the full details yet.
  • RuleLawyer then proceeded to be toxic for the rest of the fight making jabs every time someone missed an attack (to my annoyance, even on rolls of 1-2).
  • Party killed the boss, and looted his body, he was wearing some magical armor that improved his AC, that the party then took. (The armor was from the DMG, and I even had lore around how he obtained the armor (that the players discovered shortly afterward).)
  • Player then stopped complaining, since he now understood the full details.

He is a long-standing member of the group, so it's not that he's new. He is also not new to RPGs. His problem seems to generally be more along the lines of, "I think this is not fair — even though I don't know the entire situation". Kind of like a rule lawyer who only read ¾ of the book before quoting rules.

I know indirectly that his actions have bothered more than just me. I've had at least one other player come to me saying they were annoyed by his attitude, saying something along the lines of "I wish he would just play the game and stop making a big deal about this and being so snarky". Although I have to take that with a grain of salt since I don't think that player likes him very much (out of campaign).

How would you generally deal with someone like this? I don't want to have to give out story/etc. aspects of the campaign in advance just so he does not complain, since it would ruin the exploration of the campaign.


7 Answers 7


I suspect that there is an underlying issue here which has little or nothing to do with the rules. He's not "lawyering" in the usual sense - probing the DM to see what loopholes he can exploit. What I gather from the description is that he's second-guessing the DM with regards to how difficult the encounter is.

Personally, I would do two things. First of all, I would have a discussion with your players about allowing DM creativity. For most of us DMs, a huge part of the fun of DMing is being able to create encounters, plots and schemes using this wonderful medium. When the players start second-guessing the DM over such details, it takes away from your fun. You had fun creating that encounter and hoped that it would be a source of fun for the players, too. The kvetching worked against that. Be clear on this: DM's should get to have fun.

Second, I would talk to that player about what was the real trigger there. Is it really that he views D&D as an entirely closed gaming system and any deviation from the canon is bad-wrong-fun? Was he worried about a potential TPK and thought that you were expressing a mean streak? Or perhaps he's a frustrated DM himself and can't help but put himself "behind the DM screen"? He might not know himself, but hopefully you can tease that bit of information out of him. If it's the first item, then continue that discussion about creativity. If it's the second, then he'll probably get over it after you play for a while and he gets used to your style. If it's the third, you might find ways to involve him in your DMing - perhaps he can design your next big boss encounter for you, or you can busy him by arranging for the party to obtain a stronghold which he needs to populate with guards and traps.

TL;DR: Talk it out. Express why this incident bothered you, establish the parameters for your own fun, find out what bothered him, and take his concerns into account in future games.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I think your answer is actually fairly close to the truth. Reflecting on some of the points you made, he is probably the type who would rather be in control - and anytime he is not, he was not happy. He would easily be classified as a "power player". The issues he has raised in the past generally tend to be when he is out of control of the situation. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 11, 2016 at 18:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ Try handing over some of the details of DMing to him. I DM more than I play, and I tend to be a little like your player when I'm on the wrong side of the screen. So one DM lets me handle the initiative tracking. It keeps me busy, makes me feel important, and lets him concentrate on more important stuff. \$\endgroup\$
    – pokep
    Commented Apr 11, 2016 at 18:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'd add that you should remind him that you are not trying to kill off his character (right?), so he should trust you. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jeff
    Commented Apr 29, 2016 at 16:52

Ask the player why he doesn't trust you

Maybe something happened while you were DMing that made him lose faith in you. Maybe something happened in another campaign that made him lose faith in all DMs. Whatever the issue, a role-playing game demands a certain amount of trust by all participants and—as you've experienced—things are uncomfortable if that trust is questioned or absent.

If the player's your friend and you want to keep him in the group and there aren't other problems, the first step is to find out what happened to make him behave this way. That's a conversation you must have, and the results of that conversation could very well bring things out that have been boiling for a while.

But it's possible the player responds with a stunned, "What are you talking about?" In that case, the player's not reflected on the behavior, sees the behavior as normal, and doesn't know the behavior's annoying. If so, pull back! Confronting someone about a behavior he's not examined himself yet isn't particularly useful. Let the reveal sit for a week or so, then, if nothing's changed, ask again. Hope for a real, honest answer.

But if there's still no clear answer, and the behavior continues, you can try to puzzle out what's going on by doing one or both of the following:

  • Demonstrating your competence. Maybe you've not quite proven to the player that you're knowledgeable enough about the game to deserve not to have your judgment questioned. That is, maybe the player thinks you don't know the rules. (This isn't to slam you, Sh4dowsPlyr—I don't even know you.) Convince him. Walk him through a scenario you've designed. Show him some of your (non-vital) notes. Take an evening and run an open-book, mutually-moderated PvP arena. Make him feel like you know your stuff, and make him feel like you know he knows his stuff. That's important, too. He might simply want the attention that comes from his rules knowledge.
  • Ceding DMing duties to him. Offer to let the player DM. The player might not even know it, but he may want to DM. Give him the opportunity. See what he does that's different from what you do. Be complimentary and accepting of your differences. (Also, try to resist turning the tables of him by behaving in his game the way he has in yours; while fun, that's counterproductive.) Then—when (seriously: it's almost always when) you're DMing again—try to incorporate some of what you've learned about his style and expectations into your own campaigns.

However, if, after all that, nothing changes—if the player's behavior is egregious enough that it makes your time spent gaming with the player no longer a pleasure (and you are the most important part of this equation because you're here asking the question)—, you can mention that the player might be happier spending time elsewhere. And if that doesn't improve the player's behavior, you can kick out the player or disband the group. This can backfire if the group's more attached to the player than to you and leave you needing a new gaming group, but remember: no gaming is better than bad gaming.

  • \$\begingroup\$ What you say may be a factor - I'm not a new DM, but I am new to 5e rules and this is my very first campaign (in 5e). We have had a number of, "oops, lets ret-con that because no-one got it right". Perhaps he is building off that to just distrust everything. He would certainly be the kind to simply question it regardless if he thinks its correct or not. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 11, 2016 at 18:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Sh4d0wsPlyr Don't guess, though. Ask! And if it turns out that is the case, you might want to jump straight to the PvP arena, but have everyone take turns running some monsters versus a group of gladiators so that you're all understanding the rules the same way. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 11, 2016 at 19:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Sh4d0wsPlyr Also, something that has been working for me when misplays happen is: 1) Something is not clear 2) I, as the DM, find a solution that sounds good enough 3) After the game, I research, and then text my ENTIRE group (we have facebook and whatsapp conversations just for that) about the right solution, and everyone learns. That at least helps with stopping the whole game to discuss rules, which in my opinion tend to generate more stress, and more distrust. \$\endgroup\$
    – Punkgeon
    Commented Apr 12, 2016 at 10:49

When you get down to it, the player is arguing from lack of imagination. He said there's no way the NPC could have that AC, and in saying that he failed to take into account a completely obvious means by which AC can be improved beyond the norm (assuming of course that you didn't ignore any rule in giving this item to that NPC). This happens repeatedly, and he repeatedly fails to learn the lesson that RAW means what's in the books, not the subset that he can remember at any given moment.

You should talk to the player with the aim to persuade him that:

  1. He's not helping the game: you want to hear battle plans and in-character conversation, not constant criticism (especially incorrect criticism). You're hardly going to make the encounter easier on the fly just because he can't figure out what's going on, so there is no win for him in complaining at the table.
  2. He will have more fun playing what's in front of him and solving the mystery, than complaining about it and pretending the mystery must be some mistake. Or, if he doesn't because he can't stand not knowing everything even for the duration of one encounter, then this game isn't for him. It's not supposed to be too easy for the players to figure out exactly what they're facing, and an unexpectedly high AC is a clue, not some DM plot to do the players down. Practice saying "you may think that, I couldn't possibly comment", or anything else that will make the mystery feel to him like an intentional puzzle and not some frustrating mistake.
  3. When you say "if it's RAW you can use it", this is an invitation to players to use whatever rules are available to support their own actions, tactics, builds and so on. It's not an invitation to use RAW to make cases that your NPCs must be in error or that you are cheating. Especially incorrect cases.
  4. Ultimately, by doing this he's making himself look silly (don't rub this in: the aim is not to destroy his ego or enter a pissing contest, just to establish that his guesses aren't improving things for himself or the players).
  5. In some cases solving the mystery will help win the encounter. For example some day he might be able to figure out there's a non-obvious caster around by recognising that the visible enemies have been buffed or something. If he just throws his hands up and says that what is happening is impossible then he's giving up on the potential advantages of figuring out the missing information. Or, since he won't solve everything, he should be patient and wait for more information (which in this encounter not only was forthcoming, but came forth in the form of a nice piece of loot).

You're right that this can't usefully be solved by providing more information. Firstly because part of the fun of the game is in trying to figure out mysteries, and secondly because rewarding his unjustified accusations with an in-game advantage breaks the game. Whingeing is not supposed to be an effective tactic.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for point #3. This is the point I would have made an answer around if you hadn't covered it. "If it's RAW, it's fair game" is a policy for execution of game mechanics; it doesn't give players carte blanche to argue against the DM's content decisions. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 11, 2016 at 21:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ @DanHenderson: yes, and furthermore "I only use RAW" means, "if I make a mistake I'll fix it", but not "I want the game to focus on you guys checking my work for mistakes"! Whether you want extended rules arguments at the table is a whole separate decision from whether you want to play by RAW :-) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 11, 2016 at 21:57

5e uses a mixture of simulation and design for monster encounter balance.

It is true that a creature's AC is determined by its armor, shield, dexterity modifier, and any enchantments (or alternative ways to calculate the AC).

However, the balance system gives you what AC you should have on a monster.

These seem to disagree. If you equip a CR 1 town guardsman with plate and a shield, the town guardsman has 20 AC. But a CR 1 creature shouldn't have 20 AC; it is too high.

Reconciling this is simple. You are the DM. You determine what gear the town guardsman has. You determine if the city has a mass production facility and is so rich that it has enough plate armor for even a lowly town guardsman.

The balance guidelines presume you don't equip CR 1 town guardsmen in full plate and give them a shield.

Your simulationist "I simply gave the foe better armor than standard" is valid, but it violates the balance-based "a CR X monster shouldn't have that high AC".

So step back, and realize that you did stretch or bend the balancing guidelines by giving a foe an abnormally high AC. The story-based reasoning why is a simulationist/story one, and doesn't make up for the balance impact. It is the same as the "my guy syndrome" -- you are in control of the world, you really actually get to determine the AC of the creatures in it. The CR1 town guardsman doesn't wear the gear that gives them 20 AC, and you get to say why.

Unusually high AC foes cause mechanical balance problems, and make the toddering CR system of 5e even less robust. Before having a story/simulationist mechanism that led to an abnormally high AC, you should be considering the impact it would have, and paused.

Overly high AC is a really easy thing to give a monster, and arguably it is single handedly responsible for some serious differences between the AD&D style of play and the 3.5 and 4e styles of play. The designers of 5e tried to go back to AD&D/OD&D style AC; choices like yours subvert that.

At the same time, having some monsters with ridiculously quirky stats is valid, and in the tradition of OD&D. Those monsters are a kind of "puzzle monster"; if you embrace that, you can improve the encounter significantly (making the reason why swords just bounce off the target more obvious, and providing a way to nullify it, for example).

This doesn't solve your problem. Your problem is a personality conflict with your player. Regardless of the fact that your monster had to high an AC for its CR, the clash with the player is a problem.

Realize that many players are damaged. They are damaged by railroading DMs, by DMs who create monsters that scale for the players strengths and nullify all character build choices, that have had lots of experiences that have given them sub-optimal responses to seemingly innocuous situations.

It may not be possible for you to repair that damage. But you can start working on it, if you want to. You have to build trust with that player. Possibly you have to be explicit about requesting trust from the player, and letting them know you won't betray that trust; or, you can make it implicit, and act in a trustworthy way and hope the player catches on.

Or you can do a mixture; find a place where the player is less damaged, explicitly talk about asking for trust in that narrow area, and following through. That can build trust in that narrow area, and spread elsewhere.

Another approach is to embrace the player's damage and use it. When the you are doing something like that -- something is strange behind the curtain, the creature is wearing magic armor -- don't have the mystery end there. Use the fact that your player will notice the foe is nearly invulnerable to swords as a hook. Recall above mentioning puzzle monsters? You can reward the player noticing the high AC with hints about why, and how to deal with it.

How does one deal with magic armor? Well, what if the armor gets its magic from the emblem on its chest. And if you knock the emblem off, the armor loses its bonus until the emblem is reattached.

Or maybe the bad guy is evil, but the armor is good. And the armor is being "enslaved" by the cursed chains (inscribed with unholy symbols) they have wrapped around it. Destroy the chains, and the armor is no longer enslaved, and starts working for the party; the bonus goes away, and maybe even becomes a penalty.

This is an extension of the "make the player trust you" and the balance based design above. You want to bend the game away from the advised balance in ways that are legal; make them produce a good tactical story.

This kind of rewarding of what the player does, making noticing fishy things be a good thing not something that puts them against the DM, can rebuild trust.

Rebuilding trust is lots of work. So you can just kick the player from your party, or issue an ultimatum instead.

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    \$\begingroup\$ "You can reward the player noticing the high AC with hints about why, and how to deal with it." - this. \$\endgroup\$
    – Rob Watts
    Commented Apr 11, 2016 at 22:11
  • 15
    \$\begingroup\$ Also by giving them a secretive smile and waggling your eyebrows at them when they point out a seeming contradiction. [GM]: “Yeah, why does the boss have such a high AC? If only there was a way to investigate that…” \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 11, 2016 at 22:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Yakk Although I certainaly approve of most of your ending thoughts, I do not agree with the rest of it. D&D 5E specifically gives you ways of calculating the CR of a player character in the MM. It's AC is higher because it lacks in other stats to account for it (in my case, I believe health was lower, and he had a weakness). I feel your comments at the start might be somewhat misguided. Also your example is flawed - most monsters already have armor and its accounted for in the MM. Equipping other just changes which is used, changing the CR. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 12, 2016 at 13:16

I had a friend who was pedantic... in the same way. In my case - I talked to him.

During conversation, my argumentation was concentrated in these points:

  1. There are many ways to play tabletop RPG. Actually, here it's not unlike computer game where you host online computer game (for example Mount And Blade: With Fire And Sword) - first of all you choose type scenario, map and a lot of options. You could play the same map! But different options would give absolutely different feel an experience to the game - coop or 2vs2 or 12vs12. Would there be lots of resources at the start or those would be scarce? What would be game mode? Would you have henchmen or you would be all by yourself? What would be factions?

  2. Communicate him concept of Fog of War. It's just plainly awesome. It's stupid but exactly that wiki article gave me a lot of inspiration. o_o (Actually I was reading it as a part of history of old RPG's but anyways)

  3. Fog-of-war is option in our game that's turned 'on'. Because it gives certain taste to the game.

  4. RPG - is a game where players interact with game world through arbitrator tho adjudicates their actions (possible/impossible + consequences). One of goals of RPG - is to experience things your character faces. You will never have stress, fear, surprise and delight if you don't have fog of war. Without it there is not so much sense in playing RPG actually.

  5. Too much pecking about the rules takes you away from character - and holds it to a guy sitting at the table and throwing dice. If you break pace of game with minor pecks - you rob YOURSELF from the reason why you came for a game. Game would be a waste of time. Even more - when you spend your time for pecks, you wouldn't see consequences of your actions. So you rob yourself twice.

  6. Why do you rob yourself? Why do you spend your time?

Something like that. After talk I better understood his motivation (he is control freak ^ ^ still is), and he decided to give a try to proposed 'scenario'.

And those points were essential for me, I really didn't want to play otherwise, so if it turned to situation where he wouldn't agree, with all respect and without any aggression I would part my way with him. In my situation - it wouldn't have any negative real-life consequences.

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    \$\begingroup\$ 4, 5 used 1, 2, 3 as foundation and together 1-5, provided foundation for final 6. System of chaos ^ ^ \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 11, 2016 at 17:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm sorry, but FoW has a lot to do with this situation. Player's actions are precisely targeted on piecing FoW (reconnaissance of boss AC, psychological pressure on DM - in methodological and planned way). Fighting with fog of war per se is not wrong, but what he's doing wrong - he attacks FoW using out-of-character means - rules, GM, AC. He tries to exclude FoW as option, 'ban' it using opinion of other players. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 11, 2016 at 18:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ How do I put it... he acts like he doesn't like the very concept of fog of war during game - it feels like he has different expectations and goals. So I feel FoW is a fundamental reason of disagreement of GM and player here. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 11, 2016 at 18:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ My apologies, I misunderstood \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 11, 2016 at 21:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ In a more generic sense, what you're talking about here is a lack of perfect information. \$\endgroup\$
    – T.J.L.
    Commented Feb 1, 2018 at 14:36

These are all great answers and get to possible root of the player's problem.

Here is my simple solution to handle problem "Bob."

"Bob, that's awesome that you even know that! Crazy good memory. We don't get much time together though. Is one or two points of AC really worth stopping the game? Look, you guys can do this. You have the tools. Might just need to be a little creative. Believe me, the reward is worth it!"

I've over powered a lot of bosses in my day. I've sometimes adjusted hit points on the fly to bring back balance. Other times, the boss wins, revives the characters and holds/tortures them to find out who sent them. Prison break next week!


To add to the accepted and other answers I'll append the following:

You are able to give insights into an encounter without spoiling any secrets. In the example given, when you described the boss, did you make mention that his armor looks different than those around him or that your players have seen before? [This only works with magic items that 'look' different, but there are other indicators as well]

Remember AC isn't just hit or miss. When a character as 8 Dex and is wearing Full Plate, they're not dodging out of the way, but just letting the armor do all the work. Describe the scene as that. "You rolled a 17 to hit? Okay, well your attack looked as if it were going to hit, but you see a dim light flash as your weapon hits the bosses armor, deflecting the attack" or something along those lines. This way you can add even more depth do the magic item in general, give it a look and a feel, instead of just (It's a +3 magic armor)

But in the end, as others have said, talk to the player in question (Alone if possible) and to the other players. Not just about this incident, but any issues that have been brought up, and try not to focus on one Player if there's more than one problem, you don't want them to think they are being ganged up on.


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