I’ve been gaming a long time and for the most part I’ve had very positive experiences. This is especially true when it comes to public-play gaming. The people who come out to my FLGS to play D&D Encounters, Lair Assault, LFR, D&D Game Day, Free RPG Day, or just a pick-up game are for the most part really good people. I’ve found this to be true when I’ve gone to conventions as well. Gamers in generally are pretty good people who enjoy the hobby and want to have fun.
However, every now and then you get a player that is the exception. In some cases they’re genuinely trying to be extra helpful and come off as the Gaming Jerk, and in other cases their inexperience and lack of gaming protocol leads them to step over the line. At the end of the day it’s important to follow Wheaton’s Law: Don’t be a dick! Obviously, no one comes to the gaming table planning to break Wheaton’s Law but it happens. Regrettably I’m seeing it happen more often so I felt it was time to help the newer players by sharing a few words of wisdom and providing four tips on how to avoid breaking Wheaton’s Law.
1) The DM’s ruling is final
When there is a dispute over the rules it’s up to the DM to make the call. If the player impacted doesn’t agree with the DM our house rule is that the player has until the beginning of his next turn to find something in the rules to settle the dispute either way. After that the ruling stands and we drop it. The idea is that it’s more important to keep things moving than it is to debate one call. The only exception is if the ruling will result in a PC death in which case we stop to make sure we get it right. After the game is over we make a point of finding the correct rule so that in the future we know we’ve made the right call.
At my FLGS I play with a lot of newer players, many of whom have little previous gaming experience. So when there’s an ambiguous ruling, especially one that doesn’t go their way, they feel it’s their obligation to find the correct ruling. Now I’m all for making the right call, but once the DM’s ruled you need to move on. Yet some players won’t relent. They keep searching through the books until they find something to back up their argument.
I’ll admit it sucks to be the player and have a ruling that you know or suspect to be right overturned by the DM, but you’re not going to win over the DM by wasting time looking for the right rule. More importantly if you do find that the DM was indeed wrong, making a big stink of it at the table isn’t going to make the game go any faster or smoother. I’ll admit there are times when I’ve made the wrong call, but my expectation is that once I make the call the table will live with it (at least until the end of that session).
In my opinion the correct way to handle this is to speak to the DM privately after the game and discus the rule. Alternatively you could send the DM an email with relevant sections of the rules copied from the online compendium or a book and page reference so they can look it up themselves.
2) Ensure your character sheet is accurate
Having an accurate and up-to-date character sheet is your responsibility as a player. Although it’s possible to create a character the old fashioned way using pencil and paper, there is so much material out there now for 4e it’s practically impossible to build a character without Character Builder. This is all well and good if you’ve got a DDI subscription, but there are players who don’t have the money or don’t want to incur the expense for DDI. However, you still have an accurate character sheet even if you don’t have Character Builder.
I see a lot of newer players downloading the old Character Builder to create their first couple of characters. This is not something I encourage simply because the old builder is just that: old. It hasn’t been updated with the latest errata nor does it have any of the newer powers or feats. If you’re still using the old Character Builder it’s your responsibility to double check that the powers are still correct as printed. If the DM challenges a power or tells you a power has been errataed than you have to accept their ruling (see #1 above).
If you’re unsure how a power works ask the DM before the game how they’d rule on certain elements or just pick a different power. Don’t spring it on the table half way through the encounter. First of all it will slows things down and secondly there’s always a chance that you’re not going to like or agree with the DM’s interpretation (again, see #1 above).
One other aspect of having an accurate character sheet includes recording expenditure of resources. It’s your responsibility to track your own damage, healing surges, and power use. I know a lot of players like to print new clean copies of their PC every time they play, but make sure to transfer that hand-recorded information from one sheet to the next. I’m sure this kind of omission is accidental, but I’ve had some players that seem to do it with alarming frequency. The DM has enough to keep track of, they shouldn’t have to track your damage along with the monsters’ just to make sure you’re doing it right.
3) Be ready to act on your turn
When I’m tracking initiative I always announce whose turn it is now and whose turn is coming up next. This allows the player to review how the encounter is progressing and get ready for their turn. Yet even with these constant reminders I’d say about half the players I play with are not ready when their turn comes around.
If you see that the player acting just before you in the initiative is doing something that won’t have any impact on your actions, pre-roll the attack and damage. This way when the DM moves to you in the initiative you can call out what you’re doing. Announce your standard, move and minor actions; inform the DM which creatures you’re attacking, the attack result and any corresponding damage. And most importantly when your turn’s over clearly state that you’re done so the DM and the other players know your turn is over.
Before pre-rolling anything, make sure you check with the DM. I’d recommend doing this before the game and not during someone else’s turn. Some DMs want to witness rolls and if this is the case with your DM pre-rolling may not be an option. Other DMs may just ask you to leave the dice, as rolled, on the table so that they can see them. This can be helpful if you roll a natural 20. For strikers who do a lot of extra damage dice (sneak dice, hunter’s quarry, warlocks curse) I can’t recommend strongly enough the benefit of pre-rolling at least these extra dice ahead of time. Roll the extra dice numerous times and record the results. When you hit, apply the next number on your list.
Pre-rolling can really save a lot of time, especially if the table has players who are bad at math. If pre-rolling is not an option than at least roll your attack and damage dice together on your turn.
4) Help the DM
One thing I take a lot of heat for from my group is when I help the DM by remind him of conditions that are harmful to the PCs. Things like getting a +2 to attack from combat advantage or reminding him that the monster can take an opportunity attack.
The DM has a lot of things to do whereas the players really only have to worry about one thing – their own PC. There are a lot of times when these little reminders mean the difference between a hit or a miss, and that’s when I take the most crap from the other players. But the way I see it is that we’re all in this together. By not reminding the DM of these little details it’s almost like cheating. I want to defeat the monsters but I’d like to know we did it without cheating.
We have a standing rule at our table that if you’ve got a condition on a monster it’s your responsibility to tell the DM when that monster takes its turn. This includes ongoing damage, debilitating conditions, defenders’ marks, or anything else. If you don’t remind the DM then he assumes all is good and proceeds with the monster’s turn. This also goes for effect duration. If the monster’s condition is save ends then remind the DM to make the save. Many DMs are quite good at tracking a lot of these, but it never hurts to have the players remind the DM of these things.
In many groups everyone takes a turn as DM and what goes around comes around. Help the DM and make his job easier. It might mean that a PC takes a hit or two but when you’re the DM you’ll appreciate the assist.
Remember that at the end of the day we’re all in this together. D&D is just a game and the objective is to have fun. By following the four tips I’ve suggested above you’ll find that the game will run smoothly and there will be fewer instances where Wheaton’s Law is violated.
As this is by no means an exhaustive list, what other tips would you add to help players (new and experienced) from breaking Wheaton’s Law? Do you disagree with any of my suggestions? What adjustments would you make?