To be fair, I was actually called “Encyclopaedia” the other day, but allow me to explain…
I decided to drop in on a local group of gamers using Meetup to get started with D&D. Eleven people showed up at the Tim Hortons. Of those eleven, four had a Player’s Handbook (not including PDFs). Of those four, two had ever played or made a character before (the Dungeon Master was not among them). Of those two, one was me. I previously posted about my gaming background, a significant portion of it being D&D. So here were eleven people sitting around a bunch of pulled together tables at a coffee shop, trying to make characters for the first time… and the DM was doing it right along with them.
So as everyone was rolling their ability scores, I started listening around the table. No one knew what to do… even when rolling. 4d6 drop the lowest took a few minutes of repeating and explaining for everyone to understand. So the rest of the evening went around as I tried to answer everyone’s questions. I tried to be fair, but ten people asking character creation questions PLUS my interpretations took quite a toll on my game knowledge and time. The inquiries were non-stop. I did not really get to know any of the players, but I did start memorizing page reference numbers because of the frequency I was asked. I did not even finish rolling my stats.
I know the game really well. I am the kind of person that cringes just a little bit when I watch Critical Role get the rules wrong, whether it benefits them (Grog has resistance to damage and bonus to damage when using rage… it is not just a way to frenzy an extra attack) or would hinder them (Vex cannot cast hunter’s mark and hail of thorns in the same round… and hail of thorns does not work how you think it does). In my younger years, it would be a game stopping contention as I argued for equality and balance.
These days, I still want equality and balance. I want the rules to make sense. They are a platform in which we hang our collective play and our interpretation of the baseline experience. They ensure all the characters are created fairly, the approach is all the same, and that the DM plays by the same rules when creating challenges. No one should feel bad or left out because they did not get the same opportunity or ability to shine because someone ignored, bent, or cheated the rules. I do not believe that rules constrain play or roleplaying, they just give context (like physics and gravity). I am lawful neutral in my belief that fair play and a even game should always be maintained and adhering to the rules–good or bad–does that. (Side note: Our group has a system for ability scores that allows everyone to roll and the players decide on a single set that everyone uses. No one gets screwed or goes home crying.) When you succeed or fail, you did it within the framework of the game, the narrative, and the rules… and no one can take that away from you because of a rules Mulligan. It is certainly better than a victory unfairly won.
By the way, I think the dis/advantage system is one of the most genius game tools ever invented…
Now, does all this make me a rules lawyer? Depends on your definition, but probably. I do not argue or nitpick the rules, but I try to remind people so that they learn and do their due diligence. Just like someone who studies for an exam versus someone trying to muddle their way through without opening a book, one person is going to do better. But when they offer you some tutoring and help, do not get angry or upset, be gracious and accept the help. I learned D&D and all its nuances and rules because I love the game. That goes same for anything you love, you want people to either understand that passion or to share it. D&D is something I want everyone to know about because it is such a good shared game–no, experience.
Back to the Meetup group. I spent over two hours answering questions, helping people fill out their character sheets, trying to give them advice on some things their characters could do (and how to think of future levels). Unfortunately, I am not playing with them (I have previous considerations on the same day, I am very wary of the DM for a few reasons, and I think eleven players is too many), but I wish them well. New blood to the game is always important. When I informed them I would not be joining them on a regular basis, someone admonished that there would be no “enciclopedia” this time.
I guess I made an impression.
But… what do I know…?