My blog about my wargaming activities. I collect a lot of 15mm miniatures for the American War of Independence and so collect a lot of rules for this period. I started miniatures with Napoleonics, so I have a number of armies in 6mm and 15mm figures for skirmishing. I have15mm WW II figures that I use for Flames of War, Memoir '44, and someday, Poor Bloody Infantry. Finally there is my on-again, off-again relationship with paper soldiers that I sometimes write about.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Confessions of a Rules Lawyer

Phil Barker recently published a blurb that was discussed on The Miniatures Page about the new version of DBMM (2.0) and one of the points that he made was that this version was to tighten up the rules because of the rules lawyers. Specifically he said:

"... but reading through from start to finish has reminded me of what a lot of words are there just to confirm that doing the obvious thing is in fact correct in the eyes of rule lawyers."

Neil Thomas, in his book Napoleonic Wargaming and in a recent article in Battlegames magazine, also comes down on rules lawyers. Here is his rant in Napoleonic Wargaming:

"A final difficulty with complex rules stems from the perceived necessity of catering for a particular segment of their potential public. Specifically, those wargamers who play an active role in organized competitions. ... Catering for competitive wargamers can have its problems, however. Although there are many very friendly and easy going gamers on the competition circuit, it is also true that some players want to win at all costs. These individuals have an unfortunate reputation for fielding armies with an unrealistically high proportion of elite troops, and also for exploiting every conceivable loophole in the rules - no matter how absurd the resultant troop maneuvers are. Such people are are often referred to as 'rules lawyers', and make insufferable opponents who are best avoided."

So, here I am confessing that I am a rules lawyer. No, not the insufferable kind Neil refers to, nor the kind that can't see the obvious that Phil laments about. I am the kind that see the rules for what they are - a game - and point out when the game doesn't always work because the rules designer failed to be precise.

One of the recent discussions about DBA spoke of how it was not really designed for competitive play and anothers' counter was that it was definitely designed for competitive play because the language Phil used - that people always complain about - was specifically precise. Competitive play requires precise rules. Not necessarily complex rules, as Neil implies competitive rules must be, but precise rules. The rules of Chess are precise, after centuries of playtesting and revision,  largely I am sure because of 'rules lawyers'.

A lot of this came about because of my AWI game using Napoleonic Wargaming as the basis, and because of a disagreement about the rules for Column, Line, and Square. The game left a few questions about how the mechanics worked, how they were executed. I know the intent of Neil is for you to work it out amongst yourselves in a gentlemanly fashion. Sounds nice and all, but some people want a complete set of rules. Wanting precision does not make you a rules lawyer, at least not by his description, it makes you a consumer. When you buy rules, you aren't really expecting to find a book of ideas or a toolkit; you expect rules. It is like buying that Christmas present and not seeing the label 'Some Assembly Required'.

I know most people's version of a rules lawyer is someone who is obnoxious about his exploiting the rules. They aren't rules lawyers, they are simply obnoxious. Rules lawyers make games more precise and therefore make competitions possible. You really think you could run a serious competition using some of the rules from Grant, Featherstone, Bath, or Young?

Well, enough of this rant. Time to get back to tightening the American War of Independence Wargaming rules.

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Huachuca City, Arizona, United States
I am 58 yrs old now. I bought a house in Huachuca City, AZ working for a software company for the last three years. To while away the hours I like to wargame -- with wooden, lead, and sometimes paper miniatures -- usually solo. Although I am a 'rules junkie', I almost always use rules of my own (I like to build upon others' ideas, but it seems like there is always something "missing" or "wrong").