Feast of Blades '13

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Rules Lawyering (Guest Post)

Hey all Kevin here, my very witty, articulate, and funny 40k buddy Marcus from The Tuxedo Fex wrote a post (probably with a few beers mixed in the middle) for me to throw up on the blog on rules lawyers and what he thinks of them.....just as a warning its a little EXPLICIT...so enjoy....

Lawyers, as a whole, are total disreputable assholes.

Let me explain my credentials for making that claim: two of my closest friends and roommates are law students, and I have therefore been exposed to the habits, mannerisms, and thought processes of lawyers on a daily basis for quite a while now. And as frustrating as it can be to be proven wrong on semantics, protracted pseudo-logic, or just plain old-fashioned black magic, eventually you have to realize that being proved 'technically wrong' is exactly the same thing as being proved 'regular wrong'.

One of the most hated groups of 40k players are those soulless bastards known as 'rules lawyers'. You know the type; arguing with you over the definitions of the terms in the rules, exploring every possible interpretation of the written wording of even the simplest-sounding processes and happenings, and bringing a new level of clarity to the contentious and convoluted rules of our beloved hobby.

Wait, what was that last part?

Yeah, that's right punks. I just said rules lawyers are good. Now, this comes with the obvious caveat that taking anything too far is bad; Johnny Cochran is a bit dubious, but not every defense attorney is an unscrupulous prick, yah? Yah.

Break it down with me, daddy-o; we play Warhammer 40,000. This is a game that has rules. Those rules exist primarily in written form, the interpretations of which are obviously dependent on the meanings of the words with which they are expressed. The definition of each word in each rule has to be clearly and consistently defined in order for this game to make any sense. Take, for example, the seemingly simple word 'turn': according to the main rulebook FAQ, this only means a player turn, and not a game turn (two player turns). That's a big fucking deal: that's the difference between a Grey Knight Squad casting Hammerhand in your turn as well as his, instead of just half the time (or him not being able to cast Might of Titan in your turn. Have I cashed in on GK paranoia enough, here?). The word 'turn' could arguably be used to refer to either 'game turn' or 'player turn' based on the fact that both those concepts use the same word, but here we have a ruling that says that only one of these interpretations is correct. Might it not be the one you had personally thought was right? Too bad. In situations like this, the annoyance of arbitration is secondary to the necessity of clarity. In order for games of 40k to make sense we all have to agree on what all these terms mean ahead of time. Even if the FAQ didn't have an explicit ruling on whether the word 'turn' refers to player or game turns, we'd still have to come to a definite conclusion on which one of these definitions is right in order for the rules of the game to be consistent. Is being on the wrong side of one of these rulings frustrating? Bet your corduroy jacket it is. But 'broken' is worse than 'frustrating', and it's because of rules lawyers that we can make that distinction.

Let's take a look at a more relevant and unresolved issue: two of the premier tricksy combos in the Necron codex are using Orikan the Diviner's Temporal Snares ability in conjunction with the C'tan Writhing Worldscape Ability, or alternately using the Tremorstave of the Harbingers of Transmogrification in conjunction with the same. Both operate on the same principle: make terrain difficult, which then becomes dangerous by way of the C'tan's ablility. But even though they appear very similar, there are differences in the wording of the rules used that has to be inspected before we can say this tactic is k-k-k-kosher.

Here's the wording for Temporal Snares (pertinent bits bolded):

            "During the first game turn, all enemy units that move count as moving through difficult terrain. If they are actually moving through difficult terrain, then a unit can move the lowest D6 result of their difficult terrain test, rather than the highest."

And here's the Tremorstave, more specifically the Quake special rule that has the actual effect:

            "Quake: All enemy units hit by a weapon with the Quake type treat open ground as difficult terrain during their next Movement phase."

Finally, here's what Writhing Worldscape says:

            "Whilst the C'tan Shard is on the battlefield, all difficult terrain is also dangerous for the enemy. If the terrain is already dangerous, the Dangerous Terrain test is failed on a 1 or a 2."

Now, what we are tasked with doing (at least until the FAQ comes stomping through) is figuring out which wording means what. One, or both, or neither could be legal combos, and the only way we have to decide is by being rules lawyers. To me, the phrase 'counts as' implies a change to the way the TERRAIN ITSELF is handled. The open ground becomes sort of a facsimile of actual difficult terrain. It takes on the attributes of difficult terrain, without actually becoming it entirely. We still make the distinction that it is really just plain ol' open ground with a funky temporary makeover. On the other hand, a unit that 'treats open ground as difficult terrain' is much different. In this case, we handle the way the UNIT IN PARTICULAR behaves. It treats open ground exactly the way that it would difficult terrain, every time, all the time, in every way and in every circumstance. As far as the unit in question is concerned, the two are absolutely identical while the Quake rule is in effect.

So, we can logically conclude that based on the specificity of the Quake rule, all units that move through open ground while subject to it invoke every single provision of difficult terrain, which includes counting that terrain as dangerous if the C'tan is fuxxing with it.

The more difficult question remains, does Temporal Snares do the same thing? As far as I'm concerned, no it does not. Despite the fact that the wording of Worldscape seems to refer more to the terrain as opposed to the units moving through it in the same vein as Snares, the phrase 'counts as' kills this one in the crib. Open ground 'counting as' difficult terrain is still just open ground. It may mimic difficult terrain, but it can only do so for normal circumstances, and with the normal ruleset for it. I don't believe that any special circumstances imposed by other rules would affect it. It's too much of a shallow, tenuous relationship for Worldscape to lay its hurt on. This is of course just the interpretation of a single deranged gentleman, but until the FAQ comes out or somebody rebuts my argument by threatening to punch me repeatedly in the arm (I HATE that), I'm sticking to it.

In summation, folks, the reality of the situation is that a game based on rules has to have those rules scrutinized and examined. They can't be left open to personal interpretation; they have to be debated and reasoned through frequently if there isn't a black-and-white FAQ ruling to pour some decision-milk into our bowls of anarchy cereal. Ask yourself, as much as you hate getting into semantic debates in the middle of a game, would you rather play a dude who bends rules according to the situation and takes advantage of any available ambiguity? Or an opponent who insists on a strict and clear meaning for each rule and abides by them himself, regardless of whether you're on board with it?

Now, do yourselves a favor and troll me to pieces.


  1. To me counts as means for all intents and purposes that it is, it becomes it, it is it. If my dreadnought counts as infantry, then I treat it as such with regards to any rules that affect infantry etc etc.

    So I would say reading this that open terrain counts as difficult, so is difficult and difficult is dangerous so where as it is a very cheesy rule, I would say it would be all dangerous. I think the FAQ if they do one for that rule will say that also.

    I believe it is designed that way as to stop you moving and advancing on the enemy so to give the necrons who as we know arent designed to be great at combat away from combat, in the same way that bringing on night fighting is designed to stop shooty armies from well, shooting at them.

    People may disagree but this is how I see it and while I fully agree I may be wrong, this is how I would play it.

    Good article though, its nice to raise these points, where do you stand on the lance vs quantum shielding debate?

  2. The dice off has yet to fail me but I only play mature people.

    A rule lawyers whole purpose is to bend, break and take advantage of a rule set that is often poorly worded, already broken and written for some one with the maturity of a 12 year old. I do not find it particularly impressive or useful when people find little tricks in the rules or even 'clarify' them.

    Beside which I don't know a single gamer that accepts anything less than a FAQ when it comes to rules clarification. A single or even group of rules lawyers no matter how intelligent or well intentioned that 'clarify' rules are still not official rulings, period. Gaming companies have proven time and again that they do not use a set logic when writing rules between editions and for a rules lawyer to say that they can apply logic is simply incorrect, as it did not exist in the first place. This was gonna be a longer spiel about lawyers needing precedents and such etc etc but I got lazy.

    And I like the spin, its cute,'rules lawyers are good because they defend us from rules lawyers' now that my friend is rules lawyerin at its finest.:|

  3. B2TW's.....where out of three comments Abusepuppy says my list sucks....one trolls my post....and one says it was a great article...lol I love the blogosphere

  4. Not to sound snobby my man, because I do appreciate the criticism, but the direction in which you miss the point of my post kinda goes a long way to proving what I was trying to say. I wouldn't call myself a rules lawyer per se, nor even a competitive person. I'm just a hard-line grammar Nazi who insists on clarity in language. Also, I'm a bit of a debate junkie. It's not just some bullshit I do in games of 40k, I correct grammatical and syntactical errors everywhere I go (Kevin will vouch for me on this one haha). I don't tweak RAW, I just read them literally.

    Words have meanings, which we have to adhere to if we hope to achieve any level of consistency. I don't claim anywhere the article that a bunch of dudes being clever about interpreting terribly written rules should override FAQ's, but in the volumes upon volumes of grey areas of rules disputes that have not been addressed in a FAQ we still need to come to a consensus about what happens. What basis would we use, if not logical and reasoned debate? Games of 40k turn into absolute shitshows when one or both players refuse to look at a clash in the rules from a level-headed perspective. Sometimes things don't make sense, or have any real precedent (which is a concept I've picked up on from, like I mentioned, living with two people who study postgraduate law) from which to draw a conclusion, and do you know what I do when I encounter one of those in a friendly game? I roll off, like any non-twat player would. In a tournament setting? I argue my case based on the interpretation of the rules.

    I completely agree with you that hardcore rules lawyering is unwelcome and uncomfortable in friendly games. In a laid back scenario with literally nothing at stake, insisting on being right over every minute detail is annoying and makes you look like, for lack of a more dignified term, a wiener. Some things, however, we need to be clear about before the dice hit the table. Whether or not the Necron combos I discussed in the article are legal is an example of one of those times when rules lawyering is completely necessary; until the FAQ comes out, we as a cohesive community of nerds on the internet have to decide whether or not we think it should work, and optimally the decision we come to should make some kind of sense based on the wording of the rules, since the rules themselves exist only as words.

    Also, I'm not sure I understand your point about game companies not employing logic when writing their rule sets. Why does that mean that we should also not use logic when trying to figure them out? I would think that if the writers insist on being unclear, then the players assume the responsibility of untangling that particular quagmire. Otherwise, the whole thing becomes about as capricious and chaotic as a third-grade recess snowball fight. Better? Worse? Not sure, myself.

    And you're goddamn right my spin is cute. It's downright precocious.

  5. But rules glitches can take care of themselves for the most part. People may not like leaving decisions concerning rules debates to the vagaries of fate with a dice toss, but they do that anyway at tournaments. A judge may make a ruling you disagree with or is just plain wrong about and end up just like a bad dice roll for you.

    And I get that having clearer better understood rules would make things easier, but this not up to us as gamers other than for our own circles of gamers sanity.

    You make the assertion that rules lawyers are good things, I am sorry to be challenging the premise but I fail to see a situation, other than the aforementioned, in which they are useful.

    Tournaments have their own set of FAQs and judge rulings these are all that matters. And pick up games with people you don't know should always default to the dice off simply for the fact that it is completely possible for two intelligent reasonable people to never come to an agreement.

    Literal translation is not as straight forward as one might think, one group may come to consensus on how a rule is used that is completely different but not wrong from another group, and so on. RAW is unfortunately not always clear, even though it is the only good way to define a rule. An internet rules debate about the unclear stuff may be fun but it does not decide anything, its not as though those that agree form some sort of guideline FAQ until an actual FAQ comes out.
    What forum, blog, podcast etc in all the noise would be 'The' repository of gaming law?, another huge and pointless debate on its own.
    Who would form the trust that decides what is correct?, wow, talk about a snowball fight.
    Why should I or anyone else agree to rulings from said repository?.
    I realize my questions are bit dramatic, but I am trying to illustrate my point.

    And the logic across systems and editions thing, was as point of precedent, as in the games themselves don't have it other than across the current edition. And even current edition 'precedent' can be muddied by out of edition but still active books. This puts any rulings made so to speak on shaky ground in my opinion.

    I just fail to see how rules lawyers debates/consensus fit into the hobby in general other than on a group scale.:|

  6. Well in my oppinion I try to avoid abuing rules without a FAQ, such as can a librarian gate out of an assault in which I disagree with it, as I believe an OFFICIAL gw faq is the only reasonable way to resolve an arguement but I have had many situations where I travel to a tournament and the local gamers have a different interpretation of said rule. Now most of the time I will let them play their way as it is the way they design their stradegies and form their play. Yet if I am certainly sure that I am correct I will nicely pull out my rule book and walk over to my opponents side and read the rule with him and show him my way of thinking or the majority/internets view on it. A lot of the time I get long "ohhh I see" comments and we play the right way, and if not a roll off will suffice but I try to avoid these as it may be game changeing to the guy who loses the roll off as his stradegy may have been relient (not in a cheesey way but more simply your normal play) on the rules interpretation. For instance I came back to my home town in New Jersey for a tournament with my old gaming group. In my first game I caused a unit to fail morale and run in his turn. When my turn came I told him to roll for the distance to run again since he could not rally. He told me that he only runs away on his turn not mine so I got the tournament organizer and he laughed in my face over the situation with general agreement from the room, except for marcus I believe. Now I showed him in the rulebook it clearly stated that you run away in the phase your broke, and EACH CONSECUTIVE MOVEMENT PHASE, but they still did not agree. I told the organizer that I never have seen an enterpritation like his and he told me he "saw where I was coming from, and mine makes sense but I don't want to play it like that". Now this pissed me off as it caused him to win the game, and tournament, in another case where he only had to make half as many running away rolls...especially since noe one in the world plays this rule like him...so In this case I needed to rules lawyer but it came up in vain...So I always see this as a case by case situation.