Nobody Plays by the Rules

I was once attacked by a horde of kobolds, and it taught me a lesson. These attacks weren't uncommon, when playing the old Baldur's Gate computer game. I threw a poison cloud spell at the kobolds, and they started randomly falling over, getting up and walking a few steps, then falling over again. As the dozen little sprites did this falling-over dance, my archers picked them off one by one, which gave me lots of time to think. And this is what I thought:

The computer game is following the rules, but humans cannot.

Baldur's Gate represented the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons rules excellently. Each kobold made a 'saving throw vs poison', based on their level. When they succeeded, they took their turn, and wandered 10 feet towards my sprites, then failed the save, and fell over.

For a flesh-and-blood DM to go through these rules, their best bet would be to count out 12D20, roll all of them, track how many 'made the save', then have that many kobolds move forwards, then let the two PCs with bows shoot, and repeat the process about 10 times.

...actually, that's wrong. If the DM rolls a bunch of D20's, they won't know which kobolds move. This is important for the outcome of the combat, because if enough kobolds could have made their saving throws, they could have reached my characters.

A clever DM might have overcome these problems, but it seems that, in general, the rules of A,D&D were not up to the task of throwing a gas spell at a bunch of kobolds.

I take a few observations and lessons from this encounter.

The Rules Don't Work

Despite the janky, malfunctioning ruleset, people have obviously played this game for decades, and will play games with similarly broken rules. It seems like a shame that people have to resort to making things up on the fly.

The Cost

Obviously, lots of people don't mind adjusting on the fly. A lot of people mainly use rules to suggest the next improv-bit, to come up with a 'yes-and' moment to bounce off. But not everyone; plenty of players want rules in order to know how things work, or to put aside GM-fiat. GMs also benefit from clear rules which they can easily follow, because the alternative is this:

  1. Attempt to follow the rules.
  2. Become bored, notice a problem.
  3. Decide on a new rule on the spot.

GMs have limited energy, and some of that energy has to get dumped into fixing the rules once the weight of the process becomes excruciatingly dull.

Better Options

A better designed game would let a saving throw show how long someone remains unconscious, or have the entire group roll one saving throw together, or simply give everyone a penalty.

The Point

This might come across as a fist-waving cry of 'follow the official rules, or else!'. But it's not. People should break from the rules when they want to, but not because the system slowly, irritatingly, forces them to, because the table have become bored of waiting for the DM to check the results of 12D20.

And I feel people should expect more from a rules system, rather than just expecting a massive ruleset, with years of playtesting across the planet, to randomly interrupt the game for some nonsense.

And clearly, this feels normal to everyone but me. Clearly, everyone's been playing D&D not-by-the-book forever, and nobody cares that they couldn't play by the rules if they wanted to.