[RPG] How to play in a system with rules that aren’t written down


A group that I'm playing in has just met for the first time to start working out setting, characters, and a theme for the game. It was a fun meeting, and I have high hopes for the campaign.

However, the GM also announced some changes to the rules. We are playing D&D5e, but he is mixing in elements of D&D4e and FATE, such as FATE points and skill challenges. He's a very experienced GM, and I'm interested to see how this works out. I don't mind playing in this kind of modified system, but I'm a bit worried about playing in a system where I can't look up the rules, and I feel that straight-out asking him for a list of his modifications would be too pushy.

I think I can trust him, but, for example, I asked him about self-compels, and his response was that they would cost FATE points. Which is completely counter to my expectations, and if I hadn't thought to ask I might've gone ahead and done it and then found out that it was a bad idea.

How do I go about playing in a system with rules that I can't look up?

Best Answer

There are two ways to deal with this that I have experience with. Which is better depends on your situation, but both are workable.

Ask for a list of houserules.

For me personally, I have a really big problem playing in a system where I can't know all of the rules up front. If I'm playing in a game where there are significant house rules, then I'd ask that they be written down before play, so I know what I'm getting into. I'd prefer that such a list was handed out before character creation, so I can know if I'm going to need to change around my character based on the houserules.

I can understand why asking for a list of rules might seem pushy, but it's important to know the rules of a game when you want to play it. If you don't want to ask for a written list, maybe just ask for an explanation of the houserules, rather than a written list.

Let it ride.

Sometimes, the kind of house rule that the GM is using isn't the kind of thing that you really need to worry about. For example, you say that your GM is going to use the 4th ed skill challenge rules. Practically speaking, a player doesn't have to know how those work. All the player needs to know is that they are making a bunch of skill checks to achieve their goal, and that their normal combat powers aren't going to be of much help. That kind of conflict resolution rule can be handled entirely behind the screen, and doesn't really affect how a player will play the game, or build their character. If you can be confident that the GM isn't going to suddenly change how your character works in the middle of the game, then it might not end up being a big deal that you don't know all of the rules that they're using.

The downside of this approach is that you can't really get attached to the mechanics of your character. This approach assumes that you can play your character narratively without being terribly worried if one of your abilities stops working the way you thought it would. If the mechanics of your character are important to you as a player, then this approach won't work well for you.

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