[RPG] How to solve players arguing with the GM over mechanics


This is related to another post but the situation is a little different. I had a rocky session recently with my players. If you want to know more about that: this question gives some background. I choose to break this up into two separate questions because the question I originally had wasn't specific enough (in my mind) for this board.

So during the combat that eventually happened because the Bard pissed off the party, the fishman priest cast Spirit Guardians. When I explained the mechanics of how the spell worked, this seemed to make everyone upset. I basically decided that the first time it was cast counted as the Monk entering the area for the first time. Then if the monk started his turn in that area, he would be hit with the effect again.

The Bard launched into calling BS. The Monk followed suit. Then it seemed like every player wanted to have their opinion heard on why something didn't seem to make sense. This devolved into analysis of the wording of the spell, which this post already does a better job of discussing.

But this lead to about 30-40 minutes of people not able to let it go that I judged something a certain way and that I had final say because I was the DM and that the mechanics as explained in the link above are how I interpret the spell's text. This eventually caused a lot of strife toward me and I considered giving up on the group during this time. It was a really tough session.

To the question:

How best to handle a situation where you have to flex your power as DM without everyone arguing or feeling resentful?

Best Answer

Establish A Rule Disagreement Resolution Tool for your Table

In my reply to this question, I recommended establishing, before the game session, or before the game while session zero is underway, what the "rules disagreement resolution tool" will be at your table.

The objective of this tool -- or something similar that you need to tailor to your specific table -- is that any "huh, it works like what?" question needs timely resolution and a ruling, so that play may continue.

From your description, you have not established that tool. Before your next session, make clear before play begins that GMs need to have fun too, and that their reaction to your ruling damaged the game and damaged your fun.
* Note: it is desirable to get player buy-in to the resolution tool. Once presented, I strongly recommend that you not run another session until the resolution tool is both decided and accepted by everyone at the table. You should actively solicit the players' suggestions and inputs when finalizing the tool.

With the above in mind, here is an example tool to resolve rules disagreements and keep play moving. This isn't the only way to do it, but I've seen it work very well:

  1. Player disagrees with how something works. Says it works another way.

  2. DM to player: Make your case. (Define time limit. 1 minute, 2 minutes, whatever you are comfortable with)

  3. Player: case made briefly

  4. DM listen ...

  5. DM makes ruling.

  6. Play now continues.

Getting the group to buy in to this (or your similar tool) is the key to avoiding the situation you ran into. It is also a matter of table courtesy (bring this point up as well before play begins the next time): we are here to have fun, not get into emotional arguments nor personal attacks.

Your interpersonal relationship with the persons making the challenge may end up with taking on the character of a test of wills. Unless the whole table agrees with the tool, you'll have this happen again. Get the players' involved in crafting the final form of the resolution tool for your table so that you reduce that element of the problem.

If you can't get that buy in, your instinct to give up on that group of players may be the sad future for this group. But you may be able to heal the wound from that session and proceed with more game and more fun.

A last suggestion: if a given player just won't give up on an argument, get up from the table and declare that it's break time. Immersion is gone for good at that point. Once you've all had a chance to calm down, to reduce the intensity of feeling that arose in that disagreement, it becomes easier to resolve.

Other suggested ways to resolve rules disagreements:

  • For a disagreement that comes up during play:
    Flip a coin (or roll a die) to pick one of the possible rulings, then move on. After the game, look it up and settle on a most correct answer. (@Thunderforge has seen this work in his games).
  • @anaximander recommends this rule before the game starts.

    "If we disagree, you have three minutes to either find the rule in the PHB, or convince me it should work how you want. After that I'll make a ruling and tell you why I think it should be that way. There will be no further discussion, and the rule will work that way for the remainder of the session. After the session I will have a more thorough read of the rules, and if you're still unhappy we can discuss further. At the start of next session, I will announce a better-thought-out rule, which we will use from then on, unless we find flaws in it."