I’ll admit it. I too have felt the call of the rules lawyer. It was years ago, and we were just setting out into the depths of a megadungeon. That saucy, crunch-filled temptress known as Pathfinder beckoned us onwards and downwards, offering near-infinite character customization for the low, low price of a little learning curve.

It will go slowly at first, thought I to myself. But surely, as we learn the game, becoming familiar with its many intricacies by dint of experience, the rules lookups and confusions will eventually cease. We will swim in the ocean of a balanced system, happy little fish all unaware of the dense rules-fluids lapping at our gamer gills. 

So we played. A year passed, and that hoped-for system mastery never quite materialized. I began writing modules for publication (Only $6.99 on Adventureaweek.com? What a steal!) and still I didn’t quite hit that sweet spot. Certainly my less obsessed buddies weren’t mastering the countless little details. And so after a year of playing by the book we finally said OK, it’s time to start applying some handwavium. We’ll do a little more of what feels right, and a little less of what is absolutely 100% correct.

But as a recovering rules lawyer, I can tell you that it is tough making the transition. For example, the situation in today’s comic popped up pretty much verbatim at my last home game. For the first time in her career the party sorcerer attempted to cast from a divine scroll via Use Magic Device. We reverted back to form, double-checking the rules, calculating the two requisite DCs for the one simple action, and then watching as the action failed.

“Well,” said the sorcerer, “I’m never doing that again.”

I can’t blame her for that reaction. There’s nothing like pausing the game for a rules lookup only to realize that your “pretty good” abilities are “completely ineffective.” But at the same time I’m sitting there with a clear-cut, this is how the book says it works rule in front of me. Do I make the player happy? Do I follow the system? Does Cleric get shanked in the back by an evil tiefling for trying to do the right thing?

How about you guys? How do you handle the tightrope walk of rules vs. expediency?