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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Dick Rulings

No, that's not the name of a hard-boiled detective. This is a more orderly version of my commentary on a discussion about old school DM standards. Most of you probably already have opinions on this topic; these are mine.

There are basically four ways a player decision can lead to something bad happening:

  • Choosing to do something obviously risky, like walking into an open pit or jumping into a volcano;
  • Failing to do something non-risky and routine, like picking up a dropped weapon after winning a fight;
  • Choosing one risky action instead of another, like walking quickly down an unexplored corridor instead of slowing down and checking for traps (and risking wandering monsters;)
  • Failing to do something routine because it is risky, like picking up a dropped weapon before fleeing an attacker.
If the DM makes a risky choice on the player's behalf and then doles out the negative consequences, it's a dick ruling. If the DM doesn't offer a good reason -- a distraction, obvious rushed behavior -- for why the PC forgot to perform a routine action when no risk is involved, it's a dick ruling. If a DM disallows a saving roll, it's potentially a dick ruling, depending on how arbitrary it seems. If a DM rules that bad stuff happens because of a player's clearly-stated choices in risky situations, it's not a dick ruling.

Dick Rulings:
  • "As you backtrack to the previous room, you all fall into the pit you went around last time. You die."
  • "You dropped your bow during your last rest and didn't say you picked it up again."
Not Dick Rulings:
  • "You dropped your bow and later said you were rushing out of the room when you heard a noise and didn't say you picked it up again. Make a Wisdom save, or you forgot it."
  • "You dropped your bow and drew your sword in that last combat, before you were forced to flee. You have to go back and get it, if you want to use it again."


  1. "Make a Wisdom save, or you forgot it."

    Simple and reasonable. Not sure why I haven't done this before. Thanks!

  2. Hah hah! If the DM inflicts 'dick rulings' on the players, then the players are likely to retort in kind... leading to sessions that will sound like they are straight out of "Knights of the Dinner Table."
    "But you didn't say you walked around the open and obvious pit full of spikes so you fell into it and took 58 points of damage..." will lead players to either quit in frustration or behave like dicks themselves.
    If that is your group's idea of fun, have at it.

  3. The ruling about rolling to see whether or not they have the bow is similar to what I do, though I usually just say it's an X-in-6 chance and have them roll. Depending on the circumstances I can adjust the rate.

    Good post.