When I am playing in a roleplaying game, I enjoy the Otherworld-immersion that comes from imagining an alternate fantastical reality and exploring it with my character. The Character-immersion that comes from playing-in-role is also highly enjoyable. What kills my experience every time is when someone calls for a rules reference and I am jolted back to mundane reality.
For most players this is likely not a problem. If you get a buzz out of the Rules-immersion – that is playing the rules of the game and enjoying the tactical challenge of maximising your results through rules mastery – then you’ll feel differently. And that’s just fine.
But if, like me, you want to maintain your Otherworld-immersion and reduce the incidence of Rules Jolting then here are a couple suggestions:
- Make sure everyone knows the rules as best as possible and then have a table rule that rulebooks only come out between sessions. Make a ruling in-session if necessary but check it later.
- If a player doesn’t know the rules, don’t explain them mid-game but instead adjudicate for them; e.g. just give them 3d6 and say, “roll those” and then describe the outcome in-World.
- Consider stripping the number of optional rules your group uses down to the minimum to get the actual effects and adjudications you need for your game World; e.g. you often don’t need to know guns rules for a game in a fantasy realm.
- If you are the GM, consider adding small rules references to your notes; e.g. I add likely-to-be-used rules to room keys in the Dungeons of Thaarl so I don’t forget them.
- Consider whether the rules need to be used by anyone other than the GM. Could you run your game with less rules talk? Could the GM roll more of the dice? What do the players need to enjoy the rules part of the game?
Ultimately, having run and also played in games where only the GM knows and uses the rules mechanisms at the table, I know that the best experience of Otherworld-immersion comes (in part) from putting all the rules behind the screen. But that’s perhaps too much for most gamers.
The key is to think about the experience you want to have and adjust your methods at the table to suit those needs.