The Article Abstract: To highlight the issue with confusing rules from one system to another. While it can be very useful for homebrew and discussion, the danger is that it can cause confusion and arguments between friends. The solution, unfortunately, is to simply be prepared for the situation when it comes up and to simply allow the Game Master to adjudicate the situation. Being able to support your position with documentation helps your case, but ultimately it is the responsibility of the GM to keep the game moving and keep it overall enjoyable.
The Reroll Rule Problem
What is a nerd to do? With so many rules systems out there in the world, and so many more ready for the making, along with house rules, variant rules and any that I’ve missed, it can be easy to make some mistakes. We all make them every day.
Today I am going to relate to you a small tale; less an article and more a thought-provoking opinion piece. Perhaps you have encountered this problem yourself and perhaps not, but I would ask that you accompany me down the rabbit hole of what I have come to call the “reroll rule problem“.
During a game of Heroclix, a tactical war game involving comic book superheroes battling it out, some friends and I were playing a three-way free-for-all fight. We had our teams and we fought against each other in a sprawling melee on a large map.
One part of the map had a few heroes and villains cornered, and some ability or other was being used to attack. Given the span of time between then and now the details are hazy, but at least two characters on the side of one player had the same ability: Probability Control.
This power was a reactive one; you simply declared that you wanted to use it and it could be used. It allows you to reroll a dice roll. It seems simple enough. To make attacks in the game, you roll 2d6 and add the result to the attack score of the character. If the result is equal to or greater than the defence score of the target, then it’s a hit. If a character with Probability Control could “see” the character making the roll, determined by whether or not they had line of sight, then they could ask for that attack to be rerolled.
Here’s where it gets interesting: if the reroll is also unfavourable, and there’s another character with the same power (or a similar effect), then the ability can be invoked again. The same rules apply, so the new user of said power must also have line of sight to the attacker or whichever character is rolling dice.
This being put into practice enraged the other player. While those two were duking it out in that corner of the map, I was being decimated and had dwindling stakes in the outcome. I was brought in as an adjudicator and was asked to settle the argument. Could you reroll a reroll?
He was simply confused because a mechanic shared by two game systems had different executions. The rules of Heroclix, along with searching forums and errata, seemed to clearly support the idea that the powers could be used this way. But this player that disagreed was an avid Warhammer player, and was used to there being a rule in that game that made clear that a reroll was meant to be a one-time thing; do not reroll a reroll.
A similar problem can be found between editions of Dungeons & Dragons. Some concepts such as critical successes for skill checks, how multiclassing works, or even whether a certain race, class or alignment combination is possible vary wildly between editions. Subtle changes in the rules are sometimes more difficult with D&D than some other games, since the rules changes often reflect changes in the gaming environment, popular opinion, or feedback from previous editions; there’s often little to no narrative change to explain the difference since D&D as a gaming system has no single campaign storyline.
With games such as Vampire: The Masquerade and Vampire: The Requiem, changes in the mechanics can be more easily categorised as the storylines, background information and mechanics that help construct a more fenced-in idea of what is what. Speaking to players of both of these games, many consider the difference to be one of night and day for these games as the story is such an integral part of the game. This makes it easier for players of these games to make the distinction because more rides on these differences.
Players in the World of Darkness roleplaying universe understand that Vampire: The Masquerade doesn’t have the Blood Potency mechanic because the story is more generational and depends upon a stronger understanding of how closely related your vampire is to the clan progenitor, not how old they are and how much Vampire Vitae they’ve downed recently.
Without other hooks to hang our expectations on and only the bare bones rules, it can be hard to keep the categories separate.
I don’t have a magical solution to this problem. It’s one that exists and one that we, as players, Storytellers, Dungeon Masters, and game designers, have to approach with the understanding that it will come up. There are of course things we can do to help circumvent the issue, such as trying to incorporate brief rules-refreshers into our games. This means having your referee, be it DM, Storyteller, GM, Narrator, Keeper, Loremaster, or whatever your game system calls it, work to include as many opportunities to use a mechanic that is causing issues as possible.
Are you unclear how multiclassing works in your edition of D&D? Find some time to sit with your DM and go through it before you settle on a decision of whether or not to use it this time around. Perhaps you can work out a way to avoid confusion by simply adapting the Boon system from the fifth edition Dungeon Master’s Guide to grant your character some extra abilities instead of magic items to fulfill the role of multiclassing.
Unsure how flaws and limitations work in third edition Mutants and Masterminds? Ask your GM to throw a few examples out there so you can see how they work.
If you’re in the middle of a game and this comes up, the underlying structure of gameplay in general will often be invoked to keep things moving. Your GM, regardless of system, is designated arbiter of the rules. If you can quickly support your view on the situation with a rules document, have that page up within a few seconds and state your case. Otherwise, allow the GM to move the game along and you can all discuss the matter another time.
The important thing to remember is everyone’s there to have fun. Letting a point drag on for an hour while FAQ’s, errata and rule books are brought up isn’t much fun for anyone. Yes, having your point validated after such a drawn-out debate can be satisfying, but it’s like winning any argument; that feeling is fleeting compared to simply dropping the point for now and sorting it later.
Our hobby is not about the drama between individuals, it’s about coming together to create fantasy worlds we can all enjoy. Once you stop the roleplaying game to play the game of who has the better memory in this instance, you’re likely to bring the event down. Whether it’s your evening home game, your friendly local gaming store or a convention, a simple online one-shot or a sprawling Roll20 campaign with people around the world, be sure to keep in mind that it’s the game you’re playing that’s supposed to be your source of fun. Keep it civil, keep it fun, and remember that if this happens to you it’s not the end of the world. It’s easy to get mixed up these days with so many options flying around.
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