Break Your Own Rules If You Must

By RJ on 23 April 2023.

Plenty of the tips and tricks I write about Dungeons & Dragons on RJD20 can be interpreted as loose rules to follow. Most of the time, you stick by them and they'll likely improve your game. However, there are times when you must break your own guidelines. The alternative is the complete standstill of your game or the possibility of a game-ending argument. In order to avoid either or I have a new tip: break the rules you've established beforehand if it's imperative.

This exact situation occurred in my last D&D session.

I hate needing to interfere in the decisions of my players. Thankfully, I don't need to the vast majority of the time. Besides last week, I cannot think of the last time I forcefully entered the discussion and voiced my opinion. But, in the rare situations where this does occur, it's warranted.

Let me set the scene.

In my Bannerless campaign, the party halted a cult's ritual and descended into the depths of their hideout. The session prior ended with them face-to-face with the cult's mastermind, a powerful elf named Hectal Massif. The elf offered the party a deal: join with him and his ally, the duke of a nearby region, in raising an army of men and demons to halt an upcoming peninsula-wide war. If they succeeded, they'd stop the war and slay those who sought a prolonged conflict.

There was a bit of back and forth between Hectal and the party. Then, one of the party members, a gunslinger named Revan Talo, stepped forth and lunged at the elf. The session ended with the promise of initiative being rolled at the beginning of the next one.

So there we were: the next session. Revan gets a surprise attack on Hectal, then everyone rolls initiative. Here is where the debate begins.

Some of the party contemplated siding with the mysterious elf with a demon minion and attacking the party. I quickly entered the discussion and let them know intentional player versus player combat was off the table. A bit of retaliation, but this was resolved quickly.

Elf Wizard from Neverwinter Nights.

Next, a few group members posited just running away and not engaging in combat at all. This debate continued for a few minutes until there was clearly no ground being made. I then jumped in and let the people who were thinking of running know the following: if they were to run, they're gone from the session for the duration of the combat. Think of the game like a movie: the main camera is going to focus on the action of the core characters, not the folk running from said action. They were welcome to run, it was their decision, but typically once a party member makes a decision, they're backed up and the game continues. D&D is collaborative, after all. If they left the battle area and retreated, we would continue the combat. They were welcome to observe.

I could tell there was a bit of resistance to this advice. Like I said, I disliked needing to solicit it, but it needed to be done.

I've long established I do not interfere in the decisions of my players and their characters. I trust them. However, from past experience, if I sense the game is threatened in any way, I will break my own rules to save the game and save the overall fun of the players.

I advise you to do the same.

If you enjoyed this week's article, check out last week's detailing how the big bad is the main character of your D&D campaign.

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  1. Hm, I think if I'd set up a IC PVP situation like this, even accidentally, I'd run with it. I think your PVP ban is a good rule generally - but like you said, there are times to break the rules. This looks like one of them. You're potentially doing a lot of damage to your campaign here.

    1. I'd agree if the players had approached it differently, or if there was a chance for either side to be victorious, but there wasn't. If half the PCs sided with the antagonist, the battle would be over round one. In the end, they ended up routing the elf and winning the day, barely, and it was a great moment, fun all around. If PVP began, I think half the players would've been done with the campaign.