Lawyer Monopoly: Tabletop Jurisprudence

There's nothing so unpleasant when you're role-playing than rules lawyers hijacking the game, flipping through obscure books to make their points, and generally holding up the action while they indulge in their mastery of rules minutiae. But what if rules lawyering was actually PART of the game?
Here's an idea that can be 'ported into almost any tabletop game, whether card game, board game or role-playing game, and it's based, I'll admit on an article I read years ago in the only issue of Scrye magazine I ever bought (I know, I know, I have no excuse). The idea, as I remember it, was for Magic: The Gathering, and involved breaking the rules as often as needed by creating house rules to justify each action. So for example, you might play some rodent against an opponent's whooly mammoths and announce the pachyderms should be -1 to fight because they're inherently scared of mice. There must be a "judge" in the game, a third party who evaluates and then records the house rules. If the judge thinks it makes sense, he or she adds it to the rulebook and it becomes true for the rest of the game (or series of games between these same players). As the game goes on, it gets loopier and loopier, more and more complicated, until it implodes under its own weight. But that's part of the fun. By making it an active part of the game, it turns lawyering into a creative endeavor and one every player can happily join in.

Now, I think Monopoly is just about the most boring game ever made, and every time I've been forced to play, I've always bent the rules to make it more interesting. Usually, it means merging my holdings with another player's, or making land deals where I build hotels on another player's property and we share the profits. I don't think that's cheating, but I've been called on it. Hey, throw me out of the game, that's what I really want. But I bet I could make the game much more interesting if I were allowed to lawyer it, turn the railroads into shortcuts across the board, make the car faster than the horse, etc. Same with Risk, where I always use the army colors to justify some grand SF/fantasy battle between zombies (gray), Martians (green) and Atlanteans (blue). Now what if house rules allowed them to be more like those specific races? Zombies could turn enemies into themselves, Martians could disembark from space (at least, until they're exposed to the common cold) and Atlanteans could own oceans. The more players, the more house rules, let's go crazy. R&D gets us off those Napoleonic cannons? Bomb the hell out of those bridges? A Cold War turn with stockpiling and secret agents?

And of course, this can be taken into a tabletop role-playing game, though I wouldn't recommend inserting it into a long-term campaign! But as an experiment, play some one-off and allow the players to inject house rules as they see fit, argue their points, keeping them brief, graft ideas from old Dragon magazines, whatever. Or alternately, find some reason (divine intervention or imps from the 5th Dimension are always good) to allow your players to do this for a single session of your long-running campaign. Maybe the real rules lawyers will have an epiphany, or find a more efficient way of expending their rules wisdom, or maybe you'll end up creating monsters, who knows? It's an experiment. I didn't say *I* was going to conduct it.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

I like your ideas on how to liven up crappy classic board games.

Cracked recently did an expose on hated board games, plus their alternative recommendations. I can vouch for "Settlers of Catan":

http://www.cracked.com/blog/6-board-games-that-ruined-it-everyone/

Michael May said...

Dude, I really want to play Risk with you.

Siskoid said...

I wonder if there's an online option for that.

Siskoid said...

Speaking of which, reminds me of one online Risk "variant" we played a couple times, described HERE (under "How I used it"). One of my more time-consuming insanities at the time.

Michael May said...

Only if it allows the freedom for Siskoid Rules.

 

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