I have DMed several systems over the years. Midgard, Vampire:tM, D&D Rules Cyclopedia, HackMaster 4e, WitchCraft and others. Even one using cards instead of dice (Castle Falkenstein). All those games had different rules, of course. And yet I find myself coming back to this one rule in every game. It's my Rule Zero and today I want to share it with you ...
You'll find a "rule zero" in almost all role playing games worth the name. Usually it's something like "The DM is always right" or "This is your game, do as you please". While those are true and right, they don't really qualify as "rules zeros", they are merely a legitimization of the DM as the arbiter of the rules.
The distinction I'm aiming for here is the following: if it's written in your role playing manual, it is not a rule zero. A rules zero is something you bring with you into the game. Into every game. It's something like a signature (maybe).
"High or low?"
It's really not much of a rule. But if a player asks me something of consequence about the game world (usually starting with "Are there ...", etc) and I believe there is a chance that it might, I'll, instead of just rolling for it, ask the player "High or low?" before I'm rolling a d100. The dice fall and then the player is to tell me how he wants it.
This is not only a 50/50 chance, it might be 80/20, 60/40, whatever I think are the chances. If, for instance, the chances for something are 30 percent, "low" would mean a result of 1 to 30 fits the bill and if "high" is what the player wants, he'd be right with a result of 71 to 100.
Sure, this could be done by just rolling the chance and go with the result. But involving the player has, in my opinion, a huge impact on the game. It gets my players every time. Usually they react surprised. then they realize that it's in their hands to make this happen. The roll is done and it's either a high or a low result. Their choice matters. By giving them that little chance to guess the right result for something I'd have decided randomly anyway, I give them at least a little bit power over their surroundings beyond using their characters. It's not more or less fair than just rolling the dice. But it seems more fair and that makes all the difference.
It's also easier for them to accept that whatever they wanted is not there because it was them guessing wrong, not just me rolling the dice "wrong".
It's the one rule I use in every game ...
This was mine, now what's yours?
I'm sure not alone in having such a rule. Of course I'd be very happy to hear about those, so please feel free to write a comment and tell me about it. What's your Rule Zero?