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How to Have an Intelligent Rules Debate

Written by Centurian99

The Goal

"Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence." - John Adams

In any intelligent rules debate, the goal is to determine what the rules actually say. A rules debate should not help you win more games or find exploitable rules. It should allow you to feel confident that you are not breaking any rules, and thus (unintentionally) cheating your opponent.

The First Principle

"Testimony is like an arrow shot from a long-bow; its force depends on the strength of the hand that draws it. But argument is like an arrow from a cross-bow, which has equal force if drawn by a child or a man." - Charles Boyle

The First Principle of an intelligent rules debate is simple: "Break No Rule." In every situation, we should strive to follow this principle. If rules appear to conflict each other, there are three possible causes. First, that one rule is more specific, and thus overrides the more general rule. Second, that one rule limits the other. Third (and thankfully, most rarely), the rules are actually in conflict, and it is up to the players to come up with a mutually agreeable solution.

The Method

"It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it." - Aristotle

First, create an argument. The most applicable type of argument to make for the "You Make 'da Call" forum (Fantasy or 40K) is a deductive argument. A deductive argument consists of premises that provide a guarantee of the truth for a conclusion. The premises support the conclusion so strongly that if the premises are true, it is impossible for the conclusion to be false.


For the sake of organization, number your premises. Premises should be largely based on rules. Sometime the rules won't cover the issue, but if there is a related rule, it's a good idea to include it in a premise. Be sure to provide page numbers or quotes.


This is your stance. Be sure that your premises support it and that they support no other conclusions, or the opposing side isn't going to have much of a problem refuting.


Question: In 40K (4th edition), can you ignore a large target to shoot at a smaller target further away?

Premise 1: 40K rulebook, p19 "...you must pass a Leadership test if you want a unit target any enemy unit other than the closest."

Premise 2: 40K rulebook, p19 "Exceptions: Units are always able to ignore targets which cannot be fired on (units with all models engaged in close combat, for example) and units that are falling back (see the Morale section for more on this)."

Premise 3: 40K rulebook, p19 "...when it comes to choosing a target you can declare that your unit wishes to target enemy vehicles, artillery, and monstrous creatures (these are the only unit types you can target this way, collectively referred to as 'Large Targets') If you choose to target Large Targets then other units can be ignored in terms of determining the closest target. A leadership test is still required to target anything other than the closest Large Target."

Conclusion: You may not ignore a large target to shoot at a smaller target further away, because smaller targets are not among the exceptions made to the target priority rules.

Simple enough, isn't it?

Refute the Argument, not the Arguer

"I was not making fun of you personally; I was heaping scorn on an inexcusably silly idea -- a practice I shall always follow." - Lt. Colonel Dubois, Starship Troopers

When refuting an argument, always remember that you are refuting the argument, not the arguer. The same applies to the arguer; remember that while the responses to your arguments may include scorn and derision, they should be directed towards the flaws in your argument, and should be taken as such. In other words, don't take any argument personally. If you feel you are being personally attacked, then notify a moderator.

Refuting an Argument

"To repeat what others have said, requires education; to challenge it, requires brains." - Mary Pettibone Poole, A Glass Eye at a Keyhole

There are basically two ways to refute a deductive argument.

  1. Disprove a premise. If a premise is shown to be false, then it can't lead to the conclusion. Be sure to reference the specific premise you are disproving. Use the numbers he provided.
  2. Show that the premises don't lead to the conclusion. This is usually a bit trickier, but a conclusion can't stand if it's based upon improperly applying premises.

And that's basically how you have a rules discussion. One side makes an argument, the other refutes, and they go back and forth until one side proves their case. In all rules disagreements, at least one side will almost always be wrong. If you're proven wrong, admit it and move on. You'll gain far more respect for admitting to an error than you will for stubbornly holding to an unsupportable position.

In those rare circumstances where both parties are right...congratulations, you've discovered a loophole in the rules. Now you know what you may need to discuss with your opponent before a game, in order to avoid an argument during the game.

Appendix A: Common Argument Mistakes

"In my experience, if you can not say what you mean, you can never mean what you say. The details are everything." - Centauri Minister of Intelligence Durano, Babylon 5

Misquoting a Rule

Exact wording is important. If the exact wording of a rule doesn't support your premises or conclusion, it's going to be pretty simple for the opposing side to refute.

Forgetting That the Specific Overrules the General

The rules are written so that a more specific rule supersedes a general rule. If your argument fails to take more specific rules into account, then your argument is flawed.

i.e. the general rule states that units cannot regroup if below 50%. But space marines follow And They Shall Know No Fear, which allows them to regroup even when below 50%. That rule is more specific because it applies to a smaller group or more specific situation.

Drifting Off the Topic at Hand

It's important to stay on topic, because while similar situations are interesting and sometimes worthy of note, they have no inherent ability to support or refute this type of argument. If you do reference a related, but different, situation, be sure to note that they are merely conversation.

i.e. In 40K, Independent Characters always fight in an assault separately from any squad they have joined or are part of. It does no good to point out that Hive Tyrants with Tyrant Guards do not fight separately, because Hive Tyrants are not Independent Characters, and thus not germane to the topic of Independent Characters fighting in assault.

Offering Up Something That is Not a Rule as a Rule

What is a rule?

This is an area where people commonly get confused. Rules are limited to:

  • Game Rulebooks.
  • Army Books/Codexes
  • Official FAQs published on the Games Workshop website pertaining to the current edition of the game.
  • Anything published by Games Workshop that is noted as being official (i.e. for 40K, rules denoted as "Chapter Approved" that are not also marked as "trial" or "experimental", etc).
  • Other Official Rulebooks (such as game supplements like "Cities of Death" or "Apocalypse").

What isn't a rule?

Lots of things seem like rules, but really are not. Here's some of them:

  • Rulezboyz do not create rules. GW doesn't pay someone to be a "Rulezboy", they pay someone to stock shelves, or take phone orders. In their spare time they answer the Rulesboyz e-mail account. They're not experts on the rules. They're often wrong. And if you ask them the same question three or four times, it's not unheard of to get three or four different answers. If your argument includes any reference to a Rulezboy, you've just refuted yourself. Redshirts (i.e. staff at GW stores) fall into this same category.
  • Random comments about the game from a Games Designer heard at a convention (for example). Remember, random comments made by games designers, whether made on a forum, at a game convention, or sent in an email are not "official" because other players who weren't present to see or hear the comments have no way of verifying that such a thing was ever actually said. But more importantly, if the designers really wanted their comments to be official they have the capacity to make it so by updating the official online FAQs.

Intent Arguments

While interesting, discussing the "Designers Intent" will never help you in a rules discussion. Why? First, intent of a single designer and what may actually end up in print are never guaranteed to be the same. GW has no policy against routinely changing the same rule back and forth repeatedly. Second, it's impossible to know intent. Unless you've got ESP, or the rules author is in the discussion, you're just guessing at intent. Intent can be very simply refuted with an, "I don't agree", and the conversation ends, as neither side can prove its case for intent.

Conflicts With Another Rule

If you've provided a set of premises that support your argument, but they are in conflict with another rule, your argument will not hold. It's important to remember to "Break No Rule".

For example, in 40K (4th edition) units that arrive on the table via deep strike "may not move or assault on the turn they arrive". However, if that unit has the 'Fleet' Universal Special Rule they are allowed to move D6" during the shooting phase in a turn they don't shoot. In this case there are two viable rule that clash; one stating that the unit cannot move that turn and the other saying the unit is indeed allowed to move if it doesn't shoot, so which one takes precedence? Because we must always strive to "Break no Rule" and moving at all during the turn a unit arrives via Deep Strike would break a rule we must play that the unit arriving via Deep Strike cannot 'Fleet' on the same turn.

"The rules don't say I can't!"

This is the most annoying argument ever made. If you've been forced to resort to it, your argument is immediately false. The rules don't say I can't place my models back on the board after you've killed them and use them next turn, but that doesn't mean I can do it. The rules system is permissive: this means you may only do things you are expressly allowed to do or that the rules imply you can do. You are not allowed to do anything else.

"That's Not How it Works in the Real World!"

Real world arguments are immediately irrelevant. This is a game of abstractions, and whether or not those abstractions make any sense, the rules depend on them to function. As an aside, these arguments are often flimsy at best anyway. These are games of Science Fiction and Magic. To make arguments that ray guns and mind bullets would work in a certain manner in the real world is silly.

Committing a Logical Fallacy

A logical fallacy is an error in reasoning. Basically, if an argument includes a logical fallacy, the premises do not support the conclusion reached. Some logical fallacies are specified above, but using any logical fallacy will weaken and facilitate the refutation of your argument. For more information on logical fallacies, here are just a couple of websites that examine them in greater detail:



Appendix B: What to Do When the Rules Don't Cover It?

"Foolproof systems don't take into account the ingenuity of fools." - Gene Brown

At this point we are in uncharted territory, and there may in fact be no definitive answer. But since we are playing a game, we'll need an answer that provides us with enough functionality to actually play the game. So we must strive for a solution, but we must also realize that the solution we find does not have the weight of the rules behind it.

When the rules don't actually give us an answer, you can't create a deductive, rules based argument on how something should be played. In this case, strive to follow the ideal of "Break No Rule". Find a way of playing out the situation that doesn't actually break any rules. This may require doing something the rules don't specifically outline, but if the game will stop without taking some action, then this is probably the best course of action.

But what if this can't be done? What if you can't follow all the rules because they conflict on a point? In this case, you must simply strive to find a solution that makes the most sense and causes the least amount of disagreement. Thankfully, these cases are rare, and can usually be resolved either by mutual agreement, or by rolling a D6 and playing on.

Appendix C: On Rules Ethics

"Man is the only animal that blushes. Or needs to." - Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens)

When we discuss rules, it may not always be clear which argument has weight. If you have any question, or you have any doubt in a claim, there is a simple system to follow to ensure you get yourself into the least amount of trouble and make the least amount of people unhappy:

If there is equal weight, choosing the option that gives the action taker less advantage is the more ethical choice.

So if the rules may or may not allow you to take a specific action that has an impact on the game, don't take it. But it's important that this is only reserved for situations where there is a legitimate grey area. Simply because some people might not see or understand an argument doesn't make that argument false, so you must choose carefully when this applies. And remember, the onus is on the person taking the action. If you don't stop your opponent from taking advantage of a shaky rule, or at least discuss it, then you're just letting yourself be taken advantage of. But if he's got a good argument, be prepared to let him take the action.


"Arguing is one of life's great pleasures, even if you have to argue with yourself. Course, I could enjoy the other side of that argument, too." - Walter Slovotsky, as written by Joel Rosenberg

Remember, the ultimate goal is not to win more games or find rules to exploit. It's simply to determine what the rules actually say so that we can feel confident that we aren't breaking any of them.

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