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    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    Tormsskull's Avatar

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    Default Interpretation, or House Rule?

    Hi everyone,

    I've seen a lot of different views that skirt this issue from time to time, so I thought I'd just put the question up directly: Is there a difference between an interpretation of the rules, and a house rule?

    Here's an example:

    A DM is reading a description for a fictional spell named "Steam Blast". The spell's fluff (or wrriten description) indicates that the spell gathers moisture from the immediate vicinity, then heats it to an incredibly high temperature, thus injuring a solitary target. The mechanics of the spell then indicate that the spell causes 2d6 damage on a failed Fortitude save.

    The PCs are in the middle of a dust-bowl type area, and when a PC tries to cast the spell, the DM says it fails because there is no moisture in the air.

    Is this an interpretation, or house rule?

    Another example:

    A level 1 barbarian PC, who is iliterate, levels up and informs his DM that he wants to take a level in Wizard. The DM reads over the multi-classing rules and the Literacy rules and tells the barbarian PC that he cannot multi-class to Wizard at this time for a couple of reasons.

    First, the barbarian PC did not indicate that he was studying over anyone's shoulder (there isn't even a Wizard character in the PC group), didn't indicate that his character was interested in wizardy at all, and Second, that the barbarian, being iliterate, would not have been able to read any books on magic or do a lot of types of magical research.

    Is this an interpretation, or a house rule?

    Tally:

    Example #1
    Interpretation: 7
    Houserule: 9

    Example #2
    Interpretation: 4
    Houserule: 11
    Last edited by Tormsskull; 2007-10-10 at 12:39 PM.

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    Yuki Akuma's Avatar

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    Default Re: Interpretation, or House Rule?

    The first one is a house rule. The mechanics of the spell say absolutely nothing about failing when there's no moisture in the air. The fluff is superfluous.

    It's like saying a disintegrate spell has to be green. It's just silly.

    The second is a house rule. There are no rules saying a PC can't take any class he likes; just suggestions to the DM to make it slightly more realistic. Barbarians who take a level in any other class automatically become literate, for example.

    Yes, it's silly, but that's how it works.

    Anything that adds to the rules is a house rule. Really, there are very few 'interpretations' and many, many minor house rules.
    Last edited by Yuki Akuma; 2007-10-10 at 07:55 AM.
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    Default Re: Interpretation, or House Rule?

    I agree that the first one is a house rule. Really it's taking science and putting it into a largely unscientific setting, causing a particular spell to drop in usefullness a little/ Having said that, it's a pretty decent house rule, if the spell description says it needs moisture in the air then it makes sense to require it. But it's a house rule, as the GM is taking the rules and adding to their meaning.

    However, I think the 2nd one is an interpretation. It's sensible to need someone to read before they can study wizardry. If the rules suugest the GM be careful when deciding whether a character can multiclass in a certain area, then this is an interpretation of the rules, as they are taking the statement and reading it to mean Illiteracy = No Wizard levels.

    Just my take on it anyway.


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    Default Re: Interpretation, or House Rule?

    I think the difference between the two is simply a matter of either making a decision based on information that isn't fully developed (interpretation), and going specifically against something written down to meet your playstyle.

    So for the first one, I disagree with Yuki. Since it has no mention one way or the other about types of areas, and it does mention that it takes ambient moinsture, it seems to be simple interpretation of the rules to state it doesn't work in the desert. If the spell stated "This effect works even in low-moisture environments, such as deserts.", and the GM still didn't want it to work there, THAT's a house rule.

    I agree the second is a house rule though. I find the majority of things that get changed are indeed interpretations, not house rules. House rules actively change the stated rules. I disagree with there being "few interpretations". Look at these boards and the WotC boards to see how many small things can be disagreed upon because of the wording in the books.

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    Yuki Akuma's Avatar

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    Default Re: Interpretation, or House Rule?

    A spell does not need to say "this spell works in arid conditions" or "this spell works underwater" or "this spell works underground." Spells are assumed by the rules to always work, unless there's no target or the effect doesn't fit in the space provided.

    Specific exceptions are spelled out (such as call lightning, which specifically says it doesn't work underground).

    The fluff is not the spell description. It's an example of how the spell could work. If it described the spell's results in literary terms, it's not a game rule.
    Last edited by Yuki Akuma; 2007-10-10 at 08:36 AM.
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    Default Re: Interpretation, or House Rule?

    I'll have to go with both interpretations, even if I disagree with them. Steam Blast should be able to make use of moisture in the targets body.

    The second, also an interpretation (though I agree with this one more). Its stated that the DM should monitor how people multiclass. And being illiterate does make it kind of difficult to pour over magic tombs and learn the arcane arts, especialy if your a self taught Wizard.

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    Default Re: Interpretation, or House Rule?

    Quote Originally Posted by Yuki_Akuma View Post
    Specific exceptions are spelled out (such as call lightning, which specifically says it doesn't work underground).
    You know, I thought I just read in the PHB like 2 weeks ago or something that call lightning specifically said it DOES work underground, which threw me for a loop. Can anyone confirm?

    Edit:

    Found it:
    Call Lightning

    "This spell functions indoors or underground but not underwater. "

    See, this would lead me to believe that the designers thought that at least SOME DM's would come to the reasonable interpretation that Call Lightning would not work underground, and thus specifically mentioned that line so as to prevent that interpretation.
    Last edited by Tormsskull; 2007-10-10 at 08:43 AM.

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    Default Re: Interpretation, or House Rule?

    1: Interpretation which I disagree with.
    2: House Rule that I agree with.

    Steam Blast can just as easily superheat air and jet that instead of moisture so the spell should have worked normally. Simply because the name of the spell is Steam Blast does not mean it can't just as easily be named Superheated Blast of Air.

    While there is nothing in RAW that says you have to pre-study before multiclassing it is a matter of roleplaying.
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    Default Re: Interpretation, or House Rule?

    Quote Originally Posted by Tormsskull View Post
    You know, I thought I just read in the PHB like 2 weeks ago or something that call lightning specifically said it DOES work underground, which threw me for a loop. Can anyone confirm?
    Yes it does. It specifically states that it works indoors and underground, but not underwater.

    It does do more damage in stormy conditions, but it can work underground.

    On to the original questions.

    They are both interpretations, though the second is one that I would agree with (I like a touch of realism in my games) while the first is still possible. There is always moisture in the air... if not, we'd be unable to live there. It might be a tiny, insignificant amount, but there is some there. Not to mention, even if there wasn't (duck catgirls!) there is always Hydrogen and Oxygen in the air, so the magic could certainly work to combine them.
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    Default Re: Interpretation, or House Rule?

    Oh! Call lightning is the spell that doesn't work underwater, not under ground. It works fine in a dungeon.

    Sorry, my bad.

    Edit: Damn Tyger-Ninja...

    As an aside, does anyone know of an example that specifically doesn't work underground?
    Last edited by Yuki Akuma; 2007-10-10 at 08:43 AM.
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    Default Re: Interpretation, or House Rule?

    Steam Blast is a houserule. Spells work unless they say they don't.

    Multiclassing limits are houserules. No matter how you swing it, a Barbarian who multiclasses or PrCs is at some point completely illiterate and then ten seconds later magically literate. Just like a Rogue can't completely dodge a fireball and then suddenly can. It's silly, but it's there. The level up system won't make sense inside a single class, why should it have to for multiclassing?

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    Bugbear in the Playground
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    Default Re: Interpretation, or House Rule?

    Example #1:
    Unless the spells says Material Components: Moisture in Air this is a house rule. It is a house rule that makes sense, but still a house rule.

    Example #2
    There are no real limits on multiclassing, except the favored class nonsense (nonsense, but it still exists). Flavor and crunch are completely separate. It would still be a logical house rule to implement, depending on how you want your world.

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    Default Re: Interpretation, or House Rule?

    I think both are house rules.

    The first one could work in a ton of different ways, it's just fluff. You can argue/justify anything, like the fact that people sweat and this could be moisture in the air, and that there is always moisture in the air, you have no idea how far the spell collects water from and you have no idea exactly how much water is collected and heated. It could be a tiny amount of water heated to extreme temperatures and fired. This is why you ignore fluff for mechanics, or you get bogged down in these kinds of arguments. So Houserule.

    The second one is trying to apply a logical system to an illogical case. Your PC can instantly learn a language when he levels up by putting 1 skill point in. How does he do this?!?! Barbarians can become literate in the same way by just using 1 skill point. He doesn't have to read, try to read, or anything beforehand. Does he "pick it up"? Trust me, it's not that easy to just pick up writing a language you can speak (I have experience). I think it's unreasonable to selectivly apply logic to these cases. So houserule, and a poor/unfair one at that.

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    Default Re: Interpretation, or House Rule?

    Quote Originally Posted by Thinker View Post
    Example #1:
    Unless the spells says Material Components: Moisture in Air this is a house rule. It is a house rule that makes sense, but still a house rule.

    Example #2
    There are no real limits on multiclassing, except the favored class nonsense (nonsense, but it still exists). Flavor and crunch are completely separate. It would still be a logical house rule to implement, depending on how you want your world.
    Your position is one that I thought I would see a lot in this thread. And I'm glad I did because I have a follow up question.

    Viewing Flavor and Crunch as being completely separate, would you think that the Call Lightning spell's description text of "This spell functions indoors or underground but not underwater. " is Flavor or Crunch? If its Flavor, then you can basically disregard it because it is not part of the mechanics. But if it is Crunch in your opinion, please explain how you came to that conclusion. Or in other words, how did you determine it was Crunch?

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    Default Re: Interpretation, or House Rule?

    Quote Originally Posted by Tormsskull View Post
    Your position is one that I thought I would see a lot in this thread. And I'm glad I did because I have a follow up question.

    Viewing Flavor and Crunch as being completely separate, would you think that the Call Lightning spell's description text of "This spell functions indoors or underground but not underwater. " is Flavor or Crunch? If its Flavor, then you can basically disregard it because it is not part of the mechanics. But if it is Crunch in your opinion, please explain how you came to that conclusion. Or in other words, how did you determine it was Crunch?
    It's crunch, because it specifically says what the spell can or cannot do.

    Fluff describes the process, and the process is irrelevant, only the product is relevant.

    Things like material components are protected because previous parts specify that you must pay the material components in no uncertain terms.

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    Default Re: Interpretation, or House Rule?

    Quote Originally Posted by Tormsskull View Post
    Your position is one that I thought I would see a lot in this thread. And I'm glad I did because I have a follow up question.

    Viewing Flavor and Crunch as being completely separate, would you think that the Call Lightning spell's description text of "This spell functions indoors or underground but not underwater. " is Flavor or Crunch? If its Flavor, then you can basically disregard it because it is not part of the mechanics. But if it is Crunch in your opinion, please explain how you came to that conclusion. Or in other words, how did you determine it was Crunch?
    It's crunch, as it states, in no uncertain terms, "this is when you can and cannot use the spell". Fluff describes what the spell is (a bolt of lightning), crunch describes what the spell does (1d6/level electricity damage to the target) and when it does it (when you cast it while not underwater).
    Last edited by Yuki Akuma; 2007-10-10 at 09:45 AM.
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    Default Re: Interpretation, or House Rule?

    The difference is mostly moot.

    One might argue that an interpretation of a rule cannot directly contradict it, whereas a house rule can; and one might argue that a house rule is usually made in advance and written down somewhere, whereas an interpretation is required whenever a gray area exists.

    The bottom line is that gray area situations are always the DM's call. Some of them start from the RAW (crunch) and interpret from there, others start from what they consider in-world logic and realism (fluff) and argue from that side.
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    Default Re: Interpretation, or House Rule?

    Quote Originally Posted by Kurald Galain View Post
    The difference is mostly moot.

    The bottom line is that gray area situations are always the DM's call. Some of them start from the RAW (crunch) and interpret from there, others start from what they consider in-world logic and realism (fluff) and argue from that side.
    Not to alot of players or DM's. Many people like to live under the delusion that they are playing games without alot of house rules, when actually they are. This helps them feel more comfortable and defensible in their practices. Something that they... may not deserve.

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    Default Re: Interpretation, or House Rule?

    They're definitely both house ruling. By that, I mean, there is no ambiguous wording involved that could be interpreted one way or another.

    There is a lack of restriction on the use of steam blast. If there was a noted restriction (does not work in low-moisture environments), like there is for call lightning, that would be a different case. Especially if it had a nonspecific restriction, low-moisture environment could be open to interpretation.

    However, I'm fairly sure that there is always some moisture in the environment, and the nature of the spell seems that it would collected what is needed from the air and do its thing.

    There is also a lack of restriction on taking basically any class. That barbarian could technically take a level of wizard even if he had 9 int. He would be able to cast any spells, but he could still have the level. He would also, by virtue of taking the wizard class, become literate.

    If there were some sort of requirements for taking classes, then there may be interpretations restricting a character. However, that would also leave the interpretation that the taking of the wizard class actually involves said barbarian learning to read by pouring over some spellbook and scrolls, thus becoming literate by the time he hits that experience requirement to actually take the level.

    So, there you have it. As far as I'm concerned, they're both house rules. The first could be sensible from a role-playing/fluff perspective, but even then I might contest the ruling.
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    Default Re: Interpretation, or House Rule?

    Quote Originally Posted by Tormsskull View Post
    Your position is one that I thought I would see a lot in this thread. And I'm glad I did because I have a follow up question.

    Viewing Flavor and Crunch as being completely separate, would you think that the Call Lightning spell's description text of "This spell functions indoors or underground but not underwater. " is Flavor or Crunch? If its Flavor, then you can basically disregard it because it is not part of the mechanics. But if it is Crunch in your opinion, please explain how you came to that conclusion. Or in other words, how did you determine it was Crunch?
    The Call Lightning spell explicitly states that it does not work under a certain condition. I am of the same mind as those who say that the mechanics are just what the spell does, not how it gets there. The steam blast in your example creates a blast of steam, it is irrelevant that it does so by drawing moisture from the air because you did not specify that this was a requirement for the spell to work. If you wanted it to require moisture, it may look something like this:

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    Steamblast
    Transmutation
    Level: Drd 2
    Components: M,S
    Casting Time: 1 standard action
    Range: Medium (100 ft. + 10 ft./level)
    Target: One creature
    Duration: Instantaneous
    Saving Throw: Reflex half
    Spell Resistance: Yes

    This spell draws moisture from the air, superheats it, and blasts the target, dealing 2d6 + 1/caster level points of damage to the target. This spell does not function in arid climates such as deserts.
    Material Component: a wooden match.

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    Default Re: Interpretation, or House Rule?

    I feel both are interpretations.

    A house rule is changing a rule in the game. An interpretation is adding a rule in the game where there previously is none, or the existing rules are insufficiently clear and require adjudication.

    Fireball has no explicit mechanic for setting things on fire, but the spell's fluff notes that it can set things on fire. Having a Fireball set something on fire seems to me to be an interpretation, not a houserule. "Steam Blast" is similar; its' fluff contains information that has a bearing on mechanics, but the mechanics are insufficiently explicit and require interpretation.

    As for learning magic without actually having studied magic, again the book does not list any form of mechanical requirements for obtaining a class. However, fluff descriptions list things that can be mechanical in nature (such as actually studying magic in the case of the Wizard), and since the book never explicitly says that you can retcon in such things, the rules are again insufficiently explicit for this circumstance and require interpretation.

    However, the second example is different regarding its' scale, and a DM who places such emphasis on narrative should make it clear to his players that he will do so, rather than simply suspend the narration to allow free selection of classes.

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    Default Re: Interpretation, or House Rule?

    Both the examples given were house rules, but....


    The descriptive text for spells are not just fluff.

    In this case it imposes the restriction that there need to be moisture in the "immediate vicinity" for the spell to function. The amount is not specified so imposing a "common sense" restriction on the amount of moisture in the air would be a house rule.

    However, if you enter an environment without any moisture whatsoever the spell would not function. It is a condition that would be met very rarely and possibly require that all creatures in the vicinity are without bodily fluids and flesh etc.
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    Default Re: Interpretation, or House Rule?

    I would call the first interpretation (ignoring the issue of there actually being moisture in desert air). It specifies that the spell works by drawing moisture from the air. If there is no moisture it is reasonable to assume that the spell would not work. The fluff tells you how the spell works. It can be changed with little impact on the game, but that would be a houserule. I see this as being along the same lines as being dead preventing you from acting. It doesn't specifically state it in the rules, but it can be safely assumed.

    The second is a houserule, though I believe it is mentioned in the books somewhere as an option for handling multi-classing. I do require my players to let me know at the beginning of a level that they are planning to multi-class next time they level up. Depending on the world it is reasonable to require those training to be wizards to know how to read also. Still: houserule.
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    Default Re: Interpretation, or House Rule?

    Both are houserules. Any rulings made outside of mechanics are houserules.

    The first is based on a houseruled spell, then has a houserule placed on the spell itself. As said before, the description of the spell has nothing to do with the moisture in the air.

    The second is a houserule because their are no rules prohibiting multiclassing because of fluff reasons.

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    Default Re: Interpretation, or House Rule?

    I'd tell the DM that the target is in the immediate vicinity of the spell, so the spell draws moisture from him and in addition to damage the spell should fatigue him as well.

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    Default Re: Interpretation, or House Rule?

    One problem is "the DM doing that is being a bit mean", sort of like having every bad guy have heavy fortification against a group of rogues.

    A less mean way to do it would be "the air is so dry, the spell takes an extra turn to cast -- but the air is already hot, so it gets a +2 DC and +50% damage". Sure, that screws things up -- but it screws things up in a non-"you are screwed" way.

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    Default Re: Interpretation, or House Rule?

    Fireball
    Evocation [Fire]
    Level: Sor/Wiz 3
    Components: V, S, M
    Casting Time: 1 standard action
    Range: Long (400 ft. + 40 ft./level)
    Area: 20-ft.-radius spread
    Duration: Instantaneous
    Saving Throw: Reflex half
    Spell Resistance: Yes


    Here is an example of why the descriptive text should be considered rules, and not just fluff. Based on what you see above (the 'rules' portion) what does this spell do?

    That being said, I still disagree with the interpretation given in the example....
    Last edited by Dubie; 2007-10-10 at 12:27 PM.

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    Default Re: Interpretation, or House Rule?

    Personally, I'd just drop Steam Blast's damage by one die level, or maybe lower the save DC a couple points.

    But I'd do that because there's still moisture in the air even in arid environments.

    Similarly, I'd probably give a damage bonus in places like rainforests, probably increasing the damage by a die level or increasing the save DC.

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    Default Re: Interpretation, or House Rule?

    Quote Originally Posted by Dubie View Post
    Fireball
    Evocation [Fire]
    Level: Sor/Wiz 3
    Components: V, S, M
    Casting Time: 1 standard action
    Range: Long (400 ft. + 40 ft./level)
    Area: 20-ft.-radius spread
    Duration: Instantaneous
    Saving Throw: Reflex half
    Spell Resistance: Yes


    Here is an example of why the descriptive text should be considered rules, and not just fluff. Based on what you see above (the 'rules' portion) what does this spell do?

    That being said, I still disagree with the interpretation given in the example....
    The text is not just fluff. It is a combination of fluff and crunch. Its not that difficult to parse the two.

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    GnomeWizardGuy

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    Default Re: Interpretation, or House Rule?

    Both are houserules. The spell descriptions are flavor text, and have no mechanical effect.

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