Royals (Who Rules Your Rules? 6 System Sovereignty Types)


In the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game there are a lot of rules. Even with the Paizo core books alone there are dozens of hardcovers, twice as many Player Companions and over 100 campaign supplements. Add in the diversity of third-party play and there are thousands of rules supplements. That is a lot to look at and rule on and while the GM is the “final word” the road to getting to there can vary in the extreme….

Six System Sovereigns For Your Pathfinder Game

While the GM is “always right” the stylistic variations in gaming group and even gaming night within a group or by campaign can vastly vary. If your Tuesday game is inspired by Pier Anthony and whimsical in the extreme it probably won’t match up exactly with your Iron Gods game on Friday. Knowing the Rules for Rulings can help manage expectations and keep the play experience smooth. GMs would be well advised to explain their stance on rules at the onset of each campaign or game session. Here are six basic types of System Sovereignty for your Pathfinder Game:

  • GM Sovereignty – “Rule Zero” – In this ruling style, the GM is law. They aren’t accountable to anyone and can freely contradict themselves. Some GMs are great with this level of control, but it requires high degrees of player trust. This authoritarian dominance can breed resentment, hostage audiences and damage group cohesion. It is a good rules style for horror games, dystopian futures and survival scenarios.
  • Authoritative Sovereignty – “James Jacobs Said…” – This method of ruling is highly egalitarian but tends to dis-empower the GM. It also relies on “final words” or precedent that can take every bit as long to research as a legal battle or thesis. This style is best with groups with high degrees of rules mastery and more player respect than player trust.
  • Story Sovereignty – “Keep on Truckin'” – This style tends to be more of a “get it done” mentality. The rulings are quick and simple and tend to “apologize later” if something was wrong. Overtly, this system keeps pacing fast and player engagement high but can result in inconsistencies that may wear on players as much or more so than “Rule Zero” GMs.
  • Consensus Sovereignty – “What’s Your Vote?” – The pure democracy of gaming groups the GM facilitates a group consensus of rules question and becomes more a chronicler of precedents and group preferences and opinions. They then render internal consistency by mirroring these choices in related situations. As styles go this tends to be a low conflict method of play but can be taxing on GMs to manage divergent preferences.
  • Fun Sovereignty – “That Would Be Cool!” – This is the co-cospirator GM of the Fun Wins school of GMing is there to make sure players feel awesome. Most rules are secondary to effects budgets and moments of glory with a small dollup of verisimilitude to stave of complete immersion collapse. Rules are very inconsistent and cheating is a regular affair for the GM but an overwhelming bias toward the players helps disolve misgivings.
  • Scripted Sovereignty – “The Adventure Says…” – This GM tries to keep things to pre-planned adventures and becomes primarily a goalkeeper correcting course should players wander from the developed path of events. A style that favors consistent gaming with clear rulings and seldom adlibs, this method can be surprisingly rewarding for social and casual gaming but tends to buckle over broader option ranges and freeform roleplaying.

While no one style encompasses a GMs totality, definite patterns emerge from campaign to campaign. Planning or recognizing a ruling style can help manage player expectation, streamline play and keep the action moving. Being candid can help match the best players to a GMs given games, but should allow for players to move on if they are poor matches for a proposed style or be prepared to negotiate a different kind of game.

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