Burning Questions: What's the Worst Thing a DM Can Do?
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  1. #1

    Burning Questions: What's the Worst Thing a DM Can Do?

    In this column, we take common D & D questions posed on Quora and attempt to answer them in a friendly, practical and informative way. Today's question: As a D & D player, what is the worst thing your DM could do to take the fun out of playing?


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    I regularly DM my gamesI can count on one hand the number of times I've played as PCbut the one thing that always brought me out of a game was a boring DM or a DM who was so focused on the rules, they didn't make it very fun for the players. In this case, boring can mean a number of different things:

    1. A major emphasis or strict adherence to specific rules. I love the mechanics of D & D as much as the next guy, but an over emphasis on rules can render an otherwise fun adventure tedious.
    2. The DM insists upon railroading the players and not accounting for their ingenuity. Yeah, it sucks that on occasion, the players will completely bypass that insane dragon encounter you spent all afternoon building, but you have the ability as a DM to improvise right along with them and figure out a way to work that encounter back into a new path. As a DM, always has a contingency plan for unexpected player action. It doesnt always work, but at least we have fun.
    3. A lack of energy in the game. Simply reading the box text of an adventure, without emotion or flair, puts me to sleep. The DMs job is to engage the players. Without engagement, the game is boring and easily
    4. The DM gives special treatment to another player. This has ruined far too many games in my own experience. The party is a team with each member possessing their own strengths and flaws and Ive always had more fun when the party functions as a team, rather than individual units.

    While this probably isnt unique to my own experience, it does seem to be a common concern around my FLGS. This is a bit of an experiment and wed love to know what our readers think about this topic in the comments. Well be back with another RPG Quora Question soon.

    This article was contributed by David J. Buck (Nostalgia Ward) as part of ENWorld's User-Generated Content (UGC) program. When he isnt learning to play or writing about RPGs, he can be found on Patreon or Twitter. We are always on the lookout for freelance columnists! If you have a pitch, please contact us!
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  2. #2
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    While in general I agree with most of your points, I have in issue with your example for issue #3. A lack of energy is never fun, but simply reading the box text does not denote a lack of energy.

  3. #3
    The absolute worst thing a DM can do is interfere with player decisions wrt his character. Saying "Your character doesn't do that" or even "You feel X" better have a strong in-game reason that becomes apparent to the players. The player gets exactly one chararacter (subject ot the game type), the DM has innumerable. The player gets to decide how the chatacter feels and acts.
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    Some DM's fudge dice rolls, right or wrong is a different argument, however the DM letting it become apparent that they are fudging dice rolls is the worse thing!

  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by ajevans View Post
    Some DM's fudge dice rolls, right or wrong is a different argument, however the DM letting it become apparent that they are fudging dice rolls is the worse thing!
    If a DM is fudging, I find it much better to be done in the open with the players in the know than trying to perform it surreptitiously

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by Nagol View Post
    The absolute worst thing a DM can do is interfere with player decisions wrt his character. Saying "Your character doesn't do that" or even "You feel X" better have a strong in-game reason that becomes apparent to the players. The player gets exactly one chararacter (subject ot the game type), the DM has innumerable. The player gets to decide how the chatacter feels and acts.
    I would agree to this except for the "You feel X" part. The DM is eyes, ears, nose and skin for the PC and needs to transfer the knowledge of seeing, hearing, smelling and feeling to the player.
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  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by Nagol View Post
    If a DM is fudging, I find it much better to be done in the open with the players in the know than trying to perform it surreptitiously
    I think we may be talking at cross purposes. By fudging I mean the DM rolling the dice then pretending a different result was rolled.

  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by Nostalgia Ward View Post
    A major emphasis or strict adherence to specific rules. I love the mechanics of D & D as much as the next guy, but an over emphasis on rules can render an otherwise fun adventure tedious.
    I'm the opposite. I need a DM that absolutely strict with the rules and doesn't add any house rules (and rulings only when he can provide a source e.g. a tweet by Jeremy Crawford). I want to play the game as it was intended by the creators and not what the DM likes it to be.

    The DM insists upon railroading the players and not accounting for their ingenuity.
    Yeah, it sucks that on occasion, the players will completely bypass that insane dragon encounter you spent all afternoon building, but you have the ability as a DM to improvise right along with them and figure out a way to work that encounter back into a new path. As a DM, always has a contingency plan for unexpected player action. It doesnt always work, but at least we have fun.
    Depends for me. I think a DM doesn't need to accept everything. Like if the players are like "Let's not pursuit evil and instead let's run a bakery!" I think it's okay to tell them that's not going to happen in your games. Even dungeon order is okay to be railroaded by the DM (though of course it's cooler if the players at least think they are making that decision themselves), since going to a dungeon that's not too hard and not too easy is also in sake of maximizing fun.
    However, smaller things like the players coming up with unique ideas to resolve the problem that the DM doesn't expect at all - here I'd say a good DM needs to be flexible and work with the player's ideas.

    A lack of energy in the game.
    Simply reading the box text of an adventure, without emotion or flair, puts me to sleep. The DMs job is to engage the players. Without engagement, the game is boring and easily
    Sure a good DM is a great roleplayer. I'm not, but I tell my players that ahead of time (when recruiting them). I definitely read all box text of an adventure by the word. I find that's important because it might contain hints that I as DM didn't even recognize but my players might.
    I don't think that's one of the worst things a DM can do.

    The DM gives special treatment to another player.
    This has ruined far too many games in my own experience. The party is a team with each member possessing their own strengths and flaws and Ive always had more fun when the party functions as a team, rather than individual units.
    Yeah, that's pretty much a no-go. I agree with that.

    For me the worst things are:
    1. House ruling
    2. Inability to properly interpret rules and make use of Sage Advice when in doubt
    3. Hiding rolls / fudging dice
    4. Not putting much effort into the game / lack of dedication (aka when I feel I invest more than the DM does)
    5. Telling players what their PCs do (unless it's a spell effect)
    Last edited by Rya.Reisender; Wednesday, 19th September, 2018 at 04:17 PM.
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  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rya.Reisender View Post
    I would agree to this except for the "You feel X" part. The DM is eyes, ears, nose and skin for the PC and needs to transfer the knowledge of seeing, hearing, smelling and feeling to the player.
    I think he means something like, "Your character feels worried about the Mayor's daughter."

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    Prematurely end a campaign that I'm enjoying.
    Last edited by Sadras; Wednesday, 19th September, 2018 at 12:39 PM.
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