D&D General 7 Golden Rules of Dungeon Master Etiquette

I asked social media for real-life examples of "bad" DM etiquette and got about a hundred responses. I've taken that information and devised 7 golden rules of DM etiquette:
  1. Be Consistent: Apply the rules consistently. Be clear about whether you're using official rules or house rules, and ensure that players understand and experience them uniformly throughout the campaign. If you need to make a change, communicate the reasons why and get player buy-in. In the same way, present the game world details as consistently as possible; this greatly aids player immersion.
  2. Respect Player Agency: Value and respect your players—that means respecting their characters, their decisions, and their creativity. If a player uses an ability or item effectively or creatively, reward this ingenuity rather than looking for ways to counter it. This encourages players to pay attention, think laterally, and engage more deeply with the game. And avoid overriding player decisions or dictating character reactions as this is a quick way to get players to disengage.
  3. Be Prepared and Knowledgeable: Ensure you have a solid grasp of the game rules. You don’t need to be an expert, but you should understand the fundamentals. Prepare adequately for each session. The level of preparation required can differ among DMs, as some are naturally adept at improvisation. Determine the amount of prep you personally need to ensure a good session. A knowledgeable and prepared DM facilitates a smoother and more immersive experience for the players.
  4. Honor Player Boundaries and Foster Inclusion: Be attentive to your players' comfort levels and boundaries. Avoid introducing content that may be inappropriate. Do not show favoritism toward some players—rather, ensure the spotlight is shared around equally. In the same way, do not hold grudges against a player. Indeed, avoid being adversarial, and instead treat all players in a fair and welcoming manner.
  5. Avoid Overbearing Control: While guiding the game, avoid being overly controlling in your storytelling. Allow space for player-driven narrative and be flexible enough to adapt when players take unexpected paths. Where possible, incorporate changing character goals into the campaign. Avoid lengthy lore dumps or sessions dominated by exposition, and instead balance DM narrative with player interaction.
  6. Communicate Clearly and Effectively: Keep communication with your players clear and direct. When introducing new rules or making other significant decisions, discuss these openly with your group to maintain transparency and clarity. At the start of each session, provide a simple recap of the last session. And don’t be afraid to ask your players clarifying questions, especially when they are describing character actions.
  7. Encourage Mutual Respect: Foster an environment of respect where both DM and players feel heard and valued. Encourage players to actively listen when others are taking their turn—this creates a collegial table environment and often leads to excellent roleplaying moments. Check in with players after heavy sessions, or if you think someone’s boundaries were violated. Resolve conflicts quickly and directly, rather than ignore them.
This article was originally posted on my blog.
 
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SableWyvern

Adventurer
I'm impressed you've managed to come up with a broadly applicable list. Most lists of this type are going to include numerous points that are highly situation- and style-dependent. Nothing I can disagree with here, without getting super nit-picky.

Point five is probably the most subjective, but I think it is still going to be applicable in more situations than not.
 



R_J_K75

Legend
Prepare adequately for each session.
Generally speaking, I agree, but I believe there is a fine line between too much prep and not enough, both can result in a bad gaming session. Although there have been times when I was supposed to DM and just didn't have the time to prep, sat down to do so and drew a blank or we just decided to play on a whim; and truth be told improvising between myself, and the players lead to some of our best games. I wouldn't recommend doing it regularly, but every so often can be a good thing and helps a DM to react adequately to unexpected situations the players come up with in even the best prepared games, and even if the end result isn't the greatest usually your players will be pretty forgiving providing it doesn't become a habit.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Point 4 is really two very different things in one: comfort and boundaries being one, and favouritism/grudges being the other.

To the former: I'll sometimes intentionally push people's boundaries a bit, be it as a DM or a fellow player, because IMO there's some boundaries (usually around hate, bigotry etc.) that need to be pushed.

To the latter, the DM should be as neutral as possible. Favouritism is never acceptable, grudges only in the rarest of cases and usually as an immediate precursor to booting someone out of the game anyway.
 

Gorck

Prince of Dorkness
Prepare adequately for each session.
This has been the biggest hurdle for my campaign. Usually D&D groups will meet on a previously scheduled day and time (every Wednesday from 6pm - 9pm, for instance). But my group consists of my daughter and her two best friends. So we play whenever both of her friends are over at the same time, and the three of them all decide they want to play. So, I constantly have to have something on the back burner just in case they want to play at a moment’s notice. And since I have difficulty remembering things, this has been a major struggle for me. Luckily, they’re all D&D novices, so they are too green to notice my DMing flaws.
 

Quickleaf

Legend
This has been the biggest hurdle for my campaign. Usually D&D groups will meet on a previously scheduled day and time (every Wednesday from 6pm - 9pm, for instance). But my group consists of my daughter and her two best friends. So we play whenever both of her friends are over at the same time, and the three of them all decide they want to play. So, I constantly have to have something on the back burner just in case they want to play at a moment’s notice. And since I have difficulty remembering things, this has been a major struggle for me. Luckily, they’re all D&D novices, so they are too green to notice my DMing flaws.
Hats off to you! It's not easy! I ran 8-9 sessions like this for my nephew and his friends over last summer introducing them to D&D, and there was a lot of...uh...pulling ideas out of my pegasus at the last minute, let's say.
 

R_J_K75

Legend
And since I have difficulty remembering things, this has been a major struggle for me.
Same here. It's always aggravating when I do prep for a session, and it is pushed back a week or two for various reasons. Then when reconvene I have to review all my prep work and it's almost like doing the prep work all over again. So, these days I create an outline and just improvise off that rather than trying to account for every detail.
 


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