D&D General 7 Golden Rules of Dungeon Master Etiquette

Clint_L

Hero
Follow-up: my plotting owes a lot to Stephen King's book On Writing, where he describes his usual process as coming up with a story hook, creating a central character with a detailed personality and history, and then repeatedly asking "what would make sense for them to do next?" According to King, he never plots out his stories in advance (exception: The Dead Zone), but basically just has an idea of where the story is headed and then often winds up surprised by where the protagonist's choices take them.

I really enjoy using a similar model for my games, because I get to be entertained as much as the players. That hag storyline was super fun and wound up leading to some significant consequences for the party, including helping one character fulfill a core need, but I never knew it was going to happen, so my creative juices were going the whole time. It wasn't a game of me entertaining the players with my creative genius (debatable!) but us entertaining each other. I stay away from dictating outcomes, so the player's choices are real. This also means staying away from Tolkien-style "save the world" storylines. I don't like those because I feel like the outcome is generally pre-ordained.
 
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Gorck

Prince of Dorkness
I rather strongly suspect that it isn't that your group needs/wants strong guidance and a plot to be pushed along. It's that they expect it and get lost and confused because they're waiting for something that isn't coming. They're probably all very used to being lead around by the nose in video games, too, but when you're clear that the video game in question just has no plot, you make your own fun, Minecraft is one of the most popular games ever made. Heck, even stepping away from actual sandboxes and to the theme park games most people call sandboxes, Skyrim is perennially popular as well.

No, I'm not saying that there's no group anywhere that prefers playing through someone else's novel over making up their own. I know that's a thing. But I also know it's a wildly overstated thing. If they're expecting a Final Fantasy, yes, they're going to wander around and not know what to do if the plot doesn't leap out and grab them by the neck, then drag them from scene to scene. I find that being clear with the players about the topic tends to disabuse them of this notion and they generally rather quickly start running off to do whatever it is that catches their eye.
This is why I couldn't get into Elden Ring. I started up a character, went through the tutorial, went out into the world and . . . . . that's it. There were no quests that I could find or quest givers of any sort. I wandered around a bit and got killed a few times, but ultimately got bored. Without any goals to achieve, I lost interest quickly. My daughter bought it for me for Christmas in 2022, I played it about 3 or 4 times because I felt obligated since it was a gift, and I haven't played it since. I recently deleted it from my PlayStation 5 to clear up hard drive space.

The moral of the story is: sometimes a little railroading is a good thing, and can help motivate the players to do something other than wandering around aimlessly.
 

As a player, I've never minded when a dm makes it clear that the funs stuff is this way so long as I get to go their at my own pace.

I have, due to natural instinct, pushed back when I felt that the quest-giver was bullying us into doing the thing, but a polite request (with payment) is pretty much never turned down - I'll find a reason to accept unless the pc would just completely hate the person asking.

Which I guess is my hint #8: don't make all the npcs jerks. Most should be polite (at least) to the heavily armed and cash-flooded strangers in their shop.
 

Schmoe

Adventurer
I rather strongly suspect that it isn't that your group needs/wants strong guidance and a plot to be pushed along. It's that they expect it and get lost and confused because they're waiting for something that isn't coming. They're probably all very used to being lead around by the nose in video games, too, but when you're clear that the video game in question just has no plot, you make your own fun, Minecraft is one of the most popular games ever made. Heck, even stepping away from actual sandboxes and to the theme park games most people call sandboxes, Skyrim is perennially popular as well.

No, I'm not saying that there's no group anywhere that prefers playing through someone else's novel over making up their own. I know that's a thing. But I also know it's a wildly overstated thing. If they're expecting a Final Fantasy, yes, they're going to wander around and not know what to do if the plot doesn't leap out and grab them by the neck, then drag them from scene to scene. I find that being clear with the players about the topic tends to disabuse them of this notion and they generally rather quickly start running off to do whatever it is that catches their eye.
Well, two things can be true at the same time. They both expect it, and they want it. I'm not sure you and I have the same conception of "flexibility within the lines", but I can also assure you that my players want an adventure/plot to follow.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I really enjoy using a similar model for my games, because I get to be entertained as much as the players. That hag storyline was super fun and wound up leading to some significant consequences for the party, including helping one character achieve fulfill a core need, but I never knew it was going to happen, so my creative juices were going the whole time. It wasn't a game of me entertaining the players with my creative genius (debatable!) but us entertaining each other. I stay away from dictating outcomes, so the player's choices are real. This also means staying away from Tolkien-style "save the world" storylines. I don't like those because I feel like the outcome is generally pre-ordained.
Who said anything about preordained?

As player*: was in a party that failed to save the world, directly leading to a cataclysm that killed many millions and ended the campaign (1991)
As DM: ended a campaign by running a break-the-world-to-save-the-world story arc, the PCs didn't know about the break-the-world part until the very end (1994)
As player*: was in a party that, while maybe not breaking the world, certainly changed it for everyone and ruined it for many by, in-character, causing the world to change on the fly from the 3.0 rule-set to 3.5 (2007)
As player: was in a party that, while saving/fixing the world, sank most of a continent and part of another, again killing many millions (2018)
As DM: in my current campaign a party actually broke the world years ago (both in real time and game time) without really realizing what they'd done; other parties (and some powerful NPCs) are only just now starting to clue in that something's going wrong in a very big way. Jury's very much out on whether anyone will (or can!) try to fix it, or if it's already too late; in either case I can mine this for plot ideas for some years yet. :)

* - and as fate would have it, in both these cases it was my at-the-time character who tipped the balance; even weirder is that the 2007 character was my attempt to re-make the 1991 1e character using 3e rules, so in effect it was kinda the same character both times.
 

Distracted DM

Distracted DM
Supporter
Be Consistent is why I burned out on 5e for a while- consistency is really important to me, both narrative and mechanical. So many situations would come up with 5e that required house-ruling that I would need an assistant to record each of my rulings and build my own little "Distracted DM" mini-rulebook.

"Oh, you're jumping off a ledge to attack an enemy below? Let's check the 5e DDM Rulebook so you know what to expect when you make a decision like this."

Ultimately I was so happy to find and switch to a5e because it HAS RULES for most things. 5e's Rulings, not Rules was fine for years but eventually became exhausting.
 


EzekielRaiden

Follower of the Way
They're probably all very used to being lead around by the nose in video games, too, but when you're clear that the video game in question just has no plot, you make your own fun, Minecraft is one of the most popular games ever made. Heck, even stepping away from actual sandboxes and to the theme park games most people call sandboxes, Skyrim is perennially popular as well.
That said, "make your own fun" games often run aground on a common issue, which is similar to but distinct from analysis paralysis. That is, while many people do not always want to follow one single, hard-coded, required pathway, many find it extremely useful to have a recommended pathway that they can break away from as they feel like. And guess what? Minecraft went toward that direction. It has a crafting log, which lets you see what you could make, but have not yet made. For folks wanting guidance, rather than being totally left to their own devices or totally shackled to the one way forward, such things are a godsend.

IOW, don't fall into the trap of false dichotomy. There are other options besides "truly nothing to guide you, figure it all out yourself" and "truly no choices except to follow the rails."
 

EzekielRaiden

Follower of the Way
This is why I couldn't get into Elden Ring. I started up a character, went through the tutorial, went out into the world and . . . . . that's it. There were no quests that I could find or quest givers of any sort. I wandered around a bit and got killed a few times, but ultimately got bored. Without any goals to achieve, I lost interest quickly. My daughter bought it for me for Christmas in 2022, I played it about 3 or 4 times because I felt obligated since it was a gift, and I haven't played it since. I recently deleted it from my PlayStation 5 to clear up hard drive space.

The moral of the story is: sometimes a little railroading is a good thing, and can help motivate the players to do something other than wandering around aimlessly.
Not railroading; guidance. Guidance you can choose to follow or not follow as you like. Railroading, you MUST do what is required, there is no choice.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Not railroading; guidance. Guidance you can choose to follow or not follow as you like. Railroading, you MUST do what is required, there is no choice.
I've found a long-term mix to be fairly effective - there's times when they're able to do pretty much whatever they want to, and other times when (usually during a linked series of adventures embedded into the greater campaign) they're on some hard rails for a while on the what's-the-next-adventure level (e.g. if-when they find and touch McGuffin A they'll be instantly teleported into Adventure B).

Within any adventures, however, as far as possible I try to leave the players free to approach things in any manner they see fit.
 

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