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?


View attachment 101478
Pictured sourced from Pixabay

I regularly DM my games—I can count on one hand the number of times I've played as PC—but 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 doesn’t 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 DM’s 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 I’ve always had more fun when the party functions as a team, rather than individual units.
While this probably isn’t unique to my own experience, it does seem to be a common concern around my FLGS. This is a bit of an experiment and we’d love to know what our readers think about this topic in the comments. We’ll 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 isn’t 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!
 
David J. Buck

Comments

dave2008

Legend
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.
 

Nagol

Unimportant
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.
 

ajevans

Explorer
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!
 

Nagol

Unimportant
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
 
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.
 

ajevans

Explorer
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.
 
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 doesn’t 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 DM’s 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 I’ve 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 a moderator:

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
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."
 

AriochQ

Adventurer
Railroading is top of the list imho. D&D is a co-construction of reality. The player's control their characters, the DM controls everything else. Removing player agency from the game results in forcing a group of people through 'your' story. A good DM realizes that they story they are presenting WILL be changed by character actions. That is the entire point of RPG's.

Fudging is #2. Part of what makes the games we play interesting is the random factor. If a given outcome is certain when it should be variable, you are once again forcing players through 'your' story. Fate should play a role in how a given adventure plays out. No one remembers that adventure session where everything went as planned, but they do remember the time the Halfling rogue ended up suspended 40 feet in the air by his left foot.
 

dwayne

Explorer
My rules I follow as a GM at the table.

1, let it roll; Never alter, fudge, or in anyway say the result is anything other than what was on the die. (This can lead to unbalance of the game and distrust of players, or the players knowing that no matter what the gm will alter the roll for what ever ends.
2, I am a GM; a judge and applier of the rules of the game, if for any reason a rule does not cover a situation then it falls to me to use the spirit of the rules to apply in that case. I do not let my bias and personal preferences influence the situation. Be it due to my story, or die roll or the players completely foiling my best laid plans.
3, Just a GM; I am not a writer of the story, i am not a video game designer, and i am not a director in a movie. I am her to determine the NPC's reactions, and to provide visual, tactile, and be it knowledge where needed on the given situation. Other wise i should go do those other things were the players freedom of choice is not infringed.
4, Fun; And the final rule is to all to have fun and to let them do so in a balanced and fair totally unbiased setting were they are freed to tell their own story within it.
 
Last edited by a moderator:

jasper

Rotten DM
1. I have no problems for new dms (regardless how many years of being just a player) being strict with the rules. They can loosen up later.
2. Again let the new dms railroad. They need to stay on track until they lose their training wheels.
3.The DM’s job is to engage the players,..... hahaa ha. You have to pay me to for it to be a job. It is everyone's job to engage with the game and players.
 

Nagol

Unimportant
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.
So do I. Lying to me as a player is worse than saying "I think this would be more fun than what I rolled".
 

Nagol

Unimportant
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 was a bit unclear the "feel" referred to PC emotions. "As the grotesquely dismembered remains come into view, you feel a sense of nausea and purposelessness".
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Yep! Yep yep yep. This!
The closest I get to that is something like, "You feel something oppressive in the air." That's an environmental descriptive like, the walls feel slimy, or the air is humid. It's not telling the the player how his character feels about something. Baring magic or some other valid game effect, I don't tell people what their PCs feel or how they act.
 

Nagol

Unimportant
The closest I get to that is something like, "You feel something oppressive in the air." That's an environmental descriptive like, the walls feel slimy, or the air is humid. It's not telling the the player how his character feels about something. Baring magic or some other valid game effect, I don't tell people what their PCs feel or how they act.
Same. What the PC feels is up to the player unless an outside force is at work. My players have come to recognize if I say "you want", "you feel", or provide an emotional descriptor "the T-rex is terrifying" then they are being influenced by an external force that still allows them choice in their declarations.
 

Ath-kethin

Adventurer
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.
Wow.

What, then, is even the point of having a DM? Or going further, what give you the impression that the game's intention isn't to be tinkered with?

Where do you draw the line? The Player's Handbook has "ask your DM" type points all over it, and the DMG is a toolkit for making up your own stuff.

How exactly do you believe the game is "intended" to be played?
 

Hussar

Legend
I guess, for me, probably the worst thing a DM can do is think that his or her campaign is more important than the characters at the table. Be those NPC's, story, background, whatever. If the PC's aren't the most important thing in the campaign, then that's DM fail.
 

Advertisement

Latest threads

In Our Store!

Advertisement

Top