Burning Questions: Why Do DMs Limit Official WOTC Material?

In today’s Burning Question we discuss: In D&D, why do DMs limit spells, feats, races, books, etc. when they have been play-tested by Wizards of the Coast?

Photo by Mark Duffel on Unsplash


The Short Answer

A DM (Dungeon Master) is well within their right to decide which options are available at their table, regardless of the source of that material. After all the DM is responsible for the integrity of the game experience and may deem some material inappropriate or unbalanced.

Digging Deeper

This may seem a bit unfair to those who have paid for a product and expect to be able to use that product anywhere they go. However, the idea of limiting the material available to players is not without precedent. Currently the D&D Adventurers’ League has a PHB +1 rule, meaning a player can use the Player’s Handbook and one other source for their character. I believe this may be increasing soon. Previous incarnations of D&D organized play would use certs and introduce content a little at a time. There is a logic to setting limits. A DM can only know so many things and it is easy to get overwhelmed with a system like D&D or Pathfinder, where the amount of add-on content is enormous and occasionally deeply themed.

Appropriate Thematics

When creating a world to play D&D in, or more specifically to run D&D (or other games) in, a DM/GM will often choose a theme for the world. It may only apply to that specific campaign or it may apply to the entire world, but the theme sets expectations for the kinds of play experiences players may run into. Many DM’s, including myself, try and create a zeitgeist, a lived in feel to the world and this may well exclude certain types of character options.

Let’s just take a few examples from the PHB itself and show how they might not be appropriate for every campaign.

  • The Gnome. In general played as a cutesy and clever race, akin to dwarves but more gem obsessed. They work fine on Faerun, but if you were porting gnomes to say historical renaissance Holy Roman Empire, would they work? Maybe not. .
  • Eldritch Knight. In a world where knights do not exist or magic is inherently evil, warriors may not even think of learning sorcery.
  • Oath of the Ancients. Works great in a world where Fey and ancient forests are prominent. Works somewhat less well in desert or ice settings and campaigns.
Of course any of these could be made more thematic with a little work, but as mentioned the DM already has a lot of work to do. An overabundance of options mean keeping track of more abilities and their potential impact on both the setting and other party members. Even having the players keep track of the information themselves does not necessarily ease that burden. A more limited scope can work better for one shots and short campaigns. Where as wildly varying characters and character abilities may upset the verisimilitude of that style of game or possibly be game breaking.

Out of Balance

Of course just because WoTC tested a product does not make it right for every campaign. Balancing mechanics across an entire game can be a daunting task. Some might say an impossible one. And typically as a design team (who might have new members added) tinkers with mechanics and new options, a degree of power creep inevitably sneaks in.

Even a balanced rule can cause issues. Take for instance Healing Spirit from Xanathar’s Guide. There is a great deal of debate over whether Healing Spirit should be allowed in a game or not. Many players do not like its downsides. Certainly more than a few players enjoy the potential upside as well, but Healing Spirit is not a slam dunk or no-brainer for a DM.

In general, a DM has a high degree of latitude when creating a setting or planning a campaign. Ideally they will discuss their motives with players and come to the best compromise.

This article was contributed by Sean Hillman (SMHWorlds) as part of EN World's Columnist (ENWC) program. We are always on the lookout for freelance columnists! If you have a pitch, please contact us!
 
Sean Hillman

Comments

Hussar

Legend
Yeah, count me into the thematics bandwagon.

Something that made me realize that WotC is generally pretty decent about mechanics (hey, everyone makes mistakes, but, generally) was in my old 3.5 e campaign, I just let the doors open. If you had the book, you could use it.

Didn't matter. I could still challenge the players, and it was a lot of fun. Since that point, unless I have some very specific reasons to say no, I'll generally let pretty much anything pass. Our next campaign is going to feature a skeleton PC. :D
 

S'mon

Legend
Personally I allow pretty much everything from the 5e hardbacks, although I'm not keen on multiclassing from the PHB. I don't normally allow Unearthed Arcana stuff since it is often broken, but they seem to do a good job with revising stuff before it gets into a hardback.
 
Personally I allow pretty much everything from the 5e hardbacks, although I'm not keen on multiclassing from the PHB. I don't normally allow Unearthed Arcana stuff since it is often broken, but they seem to do a good job with revising stuff before it gets into a hardback.
That's one reason I do allow UA stuff. If we don't play with the stuff that needs tweaking, it makes it that much harder for WotC to know what needs tweaked and what's good.
 

S'mon

Legend
You give feedback to WoTC? That is commendable but I don't see it as my job, I don't like playtesting. I am glad they playtested 5e but I had no interest in doing so.
 

Bitbrain

Adventurer
Reply to OP.

Why do I limit certain WOTC products at my table?

Because there are a total of six people in my gaming group, and only 3 copies of the PHB . . . And the three people who do not own any material from WOTC have genuinely expressed no desire to purchase anything.
 

CapnZapp

Adventurer
This may seem a bit unfair to those who have paid for a product and expect to be able to use that product anywhere they go.
This here is where your problem is.

Where on earth did you get the preposterous idea that players should be entitled to enforce their rules on the DM?

Not all crunch fits all campaign visions or DMing styles. This game is not "pay to win".


tldr: no, it is not unfair, it is perfectly natural and wholly reasonable for DMs to be able to say "no". Case closed.

What's unfair is the wet dream of merchandizers the world over that somehow inflicts D&D but no other rpg I've ever played... :erm:
 
My approach is:

1. I allow everything that's in the PHB except any "variant rules".

2. If the player does not own a PHB, he can still join, but is limited to the options in the basic rules.

3. I allow everything that's in supplement that belongs to the current adventure path (e.g. in my Princes of Apocalypse campaign I allow the three extra races as well as all the elemental spells). Not sure about other adventure paths, but the Player's Companion for PotA is completely free, so there's no issue with having to buy it.
 

Panda-s1

Explorer
tldr: no, it is not unfair, it is perfectly natural and wholly reasonable for DMs to be able to say "no". Case closed.
wow didn't realize you were an Official WotC sanctioned authority on what is allowed in a game.

really though, I'm a little perturbed at your "pay to win" comment. odds are if a player wants to be, say, a tabaxi their biggest motivation is to play as a cat people race, not toppling the DM's vision or campaign.
 

jasper

Rotten DM
Oh you beautiful wonderful bas…. Person OP. “Appropriate Thematics” is a beautiful word. It is a better than “It is the DM’s world. You don’t have to play in it”.
If I would homebrew a campaign (I do Adventure League), for Appropriate Thematics I would ban:
Feats, just because I want to see how the game would run without them.
No Underdark races as PCs. I would like to keep the Underdark as evil place to visit; not one you go home to for your family reunion.
Partial ban on Volo’s Monster. You come up with a great backstory. But you will be occasionally at disadvantage on something. Why because Grandma just got ran over by goblin in a goat cart.
So I a coward [MENTION=59554]Panda-s1[/MENTION]. No I would start right out banning stuff because as [MENTION=813]jmucchiello[/MENTION] said, I been burned by OFFICIAL MATERIAL before. Had Bob loan be the “Complete Copy of Paladins” for a week. I missed the big thing. I asked Bob, “Anything crazy or over powered in this paladin? “ And Bob replied, “No” First COMBAT ON THE FIRST LEVEL WITH HIS LEVEL ONE PALADIN OUT COMES a HOLEY AVENGER. Then Bob whined and half the table whined when I banned it.
Sorry [MENTION=12731]CapnZapp[/MENTION] for decades in various games I been meeting players who say it is Official you must allow it. I have not discovered where this line of thought comes from.
 

CapnZapp

Adventurer
odds are if a player wants to be, say, a tabaxi their biggest motivation is to play as a cat people race, not toppling the DM's vision or campaign.
Then they obviously ask the DM if there's room for cat people in his or her campaign :)

And most importantly: don't get angry if the answer is no

But honestly: it's even better if they don't come to the game with any preconcieved notions, and first read up on the campaign background. If it becomes obvious there's no cat people because the campaign takes place, idk, in the snowy mountains of a barbaric world, the only reasonable and curteous response is to not even ask.

Just because WotC have published something doesn't mean the DM is obligated to allow it. No - honest to god! (And worse, the DM is certainly not obligated to allow it because someone spent money on it. It is only in the feverish dreams of the bean counters of WotC that "but I paid for it" counts as a reasonable argument to include an incongrous element.)

I am sorry for laying it out bluntly but it needs to be said. There's no tiptoeing around the fact that the very idea of what I quoted from the original post is entirely unreasonable.

Have a nice day!

Regards
Zapp
 

CapnZapp

Adventurer
Sorry [MENTION=12731]CapnZapp[/MENTION] for decades in various games I been meeting players who say it is Official you must allow it. I have not discovered where this line of thought comes from.
Yes, it is very strange. Quite baffling, in fact. But yes, I too am aware there exists gamers who honestly believe it is an uncontroversial axiom of playing D&D.

Happy playing!
 

Jay Verkuilen

Dogsbody Waghalter
- published by WOTC doesn’t always mean adequately playtested by WOTC as is demonstrated by numerous corner case questions that arise.
This is particular true of UA material. Yes they label it as playtest so we can't say we've not been warned, but some of it is much better thought through than others. In some cases, UA material is pretty much ready to go. In others it's borderline daft or ripe for abuse.
 

Jay Verkuilen

Dogsbody Waghalter
wow didn't realize you were an Official WotC sanctioned authority on what is allowed in a game.

really though, I'm a little perturbed at your "pay to win" comment. odds are if a player wants to be, say, a tabaxi their biggest motivation is to play as a cat people race, not toppling the DM's vision or campaign.
I don't play with people who cherry pick through options primarily to power game or disrupt the setting, but there are folks who do that, so I get many DMs' skepticism towards weirdo races.

The more Lawful Neutral aligned types tend to prefer to say "no" categorically. For example, I know someone who was burned a lot by 3PP material in the 3.X days and now pretty much has a policy of "if it wasn't published by WotC it doesn't exist." Regardless, from knowing him pretty well he's just, well, Lawful Neutral, or at least has those tendencies. He prefers things to be cut and dried without having to deal with negotiations and re-negotiations. (I work with two really hardcore LNs---it is not fun to deal with their OCPDness when it arises.)
 
Thematics are the main reason I would not allow something official in my campaign. That being said I'm always open to the idea of reskinning a favorite race, class, or archetype to make it fit into the story that I've envisioned, or adding to/changing the lore of a race/class/archtype to make it fit.

Example: I have a player who LOVES tabaxi. When I was running a Norse/Viking themed adventure they REALLY wanted to play one. So we worked together and expanded on the tabaxi lore a bit. We decided that tabaxi have expanded all over the world in small groups. They evolved over time to match the appearance of the great cats in their favored region. The northern Tabaxi resembled lynxes and maine coons. Desert tabaxi have little fur (and they only sound like Khajiit if the player wants them to :) ) ect... Easy fix, and it greatly added to the lore of the campaign world that our group is creating.

TL/DR: I'm totally okay with disallowing classes/races/archtypes from my game if they don't fit the theme of the game I'm running. But I love it when my players come up with a way to fit their favorite class/race/archtype into my game. My group embraces the "group storytelling" aspect of D&D very much.

Edit: I'm bad at proofreading my posts, and I haven't had my coffee yet. :)
 

Panda-s1

Explorer
So I a coward [MENTION=59554]Panda-s1[/MENTION]. No I would start right out banning stuff because as [MENTION=813]jmucchiello[/MENTION] said, I been burned by OFFICIAL MATERIAL before. Had Bob loan be the “Complete Copy of Paladins” for a week. I missed the big thing. I asked Bob, “Anything crazy or over powered in this paladin? “ And Bob replied, “No” First COMBAT ON THE FIRST LEVEL WITH HIS LEVEL ONE PALADIN OUT COMES a HOLEY AVENGER. Then Bob whined and half the table whined when I banned it.
Okay so you missed something in "official material" (I'll get to that in a second) once and now you're afraid to ever have official supplements in your game. Yeah that sounds a little cowardly. I couldn't find this "Complete Copy of Paladins", so I can only assume you meant The Complete Paladin's Handbook which I managed to dig up and maybe I'm like you but for the life of me I can't find anything that would allow you to summon a Holy Avenger at 1st level, not to mention 2nd edition material was notorious for getting little to no playtesting (while 3rd ed. and later material isn't perfect we can at least assume a decent level of playtesting went into that). If this is indeed the book you're talking about the fact that you had to dig as far back as AD&D isn't saying much.

Also the fact that your table "whined" about the banning of clearly broken material makes me wonder what kind of game you were running.

But honestly: it's even better if they don't come to the game with any preconcieved notions, and first read up on the campaign background. If it becomes obvious there's no cat people because the campaign takes place, idk, in the snowy mountains of a barbaric world, the only reasonable and curteous response is to not even ask.
...Okay, I don't think I get your logic here, so I'm just gonna assume you've never seen one of these before:

To address the broader issue I never said that players shouldn't ask their DM if something should be okay, nor did I ever say that DMs don't get final authority in their games. But the fact that you react to "may seem a bit unfair..." as "players being entitled to force their rules on the DM" and the idea of players wanting to use material they paid for as "pay to win" feels incredibly off putting.

I don't play with people who cherry pick through options primarily to power game or disrupt the setting, but there are folks who do that, so I get many DMs' skepticism towards weirdo races.
Yeah I get that, I played back in 3.5 when things like half-dragon were the hot powergaming options, but that's a player issue, and you can usually tell when a player is gonna cheese out their character at every opportunity. If you have to straight out ban material to stop such players that seems a bit extreme. It's probably better to deal with that player alone or just make them leave if they're gonna ruin everything for everyone.
 

CapnZapp

Adventurer
...Okay, I don't think I get your logic here, so I'm just gonna assume you've never seen one of these before:
Okay that's cute, but you do allow DMs to feature snow leopard animals without that necessarily meaning snow leopard people?

Right? :confused:
 

Panda-s1

Explorer
Thematics are the main reason I would not allow something official in my campaign. That being said I'm always open to the idea of reskinning a favorite race, class, or archetype to make it fit into the story that I've envisioned, or adding to/changing the lore of a race/class/archtype to make it fit.

Example: I have a player who LOVES tabaxi. When I was running a Norse/Viking themed adventure they REALLY wanted to play one. So we worked together and expanded on the tabaxi lore a bit. We decided that tabaxi have expanded all over the world in small groups. They evolved over time to match the appearance of the great cats in their favored region. The northern Tabaxi resembled lynxes and maine coons. Desert tabaxi have little fur (and they only sound like Khajiit if the player wants them to :) ) ect... Easy fix, and it greatly added to the lore of the campaign world that our group is creating.

TL/DR: I'm totally okay with disallowing classes/races/archtypes from my game if they don't fit the theme of the game I'm running. But I love it when my players come up with a way to fit their favorite class/race/archtype into my game. My group embraces the "group storytelling" aspect of D&D very much.

Edit: I'm bad at proofreading my posts, and I haven't had my coffee yet. :)
Man that's the kind of thing I like to hear. Not just working together with your players to figure out a thing in your game world, but actually giving thought in how to allow a player to have a certain option in your campaign. I wish more DMs thought this way.
[MENTION=12731]CapnZapp[/MENTION] hey there you go, that's how you can have a cat race "in the snowy mountains of a barbaric world," someone figured it out for you lol.
 

DM Dave1

Adventurer
Thematics are the main reason I would not allow something official in my campaign. That being said I'm always open to the idea of reskinning a favorite race, class, or archetype to make it fit into the story that I've envisioned, or adding to/changing the lore of a race/class/archtype to make it fit.

Example: I have a player who LOVES tabaxi. When I was running a Norse/Viking themed adventure they REALLY wanted to play one. So we worked together and expanded on the tabaxi lore a bit. We decided that tabaxi have expanded all over the world in small groups. They evolved over time to match the appearance of the great cats in their favored region. The northern Tabaxi resembled lynxes and maine coons. Desert tabaxi have little fur (and they only sound like Khajiit if the player wants them to :) ) ect... Easy fix, and it greatly added to the lore of the campaign world that our group is creating.

TL/DR: I'm totally okay with disallowing classes/races/archtypes from my game if they don't fit the theme of the game I'm running. But I love it when my players come up with a way to fit their favorite class/race/archtype into my game. My group embraces the "group storytelling" aspect of D&D very much.
Yes to all this. If the player really wants to play something that's in one of the WotC hardbacks, we'll find a way to make it work at our table.


Anybody remember 3rd edition? Limiting player options was the only way to preserve DM sanity. 4th edition too.

As for 5th edition, here's another Xanathar's Guide example. When a player wanted to take the Ceremony spell from Xanathar's Guide to Everything, pg. 151, I kinda went nuts -
Here's the spell in D&D Beyond: https://www.dndbeyond.com/spells/ceremony
My answer to him:
* Atonement has been:
- 5th level spell in 1st edition.
- 5th level spell in 2nd edition.
- 5th level spell in 3rd edition.
Now we make it a first level spell? Hell no!

* Bless Water: See page 152 of the PHB - already allows this for one hour, 25 gp of silver and a first level slot.
* Funeral Rite - Gentle Repose does what this does, but it's a 2nd level spell, lasts 10 days.
* Coming of Age / Dedication: Just use Guidance (cantrip)
* Wedding: +2 AC because of a wedding? Uh, no

So, official doesn't mean good.
Sorry, busting out the nit-pick here again, as you are misrepresenting the power of Ceremony:

Atonement: ok, maybe you have a point with this one, but Alignment by and large is an afterthought in 5e. More of a guideline to playing your character not a prescription for how one must play. Depending on the story, As a DM I might add some kind of quest to seal the deal if this came up.

Bless Water: Yes, same as the ritual in the PHB, but now available to the Divine Soul Sorcerer or anyone taking the magic initiate feat.

Funeral Rite: Nope. Not the same as Gentle Repose as it does not stop the clock for bringing them back from the dead, just prevents becoming undead by non-wish spells. For example, just because you cast Funeral Rite on a dead PC, doesn't mean you can prepare Revivify the next day and get them back to life.

Coming of Age: pretty niche fluff, but better than Guidance as it lasts 24 hours and does not require concentration as opposed to 1 minute with concentration. Also, worse than Guidance as it only works once ever on that creature.

Dedication: this is for saving throws, so Resistance would be the analog. However, same logic applies here as Coming of Age

Wedding; yeah, this is a little funny, but again, very niche fluff. If two players want their PCs to be married for story purposes, I have no problem with them gaining this temporary "honeymoon period" mechanical bonus. It won't break our game. Players at our table would not abuse this - and frankly if someone tried to game it by getting divorced and remarried just for the +2 AC for 7 days I'd rule that the divine source of the power opted out of allowing it this time.

Nevertheless, the DM can certainly specify what spells are and are not part of the campaign.
 

Panda-s1

Explorer
I understand you're trying to lighten up the mood, but man, I am dead tired of the player entitlement behind the sentiment. Sorry for not being a sport about it.
Okay the fact you keep referring to my arguments as "player entitlement" and the fact you try to project on me that I assert my authority over DMs (even jokingly) despite me never saying the DM doesn't get final authority in their game honestly leads me to believe you're authoritarian in your games. And possibly even out of games. I don't know, but "the only reasonable and curteous [sic] response is to not even ask"? The fact that you believe that there is some official material that even if asked in the most courteous and thought out manner is outright rude says a lot.
 

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