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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?

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!
 

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Sean Hillman

Sean Hillman


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Very occasionally, I'll put a limit on something for thematic reasons. Overall, I'm willing to allow pretty much everything WotC has put out, including UA stuff. A good chunk of the fun in this game, for me, is tweaking all the dials to get things running well to keep things fun for everyone.

What I do limit is multiclassing, again for thematic reasons. My houserule on multiclassing lately is two parts: A) no more than one additional class, so no character ever has more than two classes, and B) classes must be kept within two levels of each other, to discourage dipping. To me, a class is a significant part of a character's adventuring career, not something to dabble in for one level then never pursue again.

All that said, though, I also put in a massive amount of homebrew or 3rd party options, because as I said, tweaks and houserules are a big part of what I love about this game.
 

Connorsrpg

Adventurer
I have never banned anything for mechanical/balance issues. I am very open to any source, official or not.

However, I have limited things for thematic/campaign reasons. I believe settings are defined just as much by what is not present, as to what is present.

So, each setting I write has a set of races with where they fit in and how they relate to one another stated up front. I make it clear what races are not present. (But I have still allowed new races to enter this scenario, or races not considered on my grand scale, like lizardfolk from an isolated swamp for eg).

I encourage creativity and players to absorb/read as much as possible. I love when they bring something from a source they have read and state, 'I want to play this'. Too much source material goes unused. Especially from past editions of D&D. I love a player that wants to bring stuff forward to this edition... but I love converting too.
 

Connorsrpg

Adventurer
I have banned things on a thematic level. For eg, 'no resurections' in this gritty campaign. Death is final.

Maybe skew water-based spells for a Dark Sun game. (I believe I introduced a check for Create Water in current game).
 

werecorpse

Adventurer
I am amused that so many here are not even answering the question as asked. It is asking WOTC-published stuff vs, non WOTC-published stuff, not what you do not like of the WOTC stuff.

Nope. The question is actually asking about DMs limiting official WOTC published stuff. It doesn’t address non WOTC stuff.

edit: ninjaed by mistwell
 

werecorpse

Adventurer
In answer to the question you need to start from the point that WOTC makes it very clear that they are not trying to make complete and absolute rules that cover every situation. The DMs interpretation is important and will be different from table to table. This is something it has in common with early D&D. I played a lot of 1st edition and it was ime extremely common for different DMs to discard parts of the rules, then after unearthed arcana came out to not allow specialisation or cavaliers etc.

thats just playing the game as intended

plus

- thematics as people have said above.

- published by WOTC doesn’t always mean adequately playtested by WOTC as is demonstrated by numerous corner case questions that arise.
 

Hjorimir

Adventurer
I actually tend to find the kitchen sink approach of most of WotC offerings boring. I'm of a mind that a setting is sometimes more interesting for having less (or even different) offerings for the players. I remember how different and fresh Dragonlance felt when it first landed. No paladins? What are these knights? What the hell is a kender? No orcs? What kind of D&D is this?! These kind of choices make a setting feel distinct and I dig that.
 

pming

Legend
Hiya!

My Answer: Because I don't trust any of the youngsters writing for WotC enough to let them decide what does or does not fit into my game.

Maybe one day, but not quite yet. I look at WotC stuff and think "Huh. I'll have to pass and wait for the next book I guess". I've done this every single time after the release of the core three (PHB, MM, DMG). They keep putting out stuff I have no, or very little, interest in using. So it's not that I "exclude WotC stuff" so much as I "haven't found WotC stuff worth buying".

That said...I still don't allow Feats or Multiclassing in my 5e games. So there is that...

^_^

Paul L. Ming
 

maruahm

First Post
I play either allowing all 1st-party sourcebooks or core-only. For the former, it's because I like to give experienced players the tools to show their system mastery. For the latter, it's because the limited scope helps new players acclimate. Issues like thematic appropriateness or broken mechanics I typically fix on an option-by-option basis, rather than through banning sourcebooks.
 

Stacie GmrGrl

Adventurer
For me really depends on the kind of setting I'm developing, what fits and what doesn't make sense. Unfortunately I find official books don't have all that I need since my preferred settings are science fantasy mashups and that's not a setting WotC is going to really touch on much (unless they do a full Spelljammer book).
 

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