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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

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
 

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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

Lost in Dark Sun
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

Legend
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

Scruffy and Determined
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

Legend
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
 

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