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D&D General Does the killer DM exist?

Marc_C

Solitary Role Playing
We hear about the BBEDM all the time. The one that enjoys torturing players, killing their characters, abused DM fiat, with inconsistent rulings and other shenanigans. Does he even exist? To me he is a legend. Never met him. Never played with him. I only played with inexperienced DMs that got better with time. Or those who stopped DMing because they weren't any good at it.

Have you actually played with (against) an unrepentant BBEDM?
 

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hopeless

Adventurer
An unrepentant DM?
No I've played with some who make a fine example, but to call them unrepentant would be far too harsh.
No one is perfect at this, so these people make mistakes but on this subject?
Exactly how far is too far?
 


We hear about the BBEDM all the time. The one that enjoys torturing players, killing their characters, abused DM fiat, with inconsistent rulings and other shenanigans. Does he even exist? To me he is a legend. Never met him. Never played with him. I only played with inexperienced DMs that got better with time. Or those who stopped DMing because they weren't any good at it.

Have you actually played with (against) an unrepentant BBEDM?
I think there are a lot fewer truly terrible DMs than there were in the 90s because there are more people who can ask questions, find out what good practice is, then tell those DMs what they can do with their game. I've had one ... for all of three sessions before I did back in the mid 00s. (They inflicted one DMPC on us for each member of the party and our job was to watch how cool they were).

I would however point out that there's been some really bad advice back in the day that's more or less gone in the modern era. For highlights (or lowlights) I'd point out from memory:
  1. Just about the whole of John Wick's Play Dirty
  2. Whichever Cyberpunk 2020 book it was (Maximum Chrome) that suggested claymore traps under the seats of the PC's loos and then not giving them a chance to spot it whenever they didn't specifically say they were checking for traps
  3. The Paladin Falling rules from 3.5 and earlier D&D
  4. Tomb of Horrors being used as something other than either (a) a tournament module or (b) for Gygax' home group because they were finding it too easy (which is why it was written).
  5. Paranoia - but that does it deliberately and for laughs
 


Mort

Legend
Supporter
I used to see it back in college (back in the 90s), but I never stuck with that kind of DM for long.

I don't think it's nearly as common anymore, with the rise of YouTube and other ways that gaming is a much less isolated activity.
 

aco175

Legend
Maybe childish, power-hungry DMs, but not killer to be just so DMs. Mostly when we were first starting off and one of the friends was the DM and others may not play his way or other fooling around and the DM would threaten the god-like BLUE BOLT to strike from the sky like some sort of stick and not as a carrot. The PC would take damage equal to all the blue dice on the table. It was replaced with the RAINBOW BOLT at some point where you used all the dice.

I do not remember it being used that much or people complaining, "Not fair", if it was. After middle school, not sure it was even a thing.
 

amethal

Adventurer
I used to see it back in college (back in the 90s), but I never stuck with that kind of DM for long.

I don't think it's nearly as common anymore, with the rise of YouTube and other ways that gaming is a much less isolated activity.
University was the first chance I had to see an "outside" DM - all the other DMs I'd had were my friends, and we'd all had to learn the game together without an experienced player to show us how it was done.

At that point I learned that I wasn't a very good DM, but that I was by no means the worst. And I got better - learning from the bad ones as well as the good ones.
 


el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
I have run games where double digit PCs were killed but that was a mix of style of D&D games back then and my resistance to D&D as a "story." (except the story that emerges from play - sometimes that story is: everyone died).

As for a straight up bad DM like that described in the OP, aside from terrible teen year games - I am probably the closest I know to that currently. :ROFLMAO:
 
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Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
Yes. Had a DM that had us write up 2 PCs each. Then put us through his version of the Saw movies. One PC after another fell to his traps or impossible-to-overcome obstacles. One PC was killed when they rolled a dice, looked at the list of PCs and told the player that their PC was killed when a giant hand came out and smashed him flat.

I had the last PC standing and could have made it to the exit but just gave up and effectively committed suicide because it was so bad. All the other players had walked away already at that point. Needless to say we never let them DM again.
 

Dessert Nomad

Adventurer
Yep. One guy, years ago. Thing is people stop going to their games, which makes it hard to do that for long.

There were a pair of really bad GMs that I remember who were a guy with a steady factory job and a mostly-unemployed guy that lived with him. They didn't outright kill that many characters, but would hit people with weird attacks and situations ranging from 'questionable' to 'violent rape'. They kept some players coming around because they wouldn't do this to quite everyone (so they'd have a couple of occasional players who talked about fun games), they had a few players with significant issues who stayed around, sometimes they'd let someone live at their place, and they would attract high schoolers because some dudes with their own place and multiple TTRPG and video game options seems really amazing at that age. (As an adult I've run games for kids, but there's a vast difference between spending a few hours running a game in a game store and having high school kids as the center of your social life).

These two were definitely awful GMs but were also just awful people in a general sense. And I'm sure these kind of situations turn up today - while it's possible for people to get a better idea of 'there are more games out there and they're being run better', reading r/rpghorrorstories on reddit or other places where people talk about bad experiences shows that the internet also makes it easier to 'change your alias and start hosting another game' and to reach out to recruit people.

I also think a lot of people like to call games that are anything but highly carebear games a horror show run by killer DMs. There's a set of players (especially on forums) who think that a character should never even die (which is mostly a temporary condition in D&D), much less be permanently killed unless the player decides to do so for story reasons. That's a legitimate playstyle for people to choose, but it's not the only playstyle, and there are a lot of people who enjoy a game where PCs can die (and can fail with or without dying) who are also choosing a legitimate playstyle.
 

Stormonu

Legend
Yep, played in one's game back in the 80's (1st level characters facing black dragons and 8th level antipaladins, went about as well as you'd expect...), and have had correspondence with a couple DMs who were unabashed killer DMs who were completely adversarial with their players - ended up adopting one of the DMs play groups, who never went back to the old DM.

In the last instance, the players came to my table completely paranoid and on the defensive, ready to kill each and every NPC before the inevitable betrayal and who swore by 10' poles and sending henchmen in first at swordpoint to spring the inevitable killer traps. By the end of the first session, after no betrayals and a straightforward dungeon with some easily (at their level of paranoia) avoidable traps, they started to "calm down" and open up to actual RPing. By the third session, they were really getting into it - which was when the old DM showed up to see what was going on, tried to give me some "pointers", and the group told him to bugger off.
 

tetrasodium

Legend
Supporter
I've seen some really bad GMs, but the killer gm stereotype ime is generally describing either a gm (who could be perfectly fine) that is running a dcc funnel type game or just a bad/possibly inexperienced gm lacking in experience to do better. Often it comes from frustration of feeling overwhelmed.
 

Yes. Had a DM that had us write up 2 PCs each. Then put us through his version of the Saw movies. One PC after another fell to his traps or impossible-to-overcome obstacles. One PC was killed when they rolled a dice, looked at the list of PCs and told the player that their PC was killed when a giant hand came out and smashed him flat

While I understand your frustration, this DM at least told you up front what type of game you were playing in. The real BBEDM would have you spend an entire session creating your character and backstory before pulling this unexpectedly.

On the original topic, in the past year I've had the opportunity to watch a handful of different 10-14 year olds try and start TTRPG campaigns. I am sure the kids playing these campaigns could spin "Tales of the BBEDM" from a number of these sessions. I am also sure that most of these DMs are learning, and will improve over time.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
While I understand your frustration, this DM at least told you up front what type of game you were playing in. The real BBEDM would have you spend an entire session creating your character and backstory before pulling this unexpectedly.
He didn't give us any warning at all, just told us to bring two PCs each.
 


kenada

Legend
Supporter
We hear about the BBEDM all the time. The one that enjoys torturing players, killing their characters, abused DM fiat, with inconsistent rulings and other shenanigans. Does he even exist? To me he is a legend. Never met him. Never played with him. I only played with inexperienced DMs that got better with time. Or those who stopped DMing because they weren't any good at it.

Have you actually played with (against) an unrepentant BBEDM?
I’ve killed my fair share of characters, but I pride myself on being fair about it. That tends to mean I don’t pull punches. If you want to make bad decisions, then there will be consequences to that. Hubris is unhealthy.

As for BBEDMs, I’ve had a few. The first arguably doesn’t deserve to be classified as one, but he had a tendency to make rulings and then forget them by the next session. He’d let some characters get away with generous or completely incorrect interpretations of things (like letting a duelist charge and do her full round attack) while being really stringent with others. I played a 3e monk in one of his games, and he did not like that I could tumble to avoid attacks of opportunity. That character wasn’t particularly dangerous or very good, and he died a few times, which lead to my getting a reputation for playing “stupid” characters (much to my annoyance).

The other one was a jerk and a bully. He’s the guy I discussed in my response regarding th emost problematic player I’ve had. As a GM, he was antagonistic towards the players. He would harangue us about stuff like tactics, but if we used better tactics, we’d get patronizing encouragement. If you got too clever about them, he’d abuse fiat to punish you for it. Most of his games fizzled because people would stop showing up. I’m not really sure why we would play in his next game except that he was the only one who stepped up to run something.
 

DammitVictor

Druid of the Invisible Hand
I've run into just about every other kind of abusive DM I've ever heard of, but I don't have any personal experience with the "killer" type.

I've killed a few player characters in the past thirty years, but less than my fair share for someone who cut his teeth on AD&D. I pride myself on my brutality as a DM, but that's much more about using the PCs' ideals and relationships to twist them up; if I let the PC die, I'm giving up the ability to keep hurting them.
 
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