D&D General I need a D&D counseling session! Help! (Re: Update ("Argument-Stopping Protocols" -- please advise!))

Over in the "Argument-Stopping Protocols" thread, ENWorlders gave me advice in regard to ongoing conflict/dissonance with my fellow co-DM (we switch off DMing and playing). We are best friends (in some ways), but it has often been hard gaming with him. I'm posting an update here in a different thread, hopefully so that my players won't find this discussion, where I speak more frankly.

So, I shared what y'all suggested. Me and the other co-DM met face-to-face and read your comments aloud. Then we argued some more. But also had some emotional breakthrough. But then we argued more the next day on the phone. Which blew my fuse. So I sat down and hammered out a list of all the issues I feel sore about from our year+ of play, and what changes would resolve those for me, so that I could look forward to playing.

I turned those issues into Twenty Table Rules. I just sent this to my friend this morning, and am waiting for his response.

As you can see, we've had some issues.

PART I

Travis' Table Rules


Version 0.1, March 26th, 2020​

Table Rule Zero: I'm the DM.

When I am DMing, it is my table. This is the way it's always been in D&D. Ever since D&D was invented in 1974, the Dungeon Master has always been the master of the table—master of both the rules and master of the fictional world. In all aspects, the DM has the final and total say—like the writer, director, and producer of a play, and the author, editor, and publisher of a novel…all rolled into one. The DM can make up rules on the spot, fudge the dice, repeatedly change rules, alter a monster's hit points and stats on the fly, retcon the story, switch to a different rules system, and even modify your character's traits, stats, and features!…anything, at any time, at any moment. D&D has always been like that. That's not authoritarianism…it's authorial sovereignty. That's just the way D&D rolls.

The DM is of course obligated to be respectful of the players as human beings. And the players (moreso than actors in a play) have individual sovereignty over their own character's choices and actions. That is a lot. Yet even the PCs' stats and fluff (bio) are subject to DM modification, when that character enters the DM's milieu.

Within the game, whatever the DM says goes. Period. If a player doesn't like it, they can find another DM…or step up to DM yourself! Likewise, when you are DMing, I respect your authorial initiative.

"You're the DM, and you are in charge of the game."— 5e Dungeon Masters Guide

Table Rule One: The Social Contract. Having said that, of course there is a "social contract"—we are here to have fun, and to co-create a story based on a relatively consistent and stable set of rules. It's great to provide occasional opportunities for the players to further invest in co-creating the world; but I retain total editorial discretion on each and every facet of that world.

Even fun, co-creation, and rules stability are secondary to the authorial independence and artistic initiative of the Dungeon Master. There is no Rule One without Rule Zero.

In my experience, Rule One (superficially maximizing the players' entertainment and wish-fulfillment) without Rule Zero leads to co-dependency and people-pleasing, followed by negotiations, arguments, demoralization, and unfun (for the DM, and then for others).

Table Rule Two: Alcohol and Substance Free. I run an alcohol and substance free table. Thank you.

Table Rule Three: "PG" in regard to goriness, horror, and cursing. In those three regards, I run a "PG" table. In regard to serious themes and intense challenges, the storylines may have adult gravity.

The DM can and will redirect a player's language which seems to be going in a gruesome or explicit direction. Though the words "kill" and "dead" are not totally banned, I strongly prefer the words "slay", "defeat", "overcome", and "down", as in: "I slew/defeated/overcame the monster." and "The monster is down." I also prefer the word "volley" or "release" instead of "shoot." "I volley/release an arrow at the monster." And "fight" or "battle" or "affray" (the world Tolkien uses) instead of "combat."

As for curses, I and my table mostly refrain from the four letter words. This includes pre-game and post-game conversation. Feel free to use mild oaths, such as "darn." Another option is to invent fantastic, creative curses and exclamations, which are tied into D&D lore. Such as "By the sainted dog!", "gods!", "Nine Hells!" (or "Hells!" for short)—these have all appeared in D&D fiction. Tolkien's dwaves use "drat!" as the f-word (as in "drat him!"), and his hobbits' f-word is"fiddlesticks!" Gandalf uses "great elephants!" and "in the name of all wonder!"

Table Rule Four: Evil-ish PCs are Okay, But Player-vs.Player Conflict is Not Okay. Though it hasn't really come up in our group yet, most PCs will be Good or Neutral in alignment. However, you are allowed to play an Evil-aligned character, with these caveats:

1) Your Evil PC must be of the "not-quite-so-evil" type of Anti-Hero, like Raistlin Majere and Dalamar the Dark Elf (two Black-Robed Wizards in the World of Krynn), or (the later evolution of) Artemis Entreri the assassin in the World of Toril, or even Eric the Cavalier in the Realm of the D&D Cartoon Show or Edmund in the Chronicles of Narnia. (In fact, even if your PC is Evil, they can't be as much as a jerk as Eric and Edmund were! See caveat #3.)

2) Your PC's Evil alignment is just background flavor. Though your PC may be aligned with an adversarial organization (such as a cabal of Evil wizards or an Assassin's Guild), or has a major chip on their shoulder and is angry at the whole world, or maybe has a troubled, criminal past, the PC effectively functions in the game as just another friendly-ish character. Their Evil aspect is just edgy background flavor.

3) Your Evil PC must not actually betray the party. Like Raistlin in the Companions of the Lance, or Artemis Entreri in the Sellswords, the Evil PC considers the party to be genuine friends. Even Evil people have friends. Though there might be dramatic tension among the party members due to differing ethos, no major PvP conflict, fighting, and betrayal are allowed. (Except for maybe a dramatic scuffle or two.) The DM reserves the right to veto and retcon actions along these lines. The same applies to thievery—no (permanent) stealing of stuff from fellow party members.

4) See Table Rule #3. Even Evil PCs must be PG in their actions—e.g. no gruesome descriptions, no random acts of violence, etc. Raistlin's "noble evil"—as seen in his kindness toward the gully dwarves—is an ideal archetype.

Table Rule Five: Emotional Serenity. It's against table etiquette to express temper, disturbedness, or wrath at character setbacks, including death of your PC or allies; injury or dismemberent; loss, theft, or breakage of magic items, equipment, or wealth; poor dice rolls by yourself or others; high rolls by the DM; or TPL (Total Party Loss). It's D&D. That's what happens.

If you are truly feeling emotionally unbalanced in the moment, you are welcome and encouraged to call for a break—to take a breather, drink some water, get a shoulder rub, and take counsel with the DM and other kindly friends about your emotional state.

I have always disdained those of our friends who become actually disturbed when playing the game Werewolf. After witnessing this folly a couple times, I began to announce and remind everyone at the start, that this is a work of fiction, like a play; and that we are playing fictional roles—roles which could include dishonesty and treachery—just as in a Shakespeare play. The dishonesty of the fictional role has no bearing on the morality of the actor. Any confusion of the two is sheer foolishness. In the same way that it's total folly to feel actually disturbed by watching, say, a production of Macbeth. I witnessed Laurie Portocarrero's teenage Shakespeare on the Green actors stab each other with swords on the Philmont Village Green. Should I be horrified and disturbed? Will I never look at those young people the same? Are they morally compromised? No, don't be silly.

I would say the same to D&D players. Please refrain from such confusion. Take hold of your emotional life during play. Serenity is the watchword.

Table Rule Six: No Comments about the DM's High Rolls. Furthermore, even if you say it in a lighthearted way, I do not want to hear any comments at all about the DM's "luck" or high rolls. I don't believe in luck or unluck, or "spirits of gambling." You're welcome to lightheartedly (but not angrily) comment about your own luck or unluck, but not about other players' rolls (unless positive, like "nice roll!"), or the DM's (at all).

Table Rule Seven: Magnanimous World Acceptance (MWA). The principle of MWA means that even if I flub something up, forget an important fact, mix up the story, or totally misunderstand how a rule works, it still happened. There must've been some kind of weird reality-blip that resulted in that.

For example, if I forgot to apply a monster's special power, then the monster just wasn’t inclined (was too startled/excited/angry) to use the power in that moment. In the chaos of battle or tense social interaction, monsters and NPCs can forget important things. That's just what happened. Or if I got the map mixed up, then some reality-bending effect actually warped the space, perhaps temporarily. The D&D worlds are mysterious, and not always predictable.

MWA trumps the rules. But, if you spot a rules mistake in the moment, you're welcome to speak up. (See Table Rule #9.) And it could also be something to bring up after the "24-hour delay" (see Table Rule #11).

Table Rule Eight: Non-Self-Perfectionism—Tactical Mistakes Happen (TMH). Similarly, if you make a tactical mistake, and the next player has begun their turn, we generally will not rewind to retcon the story. It's okay to feel and express light dismay ("darn!"), but not to yell in anger. For example, if you inadvertantly targeted an area-effect spell in a way that will catch an ally in the fire (or vice versa, your PC is effected by someone else's mistake), and no one caught it before the next player started their turn, that's just too bad. It's 'friendly fire' and the fog of war.

Also, it is in no way the DM's responsibility to catch your mistakes or sub-par choices beforehand—I have enough to do to run the monsters and the rest of the setting. You are totally responsible for your PC. Even if your PC would be more adept than you are, they still made the mistake, due to a mental slip, a moment of confusion, or whatever. If I notice a looming mistake, and I feel like it, I may or may not point it out, at my total discretion and whim. I am not a bad person if I choose to let friendly fire or other mishap happen.

(Of course, there's an exception for total newcomers—we are here to guide them—but once you basically know how to play the game, you'll be learning from your own mistakes.)

Personal note: That's how my Psion perished in the Third Edition campaign I was playing in San Diego. Caught in the edge of afireball, IIRC. After a moment of light dismay and laughs and mourning—I happily rolled up a new character.

Tactical mistakes happen in D&D. "TMH" is part of the game, and part of the story.

Table Rule Nine: It's okay to try to correct me in the moment. If you think that I'm running something incorrectly (according to your understanding of the 5E Rules-As-Written, or whatever ruleset I'm using)— it's okay to speak up. It could be helpful to me.

Yet sometimes it may be the case that you don't know all the factors, and I may say so. If our understandings still differ, then see the next table rule…on Argument Protocol.

Table Rule Ten: Argument Protocol I—The One-to-Three-Minute Limit for Making a Case. If during the game (or possibly even outside of the game, such as during a rules discussion afterward, or on the phone), a player has a point of contention (such as about the rules), I can set a limit between one and three minutes to make your case, at my discretion. I may ask one of the other players to serve as time-keeper. When the time is up, I'll make a ruling, which will stand for now, until I can research the issue more fully.

I can unilaterally extend the time-limit if I wish, but the intent is to strongly limit rules arguments, for the sake of the entire table. In fact, other players can also speak up and request for an argument to be timed. This time limit is currently being playtested by me, to see whether one minute or 3 minutes works best for my table.

Table Rule 10.1: As the pinnacle of crazed, endlessly prickly, codependent wrangling, no player is ever to speak to me again about the Shield Master Feat, or any variant or hack thereof, or speak about its merits or demerits, within my earshot. haha. Seriously.

Table Rule Eleven: Argument Protocol II—The Twenty-Four Hour Delay. As the game session wraps up, and we are getting ready to head home, as DM I do not want to hear any criticism or negativity at that time, even obliquely. I would be happy for a few compliments ora simple "thanks", a smile, and a handshake.Even if I did a terrible job, I put a lot of work into it. I need you to wait least till morning of the next day before coming to me with issues and complaints. You're welcome to do so then. Players are encouraged to keep a piece of note-paper during play, where you write down all the things that rubbed you the wrong way. I welcome frank feedback…after a night has passed.

Table Rule Twelve: Argument Protocol III—No Grumbling, Griping, or Underhanded Sniping at the DM During Play. Don't be such a critic or "auteur." For example, I do not want to hear your criticismsor off-hand comments about there being too few or too many magic items, not enough plusses on the sword, or not the right kind of magic weapons found. I don't want to hear there should be no traps in D&D. (Let me assure you there will be many, many traps in your way in the months to come…that's D&D!) And so forth. Stop griping during play.

Even if I'm using a pre-made module, griping directed at the module's author is griping at me. Even when using a published module, the DM is truly the auteur—the author.

You're welcome to openly bring your concerns to me in the moment—via a quick correction (Table Rule #9), a one-to-three minute case (Table Rule #10), or to write yourself a note to bring those issues to me after a 24-Hour Delay (Table Rule #11).

Table Rule Thirteen: Argument Protocol IV—For my part, I will aim for a gentle, moderate tone when correcting/redirecting players, rather than press too hard upon anyone who has made any kind of mistake. I believe that if people are encouraged, and I am light about goof-ups, then people tend to have more courage to experiment in the moment be innovative and all that good stuff and I think we have more fun. You are welcome to remind me of this Table Rule if I speak in a hard tone.

Table Rule Fourteen: Refrain from reading of reviews or articles about modules which I'm planning to DM. If you know the title of the module we're currently playing, or you've heard that I'm planning to run a certain module in the future, it is poor sportsmanship to read about those modules. Even a so-called "critically panned" module can be brought to life in a uniquely fun or curious way.

And even if there are no spoilers (and there almost always are!), reading reviews tramples on the effort and joy I put into prepping the adventure. Like:"Oh, you're planning to run this module? I heard that this module sucks." Not cool. That's trampling.

Table Rule Fifteen: Gratitude for Illustrations. I do not want to hear any criticism of D&D artwork or illustrations which I show to the players during a game—unless the image is gruesome or horrifying. (And I myself have tried to refrain, and will continue to refrain, from showing such images—but you're still welcome to speak up if what I show is still too scary/unsettling for you. )

But if the illustration is merely cartoonish, clumsily drawn, ugly-ish, or 'materialistic', I don't want to hear any criticism. (At least not until afte rthe 24-Hour Delay.) Just because a piece of artwork is not a Steinerian veil-painting, drawn by Anthroposophically-Aware artists, doesn't mean it's totally worthless. Don't be such an "aesthete","Steiner church lady," and critic. Please be glad for any visual aids which are offered.

Table Rule Sixteen: Come Prepared to Play. This includes:

1) Regular players at my table must acquire a copy of the Players Handbook—Fifth Edition. (Newcomers have a few grace sessions where they can decide whether they are in or out, before they get the book.) Our club has one loaner copy. (Despite this requirement, I retain the right to change to a different ruleset someday, at my whim.)
2) You must read the following sections in the PHB before sitting at my table. (Unless you are a newcomer, here to try it out.):
1) The entire write-up, including the boring roleplaying fluff paragraphs*, of the race, background, class, and subclass of the PC which you're currently playing. (Though not required, it could be helpful to mark those pages with post-it tabs, for quick reference at the table.) *(Look at these fluff paragraphs as a meditative exercise in concentration, even if boring—you only have to read them once in your life in order to qualify for my table. And you might glean an inspiring tidbit from them.)​
2) The descriptive paragraph for all the skills and feats which your PC has chosen.​
3) The descriptive paragraph for any piece of equipment which your PC owns, including weapons, armor, tools, and other gear.​
4) The entirety of Part II: Playing the Game—pages 171 to 198.
5) If your PC is a spellcaster, the entirety of Chapter 10: Spellcasting—pages 201 to 205.
6) The entire description of any spells or cantrips known or prepared.​
If you haven't read those sections, don't come. You don't have to have memorized, or even understood, everything you read—but you must have read it. At my table, we are co-responsible for rules familiarity.

3) You must have your character sheet filled out.
4) Spell descriptions (and magic item descriptions) must be fully noted: either by hand-writing the description out fully on your sheet, or cut and pasting and printing it out, or marking those pages in your PHB with labeled post-it tabs, or (at the very least) writing the page numbers on your sheet.
5) You are responsible for not being overly tired. If you had a long day, please at least grab a short nap, and/or drink some tea, and/or take a refreshing short walk before coming to play that night. You owe it your fellow participants to be wakeful and attentive. When you are at the table, willfully take hold of your energetic sheath—slap and shake yourself if necessary, rub your face and limbs, drink lots of water, or even call for a break to get fresh air.

Try hard to preëmpt yawniness, but if you do yawn, table etiquette is to cover your mouth and say some sort of "excuse me"—and even to stick out your hand and say something like: "hold up, I feel a yawn coming." My table pauses for yawns. If you are too tired, we may need to stop early, which could be a disservice to our shared plans for the evening.

Table Rule Seventeen: Smiling Helpfulness. If something is offered by me or another player—say, we drew our character or wrote up our last adventure as a novel—the normative humane response is to smile widely and say "Awesome!" or "Pretty cool! Thanks for showing me!" Because it must be awesome in some way—it's at least awesome that they made the effort.

And something which I would be most glad for is this: ultra-intentional, warm-hearted, super-supportive helpfulness and camaraderie. If I or another player are spinning our wheels, getting bogged down, flustered, or confused—offer to help them. "How may I help?"

Table Rule Eighteen: I'm free to modify these Table Rules. Even these table rules can be modified by the DM at will. However, I intend to let you know of substantive changes or additions, which you can agree to or not.

Table Rule Nineteen: Due Process. So what happens if you don't abide by my table rules? Well, I really hope we can speak as adults, best friends, and human beings. Hopefully, occasional slips can be dealt with via gentle re-directions in the moment, or by a DM-player consultation after the 24-Hour Delay.

I'd also be grateful for other players' help in reminding each other of slips in the moment, like: "Dude, you're slamming on the artwork (or making comments about other players' low rolls, etc)—that's against the Table Rules. C'mon man." My serious wish is that having each player read and sign the Table Rules may help us all get on the same page.

A more intensive option would be to call for a table business meeting dedicated to resolving the dispute or disruption.

Yet, at all stages of the process, the consequences are at my total discretion . it could range from a zany, old-skool, Gygaxian-style, in-game "punishment" of your character…to ejecting a player from my Table temporarily (until comensurate amends are made)…or permanently. If the campaign and group dynamic remains un-nourishing to me as DM, I could of course also disband the group. It's not the end of the world.

Note: our D&D Club is not identical to my Table/Campaign. There may eventually be more "tables" (DMs) in our D&D Club. If I have an issue with a player at my Table, that doesn't necessarily translate to the Club as a whole. The householder / host of the meeting space also of course has their own general parameters as householder.

Table Rule Twenty: There is only one Agreement to make. These aren't multilaterally negotiated ageements. To join my table, a player must read and agree to these Table Rules. This is The Agreement. If you don't understand these provisions, or if you have clarifying questions, do not hesitate to ask beforehand. By signing this, you agree to play by my rules, in my world. If you can't or won't agree to that in good faith, then don't sign—and find another DM.

___________ ______________________________
Date Read Player Signature
 
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Here's part II of what came out of the ENWorld advice session. Based on several commentators suggestions, I split off from our Shared World campaign setting which we'd co-DMed, and made my own parallel world, called the Singular World.

In this write-up, my players' names are abbreviated in [brackets] for the sake of anonymity.

***
Welcome, dungeoneers…to the Singular World!

PART II
The Singular World:
Travis' Campaign Setting

The Singular World is my world. It's my campaign setting.

This is a slightly different world than the one we have been playing in for the past year. That world was the Shared World…a world which was co-authored and co-owned by myself and another DM, and expressed via a co-negotiated ruleset. Based on advice from several fellow DMs on the ENWorld Forum , I am fully retiring my role in that setting and ruleset, and do not intend to revisit it. Though it was sometimes fun and fruitful, and served as a good exercise, I wasn't able to travel in a car with two drivers, who hadn't even really agreed on a destination. The Shared World, as such, continues to exist in a retired perpetual statis. (In other words, it's dead.)

My Singular World is essentially identical to the Shared World—at this point, the only real difference is that this world is singularly mine…my own sandbox.

Other DMs in our club are welcome/permitted to run adventures which use my map. But even so, they never actually occur in the Singular World. The Singular World only exists when I'm DMing it.

Or, other DMs might want to develop a totally different world map. Or a different locale off the edge of the map I made. Or just take some elements from my map, and make your own variant map. These are all options.

Even if another DM uses my map as-is, when they're DMing, they're really describing a different world—a parallel world. It's not the Singular World. Even if their world looks nearly identical to mine, it is not the same world. I ask that the terms "Singular World" and "Singular Peninsula" only be used to refer to my specific timeline and world. It's my informal "trademark."

However, I would suggest a friendly agreement that each DM in our club can choose to say that some or all (or none) of the stories which another DM runs also took place in their world. And that some or all (or none) of the characters/PCs exist in their world too. But the receiving DM is totally free to edit, revise, excise, erase, re-write, re-erase, and retcon those stories and characters (with collaboration with the character's player) to fit with their own authorial vision and tone of their world. Even to the extent that a character might have different stats, different gear, a different biography, or a totally different build, in two different worlds. Even to the extent that I could have you keep a different character sheet for the version of the character which exists in my world.

So far, of the various parallel worlds of our D&D Club, only mine has a name: the Singular World. I wonder what y'all will call your worlds when you DM? To use DC or Marvel comics dimensional terminology, where Earth 0 = DC Universe and Earth-616 = Marvel Universe, my Singular World, and your worlds, could be viewed as alternate versions, or offshoots, of the retired Shared World. Something like this:

✹ Shared World-T (Travis) = The Singular World
✹ Shared World-M (when [M] DMs) = ???
✹ Shared World-A (for [A], when he DMs) = ???
✹ Shared World-O (when [O] DMs) = ???
✹ Shared World-E (for [E], when she DMs) = ???

Each of us is also free to create not just one, but multiple worlds, timelines, dimensions, and planes of adventure…our own multiverse.

I would humbly suggest that [M] take as his starting point, the "Underground Binalric" which [A]'s characters + Swishy McJackass and Fizzlesticks explored. Because that is the most clearly divergent point on the timeline which [M] has DMed so far. In that world, the Bastion of Binalric extends underground, instead of having upper stories, as it did when Travis's original party—Gog (RIP), Norman (RIP), Sneaky (RIP), etc—explored the bastion.

That's only a suggestion. [M] might want to go in a totally different direction of worldbuilding. Our D&D Club is certainly bigger than myself, and potentially bigger than my table and campaign. [M] and I did some good co-creation of the Shared Peninsula, which is in my world called the Singular Peninsula. [M] was the primary creator of the Rime Coast (Stannasgard and Benalric), the Duchy of Berghof, the as-yet-undetailed Hold of the Sea Barons, the Briarwood, and the Hermit's Path, and also was the initiator of the DM-less adventures set in the Village or Orlbar and Weathercote Woods, the Village of Verland, and in [M] 's one-person stories in the Village of Thornbrook and Caldarook Mansion.

We still have unfinished business in the Duchy of Berhof (module UK3) which [M] was DMing. Those events took place in the Shared World, and also in my Singular World. Yet when [M] takes UK3 up again, it will be neither of those worlds, even if it looks identical at first.

In conclusion, each DM bears total and complete authorial sovereignty. Other DMs are welcome to eventually try out the DM's chair. When you are DMing, it's your own world. When I am DMing, it's my world…the Singular World. You're invited to come play.

—Travis
Dungeon Master of the Singular World
March 26th, 2020
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
Wow, this is quite a document, and it’s clear there must have been a great deal of friction at your table! I am sorry if the experience has caused you distress. If it’s alright with you, I would like to provide some feedback on these table rules. Though, I get the impression that you are somewhat sensitive to critique (no shame in that - your feelings are valid and deserving of respect), so I’m going to go ahead and put my comments in spoiler blocks so that you can read them (or not read them) at whatever pace works for you. I will attempt to keep all criticism constructive.


Table Rule Zero: I'm the DM.

When I am DMing, it is my table. This is the way it's always been in D&D. Ever since D&D was invented in 1974, the Dungeon Master has always been the master of the table—master of both the rules and master of the fictional world. In all aspects, the DM has the final and total say—like the writer, director, and producer of a play, and the author, editor, and publisher of a novel…all rolled into one. The DM can make up rules on the spot, fudge the dice, repeatedly change rules, alter a monster's hit points and stats on the fly, retcon the story, switch to a different rules system, and even modify your character's traits, stats, and features!…anything, at any time, at any moment. D&D has always been like that. That's not authoritarianism…it's authorial sovereignty. That's just the way D&D rolls.
The DM is of course obligated to be respectful of the players as human beings. And the players (moreso than actors in a play) have individual sovereignty over their own character's choices and actions. That is a lot. Yet even the PCs' stats and fluff (bio) are subject to DM modification, when that character enters the DM's milieu.
Within the game, whatever the DM says goes. Period. If a player doesn't like it, they can find another DM…or step up to DM yourself! Likewise, when you are DMing, I respect your authorial initiative.

"You're the DM, and you are in charge of the game."— 5e Dungeon Masters Guide​

Ok, so I see where you’re coming from here. You’re the DM, and your word is final over your own game. That’s perfectly reasonable. However, I think some of the language here comes off a little confrontational. I assume that’s because you’ve experienced a great deal of confrontation regarding this matter, so it is understandable, but I feel I should caution that this may end up escalating said confrontation rather than de-escalating it. If I were a player in your game and you showed me this rule, I would be inclined to find a different game. When the DM starts out by explicitly stating that they have the right to fudge rolls, change monster stats and/or rules on a whim, retcon events of the story, and even alter details of my character, it creates the impression that the DM intends to exercise those rights frequently, which doesn’t sound like a very enjoyable environment to play in. If I’m going in expecting fudged rolls and fluctuating monster stats, I won’t be able to trust that my own actions actually matter, and if I’m going in expecting the rules themselves to be in flux, I won’t have confidence that the world will respond to my actions in a predictable fashion. And if I go in expecting the DM to change my character details, my character won’t feel like my own. Furthermore, comments like “this is how it’s bee since 1974” and “if you don’t like it, find another DM” don’t really add anything constructive, instead contribute to the confrontational tone I mentioned, and would make me feel like I should indeed find another DM.

Table Rule One: The Social Contract. Having said that, of course there is a "social contract"—we are here to have fun, and to co-create a story based on a relatively consistent and stable set of rules. It's great to provide occasional opportunities for the players to further invest in co-creating the world; but I retain total editorial discretion on each and every facet of that world.
Even fun, co-creation, and rules stability are secondary to the authorial independence and artistic initiative of the Dungeon Master. There is no Rule One without Rule Zero.
In my experience, Rule One (superficially maximizing the players' entertainment and wish-fulfillment) without Rule Zero leads to co-dependency and people-pleasing, followed by negotiations, arguments, demoralization, and unfun (for the DM, and then for others).
This reads more like an addendum to rule 0 than its own rule. I think simply incorporating the clarification that you are invested in facilitating an enjoyable experience for all and intend to respect the social contract into your commentary on rule 0, it would help soften that message, and streamline your document.

Table Rule Two: Alcohol and Substance Free. I run an alcohol and substance free table. Thank you.
This is a good table rule. Clear, concise, respectful, and a perfectly reasonable expectation to set.

Table Rule Three: "PG" in regard to goriness, horror, and cursing. In those three regards, I run a "PG" table. In regard to serious themes and intense challenges, the storylines may have adult gravity.
The DM can and will redirect a player's language which seems to be going in a gruesome or explicit direction. Though the words "kill" and "dead" are not totally banned, I strongly prefer the words "slay", "defeat", "overcome", and "down", as in: "I slew/defeated/overcame the monster." and "The monster is down." I also prefer the word "volley" or "release" instead of "shoot." "I volley/release an arrow at the monster." And "fight" or "battle" or "affray" (the world Tolkien uses) instead of "combat."
As for curses, I and my table mostly refrain from the four letter words. This includes pre-game and post-game conversation. Feel free to use mild oaths, such as "darn." Another option is to invent fantastic, creative curses and exclamations, which are tied into D&D lore. Such as "By the sainted dog!", "gods!", "Nine Hells!" (or "Hells!" for short)—these have all appeared in D&D fiction. Tolkien's dwaves use "drat!" as the f-word (as in "drat him!"), and his hobbits' f-word is"fiddlesticks!" Gandalf uses "great elephants!" and "in the name of all wonder!"
Likewise, this is quite reasonable, if a bit less concise. Personally, I would struggle with using language like “slay” and “defeat” in place of kill, “volley” and “release” in place of “shoot”, etc. but since you express it as a preference rather than a mandate, and say that you will redirect a player whose language you find to explicit, I would be comfortable giving it a try in respect for your preferences.

Table Rule Four: Evil-ish PCs are Okay, But Player-vs.Player Conflict is Not Okay. Though it hasn't really come up in our group yet, most PCs will be Good or Neutral in alignment. However, you are allowed to play an Evil-aligned character, with these caveats:

1) Your Evil PC must be of the "not-quite-so-evil" type of Anti-Hero, like Raistlin Majere and Dalamar the Dark Elf (two Black-Robed Wizards in the World of Krynn), or (the later evolution of) Artemis Entreri the assassin in the World of Toril, or even Eric the Cavalier in the Realm of the D&D Cartoon Show or Edmund in the Chronicles of Narnia. (In fact, even if your PC is Evil, they can't be as much as a jerk as Eric and Edmund were! See caveat #3.)
2) Your PC's Evil alignment is just background flavor. Though your PC may be aligned with an adversarial organization (such as a cabal of Evil wizards or an Assassin's Guild), or has a major chip on their shoulder and is angry at the whole world, or maybe has a troubled, criminal past, the PC effectively functions in the game as just another friendly-ish character. Their Evil aspect is just edgy background flavor.
3) Your Evil PC must not actually betray the party. Like Raistlin in the Companions of the Lance, or Artemis Entreri in the Sellswords, the Evil PC considers the party to be genuine friends. Even Evil people have friends. Though there might be dramatic tension among the party members due to differing ethos, no major PvP conflict, fighting, and betrayal are allowed. (Except for maybe a dramatic scuffle or two.) The DM reserves the right to veto and retcon actions along these lines. The same applies to thievery—no (permanent) stealing of stuff from fellow party members.
4) See Table Rule #3. Even Evil PCs must be PG in their actions—e.g. no gruesome descriptions, no random acts of violence, etc. Raistlin's "noble evil"—as seen in his kindness toward the gully dwarves—is an ideal archetype.
This is another quite reasonable table rule, and a very common one at that - plenty of DMs, myself included, disallow “evil” PCs and/or allow them under certain conditions such as not betraying the party. I do wonder, however, why you don’t just ban evil alignments on PCs entirely, since these restrictions to me seem like any character who followed them couldn’t reasonably be described as “evil.” If it were me, I would disallow evil PCs, with the caveat that PCs who were evil in their backgrounds but are seeking redemption are allowed. The restrictions around things like party betrayal would serve to insure players of Chaotic and/or Neutral aligned characters know not to fall into in such behaviors.

Table Rule Five: Emotional Serenity. It's against table etiquette to express temper, disturbedness, or wrath at character setbacks, including death of your PC or allies; injury or dismemberent; loss, theft, or breakage of magic items, equipment, or wealth; poor dice rolls by yourself or others; high rolls by the DM; or TPL (Total Party Loss). It's D&D. That's what happens.
If you are truly feeling emotionally unbalanced in the moment, you are welcome and encouraged to call for a break—to take a breather, drink some water, get a shoulder rub, and take counsel with the DM and other kindly friends about your emotional state.
I have always disdained those of our friends who become actually disturbed when playing the game Werewolf. After witnessing this folly a couple times, I began to announce and remind everyone at the start, that this is a work of fiction, like a play; and that we are playing fictional roles—roles which could include dishonesty and treachery—just as in a Shakespeare play. The dishonesty of the fictional role has no bearing on the morality of the actor. Any confusion of the two is sheer foolishness. In the same way that it's total folly to feel actually disturbed by watching, say, a production of Macbeth. I witnessed Laurie Portocarrero's teenage Shakespeare on the Green actors stab each other with swords on the Philmont Village Green. Should I be horrified and disturbed? Will I never look at those young people the same? Are they morally compromised? No, don't be silly.
I would say the same to D&D players. Please refrain from such confusion. Take hold of your emotional life during play. Serenity is the watchword.
I don’t think I would be able to agree to this as a player. It’s natural for people to have emotional reactions to fictional events (some might say that it is an explicit goal of fiction to illicit an emotional reaction from its audience), and forbidding players from expressing such reactions when they are negative seems very restrictive. It’s one thing to ask that players try to keep their cool and take a break if they need to. But having a table rule against any expressions of dismay over setbacks that happen to the characters seems a bit extreme. I assume I’m missing context that lead you to feel such a rule was necessary. Do one or more players in your group have a history of extreme emotional overreaction to such things?

Table Rule Six: No Comments about the DM's High Rolls. Furthermore, even if you say it in a lighthearted way, I do not want to hear any comments at all about the DM's "luck" or high rolls. I don't believe in luck or unluck, or "spirits of gambling." You're welcome to lightheartedly (but not angrily) comment about your own luck or unluck, but not about other players' rolls (unless positive, like "nice roll!"), or the DM's (at all).
This likewise seems quite extreme to me and makes me think there must be a history of inappropriate reactions to the results of dice rolls in your games.

Table Rule Seven: Magnanimous World Acceptance (MWA). The principle of MWA means that even if I flub something up, forget an important fact, mix up the story, or totally misunderstand how a rule works, it still happened. There must've been some kind of weird reality-blip that resulted in that.
For example, if I forgot to apply a monster's special power, then the monster just wasn’t inclined (was too startled/excited/angry) to use the power in that moment. In the chaos of battle or tense social interaction, monsters and NPCs can forget important things. That's just what happened. Or if I got the map mixed up, then some reality-bending effect actually warped the space, perhaps temporarily. The D&D worlds are mysterious, and not always predictable.
MWA trumps the rules. But, if you spot a rules mistake in the moment, you're welcome to speak up. (See Table Rule #9.) And it could also be something to bring up after the "24-hour delay" (see Table Rule #11).
A good rule. Not much else to say about it.

Table Rule Eight: Non-Self-Perfectionism—Tactical Mistakes Happen (TMH). Similarly, if you make a tactical mistake, and the next player has begun their turn, we generally will not rewind to retcon the story. It's okay to feel and express light dismay ("darn!"), but not to yell in anger. For example, if you inadvertantly targeted an area-effect spell in a way that will catch an ally in the fire (or vice versa, your PC is effected by someone else's mistake), and no one caught it before the next player started their turn, that's just too bad. It's 'friendly fire' and the fog of war.
Also, it is in no way the DM's responsibility to catch your mistakes or sub-par choices beforehand—I have enough to do to run the monsters and the rest of the setting. You are totally responsible for your PC. Even if your PC would be more adept than you are, they still made the mistake, due to a mental slip, a moment of confusion, or whatever. If I notice a looming mistake, and I feel like it, I may or may not point it out, at my total discretion and whim. I am not a bad person if I choose to let friendly fire or other mishap happen.
(Of course, there's an exception for total newcomers—we are here to guide them—but once you basically know how to play the game, you'll be learning from your own mistakes.)
Personal note: That's how my Psion perished in the Third Edition campaign I was playing in San Diego. Caught in the edge of afireball, IIRC. After a moment of light dismay and laughs and mourning—I happily rolled up a new character.
Tactical mistakes happen in D&D. "TMH" is part of the game, and part of the story.
Goes hand in hand with the previous rule, and is another good one to have.

Table Rule Nine: It's okay to try to correct me in the moment. If you think that I'm running something incorrectly (according to your understanding of the 5E Rules-As-Written, or whatever ruleset I'm using)— it's okay to speak up. It could be helpful to me.
Yet sometimes it may be the case that you don't know all the factors, and I may say so. If our understandings still differ, then see the next table rule…on Argument Protocol.
Yet another one I have nothing to say about beyond that it seems good and reasonable.

Table Rule Ten: Argument Protocol I—The One-to-Three-Minute Limit for Making a Case. If during the game (or possibly even outside of the game, such as during a rules discussion afterward, or on the phone), a player has a point of contention (such as about the rules), I can set a limit between one and three minutes to make your case, at my discretion. I may ask one of the other players to serve as time-keeper. When the time is up, I'll make a ruling, which will stand for now, until I can research the issue more fully.
I can unilaterally extend the time-limit if I wish, but the intent is to strongly limit rules arguments, for the sake of the entire table. In fact, other players can also speak up and request for an argument to be timed. This time limit is currently being playtested by me, to see whether one minute or 3 minutes works best for my table.
Seems fair, if a bit formal. You’ve invited players to point out when they think you’ve made a mistake, but you don’t want to open the door to endless derailments over rules interpretations, so putting a time limit on such discussions makes sense.

Table Rule 10.1: As the pinnacle of crazed, endlessly prickly, codependent wrangling, no player is ever to speak to me again about the Shield Master Feat, or any variant or hack thereof, or speak about its merits or demerits, within my earshot. haha. Seriously.
Clearly there’s some baggage here. This is another instance where I don’t think this is adding anything to your document but a confrontational tone. The actual content of the rule is well-covered by the above rule, so what’s left amounts to little more than a passive-aggressive jab. I don’t know, maybe your group will find it funny, but if the situation is as volatile as you make it sound, I wouldn’t want to risk putting this in the doc.

Table Rule Eleven: Argument Protocol II—The Twenty-Four Hour Delay. As the game session wraps up, and we are getting ready to head home, as DM I do not want to hear any criticism or negativity at that time, even obliquely. I would be happy for a few compliments ora simple "thanks", a smile, and a handshake.Even if I did a terrible job, I put a lot of work into it. I need you to wait least till morning of the next day before coming to me with issues and complaints. You're welcome to do so then. Players are encouraged to keep a piece of note-paper during play, where you write down all the things that rubbed you the wrong way. I welcome frank feedback…after a night has passed.
This I think is a fair thing to ask of your players, but putting it into your document of table rules makes it seem more restrictive than it is. Like, “please give me a day to decompress after the game before giving me feedback about it” is a perfectly reasonable request. But “No one is allowed to express any critique of my game within 24 hours of the session” comes across as hypersensitive and authoritarian. This is completely an optics thing, the actual content of the rule is solid, but the presentation makes it chafe.

Table Rule Twelve: Argument Protocol III—No Grumbling, Griping, or Underhanded Sniping at the DM During Play. Don't be such a critic or "auteur." For example, I do not want to hear your criticismsor off-hand comments about there being too few or too many magic items, not enough plusses on the sword, or not the right kind of magic weapons found. I don't want to hear there should be no traps in D&D. (Let me assure you there will be many, many traps in your way in the months to come…that's D&D!) And so forth. Stop griping during play.
Even if I'm using a pre-made module, griping directed at the module's author is griping at me. Even when using a published module, the DM is truly the auteur—the author.
You're welcome to openly bring your concerns to me in the moment—via a quick correction (Table Rule #9), a one-to-three minute case (Table Rule #10), or to write yourself a note to bring those issues to me after a 24-Hour Delay (Table Rule #11).
Same as above, I don’t think this is an unfair request, but I do think it comes across the wrong way here.

Table Rule Thirteen: Argument Protocol IV—For my part, I will aim for a gentle, moderate tone when correcting/redirecting players, rather than press too hard upon anyone who has made any kind of mistake. I believe that if people are encouraged, and I am light about goof-ups, then people tend to have more courage to experiment in the moment be innovative and all that good stuff and I think we have more fun. You are welcome to remind me of this Table Rule if I speak in a hard tone.
This is cool of you, and a nice expectation to set.

Table Rule Fourteen: Refrain from reading of reviews or articles about modules which I'm planning to DM. If you know the title of the module we're currently playing, or you've heard that I'm planning to run a certain module in the future, it is poor sportsmanship to read about those modules. Even a so-called "critically panned" module can be brought to life in a uniquely fun or curious way.
And even if there are no spoilers (and there almost always are!), reading reviews tramples on the effort and joy I put into prepping the adventure. Like:"Oh, you're planning to run this module? I heard that this module sucks." Not cool. That's trampling.
Another solid one here.

Table Rule Fifteen: Gratitude for Illustrations. I do not want to hear any criticism of D&D artwork or illustrations which I show to the players during a game—unless the image is gruesome or horrifying. (And I myself have tried to refrain, and will continue to refrain, from showing such images—but you're still welcome to speak up if what I show is still too scary/unsettling for you. )
But if the illustration is merely cartoonish, clumsily drawn, ugly-ish, or 'materialistic', I don't want to hear any criticism. (At least not until afte rthe 24-Hour Delay.) Just because a piece of artwork is not a Steinerian veil-painting, drawn by Anthroposophically-Aware artists, doesn't mean it's totally worthless. Don't be such an "aesthete","Steiner church lady," and critic. Please be glad for any visual aids which are offered.
Wow. That’s really a bummer that this is something you’ve experienced enough that it became necessary to write a rule about. I guess if your group is regularly so hyper-critical of the art in handouts and such this is a decent rule to have, but it’s really unfortunate that such a rule would be needed in the first place.

Table Rule Sixteen: Come Prepared to Play. This includes:

1) Regular players at my table must acquire a copy of the Players Handbook—Fifth Edition. (Newcomers have a few grace sessions where they can decide whether they are in or out, before they get the book.) Our club has one loaner copy. (Despite this requirement, I retain the right to change to a different ruleset someday, at my whim.)
2) You must read the following sections in the PHB before sitting at my table. (Unless you are a newcomer, here to try it out.):
1) The entire write-up, including the boring roleplaying fluff paragraphs*, of the race, background, class, and subclass of the PC which you're currently playing. (Though not required, it could be helpful to mark those pages with post-it tabs, for quick reference at the table.) *(Look at these fluff paragraphs as a meditative exercise in concentration, even if boring—you only have to read them once in your life in order to qualify for my table. And you might glean an inspiring tidbit from them.)​
2) The descriptive paragraph for all the skills and feats which your PC has chosen.​
3) The descriptive paragraph for any piece of equipment which your PC owns, including weapons, armor, tools, and other gear.​
4) The entirety of Part II: Playing the Game—pages 171 to 198.
5) If your PC is a spellcaster, the entirety of Chapter 10: Spellcasting—pages 201 to 205.
6) The entire description of any spells or cantrips known or prepared.​
If you haven't read those sections, don't come. You don't have to have memorized, or even understood, everything you read—but you must have read it. At my table, we are co-responsible for rules familiarity.

3) You must have your character sheet filled out.
4) Spell descriptions (and magic item descriptions) must be fully noted: either by hand-writing the description out fully on your sheet, or cut and pasting and printing it out, or marking those pages in your PHB with labeled post-it tabs, or (at the very least) writing the page numbers on your sheet.
5) You are responsible for not being overly tired. If you had a long day, please at least grab a short nap, and/or drink some tea, and/or take a refreshing short walk before coming to play that night. You owe it your fellow participants to be wakeful and attentive. When you are at the table, willfully take hold of your energetic sheath—slap and shake yourself if necessary, rub your face and limbs, drink lots of water, or even call for a break to get fresh air.
Try hard to preëmpt yawniness, but if you do yawn, table etiquette is to cover your mouth and say some sort of "excuse me"—and even to stick out your hand and say something like: "hold up, I feel a yawn coming." My table pauses for yawns. If you are too tired, we may need to stop early, which could be a disservice to our shared plans for the evening.
This is another case where the content of the rule is solid, but the way it’s written comes across as confrontational and a bit overbearing. I think many groups have some version of a “come prepared” rule, but some of the mandates around “must have read every word in sections X, Y, and Z of the Player’s Handbook” seem unduly restrictive- if you know what your own spells and race/class/background features do well enough to play your character without holding up play, then I don’t see it really mattering whether or not you skimmed over spells you can’t cast, or didn’t read the “Gods, Gold and Clan” bit of the Dwarf race entry or what have you. And I think the whole segment could do with a bit of revision for tone.

Table Rule Seventeen: Smiling Helpfulness. If something is offered by me or another player—say, we drew our character or wrote up our last adventure as a novel—the normative humane response is to smile widely and say "Awesome!" or "Pretty cool! Thanks for showing me!" Because it must be awesome in some way—it's at least awesome that they made the effort.
And something which I would be most glad for is this: ultra-intentional, warm-hearted, super-supportive helpfulness and camaraderie. If I or another player are spinning our wheels, getting bogged down, flustered, or confused—offer to help them. "How may I help?"
This one is just like the art one. I suppose a good rule to have if it’s a consistent problem that your players are being unkind about other players’ creative work and/or struggling with the rules. Just sad that such a thing would be necessary.

Table Rule Eighteen: I'm free to modify these Table Rules. Even these table rules can be modified by the DM at will. However, I intend to let you know of substantive changes or additions, which you can agree to or not.
Makes sense.

Table Rule Nineteen: Due Process. So what happens if you don't abide by my table rules? Well, I really hope we can speak as adults, best friends, and human beings. Hopefully, occasional slips can be dealt with via gentle re-directions in the moment, or by a DM-player consultation after the 24-Hour Delay.
I'd also be grateful for other players' help in reminding each other of slips in the moment, like: "Dude, you're slamming on the artwork (or making comments about other players' low rolls, etc)—that's against the Table Rules. C'mon man." My serious wish is that having each player read and sign the Table Rules may help us all get on the same page.
A more intensive option would be to call for a table business meeting dedicated to resolving the dispute or disruption.
Yet, at all stages of the process, the consequences are at my total discretion . it could range from a zany, old-skool, Gygaxian-style, in-game "punishment" of your character…to ejecting a player from my Table temporarily (until comensurate amends are made)…or permanently. If the campaign and group dynamic remains un-nourishing to me as DM, I could of course also disband the group. It's not the end of the world.
Note: our D&D Club is not identical to my Table/Campaign. There may eventually be more "tables" (DMs) in our D&D Club. If I have an issue with a player at my Table, that doesn't necessarily translate to the Club as a whole. The householder / host of the meeting space also of course has their own general parameters as householder.
Seems like a nice closing note. As an aside, I notice the language “our D&D club.” Is this a school club? That would certainly explain some things.

Table Rule Twenty: There is only one Agreement to make. These aren't multilaterally negotiated ageements. To join my table, a player must read and agree to these Table Rules. This is The Agreement. If you don't understand these provisions, or if you have clarifying questions, do not hesitate to ask beforehand. By signing this, you agree to play by my rules, in my world. If you can't or won't agree to that in good faith, then don't sign—and find another DM.

___________ ______________________________
Date Read Player Signature
I like the invitation to ask if you need clarification about any of the rules. Making the players sign it seems overly formal to me.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
Here's part II of what came out of the ENWorld advice session. Based on several commentators suggestions, I split off from our Shared World campaign setting which we'd co-DMed, and made my own parallel world, called the Singular World.

In this write-up, my players' names are abbreviated in [brackets] for the sake of anonymity.

***
Welcome, dungeoneers…to the Singular World!

PART II
The Singular World:
Travis' Campaign Setting

The Singular World is my world. It's my campaign setting.

This is a slightly different world than the one we have been playing in for the past year. That world was the Shared World…a world which was co-authored and co-owned by myself and another DM, and expressed via a co-negotiated ruleset. Based on advice from several fellow DMs on the ENWorld Forum , I am fully retiring my role in that setting and ruleset, and do not intend to revisit it. Though it was sometimes fun and fruitful, and served as a good exercise, I wasn't able to travel in a car with two drivers, who hadn't even really agreed on a destination. The Shared World, as such, continues to exist in a retired perpetual statis. (In other words, it's dead.)

My Singular World is essentially identical to the Shared World—at this point, the only real difference is that this world is singularly mine…my own sandbox.

Other DMs in our club are welcome/permitted to run adventures which use my map. But even so, they never actually occur in the Singular World. The Singular World only exists when I'm DMing it.

Or, other DMs might want to develop a totally different world map. Or a different locale off the edge of the map I made. Or just take some elements from my map, and make your own variant map. These are all options.

Even if another DM uses my map as-is, when they're DMing, they're really describing a different world—a parallel world. It's not the Singular World. Even if their world looks nearly identical to mine, it is not the same world. I ask that the terms "Singular World" and "Singular Peninsula" only be used to refer to my specific timeline and world. It's my informal "trademark."

However, I would suggest a friendly agreement that each DM in our club can choose to say that some or all (or none) of the stories which another DM runs also took place in their world. And that some or all (or none) of the characters/PCs exist in their world too. But the receiving DM is totally free to edit, revise, excise, erase, re-write, re-erase, and retcon those stories and characters (with collaboration with the character's player) to fit with their own authorial vision and tone of their world. Even to the extent that a character might have different stats, different gear, a different biography, or a totally different build, in two different worlds. Even to the extent that I could have you keep a different character sheet for the version of the character which exists in my world.

So far, of the various parallel worlds of our D&D Club, only mine has a name: the Singular World. I wonder what y'all will call your worlds when you DM? To use DC or Marvel comics dimensional terminology, where Earth 0 = DC Universe and Earth-616 = Marvel Universe, my Singular World, and your worlds, could be viewed as alternate versions, or offshoots, of the retired Shared World. Something like this:

✹ Shared World-T (Travis) = The Singular World
✹ Shared World-M (when [M] DMs) = ???
✹ Shared World-A (for [A], when he DMs) = ???
✹ Shared World-O (when [O] DMs) = ???
✹ Shared World-E (for [E], when she DMs) = ???

Each of us is also free to create not just one, but multiple worlds, timelines, dimensions, and planes of adventure…our own multiverse.

I would humbly suggest that [M] take as his starting point, the "Underground Binalric" which [A]'s characters + Swishy McJackass and Fizzlesticks explored. Because that is the most clearly divergent point on the timeline which [M] has DMed so far. In that world, the Bastion of Binalric extends underground, instead of having upper stories, as it did when Travis's original party—Gog (RIP), Norman (RIP), Sneaky (RIP), etc—explored the bastion.

That's only a suggestion. [M] might want to go in a totally different direction of worldbuilding. Our D&D Club is certainly bigger than myself, and potentially bigger than my table and campaign. [M] and I did some good co-creation of the Shared Peninsula, which is in my world called the Singular Peninsula. [M] was the primary creator of the Rime Coast (Stannasgard and Benalric), the Duchy of Berghof, the as-yet-undetailed Hold of the Sea Barons, the Briarwood, and the Hermit's Path, and also was the initiator of the DM-less adventures set in the Village or Orlbar and Weathercote Woods, the Village of Verland, and in [M] 's one-person stories in the Village of Thornbrook and Caldarook Mansion.

We still have unfinished business in the Duchy of Berhof (module UK3) which [M] was DMing. Those events took place in the Shared World, and also in my Singular World. Yet when [M] takes UK3 up again, it will be neither of those worlds, even if it looks identical at first.

In conclusion, each DM bears total and complete authorial sovereignty. Other DMs are welcome to eventually try out the DM's chair. When you are DMing, it's your own world. When I am DMing, it's my world…the Singular World. You're invited to come play.

—Travis
Dungeon Master of the Singular World
March 26th, 2020
This bit is excellent.
 

imagineGod

Legend
I read the above, and the very first paragraph in the rules just screamed "no", as if the DM wanted to remain immune to criticism.
When I am DMing, it is my table. This is the way it's always been in D&D. Ever since D&D was invented in 1974, the Dungeon Master has always been the master of the table—master of both the rules and master of the fictional world. In all aspects, the DM has the final and total say—like the writer, director, and producer of a play, and the author, editor, and publisher of a novel…all rolled into one. The DM can make up rules on the spot, fudge the dice, repeatedly change rules, alter a monster's hit points and stats on the fly, retcon the story, switch to a different rules system, and even modify your character's traits, stats, and features!…anything, at any time, at any moment. D&D has always been like that. That's not authoritarianism…it's authorial sovereignty. That's just the way D&D rolls.
Seriously, "make up rules on the fly, fudge the dice, repeatedly change rules, alter a monster's hit points and stats on the fly, retcon the story".

Why would we purchase books of rules, if the DM can make up rules on the fly, fudge the dice, and so on?

Yes, we all play to have fun. And the reason we purchase rule books is to use ideas from others who have playtested those rules for maximum enjoyment by us, the Players and DM.

Of course, some rules are broken, so the DM should have opportunities to change those. But the DM is not a stand-in for a tin pot dictator. A good DM will offer a good brief reasons why the rules need changing, and with the whole table in agreement. Also, you never change a monster's hit point on the fly. That is why a good DM does the prep in advance and has a backup plan if the first monster is too powerful or too weak. There are narrative options to have the monster disengage without need for changing stats on the fly.

Finally, modification of your characters traits and stats,, only during session zero and with agreement by the Players so affected. Else, that is even worse than the power absolute emperors once wielded.

Sorry, that first paragraph is just cover for a terribly insecure Dungeon Master.
 

pogre

Legend
I am sorry you are having so many issues. I also am impressed by the amount of work you put into your ground rules. I must say, I certainly would have given up on such a group long before making such a document - your grit is admirable.

You have clearly stated 'quit sniping' and 'go with the flow.' If players sign it - they clearly should know your expectations. That's good.

However, I would not expect this to change player behaviors. Sorry to be discouraging. Find some good people who are committed to everyone's fun, and leave players for which you need to create a behavioral contract behind.

No gaming beats bad gaming IMO.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
@Charlaquin 's replies more or less cover the same ground mine would.

Alcohol-free would never fly at my table, not that I'd ever ask such a thing.

The no-swearing rule seems to me to be complete overkill; ditto rule 5 which in effect bans emotional reactions to events good or bad. How dull! :) If I can yell out a cheer when something goes right I'd also think I'd be allowed to yell out something quite the opposite when something goes wrong. That said, you haven't mentioned what age grup you're running for, nor the social situation (a group of your friends at home, or organized play at a store, or what).

If it's not a group of friends, I can sort-of see the no-evil rules with one exception: betraying one's allies (and maybe paying the price for so doing) is a time-honoured trope in fiction.

But the one really big change I'd make - right now! - is in the very first section. While I completely agree with "it's the DM's game, abide or die" this mantra still does not give you or any DM the right to do any of these:

The DM can make up rules on the spot*, fudge the dice, repeatedly change rules, alter a monster's hit points and stats on the fly, retcon the story, switch to a different rules system, and even modify your character's traits, stats, and features!

In fact, in terms of (re)gaining the trust of your players in this situation I think you'd be better off in making it abundantly clear you are giving your guarantee to NOT do any of these things, except the one marked with '*' which you will only do as and when a ruling is required.

This doesn't mean you can't tweak elements of the rules system after some thought, as long as you a) advise the players what you've done and b) do your best to only change something once. But consistency is important - changing some rule or system element from A to B one week and then changing it back to A the next isn't very good form.

This also doesn't prevent you from temporarily putting the party into in-fiction situations where things don't work as normal e.g. a journey to the Plane of Chaos. I'm talking baseline rules here, not exceptions.
 


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Yeah, throw me into the group here that says if you have to write down 20 separate actionable rules on how to participate in a game of D&D, then perhaps it's time to find a group for whom these requirements are in fact not required.
 
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First, thanks for everyone's feedback, even those who felt off-put.

Context: it's not a school club, it's a house game of adults ranging from 20s to 50s. We just call it the "D&D Club."

I admit that the language is hard and confrontational and wounded (non-secure) in places, because I have felt repeatedly chafed and crazed by certain experiences. It came to a head this week, and I felt I was living in a crazening co-dependent DM's nightmare. :)

These Table Rules were a first draft, which I may (and probably should) further hone, thanks to your suggestions. I haven't yet shared it with the other members of the group (beyond my problem-player), and it makes sense to tone down and streamline some of the wording.

Yet I'm hoping that this ultra-frank draft will sink into the player's memory, because the player has a tendency to forget things, and to renege on agreements, and we repeatedly fall back into difficult dynamics.

I'm sorry to say: there's a reason why each point is there.

This was my attempt to salvage the group, by making a frank inventory of my sore spots, and presenting it in an actionable way.

In regard to the parts of Rule Zero which chafed the most readers in this thread:

The DM can make up rules on the spot, fudge the dice, repeatedly change rules, alter a monster's hit points and stats on the fly, retcon the story, switch to a different rules system, and even modify your character's traits, stats, and features!

Well, I have not been that way as a DM -- if you read some of the other, nicer table rules, you'll see my more usual tenor. Yes, if that was the invitational document to a new player, I can see how it'd be daunting and off-putting...yet at this point, this document is more a "medicinal" antidote and "wake-up call" directed to this specific player. The intense wording is a countermeasure, to moderate the opposite expectation--for the past year, the player has expected me to bend and sway to entertain his wishes.

For example: I told the table that I want to play 5E RAW. I wanted to spend 6 months running a straight RAW campaign, so that I have that as skill-set, and then at the end of the 6 months, I'd be open to considering new house rules, or switching to another RPG system.

So, a day or two later, the player calls me and says he saw a cool Youtube video where the DMs recommend giving out bonus feats as story rewards. At the end, he's like: "So, are you up for that?" I was like: "That's cool, but no, I'm playing RAW". And he got angry. He can't take "No" for an answer.

He was like: "But you gave us other stuff, like letting us become Knights of the White Dragon and Saints of Namyats, and we received titles from the Harpers and Lords' Alliance." I was like: "I'm glad you enjoyed those. But that's story! There were no mechanical benefits. But a bonus feat is a big mechanical boon. Gaining a feat is really rare in 5e." He didn't know what Factions and Renown was -- and he thought that those are commensurate to receiving bonus Feats. He was disappointed that I wouldn't hand out Feats as treasure, like I handed out titles for Faction rewards.

If I say "no", he pouts, and grumbles about me being a stingy, un-free, box-minded, linear DM. (At the same time, last summer, I invented a freeform LARP version of D&D which he enjoyed playing -- somehow he forgets that. But now I want to play 5E RAW.)

As for emotional serenity. He gets disturbed and has nightmares afterward. He grits his teeth and yells loudly in anger when he rolls low or makes a mistake. Which is a bummer.

At some point in the Phandelver adventure, I got tired of coddling his party with kid gloves. (At that point, we were playing one-on-one, since we hadn't found other players yet.)

So I resolved to play Cragmaw Castle with my very best monster tactics.

SPOILER ALERT:

So he went up to the side door and found it locked. He was running multiple characters, one of which is a thief, with proficiency in lockpicks. But he said: "Well, I guess there's no other way than through the front gate." Long story short: after a long attricious fight in the entryway, one thing led to another, and the doppleganger drew him into the central room...where he was surrounded by dozens of goblins + the big boss and his pet, and the doppleganger. And his entire party was felled. Total Party Loss. I played it totally straight.

Two characters made their death saves and were made slaves of the Cragmaw boss. I was ready to move on -- I was planning to pick up a Slavers adventure. But he was like: "I don't have time to make up a new character! I didn't sign up for this!" I'm like: "You didn't sign up for the possibility of your characters dying in D&D?!"

He was emotionally bent out of shape. So basically, I felt I was at the mercy of his wishes and emotions and distress - like I'm just there to entertain him and make sure that his PCs don't die, no matter what. So I let him replay Cragmaw Castle, and retconned the previous TPL to be a dream-sequence.

And I even flat out told him: "Okay, for the rest of this adventure, so let's just play that your characters can't die." And he was happy with that. And I even said: "If you don't like how a scene went, you can either replay the scene, or just retcon it yourself, and tell me how the story actually went." haha - I thought was being pretty generous as a DM. :) But seriously, I was trying to be 'therapeutic' when faced with some major emotional troubles.

In regard to the Cragmaw TPL, he even admitted later that "I was testing you to see how far I could go."

***
Last adventure, I just gave up, and decided to fulfill his wildest dreams. He had repeatedly griped that he should have a +2 weapon by now (he was 4th level), and that since the Lost Mine of Phandelver is rumored to have a magical forge, then the module is dumb for not having magic weapons lying around, and that I should change whatever magic weapons are in the adventure so that it matches his own character (e.g. instead of a magic sword, it should be a magic pole arm -- which is not a terrible idea, but I simply prefer to play the module-as-written, like I did back in the old days of BECMI. And he doesn't like it.)

Anyway, for the final room of the Lost Mine, I filled the treasure room with 101 magic items, including a vorpal sword, and all the specific magic items he'd asked for (ring of protection, cloak of protection, girdle of giant strength, etc).

Result? As I read the list off, the player's face drooped more and more, and he became emotionally distressed. He was totally unhappy. Afterward he said he "hated that", and said I was being "vindictive". I was like: "Vindictive is a strong word. My jest was no more intense than your repeated griping."
***
Another example: he would get angry that I don't accept his proposed changes to the class features of his character (to make them more powerful) -- for example, he wanted me to house-rule that a Fighter could take more than one Fighting Style, and switch between them, from round to round. I'm like: "Dude, I told you I want to learn to play RAW." And he pouts and gets angry, and labels me as being "constrictive of player freedom."

He'll read some article online, and then swear by it. Even though he hasn't read the PHB or DMG himself. Ever since he read some article about how there shouldn't be traps in D&D, he wants me to delete all traps from D&D adventures. I'm like: "Dude, it's D&D! There are going to be traps!" He portrays me as a crotchety DM for not going along with his wish that there be no traps in D&D!
***
In regard to Shield Master. He made up a character with Shield Master feat- and before the character entered play I ruled for the latest (revised) Sage Advice on that feat; but he pouted and wouldn't play that character. Then, as a sop, I wrote up a new ruling which salvaged the original (pre-revision) Sage Advice, but required the Shield Master to actually follow through with their declared attack (no matter what), if they took the bonus Shove before the attack. He didn't like that, and so he wrote his own version.

I even provisionally agreed to the intent of his Shield Master hack, but when I asked for clarification about his wording, it all unraveled. He offered various explanations: "If I fail on the Shove, I suffer Disadvantage to attack that creature for the rest of this turn (but not any other creature), or maybe there'd be four different degrees of success or failure on the Shove." He suggested that we playtest the various proposals. I became frustrated with the lack of firmness and contour. And didn't relish drawing it out even further by a playtest. I said that if we are going to totally homebrew the Shield Master feat, ideally we would first gather all the various online hacks of the feat which others have written, so as to see ways others have done it, as due diligence. But he lightly dismissed this as being uncreative, saying: "We should just trust our own creativity." This happened a couple days ago. We had spent months wrangling over this feat, just because he wouldn't really accept either of the Sage Advice rulings which I adopted.

At the same time as he was proposing these changes in how feats and fighter styles work, he didn't even know the rules well enough to roll ability scores. His character had a wild array of numbers: like several 18s and 17s, and some like 3s or 4s (or something like that). I was like: "What method did you use to roll up your character?" And he was like: "d20s."

At the same time, he was busting my chops for not going along with his proposals to change the RAW . He seems to think that just because he read it online, and he thinks it's a good idea for his character (i.e. makes his character more powerful), then it's ingeniously inspired, and I should adopt it. And that I'm a mephistophelean gear-head for trying to play the RAW.

In hopes of salvaging things, I recently announced that I'm starting a new campaign, where everyone is going to start on a level playing field. Partly because, when we first started playing, he would roll multiple sets of ability scores, and choose the highest. And I have another player whose character has suspiciously high scores (IIRC, the scores are all 14 or higher) So I wanted to head off that temptation. So I was like: if you want bring an old character into this new campaign, I need you to redo their ability scores using the Standard Array or Point Buy. But he was like: "I rolled an 18 for the druid, and I don't want to give it up."

That blew my fuse. I felt I could literally not make any rulings or table parameters without being endlessly challenged and pushed and prodded.

I said: "Well, photocopy the sheet, and keep its stats for use in another campaign."

But I went to bed feeling like I was trapped in a crazed codependent DMs nightmare.

The next morning, I wrote up and sent the Twenty Table Rules. Which was just yesterday.

So you see I'm still in the thick of some tumult - that is why some of the wording is too hard and harsh.

You guys are right that this player-constellation may not be salvageable. These "Twenty Table Rules" are really a last-ditch effort, in hopes that my dynamics with this player would truly and lastingly change.

Lastly, believe it or not, we are best friends. His wife warned me that he has emotional trouble when playing games. That is something to consider.

Well, I've gone and "aired the laundry" in public, and "called out the cavalry" in this thread.

-Travis
 
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