Five Things You Should Never Say to Your DM

DMs are the unsung heroes of tabletop RPGs. They get a bad reputation (sometimes deservingly) for being a little power hungry, often times controlling, and frequently heartless when it comes to playing games. But the truth is that every DM has their own style of DMing and their own approach to the game. Some like the whole edge-of-your-seat-omg-you’re-all-gonna-die approach; others want the game to be fun first and foremost.

However, regardless of personality or style, DMs are truly the center of any tabletop RPG. They’re the creative force behind adventures and the grand master orchestrators of the game. As such, they do deserve the respect of their players (so long as they deserve it; I’ve heard of instances where DMs go far beyond the realm of decency). With my last two DMs as models I though I’d put together a few tips that, hopefully, lead toward peace, respect, and fun at the gaming table.

1) “Tolkien called, he wants his plot back.” Don’t criticize the world. I have the fortune of being married to one of my DMs, and I know how much work he puts into each and every encounter, not to mention the mountains of research behind every setting (and we’re talking almost as much time as a part-time job would require). Saying stuff like, “Ooooh, a tavern scene. I’m soooo surprised” might be funny to say once or twice, but it’s important to remember that—especially with some DMs—work on a given session takes hours and hours. Sometimes they do have to rely on convention (as is expected). If you’ve got issues with the storytelling, it’s better brought up in private and not in front of the rest of the company.

2) “Man, I’m sick of healing.” Don’t complain about your own character and how it functions in the game. If you’re a cleric, don’t bitch about healing. If you’re a cloth-wearer, don’t gripe that the monsters keep hitting your AC. If you’re two good mace bashes from death, don’t mention how unattached you are to your character. Consequently, don’t in-your-face dare the DM to kill off your character. A successful DM plays a balancing act throughout the entire campaign, and as I once said to my husband, it’s basically a matter of losing every single time you play (unless you really are trying to kill the characters) but losing really well. Sometimes that makes for a very tense atmosphere. But don’t be the tipping point; antagonizing doesn’t make the game fun for anyone.

3) “But I don’t want to die! Stop attacking me. Jeez.” Don’t voice your constant fears that the DM is going to kill your character. I am guilty of this on occasion. Our current D&D 4e campaign is very low on healing. Essentially it’s up to one very conniving gnome bard (ahem, me) to provide what paltry healing he can. Considering Cullin (my gnome) has the lowest AC in the group, he can essentially fall unconscious with about four good hits if he gets on the bad side of an orc (which I try to avoid, what with all the going invisible). Still, I’m constantly anxious about dying, especially in situations where I can’t get all stealthy. As our current DM Christian has pointed out to me, over and over again, he’s not trying to destroy me. Sometimes the rolls are high (or low) and the game mechanics take over. It’s about fun, ultimately, and if your DM is a good person like mine, chances are even if the worst thing happens, they’ll figure out a creative way around it.

4) “We totally wiped within five minutes, and the healer went down…” Don’t leave the DM out of conversation, and don’t wander too far from the game. Sure out of game banter is fun, and certainly part of the social aspect of RPGs. But if you’re going on and on about your WoW guild’s last raid, and you look over and spot the DM glaring at your from behind their screen, chances are you’ve let the conversation go a little too long. While it’s part of the DM’s responsibility to keep the game going, they can be easily outnumbered by chatty players. That slows down the game, and can lead to DM frustration. And a frustrated DM might do some rather unkind things to get attention. Like unleash a displacer beast on you. Not that that’s ever happened to us *cough*.

5) “…” Don’t forget to thank them. While I’ve not encountered it in any recent groups, there have been times when it’s abundantly clear at the end of each session that the players are grumpy and/or rushed and then simply forget to be courteous. Remember that time investment thing I talked about earlier? DMs often spend a heck of a lot of time–not just world building–but creating dungeons, crafting monsters, and developing overall atmosphere for the campaign. It takes a special kind of person to dedicate the time and creative energy to a campaign, and an even rarer sort to make it entertaining, surprising, exciting, and fun. Don’t feel like you have to go overboard with this; sometimes a heartfelt thanks, a handshake, or a job-well-done is all you have to do. In the end, a happy, appreciated DM can make all the difference in the world.

Anyone have any other suggestions to share? Any disgruntled DMs with stories to share? Let us know!

[Photo CC via Johnathan! at Flickr]





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30 Responses to Five Things You Should Never Say to Your DM

  1. Great list, I think everyone should learn from it. And possibly add their own words of wisdom.

    6: “Nuh-uh! That spell doesn’t work like that! See! See see see see!” With how much work a GM puts into a game it has hard to keep track of all the rules and it does happen at times that the rules or mechanics aren’t exactly by the book. And there are also times when slight changes are made for story line purposes. If you do come across a point where what comes out at the table doesn’t match what comes out of the books be subtle about it. A raised eyebrow can convey a lot without drawing yor GM out.

  2. Great list, I think everyone should learn from it. And possibly add their own words of wisdom.

    6: “Nuh-uh! That spell doesn’t work like that! See! See see see see!” With how much work a GM puts into a game it has hard to keep track of all the rules and it does happen at times that the rules or mechanics aren’t exactly by the book. And there are also times when slight changes are made for story line purposes. If you do come across a point where what comes out at the table doesn’t match what comes out of the books be subtle about it. A raised eyebrow can convey a lot without drawing yor GM out.

  3. Great list, I think everyone should learn from it. And possibly add their own words of wisdom.

    6: "Nuh-uh! That spell doesn't work like that! See! See see see see!" With how much work a GM puts into a game it has hard to keep track of all the rules and it does happen at times that the rules or mechanics aren't exactly by the book. And there are also times when slight changes are made for story line purposes. If you do come across a point where what comes out at the table doesn't match what comes out of the books be subtle about it. A raised eyebrow can convey a lot without drawing yor GM out.

  4. There’s a reason to say “Let the dice fall how they may.”
    More than once I’ve had to reassure a DM that I won’t take offense for my characters death, too many of us have dealt with people who freak out when their character dies. I’ve found that it adds poignancy to a storyline if the party loses someone along the way.
    That and have a good rule for look-up times! My current group has a 2-3 minute rule. If you can’t find the justification in 2-3 minutes then you can’t do that (Tab markers become invaluable for multi-classers). This also eliminates rules lawyering amongst players.

  5. There's a reason to say "Let the dice fall how they may."

    More than once I've had to reassure a DM that I won't take offense for my characters death, too many of us have dealt with people who freak out when their character dies. I've found that it adds poignancy to a storyline if the party loses someone along the way.

    That and have a good rule for look-up times! My current group has a 2-3 minute rule. If you can't find the justification in 2-3 minutes then you can't do that (Tab markers become invaluable for multi-classers). This also eliminates rules lawyering amongst players.

  6. Great article. I linked it on my blog to make sure some players over here in Germany will read it, too. ;)

    Say… you’re a DM, too or did you write all this out of the eyes of a player?

  7. Great article. I linked it on my blog to make sure some players over here in Germany will read it, too. ;)

    Say… you're a DM, too or did you write all this out of the eyes of a player?

  8. Never joke about actions, if a GM challenges you on it you might be 1d20 from killing someone or your self.

  9. Never joke about actions, if a GM challenges you on it you might be 1d20 from killing someone or your self.

  10. As a DM, one thing I see often that is really annoying: Players threatening to quit of things don't go the way they want them to.

  11. As a DM, one thing I see often that is really annoying: Players threatening to quit of things don’t go the way they want them to.

  12. As a DM the worst thing is when one of your players is in a bad mood. In such close quarters, that bad mood can spread to everyone and ruin the game. Best advice, go into a session happy or else dont go in at all.

    Oh, and suggestions are helpful, but NO BACKSEAT DM'ing!

  13. As a DM the worst thing is when one of your players is in a bad mood. In such close quarters, that bad mood can spread to everyone and ruin the game. Best advice, go into a session happy or else dont go in at all.

    Oh, and suggestions are helpful, but NO BACKSEAT DM’ing!

  14. As a DM the worst thing is when one of your players is in a bad mood. In such close quarters, that bad mood can spread to everyone and ruin the game. Best advice, go into a session happy or else dont go in at all.

    Oh, and suggestions are helpful, but NO BACKSEAT DM’ing!

  15. Another way to end chattiness is to draw a picture of a wombat and say, "This is a wombat. Do you know what it has to do with anything? NOTHING, so let's continue…" (it is now used in most Gaming Society RPGs to get players on track)

    • I dare say that would work. A friend of mine drew some random-looking creature under a flap in her folder at school, and in the middle of my talking she opened it, showed it to me, and asked "What is this?"

      Completely lost my train of thought. I want to see a DM pull a similar stunt now.

  16. Another way to end chattiness is to draw a picture of a wombat and say, “This is a wombat. Do you know what it has to do with anything? NOTHING, so let’s continue…” (it is now used in most Gaming Society RPGs to get players on track)

    • I dare say that would work. A friend of mine drew some random-looking creature under a flap in her folder at school, and in the middle of my talking she opened it, showed it to me, and asked “What is this?”

      Completely lost my train of thought. I want to see a DM pull a similar stunt now.

  17. wait…. your gnome bard has the lowest AC in the group? but as a Gnome you get bonuses to your AC (unless 4e is different in that respect), and as a bard you should have good dex and the ability to wear light armor, so ….. Bard, buff thyself.

  18. I think it's best to play with people you know, and ONLY people you know. I know it sounds a little close-minded, but it tends to lead to a much more enjoyable campaign when everyone knows everyone else. Far too many groups I know of are made up of random people who met at a game store one day. And far too often they crumble because no one actually likes anyone else.

    Also, if you ARE playing with someone you've known for a while, you know exactly which of these things you can and cannot say. For instance, my DM doesn't care if we say something like, "Oh, this is a gay map." He recognizes that, "Hey, he's just joking. And even if he isn't, it's just a game, and I can kill his character if I want. Then he has to get us more beer."

    I know I may sound crass, but I prefer a DM who can take a joke, or even an actual insult with a smile over a guy who gets butthurt when someone disrespects his "authority"; an authority given to him in the first place by the people sitting around him.

  19. I have not played in over 10 years. However when I did play our DM/GM was amazing. He had an uncanny ability to remember almost everything he read and was a natural speed reader. So he could absorb a games book set in like a week. This let us tryout any game system we wanted (and we tried most of them). Add to this fact that he ran his games very freely, meaning he let the players decided what they wanted to do and would "ad-lib" the story as needed. He always had a basic idea of what he wanted and was a master at getting us there no matter what we tried. Having a good DM will make all the difference in your game. So respect the fact that, much like a drummer in a band, your DM is in control of the rhythm of your game and is holding it all together.

  20. Rule of thumb with our campaigns is DM doesn't contribute to pizza, food, snacks etc if they're putting in the time and effort to run a game then the players feed the DM, which is great if you're at my house, nothing like playing with a classically trained chef to whip some some good mood food to make the DM a little nicer :)