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!