Being a DM is tough work. While I feel like Dungeons & Dragons is a game that can be equally played and enjoyed by people from all walks of life, the role of Dungeon Master can not, plain and simple. My motivations for being a DM are simple: power, sex, more money than God. Why else would I spend hours and hours of my free time crafting a fantasy universe? Occasionally I allow some people I aptly call my “friends” to glimpse briefly at my world through the eyes of their characters. These awesome friends of mine sacrifice their time and sanity to indulge my selfish needs. That should be more than enough to appease me. Unfortunately for these particular friends, I am a very demanding DM and enough is never enough.
Side note: tabletop RPG players really live up to their namesake! They meet not one or two, but three different definitions of the word “player.”
- One who plays any game or sport.
- One who plays a part in something; a character.
- (theater) An actor in a dramatic play.
I haven’t needed to put as much effort into my home game lately, and since starting winter vacation I figured out why that is the case. We waste too much time at the table not actually focusing on the game. Before this summer, I only had the opportunity to act as DM for one group of friends, the same group (give or take a few members) that are playing in my home campaign, so I just assumed this was how D&D worked. This summer I had the chance to run a couple one-shot adventures with some friends of mine back in the states. One was one of the best games I’ve ever run, and the other one of the worst. They really helped me put into perspective some of the issues in my home game, issues I have tried to alleviate with words both firm and kind. With the game hitting its year-and-a-half mark next month, I want everyone to really feel like they’ve accomplished something. Anyway, our group is about to start meeting regularly again, so I decided to compile a list of things we should work on at the table. The first order of things comes from Ameron at DungeonsMaster.com and his article on Wheaton’s Law. Wheaton’s Law is simple enough: don’t be a dick. Elegant, yet simple.
1. The DM’s Ruling is Final
This is a big one. I do my best to harass my players with all sorts of ridiculous situations, but, as every DM should do, I plan for as many outcomes as possible. Leave it to players to go and screw everything up with their “that doesn’t make sense” logic. I am very open-minded at the table, and I do my best to follow the damn Yes Rule, so it is a bit upsetting when, in lieu of trying to overcome a challenge, my players will default to whiny-ass baby mode and say things like “that doesn’t make sense.” It is what it is, just deal with it. This segues into the first item on this handy list. If you have a question, and you want an answer, then you propose said question to the DM, don’t scoff at the answer. The DM’s ruling is final.
It’s not easy to maintain the knowledge of every rule book in existence, and I’ve had my fair share of mistakes, but here’s how I plan on implementing Rule One. If you don’t know exactly how something works, ask me. If I give you an answer, take it and let’s move on. Do not waste everyone’s time looking up the exact ruling, a process that has proved at our table more often than not that I know what I’m talking about.
I like getting ego boosts as much as the next guy, but don’t waste everyone’s time at the table to look up some obscure ruling. If you do, indeed, find a correction to a ruling I make, bring it up at an appropriate time and I will choose whether or not I want to go with that ruling.
2. Ensure that your Character Sheet is Accurate
The Character Builder almost removes all necessity for concern with regard to character sheet accuracy. That hasn’t stopped players in my game from second-guessing which bonuses they should/shouldn’t receive nearly every time we sit down to play. How about you take ten minutes our of your schedule to look it up yourself? You know, toy with the program and see if your sheet is correct. I don’t think it’s too much too ask considering how much time I put into prepping each week.
If you’re unsure how a power works ask me BEFORE THE GAME how I would rule on certain elements, or better yet, don’t choose powers you don’t fully understand how to use. Don’t spring it on the table halfway through the encounter. As Ameron points out, “it will slow things down and there’s always a chance that you’re not going to like or agree with the DM’s interpretation (again, see #1 above).”
One other aspect of having an accurate character sheet includes recording expenditure of resources. It’s your responsibility to track your own damage, healing surges, and power use. Every couple of months, we print new, clean copies of character sheets for everyone. That’s all well and good, but you need to log your own information as far as items, gold, and sometimes hit points are concerned. This is pretty basic, and if you can’t figure it out, just raise your hand and I’ll have Tommy Boy here come back there and hit you in the head with a tack hammer because you are a RETARD.
I know for a fact my players have a slew of handy magical items they never use and have completely forgotten about. How do I respond? By giving them more magical shit. Perhaps I’m too soft.
3. Be Ready to Act on your Turn
I write the initiative order down on our encounter map so everyone knows where it is, and I always try to let my players know when their turn is coming up. Why, Lord in heaven, can’t they figure out what they want to do and just do it on their turn, then? I really don’t know. It would be different if we were a new group in a new game, but most of the people I play with have had these characters for AT LEAST 5 or 6 games by now. That is plenty of time to figure out how your character works and know your character’s limitations to some extent.
Take that handy 2-minute window you have right before your turn and figure out what you are going to do. Decide on the order, where you’re going to move, and what action you want to take, and do it already. Do not make us sit there while you thumb through your character sheet with the same hand you just had up your ass a moment ago. If you have no clue what you want to do, I suggest you make an at-will basic attack and then spend the next ten minutes actually focusing on your next move.
- If you are in the middle of deciding your move, you lose an action; you can either move or make a basic attack and end your turn. No ifs, ands, or buts.
- If you rolled a hit but can’t figure out how to roll damage, the damage roll defaults to minimum damage.
- If you rolled a miss and you can’t figure out what to do next, your turn ends right there with no additional actions.
From this point on, there will be a 2-minute rule at our table. I will have a clock handy, and I will time everyone. One plus one equals two whole minutes to go through Standard-Minor-Move. There are a number of ways to keep your move within the 2-minute window: roll damage dice with your d20 when you attack, be paying close attention to the situation, etc. Of course, I am not above the rule, and monsters I control will be penalized if I can’t figure out what I’m doing with them within the time limit.
4. Help the DM
Ameron really says it best in his post. Let me reiterate his point here. As the DM, I have a difficult enough time tracking monster moves, treasure, in-game time, and a bunch of secrety secret stuff that players will never know about unless they decide to try and DM. I really appreciate it when my players take it upon themselves to place effect markers on creatures and to remind me of ongoing effects. I don’t appreciate it when they forget about a conditional effect attached to their attack and try to retroactively add the damage. Exhibit A:
No Retroactive Bonuses
- Players have until the end of the next player’s turn to update any buffs/bonuses to damage
- Attack rolls cannot be retroactively updated
This is another fun new rule I am going to implement at the table. “Oh wait, I had a +1 because of blah blah blah.” Oh yeah? Well, you probably should have thought about that during your turn. Know your character, know your character sheet, and know how it works. It is a big waste of time when we have to go back and try and figure out what happened a round ago. Players should definitely be keeping track of their own bonuses, and it would be helpful if they kept up with conditions they put on monsters, as well. Admittedly, my players usually do a decent job with this, but I know we can do better.
I really like running this game when it works, but over the past couple months I’ve stopped caring as much because so have my players. It takes a lot of effort to put together this stuff, and I don’t want it to go to waste. If a player shows up hung over or exhausted and can barely stay awake, I do my best to sidetrack as much as possible since I’d rather not move through crucial plot development when nobody’s paying attention. Hopefully, after we return from our hiatus, we can all come back to the game enthused about D&D and ready to roll. We shall see.