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Things you ought to know about your Dungeon Master

Written by Expy - Published on July 28, 2008

Things you ought to know about your Dungeon Master

We are all the same – we have strengths, (superhero) weaknesses, insecurities, and we are omniscient! We are DMs. So this is for all the players out there, or the DMs who are also players and never faced the truth about themselves.


In roleplaying games omniscience is the knowledge of the railroad and a few extra areas, characters… And that’s it. So no matter how much your DM boasts about being ready for anything, give him a break sometimes – stay on, near, or at least parallel to the railroad!

Don’t you want to make your DM happy?

And what if you keep making wild decisions? A completely clueless DM will likely get your party in a fight, just to kill some time. Fighting random monsters is just as boring as playing Warhammer Quest, isn’t it?


While we’re on the topic of keeping the Dungeon Master happy… Watch your DM! What’s the look on his or her face? If it’s excitement it means something cool is coming up – don’t screw it up! This is collaborative storytelling so play along and see what the DM spent his week-end preparing.

On the other hand, if the DM looks confused, dejected, or ready to cut his wrists open, well, you can’t rely on him or her. You already screwed up the planned story path so you might as well keep going and pursue whatever ridiculous adventure your party undertook.


Don’t touch the dice! Never touch the dice!


Sometimes, you and your buddies dominate a supposedly difficult encounter (and the DM doesn’t always cheat to make the fight longer). But as a player, do you really want easy fights and weak opposition? No. That’s no fun.

So you need to trash talk your DM.

Wait, what? Yes, I said you need to trash-talk and challenge your DM. He’s got a whole world to worry about while you’re min-max only one character. The PC party is a fine-tuned killing machine. So you need to up the ante and challenge your DM to offer a reasonable opposition. I can guarantee you’ll get tougher fights if you tell your DM…

  • We own your monsters so much we decided that the whole party would fight with daggers only to make things interesting…
  • Your combat encounters are so easy that from now on the bard will face the monsters alone while everyone else stays behind and sings and chants to encourage and inspire him..

You get the gist of it.


It never hurt a player to pay for pizza!

What do you think?

What do you think every player ought to know about their Dungeon Master? How does the DM really feel, deep down? Share your thoughts!

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Written by Expy

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Expy is the mascot for DungeonMastering.com and the real mastermind behind Expy Games. He likes to hoard treasure, terrorize neighbors, burn down villages, and tell white dragon jokes..

No matter how fearful the legends claim dragons are, they always end up being defeated in 5 rounds by adventuring parties they encounter. That’s what dragons are – experience points for the heroes in your Dungeons & Dragon party. And this mascot is no different, hence the name Expy.

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25 Responses to “Things you ought to know about your Dungeon Master”
  1. Know that stupid hurts. Risks are fine, and as a DM I love to see players take chances with their characters, but if someone does something without calculating the risk, you’d better believe I’m going to be all over that. The results might be immediate, or they might not come back to bite the player in the ass until days, weeks or months later in game.

    Also know that your DM is inherently evil. It’s a prerequisite. But in a good way. ;)

  2. Yax says:

    Yes, of course, evil in a good way! Such a nice way to say it.

  3. Labareda says:

    I think everyone singing while the bard faces the monsters alone would in all probability trigger an unwritten errata event of such proportions such that the PCs would all be riding Tarresque like pikes ride butterflies while the bard plays the campaign universe like a shadow puppet show before the session was concluded!

    I am warning that such behavior could doom RPG’s everywhere!
    I love smilies !!!

  4. Yax says:

    DIdn’t Vanir from Stupid Ranger have an “adventure” on the Tarrasque? And didn’t Dante subsequently have an aneurism? I can’t find the url unfortunately.

  5. Labareda says:

    That would be a pretty cool adventure. It could be like a little calm island in the storm of destruction.

    Oh and i realise that pikes don’t often ride butterflies, but pixies do and that was what i was shooting for. Fish on butterflies is just weird.

  6. Mike The Merciless says:

    Here’s one you should look out for: Is your GM a wimp?

    I’ve seen it so many times where a GM, for some reason, just can’t bring himself to kill off a PC. In my experience, though I’m sure yours might very well be different, that “Storytellers,” GMs for the World of Darkness games, hardly ever want to kill off a PC even if he’s blatantly suicidal, but I’ve seen it from all RPGs at one point or another.

    Sometimes, this behavior stems from wanting to see the adventure to the end. After all, he’s put in a lot of time and work into that adventure, and if it looks like that he’s getting the better of the PCs too early than he wants (such as when the Random Encounter rolls up something the PCs might not be able to handle in a fight before the party even gets to his masterpiece dungeon), then he’s going to make things happen so that the PCs survive when they evidently shouldn’t. Signs of this behavior include fudging die rolls and leading PCs by the nose to where he wants them to go. In this situation, the GM is more of a film director than a gamemaster.

    Or, perhaps the GM is nervous about what the people at the table are going to do to him. They may not even play his games anymore if he kills a couple of PCs, or achieves the coveted TPK (Total Party Kill). So his definition of everyone having a good time is that the PCs survive and thrive in every encounter.

  7. Kurtis says:

    Don’t forget, that DM’s also have long memories. If you choose to screw with the DM’s campaign on purpose, your DM (yes Me) would probably wait until you made it to…oh i don’t know 15th level then have your team get encased in a small trap while you made the slight error of pissing off the female red dragon with two hungry cute and cudly baby dragonettes. (hehehe..cough,cough)

    And remember as E. Gary Gygax use to say, play to have fun, but use your brain to enjoy it more.

  8. Alphadean says:

    I love his article Yax. Keep em’ coming

  9. My advice is if you are the female in the group, make the DM your bitch. :) If he depends on you for fresh baked cookies, he’s less likely to kill you or otherwise piss off your character. ;-) Feminine wiles go a long way.

  10. .o. says:

    Good stuff. I especially like the “Happiness” section. Some additional ideas:

    The best way to know your GM is to try your hand at being one. Every player should at some point try running a game, even if it’s only a teeny single session game. This means you will have tremendous insight into what it means when a player consistently doesn’t have an action ready on their turn, when they crack a joke right at a dramatic climax and break the mood, etc.

    Once you have some insight into what your GM does, you can now help things move along. Things like writing down the player initiative rolls while the GM rolls the NPC inits helps. Keeping track of the turn order and gently reminding the person who will be up next to plan their action helps.

    Other things you should know about your GM:

    What is your GM’s RPG archetype? Look in the 4e DMG section on player archetypes. Think about your GM in the same way – do they like creating detailed, fantastic worlds and having the players interact with it, or creating intense combat-heavy dungeon crawls, or bringing to life every NPC in complex role-play encounters? In the same way that a good GM should attempt to understand what a player enjoys in RPGs and work with that, so should a player do the same with their GM.

    Cater to your GM (every now and then). Even if you’re a hack-and-slash player, if you know your GM really enjoys vibrant world creation and making stuff up on the fly, occasionally scratch the GM’s back. Do something like pick up a wine bottle and examine the label (or rune, or cork-stamp, or what have you), ask where it came from. This will make the GM happy, and will likely return the favor.

    Understand your GM’s weaknesses and help him/her improve. I admit that one of my big weaknesses is that I am terrible at NPC combat tactics. This is ironic because I play a lot of wargames and tend to be good at this sort of thing. But unless I am able to spend a good amount of time pre-planning how opponents will behave in an encounter, I tend to make a lot of mistakes – there’s simply too much going on and I’m trying to keep the game running quickly. One of my players will regularly email me after a game and say something like “hey, if you had shifted the dragon to square X before using the breath attack, you could have caught 4 characters instead of 3.” That’s super-helpful to me. Even better is when a player pipes up something like, “Actually if the kobold moves this way, then he can get flanking on me.” Oops, thanks.

  11. Yax says:

    @ Geek’s Dream Girl: That is just plain evil.

  12. Tommi says:

    And if the GM says there is no railroad, do make your own way.

  13. Mike The Merciless says:

    One thing I tell other players is if you know that your DM doesn’t know the rules as well as you do, exploit that advantage. If the DM isn’t a milquetoast wuss, he’ll see your knowledge as a challenge that’ll spur him to study up on the rules. Of course, you should be careful about sabotaging his game, unless the adventure he’s running is so stupid that it needs a bullet to the head.

    What I often do when I’m in that position is that I support the DM in what he’s trying to do. For instance, if there’s a feature of a monster that the DM isn’t using, I tell him about it. Yes, the other players get annoyed when I do that, but I’m there for the challenge and I want my character to get better for it (What does not kill me, makes me stronger). For instance, in the 4E version of Goblins, they have this ability to shift one square if an attack upon them misses. It’s something that’s easy for anyone to forget, except for me, so I remind the DM about it. This encourages the DM to learn more about the game without having to rely upon me.

  14. Ravyn says:

    Mike: Rules exploitation doesn’t work for all DMs. Some of us are a bit more concerned with making the world immersive and the characters engaging, or are trying to adapt to an established world and are having a hard enough time learning the prevailing fluff. A particularly story-oriented first-time DM might be focusing on the above and as a result take power-gaming before he’s got his feet under him as a player just trying to make his life difficult. (One of my best had that issue.) It’s just as likely to backfire and cause the DM you’re dealing with to not want to run scenarios you’re prone to exploiting.

    Rules-lawyering in the DM’s favor, on the other hand–excellent strategy. Makes it more palatable for them when you’re having to tell them the rules really are against them.

    My suggestion: Know what the DM doesn’t like running and how to make it more palatable. For instance, I loathe running combat in my game; the PCs are too powerful, so they get cocky, and it often feels like a video-game random encounter rather than something that’s going to shape how the story goes, and essentially the main reason I incorporate it is that I have a few people who are in it for the action scenes. But if something’s well-written enough, if it’s visible and gets me into it, I can forgive that. So I try to make deals with them: they give me more mid-fight characterization, more interacting with the environment and with their opponents, more cleverness rather than depending on large dice pools, and I’ll give them more fights. We’re seeing how that goes.

  15. Mike The Merciless says:


    An RPG is not a novel, a movie, or a play. There are rules, and though pretty much every RPG book says that the rules are just guidelines, this is a platitude. Exploiting superior rules knowledge over a DM is meant to help him by utilizing abilities, tactics, and effects that he may not know about. If a DM forgets a rule, in many ways he’s short-changing both PCs and NPCs. How many times have we all forgotten something that, when reviewed, might’ve changed how an encounter turned out? Makes me feel awful when I forget something like that, especially if there was something a PC might’ve been able to do something that could’ve saved his bacon.

    Making the world come to life is another issue, but be very careful. I’m going to say something extremely controversial: Story is not very important in an RPG. Why? Because if you place your story on a high priority, you might be inclined to force PCs to do what you want them to do. I’m not saying you shouldn’t bring a story to life, I’m not saying you shouldn’t devote some attention to presentation. I’m saying that if you don’t know the rules very well, your game is definitely going to suffer because you may not be aware of a lot of different things that could come to affect your encounters.

    You are right that PCs can be very powerful, but no PC is more powerful than a DM. True, a DM could kill a PC at any time with anything (my favorite way to kill a PC is with syphillis), but you don’t have to use a lot of perogative to kill. Many DM don’t realize how simply powerful equivalent PC-Level monsters are, and don’t use simple tactics such as massing and coordinated assaults to counter the PCs. All too often, I’ve played in games where, despite our party’s own stupidity, the DM did not apply common sense to his monsters. If we made too much noise, we should’ve been swarmed, but weren’t. What I suggest for you, if you’re uncomfortable with combat, is to run your own simulations so that you might get a good feel on how to give your PCs a good challenge.

  16. Sorry Mike, I have to disagree with you that an RPG is not about story. I’ve been pretty successful over the last few years running games that are heavily story based both on the screen and on the table. For me, the rules have always served as a guideline and I won’t sacrifice a good scene for the sake of getting bogged down in numbers crunching.

    At no time do I dictate what a player should do. They make their actions and they have to live (or die) by the consequences that follow. I fully expect them to throw a wrench into my carefully devised plans and when they do, I roll with it and figure out a way to keep it interesting.

  17. Joey says:

    Its funny, I always encourage my players to have their characters do what they want, They almost never do and what they think I expect them to do. I wish once the would go off and do something unexpected (admittedly I would complain if they did still)

    ANd please players, don’t be like my players and me and force the DM to create random NPCs every few minutes because you want to interview everyone in the city to try and overprepare for the next encounter.

  18. Kurtis says:

    Harrison Mcleod, and Joey: You are both correct in your views. However in Joey’s case perhaps one of your NPC characters could be created to “redirect” the players on the path you want them on. Consequently in Harrison Mcleod’s case yes the RPG is about a story, but the players tend to put a wrench in the works. This is where you as the DM can use your creativity and change/add to the story to make it work for you, and to follow your story line. E. Gary Gygax once said that he created a game where the players (including DM’s) have fun while learning how to open there creative side. In doing this the DM gets to have one of the greatest jobs in my view, and that is the job of creating an atmosphere where people of all ages can come together and for a little while forget about the economy, the screaming child who has colic, or the spouse who is being unreasonable, and just have fun. Oh boy, this is starting to sound like therapy. Wonder where the Prozac is?

  19. Wickedmurph says:

    @Mike Yeah, I’m going to have to go ahead and disagree with you there, Mike. (Slurps coffee loudly). Story is what makes RPG’s different from boardgames. Both boardgames and RPG’s have their place in the great spectrum of fun, but story and characters are where RPG’s truly shine.

    Just as an example of what I mean, I have had 2 times where my players cried (well, sniffled) at the gaming table. Once was when a series of critical botches resulted in a critical PC dying in the middle of a fairly unimportant encounter. I had painted myself into a corner with a low-magic setting – no revival. The death basically meant the campaign was over. And there was some serious upset – mainly because I had let the rules and dice totally fuck the story.

    The other time was during a different campaign where an important NPC revealed that she was the grandmother of a character, and that the PC’s father (her son) had fallen to evil. Expressed her joy that the PC had returned, welcomed him back to the family and started off a major quest line to redeem his fallen father (so I steal from Star Wars a bit – everyone does it…) We role-played it well, and there wasn’t a dry eye around the table.

    Now, what game do you think the players enjoyed more? The games you describe are example 1 – play the rules, screw the story – this here is a boardgame. Regardless of the fact that if I played a boardgame that made me invest 6-8 hours a week, forever, it would not be fun at all. PC’s should be killed only with extreme justification. Stupid decisions are sufficient justification. Stupid decisions made for the purpose of good role-playing are not. TPK should only be an option if you want to end the campaign (or possibly break up the gaming group for good). If you are a DM that ‘cherishes” the TPK, I recommend DnD Minis. Kill stuff, have rules, no story need apply.

    Your DM likes story and character as much as anyone – possibly more, if they are willing to DM. Throw him/her a bone sometimes and interact with the lovingly crafted NPC. Ask questions about the history/mythology that has been created. Not only will you discover interesting things, a happy DM is a good person to have at the table, working with you to create cool stories.

  20. .o. says:

    One of the great cautionary lessons of many, many internet discussions about RPGs is that there are many different perspectives on gaming. I happen to disagree with Mike over details (killing a player with syphilis would make you a GM without players ’round here), but I do have a player with same PoV (in fact, his name is also Mike…) that I’ve come to respect. The rules make a common framework for both the players and the GM to interact in – know the rules well. That way, if and when you toss them aside you are doing so for a good reason, and not out of ignorance, and the players can respect that. The players have the same responsibility: they need to know the rules, use them, and ask when appropriate to set them aside.

    One area that I vehemently disagree with is the idea that it’s OK to “exploit superior rules knowledge over the DM”. Even if you are intending it as a way to help the DM improve, it smacks of a jerk-move. I once had a rules-monger in our group who exploited every little rules loophole in 3.5. Had.

    If you want to help your DM be better, help him/her. Don’t be passive-aggressive about it.

  21. One of your best Yax.


    Pity I got to it so late.

  22. @ Yax – you know that’s why I’m so… entertaining. ;-)

  23. Ravyn says:

    …..wow. Get a job, and next thing I know people are beating me to my own rebuttals. Blast.

    Mike: I don’t think we’re on the same wavelength. Yes, I’m a writer-GM. I realize this. But I’ve never been that big a railroader. (I mean, I’m the one whose second session of her first real game featured the group recruiting a quintet of individuals who were supposed to be running antagonists.) For me, story in a game is the collaborative fiction element–everyone contributes, everyone spotlights, and the end result is better than anything just one person can come up with. It’s not necessarily the same as plot; sure, we work in eventual plans like one player’s idea for a character arc or another wanting to play with demon possession or me attempting to run a session which can be summarized as “Fourteen demigods playing Calvinball”, but at this point, they’re pushing the plot as much as I am. And when someone’s getting their feet wet trying to get into that part of what running a game is, I’m not going to run roughshod over them. Particularly not the kinds of rule-messery that I’ve come to associate with exploiting rule knowledge over a DM. Yes, I’ll tell them when they’re forgetting something important, but I’m as likely to toss my DM a rules suggestion that’s going to make my life difficult as take advantage of something that’ll get us out of here. So for me, yes, it’s about the story. Everyone’s story.

    (Speaking of story vs. game: http://exchangeofrealities.today.com/2008/06/19/letting-go/ might interest you. Or at least tell you what kind of DMs I wrote my original riff assuming the existence of. How’m I supposed to get them to improve their game this way if they get broadsided by powergaming at the starting gate?)

  24. Labareda says:

    I would like it noted that i made an amazing and insightful comment that summed up many of the above points, was humorous and congenial and took a long time to write. So long that when i went to post it got lost into that place that all words go when a page times out.

    It was my post that got away.

  25. Loki says:

    I get the ‘Keep the DM happy’ bit, it works in other RPGs obviously and is why I hate playing over forums sometimes, you work on a major section of the adventure and one of the players doesn’t get the point of it when everyone else dose, they start arguing and the game goes on hiatus for a few weeks because the players just had a big row because one of them doesn’t want to continues with some vital part.

    It can all be avoided if I can find a way to not give out the plot and not break out of DMing

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