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Question Keith #10: Questioning Authority

Written by Keith Baker - Published on September 14, 2012

Cat says…

So, I am about to start DM-ing my first campaign with a group of people I’ve played with for a while, and I’m taking over for a DM that leaves a lot to measure up to. My problem is that since my partner has been playing and dm-ing D&D for a long time, one of my players keeps going to him to ask if he can do things with his character and other things like this. My partner of course tries to get this player to come ask me, as it’s my story…However it just doesn’t seem like this player is going to take me seriously until I prove myself, and this doesn’t help with the inherent nervousness of sitting behind the screen for the first time.

I’m wondering how you would handle a player like this, and how can I deal with not being taken seriously?

Hi Cat! This is a complex problem, so I’m going to restate it to make sure we’re on the same page. You haven’t started the game yet. The problem player is asking if he can do things with his character. I’m assuming that these “things” are either backstory/concept – I want my character to be a former member of the King’s Shields, who was betrayed by the general – or mechanical elements that normally require DM approval, like allowing an Eberron character to take a dragonmark that’s normally unavailable to his race. Both of these are things that the player and DM should normally talk through. It’s the DM’s prerogative to approve restricted mechanics, and as for story, talking with the DM ensures that a particular story element has a place in the campaign.

If the problem player is trying to turn Daddy against Mommy, you’ve certainly got a valid complaint. Your partner may be an excellent gamemaster, but this is your campaign. You get to decide what you want in it. The problem player may feel that you don’t have sufficient experience to understand the impact of the things he wants, but he even if he feels that way, he needs to come to terms with the fact that it’s your game and your decision to make. So, here’s a few things you could try.

  • First, it sounds like your partner is being supportive. If he holds fast to the “You need to ask the DM” line, the problem player should eventually realize there’s no other option. If he offers advice or approval to the problem player, it is more likely to cause a schism.
  • Personally, if it was me, I’d approach the player directly. If you know what the problem player is asking for. If it’s a binary choice, make a decision; if it’s a story issue, come up with suggestions.  “Hey, Tom. David said you were talking about playing a disavowed dwarf from the King’s Shields, and you wanted to take the Mark of Sentinel. The adventure’s going to take place in the Lhazaar Principalities, and while we can work with the King’s Shields if you want, you’d get a lot more mileage if you were a former bodyguard of a Mror lord or a Cloudreaver prince; if either sound interesting, let’s talk and explore them further. As for the Mark of Sentinel, why exactly do you want it? If it’s about story, let’s explore that. If it’s just for the mechanical aspect, I’m willing to create a new feat – ‘Master Bodyguard’ – that has the same basic effect, but you won’t actually have a dragonmark or any connection to House Deneith.”

In short: confront the situation head on. Show him that you have a story planned and have concrete opinions on mechanical matters, and that if he wants to get the most out of the campaign he should be working with you instead of in a vacuum.

  • On the other hand, if you’re uncomfortable with that, you could take the same approach via group email. Rather than singling him out – “Tom, you can’t have the mark you want” – say “I’m not allowing dragonmarks outside of the standard races; if you have an idea that clashes with this, speak to me directly.” Explain the idea (“We’re operating out of the Lhazaar Principalities”) and suggest hooks people can work with (“Think about your ties to Lhazaar Princes. Did you ever serve as a pirate or privateer? Who did you fight during the war? Do you have a feud with a particular prince? I’d like to have a captain who lost his ship during the war, and an orphan who’s secretly a prince driven from his throne. If any of these interest you, talk to me.”).

It’s possible your problem player isn’t trying to usurp your authority; he could simply be discussing ideas with your partner as an old gaming buddy to another as opposed to player to DM. Either way, if you make clear that you have concrete positions on both story and mechanics, it should be easier for your partner to say “I can’t make this sort of decision – you need to work with the new boss.”

Having said all of this, I think it’s important to be flexible in story; you need to make sure that the players want to play in the game that you want to run. If the problem player hates the idea of playing in the Lhazaar Principalities, that’s a problem for your campaign. But that’s something to raise with ALL your players… and it’s not something that your partner/previous DM gets to decide.

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Written by Keith Baker

Creator of Eberron, Gloom, and awesome snickerdoodles.

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One Response to “Question Keith #10: Questioning Authority”
  1. Jake says:

    The troublesome player may actually just be following their go-to routine. The previous DM advised him/ her on all aspects of their gameplay and with the formation of a new character, that person might just be falling into the the rhythm of asking the “old” DM. If the player is truly being controversial and actively ignoring you as DM, then you have a real issue that needs to be stopped head-on. For example, when I transitioned from DM and gave a friend his first time reins, a lot of the players would counter what the DM said and ask me what I would have done. And this is simply inappropriate. It’s nice to hear that the previous DM has your back. I agree with Keith that your first course of action should be to make sure you and the previous DM are on the same page, that you are in charge and that they defer all decisions to you. Secondly, be forthright. This is your first DM’ing experience. It will be just as fun for them as it is for you if everyone works creatively together. Let new options be explored. So tell your group right before your next adventure starts, “I just want to let you all know, I really appreciate your faith in me as a DM. I’ve worked my butt off to make this a truly exceptional campaign. The more you work with me, the harder I’ll work for you, PROMISE.”

    Best of luck in your campaign and to all first-time DM’s. It is a wonderful and extraordinary experience.

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