An idea on being a fairer and more trustworthy DM

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5e is trending towards DM empowerment at least as a major option.  One of the issues with DM empowerment is trust.  Players and DMs who have trust issues stop having fun when the DM is too empowered.  I'm not doing this thread though to debate whether this is good or bad.  I thought I might suggest some ideas for increasing trust.

In responding feel free to add your own ideas for increasing trust.   Here are mine...

Avoid Metagame Knowledge
Make plans in advance for what your monsters are going to do in various situations.  Stick to those plans.  Don't use metagame knowledge about the group in making these plans.  

After the group encounters the enemy, keep notes.  Only have the enemy react to what they know.  If the wizard cast a fireball then they know that but if he hasn't cast his lightning bolt then maybe they don't know that.  Obviously this depends partly on the knowledge level of this enemy.

Play Monsters At Their Intelligence Level
Dumb monsters act different from smart monsters.  Play dumb dumb and smart smart.  Both can pose different challenges to the group.  Dumb monsters will often eat whoever they down rather than go on to the next enemy.  This is bad when dealing with negative hit points.  Smart monsters though unless in great numbers will likely go after someone whose up and forget the one they put down.  A scouting party will likely run far more easily than a room full of families.

Prepare DCs in advance
Prepare as many DCs as you can in advance.  This way you aren't in the heat of battle or action and having to come up with one off the cuff.  You will still have to do so but maybe less often.  Don't make every test of skill a tough challenge especially as they gain levels.  The world doesn't get harder in every aspect as the group grows stronger.  Let them glory in their abilities occasionally.

Avoid being Adversarial
You play the monsters.  You don't win if they kill the group.  You lose.  Enjoy the groups success.  Your job is to make it a challenge.

Play each NPC uniquely.  No hive mind.
This is hard because you have only one mind.  But take notes on what each npc knows.  Keep a small notebook or use a computer file.  Whatever works.  But try really hard not to let one NPC's thoughts intrude on another.  The hallmark of a great DM to me is the ability to keep each NPC unique.  Make them hate their enemies and love their friends.  Also do not overuse betrayal.  Each time an ally betrays the group, they start distrusting the DM.  They start thinking he will betray them again with another ally.  Keeping the integrity of each npc will help with this.

Let the PCs feel powerful when they are
While the world is big and there will always be enemies and even allies of commensurate power, (at least in my worlds), you should work to make the PCs feel that they are making a splash when they do.  Having someone buy them an ale in the Inn for the heroic deeds they did at 1st level will go a long way.  At higher levels have people approach them in awe and ask for a blessing on their child, etc...

Involve all the PCs
Find ways to make each PC an integral part of something.  Be it an organization, a secret quest, an favored enemy, etc...  If one PC seems to be taking a backseat, then try and pull them forward.

Feedback
Last but not least.  Get feedback from the group once the session is over.  Ask them about how things played out.  While I don't tolerate debate in the session itself, it's fine to hash some things out afterwards.  We all make mistakes.




 
 
Hear hear. Every one of these things is an outstanding suggestion and I concur with all of them.
"Having someone buy them an ale in the Inn for the heroic deeds they did at 1st level will go a long way."

You know.... I don't think I've ever done that in almost 10 years of DMing.  Great ideas, and thanks for this post!  
Fit the adventure to the party they build rather than "a balanced party".

For example in our last session all the players had either thief and/or spy backgrounds.

So no dungeon crawl for this group. Instead it was all intrigue and city based play.

Edition wars kill players,Dungeons and Dragons needs every player it can get.

I would suggest also having some type of advice on who monsters will target in typical fights. This would allow many DMs to fall back on something to keep them from playing favorites. I have caught myself targetting my wife's character more so that it doesn't appear like I'm playing favorites; that ends up being the oposite. We don't want or need hard and fast "agro" rules like MMORPGs, but some kind of advice on when a group of hobgoblins would try to push past the fighter and take out the mage, or what the cleric or rogue have to do before drawing attention.

Poe's Law is alive and well.

I wish I could remember it exactly but I used to have a table I made up for chaotic enemies that I would roll each turn to determine actions... it was something like;

1. In fighting (enemies squabble)
2. Nearest Enemy
3. Biggest Enemy
4. Attack as an intelligent group (DM fiat)
5. Use the environment
6. Bum Rush Casters 
I would suggest also having some type of advice on who monsters will target in typical fights. This would allow many DMs to fall back on something to keep them from playing favorites. I have caught myself targetting my wife's character more so that it doesn't appear like I'm playing favorites; that ends up being the oposite. We don't want or need hard and fast "agro" rules like MMORPGs, but some kind of advice on when a group of hobgoblins would try to push past the fighter and take out the mage, or what the cleric or rogue have to do before drawing attention.



Yes when a target is of equal opportunity I dice for it.  Not sure I used something as sophisticated as Orwellian's but thats the idea.   If the monster has two potential equally attractive targets, I just roll a dice and decide.

Super smart villians though will act smarter.  This is where having the battle plans drawn up in advance is important.   If a group of enemies are going to target the wizard first because they understand magic, then you need to write that up.  You also need to write up how they figure out who the wizard is.  Not all wizards make it obvious.  Of course after the first spell then its known. 
Well stated - I am very pro - DM Empowerment.  But I am very against DM Entitlement (I'm against all forms of entitlement actually).

Empowerment to me - means tools.

All the things you stated are great. 

I think I have a different outlook on "Avoid Being Adversarial" - but the general idea is exactly the same.

A DM should strive hard to make a challenging - but fair - fight that is scewed toward player victory. The closer you get to making it "seem" like the fight wasn't scewed at all - the better you did at designing that encounter.

===

Involving the PCs can be the toughest - but is certainly the most rewarding.

When your players care about their characters - they'll care about your story - and that's all a DM really wants anyway. That is the "reward" for me as a DM certainly.

===

Death really should be "removed" from this game. Defeat should equal Retreat.

This would go a LONG way to removing combative DMs.

Give the player the choice as to whether thier character "dies" - and free the DM from fear of making encounters that were too hard.

I've already detailed how "I" would do it, so I won't needlessly bog down this post with it - but it works well.
Death really should be "removed" from this game. Defeat should equal Retreat.

After all, when was the last time a BBEG actually directly killed the heroes, instead of devising some easily-escapable deathtrap and leaving the room after giving an elaborate monologue?

@Qmark: Not sure if you're agreeing with me... or mocking me. I'm cool either way - just curious.
@Qmark: Not sure if you're agreeing with me... or mocking me.

That first one.

Bond movies just wouldn't work if Mr. Villiain Guy just shoots Connery (or whoever) in the head and the credits roll.  Why does D&D need to be "you're dead. start over."?

I think all the points mentioned make a better DM.

I would like to add:

1. As a DM, understand that it is not your story alone. The players shape the story through their characters, too. And they can make the overall story better through narrative input, because some of the stuff they introduce can be better than the stuff you as a DM can come up with some of the time.

2. Give the players room to shape parts of the world that their characters are based on. If they play a monk, let them come up with the names of the other monks of the monestary where the character was trained. Stuff like that increases the connection between the players and the world they engage with their characters.

Death really should be "removed" from this game. Defeat should equal Retreat.

After all, when was the last time a BBEG actually directly killed the heroes, instead of devising some easily-escapable deathtrap and leaving the room after giving an elaborate monologue?




Got to love villians with Compulsive Monologue Disorder!
Death really should be "removed" from this game. Defeat should equal Retreat.

After all, when was the last time a BBEG actually directly killed the heroes, instead of devising some easily-escapable deathtrap and leaving the room after giving an elaborate monologue?




This is fine for your games but not mine.  I would never remove death.  

@Snot-Elemental
I run sandbox these days so it's all the characters story in one way and not the characters story at all in another way.

I make a world and set it in motion.  The players impact it however they like.  I play the NPCs the PCs play the PCs.  I have stuff happening all the time thats unrelated to the group at the moment other than just adding verisimilitude that this is a world where things are happening.  It's a dynamic world.  

 
Great post. Really good stuff.

Although, I couldn't help but think of it this way:


Tips on being a fairer and more trustworthy player



Avoid Metagame Knowledge
It's bad.

Play PCs At Their Intelligence Level
If Int is your dump stat, act like it.

Avoid being Adversarial
Don't pick fights.

Play each PC seperately.  No hive mind.
No endless talking or PC-to-PC telepathy.

Let the monsters feel powerful when they are
Don't stunlock the DM's big bad in the surprise round.

Involve all the PCs
Don't hog the spotlight.

Feedback
Take it.

Funny how good advice is good advice, regardless of the audience.

5 Minute WorkdayMy Webcomic Updated Tue & Thur

The compilation of my Worldbuilding blog series is now available: 

Jester David's How-To Guide to Fantasy Worldbuilding.

Great post. Really good stuff.

Although, I couldn't help but think of it this way:


Tips on being a fairer and more trustworthy player



Avoid Metagame Knowledge
It's bad.

Play PCs At Their Intelligence Level
If Int is your dump stat, act like it.

Avoid being Adversarial
Don't pick fights.

Play each PC seperately.  No hive mind.
No endless talking or PC-to-PC telepathy.

Let the monsters feel powerful when they are
Don't stunlock the DM's big bad in the surprise round.

Involve all the PCs
Don't hog the spotlight.

Feedback
Take it.

Funny how good advice is good advice, regardless of the audience.



Thanks Jester.  I DM so much that I gave advice in that area.  But of course the shoe fits the other foot too!

The Jester

All I can say is interesting post.

I guess both DM and the group need to be fair?  
Great post, Emerikol. Trust is indeed a big thing when the system not only empowers the DM, but requires so much of the DM.  That said, I have one tiny refinement with one of your pieces of advice:
Avoid Metagame Knowledge
Make plans in advance for what your monsters are going to do in various situations.  Stick to those plans.  Don't use metagame knowledge about the group in making these plans.



While I think you mean "Hey the PCs only prepared 2 uses of Featherfall, so I'll have 3 drops of significant height MWUAHAHAHA!" is a bad thing and should be avoided (and I agree whole-heartedly), I think the DM should keep in my mind the meta-game knowledge of the PCs and their abilities in mind when designing adventures.

The wizard is an illusionist and likes tricking people.  Not only does that mean not stacking the adventure with things that are immune to illusions and charms, it means occasionally providing challenges that are best overcome through trickery.

I think an addendum to your list is "Don't design adventures to circumvent your PCs' abilities. Do design adventures that show off your PCs' abilities.  Not only will they feel like they can do something, they'll trust that you are listening to what they want to do."
Essentials zigged, when I wanted to continue zagging. Roll dice, not cars.

While I think you mean "Hey the PCs only prepared 2 uses of Featherfall, so I'll have 3 drops of significant height MWUAHAHAHA!" is a bad thing and should be avoided (and I agree whole-heartedly), I think the DM should keep in my mind the meta-game knowledge of the PCs and their abilities in mind when designing adventures.


The above was what I was meaning when I made my comments



The wizard is an illusionist and likes tricking people.  Not only does that mean not stacking the adventure with things that are immune to illusions and charms, it means occasionally providing challenges that are best overcome through trickery.

I think an addendum to your list is "Don't design adventures to circumvent your PCs' abilities. Do design adventures that show off your PCs' abilities.  Not only will they feel like they can do something, they'll trust that you are listening to what they want to do."



I probably play it a bit more neutrally but I have no problem with your ideas.  I prefer my PCs not feel the "script" is with them but rather that the world is a neutral place and they could live or die depending on their actions.  But I admit thats just my style.  I have played your way though successfully so it's a valid style.  I've just trended sandbox over the years.

I do though think my sandbox style lets the players kind of pick and choose their own way and thus it works out as you desire.  I generally avoid any repetitive trend.  I do though think that if you over specialize you might occasionally find yourself at a disadvantage.  I just want my PCs feeling like it's a "realistic" fantasy world with normal ups and downs and not me trying to get them.  





On PC telepathy.

Once combat starts any planning the players do can and will be overheard by the enemies in my game.

The exception is very new players or players new to my table are weaned into this playstyle.

Of course if the enemy doesn't speak the same language as the PCs or is of animal intelligence they can plan out loud all they want.

Edition wars kill players,Dungeons and Dragons needs every player it can get.

Acting one's PC's Intelligence doesn't work. There have been threads discussing it. If you want to ask about this, start another one.

The bottom line for building trust is to accept and add on, and not argue. This is initially a risk, but will quickly turn into trust. It works on stage in improv theater, and it works around the game table.

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

In my current game, there's a Kalashtar with Group Mindlink in the party, so the PC's actually have telepathy. We are pretty careful about only discussing strategy in front of the enemy when we're within telepathic range.

Play Monsters At Their Intelligence Level
Dumb monsters act different from smart monsters.  Play dumb dumb and smart smart.  Both can pose different challenges to the group.  Dumb monsters will often eat whoever they down rather than go on to the next enemy.  This is bad when dealing with negative hit points.  Smart monsters though unless in great numbers will likely go after someone whose up and forget the one they put down.  A scouting party will likely run far more easily than a room full of families.
 



One note here - animals and beasts may not be intelligent, but they are frequently (especially predators) very canny at combat. I frequently base a monster's combat savvy off Wisdom rather than Intelligence, depending on what is at issue.

About the silliest thing I ever heard was a player argue that wolves weren't smart enough to try to flank him. /headdesk
This is fine for your games but not mine.  I would never remove death.



Don't remove death... just make it at the player's option.

"You have fallen and may have breathed your last. You see the gates to the afterlife. What do they look like? Who do you see? You are offered a choice - return to the world to exist among its strife and pain or live forever more in paradise. What do you do?" If they return, ask what they brought back with them from The Other Side and what that means to them going forward. It's a great way to instill trust and makes for some very awesome moments.

Another couple of good ways to instill trust:

Give your players more narrative control - stop running plot-based linear adventures. Make it the players' story about their characters, not your story about your story.
lol...Wolves are pack animals. If a couple of solitary hunters like bears tried flanking, the complaint might make more sense.
lol...Wolves are pack animals. If a couple of solitary hunters like bears tried flanking, the complaint might make more sense.

It's still not worth making the complaint. Flanking isn't necessarily a drilled-in military tactic. You can flavor it however yo want, and there's probably a situation in which two bears would attack the same target in such a way that the target can easily fend them both off at once.

There's no Intelligence DC for fighting tactically.

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

There's no Intelligence DC for fighting tactically.



Yeah, right. Tell that to the "Act like Forrest Gump if INT is your dump stat" crowd. Sheesh.
If Int is a dump stat but Wis is high, what does that mean? You're a slow learner, but you've taken the time to learn a lot? The thing is, having "intelligence" mean what it means in real life, but also mean "skill at magic" doesn't work very well. Really, everyone who doesn't specialize in arcana is stupid?

Play Monsters At Their Intelligence Level
Dumb monsters act different from smart monsters.  Play dumb dumb and smart smart.  Both can pose different challenges to the group.  Dumb monsters will often eat whoever they down rather than go on to the next enemy.  This is bad when dealing with negative hit points.  Smart monsters though unless in great numbers will likely go after someone whose up and forget the one they put down.  A scouting party will likely run far more easily than a room full of families.
 



One note here - animals and beasts may not be intelligent, but they are frequently (especially predators) very canny at combat. I frequently base a monster's combat savvy off Wisdom rather than Intelligence, depending on what is at issue.

About the silliest thing I ever heard was a player argue that wolves weren't smart enough to try to flank him. /headdesk



Yeah crazy.  I just meant that *some* beasts might stop and devour their enemies along the way.  I guess my point was play the monster appropriate.  Thats all.  Good point.
This is fine for your games but not mine.  I would never remove death.



Don't remove death... just make it at the player's option.

"You have fallen and may have breathed your last. You see the gates to the afterlife. What do they look like? Who do you see? You are offered a choice - return to the world to exist among its strife and pain or live forever more in paradise. What do you do?" If they return, ask what they brought back with them from The Other Side and what that means to them going forward. It's a great way to instill trust and makes for some very awesome moments.



Yeah I recognize the style and know it's popular in some quarters but it's just not for me.  No disparagement of your approach but this falls into style more than it does as an absolute.  Most of the time though at higher levels raise dead is possible but it's costly.



Another couple of good ways to instill trust:

Give your players more narrative control - stop running plot-based linear adventures. Make it the players' story about their characters, not your story about your story.



Yeah again this is up to the campaign.  Some players don't mind this a bit.  Some do.  I am in the sandbox camp myself which probably is more what you are advocating.  But I really can't say that thats the only way.  I've ran in the past more linear adventures that were fun for the group.  It just depends.  But right now I'm pro-sandbox.

And while I agree with your wording above, I do want to make these points in case you take it further than I do.
1.  The world does not revolve around my players.  It functions as a world all by itself.
2.  The players are encouraged to impact the world and change it to their liking.  
3.  The NPCs of the world are likewise doing the same.
4.  As DM I just provide a consistent world that is fun, the players then do their thing.
5.  Making a character that "fits" the world is essential.  I'm usually pretty wide open but when a player comes in demanding some particular concept before even knowing what the world is like then I figure that player won't fit my group very well.  If I said we are playing in middle earth I hope your choices would be different than if I said we are playing in forgotten realms.  Hopefully the world informs the player choices.  Within those constraints though, I'm for player freedom to be whatever they want.


 
I've ran in the past more linear adventures that were fun for the group.



The issue isn't "fun" - it's "trust." As Centauri points out, this is the foundation of improvisational acting. To expand upon that idea, if you're running linear adventures, you're essentially saying, "I don't trust you to make your own decisions." Or "I've made the decisions for you because mine are better." Or "Make all the decisions you want - I'll just use my DM-fu to get you back on the path." This is not to say the DM is malicious. It's just an outcome of this style.

Even if the players don't have the wherewithal to know of any other way of playing, I submit there is some hit taken to the level of trust at the table.
I've ran in the past more linear adventures that were fun for the group.



The issue isn't "fun" - it's "trust." As Centauri points out, this is the foundation of improvisational acting. To expand upon that idea, if you're running linear adventures, you're essentially saying, "I don't trust you to make your own decisions." Or "I've made the decisions for you because mine are better." Or "Make all the decisions you want - I'll just use my DM-fu to get you back on the path." This is not to say the DM is malicious. It's just an outcome of this style.

Even if the players don't have the wherewithal to know of any other way of playing, I submit there is some hit taken to the level of trust at the table.



Interesting point as it relates to trust.  I've never made my players finish an adventure they didn't want to finish.  And I tried to figure out what would please them before designing one.  But it's something to think about for sure.  It does kind of kill the adventure path idea.  
Couldn't that same argument be used to say that any book that isn't a "choose your own adventure book" indicates the author doesn't trust the readers?
It only kills it if you think there is a One True Path to DMing. There isn't. Some groups have more fun with an on-rails adventure path, others have more fun with a player-controlled sandbox.
Interesting point as it relates to trust.  I've never made my players finish an adventure they didn't want to finish.  And I tried to figure out what would please them before designing one.  But it's something to think about for sure.  It does kind of kill the adventure path idea.  



Thanks - granted, it's less tangible than other ways of instilling trust that you pointed out. And I dare say if you already have that trust, the players will tend to go along with the linear path because they trust the DM will make it interesting. To build up that trust, however, I don't know if linear is the way to go. I used to run games this way, but no more. I'd love for WotC to come out and say that plot-based/linear adventures should be considered a "variant" way of running the game because of the inherent problems and the need for player buy-in. (I could have used that advice early on.) But I won't hold my breath.
Couldn't that same argument be used to say that any book that isn't a "choose your own adventure book" indicates the author doesn't trust the readers?

Yes. You could, if you wanted, say "Any book that isn't a collaboration indicates the authors don't trust others." We typically don't think of it as a matter of trust, because readers aren't expected to help writers, because they don't know the story or the characters. Players aren't usually expected to help DMs, either, but that's only partly because they might no know the story or the characters. The players can easily introduce story or characters they do know into a game, or be let in on the details of the DM's story and characters, but the default assumption is that players will, perhaps without meaning to, use information they create or are given in order to mitigate their own failure. When we as players and DMs don't assume that of ourselves or the others around the table (or recognize that it will happen to a degree, but we're fine with it) then trust is high, and it can become a collaboration.

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

Interesting point as it relates to trust.  I've never made my players finish an adventure they didn't want to finish.  And I tried to figure out what would please them before designing one.  But it's something to think about for sure.  It does kind of kill the adventure path idea.  



Thanks - granted, it's less tangible than other ways of instilling trust that you pointed out. And I dare say if you already have that trust, the players will tend to go along with the linear path because they trust the DM will make it interesting. To build up that trust, however, I don't know if linear is the way to go. I used to run games this way, but no more. I'd love for WotC to come out and say that plot-based/linear adventures should be considered a "variant" way of running the game because of the inherent problems and the need for player buy-in. (I could have used that advice early on.) But I won't hold my breath.



I've decided that sandbox is my approach these days but I admit not for this reason.  But happily I benefit anyway so thats good.  
Couldn't that same argument be used to say that any book that isn't a "choose your own adventure book" indicates the author doesn't trust the readers?

No, you couldn't. A book isn't a game. Even a "choose your own adventure book" gives limited choices. This isn't really an apples to apples comparison. A writer writes a story to, well, tell his story. You sit down at the game table to find out what's going to happen. Even if your adventure is on rails, you can't know exactly what's going to happen unless you're heavy-handed and player choice doesn't mater.
I'm still not quite buying the argument that "less than infinite options" = "no trust in the players."
I'm still not quite buying the argument that "less than infinite options" = "no trust in the players."

I don't think anyone is really making that argument. But if someone suggests something and the DM says no to it, it's a trust issue. Perhaps a valid trust issue, but a trust issue none the less.

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

I'm still not quite buying the argument that "less than infinite options" = "no trust in the players."



I think the heart of the issue is more of a: "how interested are people going to be in the game without some input"?

If players try to make suggestions or add something to their character, their background, the scenery, or any other aspect of the game, and the DM always shoots the suggestion down then it makes it less likely that the player will be interested in the game.

Players can also lose interest if they find that despite they are able to impact the game on a small level, finding out that there choices don't produce unique or new outcomes based on the those actions.

Basically if the players feel that no matter what they do, or how they act does nothing to change the outcomes of events, or if any creative solution becomes punished,  it becomes unfun for the players.