Am I a bad DM?

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I currently play 4e Dungeons & Dragons in a group of 5 (sometimes 6) players with rotating DM duties. The party consists by role of 1 leader (myself), 3 strikers, and 2 heavily striker-leaning controllers.

This means when it's my turn to DM, the party lacks any kind of healing ability. I try to encourage tactical combat but since all the players fill pretty much the same roles it never really works out. I've been accused of running an extremely unbalanced game (one player saying so much as any campaign requiring a healer of any kind is automatically unbalanced). I always use level-appropriate monsters in level-appropriate encounters, using  the XP budgets from the DMG. If I keep the encounter's appropriate by level it becomes extremely difficult for the party, but when I lower the level it gets boring. Since despite my prodding the players don't generally roll or decide their actions ahead of time, combat tends to be slow too.

I stick closely to the rules, which has caused frustration and some hour-long arguments (like whether prone or immobilized creatures can still attack. I said they can, with penalties per the rules in the books and compendium. Or if expanded spellbook allows a 3rd-level wizard 3 additional daily spell uses per day. I said no to daily-spamming.)

I'll admit I do keep the party on rails plotwise, since I only have so much written and with rotating DMs I have at most 6 hours to wrap up my story. So I keep my NPCs simplistic and my plots linear.

I've been accused fairly vocally of being a bad DM for these reasons, and I'll admit to what I'm doing wrong, but what can I do to improve?
No, you're not a bad DM. But you are forgetting a few things.

1. Healing potions. What the hell happened to them? I don't play 4e, but if these were removed, LMFAO WTF. But seriously, make a shop available to them that sells healing potions and other various kinds of potions to help grant buffs or abilities they normally don't have. If they don't buy these things, then it's on them.

2. Continue using the level appropriate encounters but adjust the stats a bit. If it's taking too long to whittle away at the enemies HP, drop it's current HP by 1/4 the max. If it's hitting too hard, adjust damage or attack bonus to make it either do less or hit less often. Personally, I prefer monsters that hit hard but not often. That really shakes the PCs up. But in your case, you may want monsters that hit often but not hard. That way it makes the PCs think they're in danger.

3. Feel free to loosen up on the rules a bit. If your entire table is pissed off because the supposedly immobile creature is attacking, then have it stop attacking. They seem like they need the help anyway. Then again, you're the DM. Stick to your guns if you want (I do).

4. Loosen up on the plot a bit. Sure, you have 6 hours to tell a story, but make it open-ended. Instead of making a simplistic NPC that's basically an info dumper, give him a personality trait and manner of thinking that gives him/her a few choices in dialog and decisions based on PC actions. Let the PCs do something wacky or off the wall from time to time and roll with it, like hanging from a chandelier to attack something or aid a jump somewhere. Sometimes, instead of having the monsters get the drop on them or appear out of nowhere, give the players the advantage before the battle by letting them get the drop on the bad guy. Getting to set themselves up to have a tactical advantage from the onset can do a lot to make them feel like they have control over the situation (because they actually do!).

5. More on plot: towards the end, leave the players in control of some major decisions. Like they find the blackmail letters to the mayor and they know who's sending them. Do they then get in on the action and demand a cut of the profits from the mayor or do they save his hide from the blackmailer (with possible pay offs in that direction)? They discover the temple leader's plan to unleash zombies on the city by investigating strange murders in a warehouse where he's been storing the relic to make it happen. Sure, the relic isn't there when they arrive, but they find crucial evidence about his plot. They can tip off the captain of the guard (who may have told them earlier he suspected something was up at the temple), rush off to stop, kill, or run off the temple leader, make a plan to find and destroy the relic, or let the temple leader do his thing and deal with the zombies later.
My username should actually read: Lunar Savage (damn you WotC!) *Tips top hat, adjusts monocle, and walks away with cane* and yes, that IS Mr. Peanut laying unconscious on the curb. http://asylumjournals.tumblr.com/
I currently play 4e Dungeons & Dragons in a group of 5 (sometimes 6) players with rotating DM duties. The party consists by role of 1 leader (myself), 3 strikers, and 2 heavily striker-leaning controllers.

This means when it's my turn to DM, the party lacks any kind of healing ability. I try to encourage tactical combat but since all the players fill pretty much the same roles it never really works out. I've been accused of running an extremely unbalanced game (one player saying so much as any campaign requiring a healer of any kind is automatically unbalanced). I always use level-appropriate monsters in level-appropriate encounters, using  the XP budgets from the DMG. If I keep the encounter's appropriate by level it becomes extremely difficult for the party, but when I lower the level it gets boring. Since despite my prodding the players don't generally roll or decide their actions ahead of time, combat tends to be slow too.

I stick closely to the rules, which has caused frustration and some hour-long arguments (like whether prone or immobilized creatures can still attack. I said they can, with penalties per the rules in the books and compendium. Or if expanded spellbook allows a 3rd-level wizard 3 additional daily spell uses per day. I said no to daily-spamming.)

I'll admit I do keep the party on rails plotwise, since I only have so much written and with rotating DMs I have at most 6 hours to wrap up my story. So I keep my NPCs simplistic and my plots linear.

I've been accused fairly vocally of being a bad DM for these reasons, and I'll admit to what I'm doing wrong, but what can I do to improve?

+1 pertty much everything LS said, particularly on the healing potions. Make them readily available, either at the local apothecary, or as items found while adventuring.
 
When it comes to rules, the objective is to have fun. It's just not worth wasting time arguing rules when you could be playing the game. Yes, DM has the final say. But your primary goal as the DM is for everyone to have fun.

Also, I suspect that it's your monsters being immobilized, or knocked prone by the players and they're upset that their powers aren't incapacitating the monsters like they thought they would. I wonder if they'd have the same arguments if it were their characters who were knocked prone or restrained . . . but I'm just guessing there.
Houseruling changes to those sorts of rules because the change seems to make sense can work sometimes, but can also be a mistake. My group used to have a house rule that forced movement provoked attacks of opportunity. We made it when we were all very new to the game, reasoning that the fact of the movement being forced shouldn't keep someone from taking a swing. This was fine, until a campaign or two later when people started making characters optimized for causing forced movement, and we discovered that we'd broken the system.
..."window.parent.tinyMCE.get('post_content').onLoad.dispatch();" contenteditable="true" />I stick closely to the rules, which has caused frustration and some hour-long arguments (like whether prone or immobilized creatures can still attack. I said they can, with penalties per the rules in the books and compendium. Or if expanded spellbook allows a 3rd-level wizard 3 additional daily spell uses per day. I said no to daily-spamming.)



For the record, both of these rulings were completely correct.  Neither Prone nor Immobilized prevents a creature from attacking, and Expanded Spellbook only gives the wizard more options, not more power usage.
Another day, another three or four entries to my Ignore List.
1. Healing potions. What the hell happened to them? I don't play 4e, but if these were removed, LMFAO WTF. But seriously, make a shop available to them that sells healing potions and other various kinds of potions to help grant buffs or abilities they normally don't have. If they don't buy these things, then it's on them.


On this point, I'd suggest reminding the players about healing potions. (As well as replacing some of the gp from rewards with healing potions.)

I've had players that freaked out over only having one Leader, meaning only two healing powers an encounter, oh no! ...Despite one PC carrying around ten healing potions, and how I took a break every couple sessions just to remind everyone to share resources. As in, explicitly telling them "Now that you have a few minutes to spare, it might be a good idea to make sure everyone has a potion or two, just in case."

Sometimes, players are genuinely dumb. That just means that, sometimes, you need to remind them of facts they may have forgotten.

For the record, both of these rulings were completely correct.  Neither Prone nor Immobilized prevents a creature from attacking, and Expanded Spellbook only gives the wizard more options, not more power usage.

For clarification: Prone has associated penalties and bonuses related to attacks, but still allows the prone character to attack. Immobilized only prevents movement, nothing else. (So only charge attacks and such would be illegal, but other attacks can still be made.)

Expanded Spellbook is a class specific feat that modifies a class feature. The feature in question, the wizard's Spellbook, explicitly states that the character does not gain more daily power uses, only that they have more options to choose from after each extended rest.

In both instances, the players are wrong. No ifs, ands or buts: Wrong. (And I'm speaking as a DM that isn't obsessed over rules. If they're giving you a hard time over it, they are not in the right.)
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A Couple of suggestions.

-You might be able to still play your character while DMing, if you are up to it, simply using him as a heal bot (not taking the glory or anything)

-There shouldn't be arguements on the rules especially long debates. As a DM you should briefly consider their point, and make a quick decision and move on, sometimes give it to them (right or wrong). The best statement "Well we will do it this way for now then, and I will review the rules later" If they complain over that, then I follow up with "Not a problem, if I am wrong then it will have added to the difficulty of the encounter and I will adjust the XP accordingly" This may seem like a bribe, but it is fair.
 
-Following the above, the group as a whole should follow a consistant set of rules, The same for each DM. Part of your arguements come from inconsistant rulings, if it worked for another DMs then the players are being reasonable in expecting it should work when you DM as well, they may even have chosen character builds based upon the rulings of the other DMs (right or wrong) if so they have cause to complain when the rules change under their feet. So as a group you should sit down, outside of the game, and determine how you will define the rules so as to be consistant regardless of who is DMing.  Consistancy is probably more important then strictly following the rules, so sometimes you should bend on the rules if they are always used that way by other DMs.

-If you have someone who is particularly well versed with the rules that can be relied upon, then you may want to make them the Head DM, his job is to arbitrate and keep the rules consistant. This ends arguements as it establishes an authority, since everyone shares DMing their is no currently no real "authority" which leads to different and individual interpretations.
It's true that they shouldn't need a leader, or healing potions, but that also means they can't play as if they do have those things. A group that lacks a leader has doubled or tripled up on some other role and should either be taking monsters out very quickly, absorbing lots of damage, or controlling the flow of the field.

You're not a bad DM, but you've got a raw deal. Anyone who wants to challenge the players by the rules but can't, or doesn't want, to kill the characters is in this position. I don't blame your players for being upset, but it's really not your fault. This is the way the game works: as long as the only way to lose is to die, "challenge" means there's a good chance that some PCs will die.

If killing PCs is a problem, it's acceptable to challenge them in other ways. Set an in-game timer, and they have that number of rounds to complete a goal. Make it clear what the goal is: kill a particular minion, kill all minions, reach a point on the map, keep the monsters out of a point on the map, etc. If at the end of the timer the condition isn't met, then they lose in a way that's tied into the adventure and the encounter. But they don't necessarily die, because the monsters can win without killing them. And, depending on the scenario, they might not kill a single monster and still win. Think about it.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

It's true that they shouldn't need a leader, or healing potions, but that also means they can't play as if they do have those things. A group that lacks a leader has doubled or tripled up on some other role and should either be taking monsters out very quickly, absorbing lots of damage, or controlling the flow of the field.

You're not a bad DM, but you've got a raw deal. Anyone who wants to challenge the players by the rules but can't, or doesn't want, to kill the characters is in this position. I don't blame your players for being upset, but it's really not your fault. This is the way the game works: as long as the only way to lose is to die, "challenge" means there's a good chance that some PCs will die.

If killing PCs is a problem, it's acceptable to challenge them in other ways. Set an in-game timer, and they have that number of rounds to complete a goal. Make it clear what the goal is: kill a particular minion, kill all minions, reach a point on the map, keep the monsters out of a point on the map, etc. If at the end of the timer the condition isn't met, then they lose in a way that's tied into the adventure and the encounter. But they don't necessarily die, because the monsters can win without killing them. And, depending on the scenario, they might not kill a single monster and still win. Think about it.


Check out the second link in my sig for a list of alternative challenges.
This means when it's my turn to DM, the party lacks any kind of healing ability. I try to encourage tactical combat but since all the players fill pretty much the same roles it never really works out. I've been accused of running an extremely unbalanced game (one player saying so much as any campaign requiring a healer of any kind is automatically unbalanced). I always use level-appropriate monsters in level-appropriate encounters, using  the XP budgets from the DMG. If I keep the encounter's appropriate by level it becomes extremely difficult for the party, but when I lower the level it gets boring. Since despite my prodding the players don't generally roll or decide their actions ahead of time, combat tends to be slow too.



Alternate goals will fix a lot of these objections.

I stick closely to the rules, which has caused frustration and some hour-long arguments (like whether prone or immobilized creatures can still attack. I said they can, with penalties per the rules in the books and compendium. Or if expanded spellbook allows a 3rd-level wizard 3 additional daily spell uses per day. I said no to daily-spamming.)



Throw out the rules if the players suggest something cool, even if it gives them an advantage. But if they're asking simply for an advantage and not contributing in any meaningful way to the scene, then stick to the rules.

I'll admit I do keep the party on rails plotwise, since I only have so much written and with rotating DMs I have at most 6 hours to wrap up my story. So I keep my NPCs simplistic and my plots linear.



Has everyone bought-in to the fact that there is a linear plot? If they have, then they have no room to complain, unless your plots aren't very interesting. If this is a sticking point and you're using a "shared world" where each person DMing adds to the overall campaign/storyline, you may be running into an issue where the "other DMs" are bucking your plot because it messes with ideas they have in their head for the next thing. I don't like co-DMs for this reason. It's asking for trouble in my opinion.

I've been accused fairly vocally of being a bad DM for these reasons, and I'll admit to what I'm doing wrong, but what can I do to improve?



What do your players tell you to work on to make a better game? Do you think the advice they've given you (if any) is given in good faith?

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
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First off, I say stick to your guns.   You ruled correctly IMO.

Feel free to toss out a few healing potions, but I wouldn't add a whole bunch just because none of them want to take a healer.   I think leaders are as fun to play as any other role but to each his own.

If they are playing without a leader, they should be doing a lot of damage, and I cannot understand why they would struggle with level appropriate challenges.    Unless you are giving the monsters large terrain bonuses, tons of cover, higher ground ambushes all the time, those players really need to up their game.

If your entire post is correct, I see nothing at all wrong with your DM'ing, and shame on your players for calling you bad for sticking to the rules.
I agree with SwampDog. From what you're saying, I don't see where you're doing anything wrong.

Immobilize and prone most certainly does not prevent monsters from attacking. They are looking for the "stunned" condition, which is a lot harder to do in heroic. However, these conditions can prevent attacks if players then follow it up with strategic movement. Maybe you might point out, the next time they immobilize a monster with only melee attacks, that if they disengage before it goes it won't be able to attack anyone. (You shouldn't have to do that, but once they get they idea, they might enjoy their immobilize toys more.)

For the rotating DM style you have, I strongly recommend taking a look at some of the location in motion threads. This would allow them to determine their own plotline, and since your players are your co-DM's, they can even move the story to what they plan on telling during their own sessions. That may have an immediate impact on how much they are "enjoying" your sessions. If you have questions on location in motion - Iserith is our resident expert.

Lacking a role is self-correcting. They'll either decide to continue to live with a heavy burn party, or they'll prepare for it with their powers/items/feats, or someone may get frustrated and switch to playing a leader. In addition to potions, you could also add some terrain features here and there to help. Maybe some special terrain that works like bloodrock, only instead of critting on a 19-20, you can spend a healing surge if you crit. You don't want to overuse it, but you can sprinkle it in here and there.
For the rotating DM style you have, I strongly recommend taking a look at some of the location in motion threads. This would allow them to determine their own plotline, and since your players are your co-DM's, they can even move the story to what they plan on telling during their own sessions. That may have an immediate impact on how much they are "enjoying" your sessions. If you have questions on location in motion - Iserith is our resident expert.



Whoa - good thought. This is something about LIM I haven't considered before. It bears consideration for tables that rotate DMing because knowing what the Fronts and Dangers are is no guarantee of what they'll do in actual play. There are no spoilers in LIM. In fact, I'm taking this back to my regular group for discussion. Thanks!

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Don't Prep the Plot | Structure First, Story Last | Prep Tips | Spoilers Don't Spoil Anything | No Myth Roleplaying
Players: 11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer | You Are Not Your Character     Hilarious D&D Actual Play Podcast: Crit Juice!

Here, Have Some Free Material From Me: Encounters With Alternate Goals  |  Dark Sun Full-Contact Futbol   |   Pre-Generated D&D 5e PCs

Follow me on Twitter: @is3rith

If I keep the encounter's appropriate by level it becomes extremely difficult for the party, but when I lower the level it gets boring.

Let the players decide the difficulty. Let them get a few easy wins, then ask them if they're interested in greater challenges.

combat tends to be slow

Maybe use average damage. Also: allow the next player to start acting when the current one is not ready.

I stick closely to the rules, which has caused frustration and some hour-long arguments (like whether prone or immobilized creatures can still attack.

My house rule is:
"Standard rules are followed as best as possible, but rules discussions can be replaced with a quick die roll (low=bad for player, high=good for player) until it can be researched later."

It's a small concession, and let's them feel heard. Let the dice be the bad guy (and later, the rules, and/or some random rules lawyer on the rules forum); not you.

I'll admit I do keep the party on rails plotwise

Improvise. You'll likely have more fun as a DM when you try to react to the players trying anything (you'll probably be better at than you think too).

Once let off the leash, players will then tend to try to find the right path. Let them work for it.

Overall, it seems like the players don't 'trust' you yet. Building trust can take awhile, and can involve allowing them some control.

Let the players decide the difficulty. 



I'm interested in this as it's something I think should be available to the players. Could you elaborate on how you might set about this at the table? How would that work? (It also dovetails with another thread I started if you want to discuss it over there instead of here.)

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Don't Prep the Plot | Structure First, Story Last | Prep Tips | Spoilers Don't Spoil Anything | No Myth Roleplaying
Players: 11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer | You Are Not Your Character     Hilarious D&D Actual Play Podcast: Crit Juice!

Here, Have Some Free Material From Me: Encounters With Alternate Goals  |  Dark Sun Full-Contact Futbol   |   Pre-Generated D&D 5e PCs

Follow me on Twitter: @is3rith

Let the players decide the difficulty. 

I'm interested in this as it's something I think should be available to the players. Could you elaborate on how you might set about this at the table? How would that work? (It also dovetails with another thread I started if you want to discuss it over there instead of here.)

If I was going to down or up-grade an encounter, I'd bargain. "You're down this character, what do you want me to give up on my side?" I'd try to avoid getting into a discussion of challenge rating or whatever; I just don't consider it to be that accurate.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

Let the players decide the difficulty. 

Could you elaborate on how you might set about this at the table?

I'd ask them "What'd you think about that last few encounters? Do you want it easier, tougher, or about the same?". This usually works best if you start them off easy, then ratchet up the challenge gradually (each time at the players request).

fwiw: this is automatically built into LFR adventures. They're designed so that the players can decide on the adventure's difficulty, even at the last minute. There are other benefits to using LFR adventures too. I especially recommend them for any DM that doesn't yet have his player's trust.