So… on another thread I mentioned that I thought that DM’s who used modules/settings or who relied on DMPC’s really weren’t good DMs, or weren’t “real” DMs. Of course I got hammered with onetruewayist comments… so I thought what makes a DM good or bad, I’m sure each of you may have your own not so specific list but I decided to write up mine. I’d be interested to hear if there’s anything you think should be on the list but isn’t, or if you think any of these things can be fixed by a well designed well written system, if so which ones and how? And now… without further ado..
30 Habits of Highly Unsuccessful DMs
1) Isn’t prepared
2) Can’t wing it.
3) Can’t sell it.
4) Cant act it.
5) Cant make it.
6) No Girls Allowed.
7) Table Management Fail.
8) Cant Cope
9) Cant Say No.
10) Loves the Meta-Game
11) You Want A War…
12) Where the Choo Choo Go?
13) Cannot bend Like a Reed in the Wind…
14) One Skill to Rule Them All
15) Cant You Smell That Smell…
16) Who is Your Daddy...?
17) Your Soaking In It.
18) Cant Hack It.
19) Daddy YUP! YUP!
20) Captain Homebrew!
21) I WANT TO ROCK!
22) Lawful Anal/Chaotic Stupid
23) Die! Die! Die!
24) The Never Ending Story
25) DM’s Cant Cheat.
26) All Players Cheat.
27) You No Can Haz it!
29) 20-4 meh.
30) Obsessive much?
1) Isn’t Prepared- the adventure is always left at home, or the encounter notes, or something that he desperately needs isn’t available which results in ending the game early or skipping encounters, etc.
2) Can’t wing it- he needs to have absolutely everything written down, and will spend three out of every eight minutes (yes I actually timed a DM like this once) looking up a rule or reading an entry absolutely killing any role playing, suspense, or action built up in-game. Also typically means if the dialog isn’t written down, he cant RP for the antagonists. About the only thing worse than the cant wing it DM is the DM who thinks he can and cant… see no. 18
3) Can’t Sell It-In professional wrestling “selling it” is convincing the audience the punches are real, in D&D it’s describing the scene or the action, in a way with a touch of emotion to really let the players feel like they are in-the moment with their characters. A DM who cant do this lacks an essential skill.
4) Can’t Act- Just has little or no ability to RP, every NPC sounds the same, uses the same speech patterns, uses a lot of modern slang, and the DM will often say something like “well he’s using a British accent but I cant pull it off” or “he sounds short” then speaks in a deep bass tone. Its typical that these DMs also have trait #1 and has to refer to notes or the AP to remember what the NPC needs to say.
5) Cant make it- If the game starts at 6 he doesn’t show till 7:00 if the players start showing up at 7:00 he starts showing up at 8:00, if he cancels a game night, he waits until everyone has changed their plans and is sitting at the table before sending the notice.
6) No Girls Allowed. Happens more than ya’d think, DM cant stop himself from using rude, profane or dirty language/conversations, encourages others to do the same, or simply cant RP with a girl without blushing or quickly changing players. Some DM’s have the same problem with GLBT players (I admit I have a problem with the T, and yah it actually came up once.)
7) Table Management Fail- Just generally cant control player demands, some players get all the spotlight, others get none, slow players never get the nudge, side conversations are loud and endless, game is constantly interrupted by cell phones or other distractions. Often leads to the next habit.
8) Cant Cope- either carpet bags all his anger till it explodes with yelling, cussing and/or throwing dice, or he gets extremely quiet and just reads books or shuts off when the game gets to be too much to manage, when called on this passive aggressive behavior claims its all the player’s fault.
9) Cant Say No- A-typical Monty Hall behavior, dm kinda sucks to begin with then hands out a lot of overpowering magic items, giving incredible amounts of XP, allowing access to feats or advanced class abilities the character cant qualify for to win back the favor of the players. This is often combined with…
10) Loves the Meta Game- yup wash his car get a +5 sword, Give him Pizza get a magic item tailored just for your character, bring an attractive girl to the table and watch her become the favored character of the week, plays favorites, holds grudges and generally cant take criticism without repercussions… often leads to…
11) You Want a War- I’ll give you a war… DM sees the game as a contest between the DM and the Players, and generally the players always loose until he feels guilty and goes all Monty/meta. In his game you’ll have flashbacks of Cartman saying “Respect ma Athorita!”
12) Where the Choo Choo Go? It go wherever the hell the DM wants it to that’s where… Your on the railroad and you cant get off. This DM cant freestyle anything, any attempt to do anything not covered by an AP leads to NPC’s forcing you back into covered territory, loss of everything your character values, world destroying cataclysm, etc. etc, in short if your in his game, neither you nor your characters have free will.
13) Cannot bend Like a Reed in the Wind… you cant solve the puzzle, oh well better spend two sessions going back to town, raiding a library, and getting back again, cant beat the unbeatable BBEG’s init? oh well guess you all die, make new characters. This DM gives you no hints, clues, help, or allowances if you cant tackle some aspect of his game. A little of this can be respected too much and your time is better spent on xbox.
14) One Skill to Rule Them All- DM has a way he likes characters to handle a problem… ONE WAY!, Either the diplomancer is god or everything is a nail to the fighter’s warhammer. DM rarely offers different ways to succeed at an encounter… this is often caboose of the Choo Choo.
15) Cant You Smell that Smell- Ya show up to the game at his place and he hasn’t washed, brushed, shaved, or put on a shirt. The house is filthy, covered in fast food wrappers, maybe the detritus of 100 other gaming sessions, the garbage was last taken out with the previous tenant… and oh.. A hardcore/thrash heavy metal drummer would envy the stink coming off him… Lets be honest, the hobby attracts a lot of anti-social anti-mainstream society types and while I applaud this occasionally there’s always that one guy (player or DM) who just cant take care of basic hygiene needs.
16) Who is Your Daddy… and what does he do… well apparently he’s the DM. This DM is better than you, he’s right, always. He voted for the right candidate in the last election, worships the right god (gods/goddess or is a devout atheist) he cheers for the right sports franchise, and if you disagree with any of his true convictions, you’ll reap the whirlwind buddy, blue bolt, save or die, or just steals your chips and never ever apologizes and will often…
17) Your Soaking in It- “IT” being the preternatural glow of absolute perfection that the DMPC the DM shoved into your party seems to radiate whenever he passes gas. This DM really wants to be a player in a game with a DM as cool as him, one that knows why this absolutely bad ass guy he created needs and deserves to get all the best weapons rewards, xp etc. You can be sure 99% of the time, your adventures will likely be following this NPC around as he buys cities, fights gods etc. Face it if your in this game, your character is just one of the supporting cast to his ultimately cool main character. Probably the best thing you can do is find another game, failing that having your character become Gilligan to his Skipper and learn to endlessly repeat variant phrases of “that guy is SOOOO awesome!”
18) Cant Hack It- Just no system mastery, never knows the rules to the game he’s running, is easily played by a metagaming player, makes quick brash rulings that if you argue about just leads to bigger problems (ala no. 11) has a tendency to DM fiat and is even sometimes correct. Lots of times this is a secondary habit to no. 9, and this DM will occasionally have a lil buddy (husband, wife, friend etc) that has to be around to rules lawyer for him.
19) Daddy YUP! YUP!- when you arrive at this DM’s house you’ll quickly suspect he has a wholesale accounts with Playschool, Pet Depot, and the local goodwill. At this game the game is secondary to the responsibilities of the parent, the kids aren’t in school and the spouse is taking off. Every five minutes one of the droolers is at his knee arms lifted saying “Daddy YUP! YUP!” and demanding to be held, roll the dice, knock your expertly painted tailored minis of the table or better yet finding that the old led orc is missing an arm and it turns into a game of CLUE as to who ate it and needs to go to the ER etc,etc. meanwhile the 4yr old is chasing the screaming 3 yr old, and the three dogs and two cats are fighting over a milk bottle spilled on the couch that the DM just needs “a few minutes” to deal with. If you’re at this game, you’re now a walk on cast member of this guy’s own personal sit com, bout the best thing you can expect is that in-between “incidents” you might get to game a little bit, and there will probably be a barbeque and beer… BYOM! (no tofu allowed!)
20) Here I come to save the day!- This system sucks and Captain homebrew is on his way. Captain Homebrew really wishes he was a game designer rather than just a DM. Before you ever get to the game this guy has sent you gigs of his tweaker manifesto aka homebrew world/rules, and tells you that’s just a smidgeon of what you should read before your first session. He hates the magic system so he made his own, hated the standard ways of rolling characters so he’s got a stat/feat/class ability point buy system, hated the skills and combat system so he’s changed it to the resolution system of some game no one’s ever heard of complete with chips to spend, dice pools, and homemade combat cards. The bad news is if your playing in his game your really not playing the game he advertised as xyz edition with “some” homebrew rules, and you’ve got no idea what to expect. The good news is if you jump on board the crazytown express and agree with his mad ramblings and rants he’ll likely give you a character that has been min/maxed according to his twisted system that will absolutely pwon anything else at the table… (except for his NPC… no.17)
21) I WANT TO ROCK! This Dm requires the right music to set the stage for the game… get ready, its either going to be some Danish unholy black deathmetal bands, or darkwave trance. You’ll be lucky if his speakers only go to 11.
22) Lawful Anal/Chaotic Stupid- you don’t know how to play your character but this DM is gonna teach you. This DM generally demands that the game be serious to the extreme, has little sense of humor, and he has his own very ridged ideas on how races, alignments, background traits etc. MUST be played and failure to play to his sense of right and wrong will lead to the spinning of the great Gigaxian Wheel of Repercussions. Nobodies a winner, bring on the blue bolts and xp loss.
23) DIE! DIE! DIE! no he doesn’t use too many dice… he just wants your PCs to die. His game is lethal in the extreme. More like a game of Paranoia than a game of whatever it was you wanted to play, where if your character lived longer than half a session you should consider yourself lucky.
24) The Never Ending Story- This DM is the exact opposite of no.23, nothing in this game will likely ever kill you and all combat is usually avoided. The DM loves sticking japananime type plots into the game, choc full of mysteries you’ll never solve, twilightesque romanticized NPCs and of course non-stop conflict free story telling. And whatever you do… don’t ask them about their art, poetry, or spiritual views…
25) DM’s Can't Cheat- If ya get the feeling rolling a 1 is not much different than rolling a 20 on any knowledge or influence roll this is probably your DM. Secretly he may claim the rules tell him to roll behind his indestructible DM screen and to fudge the die rolls if it will help the game, but more often than not the truth is more likely that no die roll matters in the least as this guy wants to get to the end of his movie, and is often accompanied by the rationalization that…
26) All Players Cheat- This DM is of the opinion that all players are secretly min/maxing munchkin jerks plotting against him to ruin the game. He may require that all players use a dice tower or he spends as much time as necessary to triple check all figures on any check, stat, roll, etc.
27) You No Can Haz it!- this is the opposite of no.9, you spend three sessions and two party members die to eventually kill a BBEG or mega boss dragon and find the mountainous pile of treasure is made of coppers painted gold and the ancient magic sword is really an illusion or horribly cursed. This Dm tries to give you as little as possible and rewards no successes (possibly due to a strong belief in no. 26), often when you think he may have given you something worthwhile he will complain that it has overpowered you and soon something must come to steal it back or weaken you in some way in the great name of game/PC balance.
28) Cheetoist- the DM is the opposite of no 22, he is a fun first game second DM, he is there to have fun and eat cheetos and if the seriousness of a game interferes with having fun or eating cheetos, something needs to change. This DM has tremendous difficulty addressing any adult or serious topics in the game, the characters and NPCs are typically over the top overdrawn stereotypes, and no effort is made to separate in-game or out of game dialog… unless its funny to do so. Bottom line, this is a goofgame, any desire for in-game seriousness will be punished with out-of-game public humiliation, so don’t try, eat a cheeto and do something stupid that everyone can laugh at and when it gets old (and it will) find a more serious game… or just buy more cheetos.
29) 20-4 Meh. Just a substandard DM in which every game he runs has 20 minutes of fun spread out into 4hrs of gaming. May have elements of all or none of these habits. Either way every week will be a pure meh experience and leave you wondering if there isn’t a better way you could be spending your free time and gas money maybe for years, actually I think this is the worst kind of DM to have.
30) Obsessive Much?- this DM has little or no life, probably spends every waking moment thinking about his game, characters, a new system coming out etc. He’s dangerous in that he has deep seeded largely idealistic views about what a game should or should not contain and what actions any type of player/dm should and should not do. A true onetruewayist. Just expect endless bitching and criticism. And oh yeah… he probably wrote a list just like this one once upon a time… ;-)
"The secret we should never let the gamemasters know is that they don't need any rules." Gygax