Dungeon Masters (AKA Game Moderators) aren’t born, they are made. Tempered in the fires of Flaming Hot Cheetos and caffeine. Forged by +1 Warhammers wielded by fellow geeks. It takes years of tabletop battles before a DM can act as Pied Piper for veteran gamers. Inexperienced DM’s, new to running RPG’s, may throw up their hands in frustration and walk away from seasoned groups before earning their D20 spurs; joining less experienced groups where they feel comfortable, or giving up gaming altogether.
Nonsense, I say. Newbie DM’s make perfectly good moderators for older, jaded players. They bring fresh eyes, new ideas, and a wonton disregard for crunchy rule systems. All they need is a little encouragement, some time to learn the game, and a helpful player who’s willing to rein in the frolicking jackalopes sabotaging the game with their petty disputes.
You can be that helpful player. You can be the Riker to their Picard. The Smee to their Hook. The Emperor Palpatine to their George Bush.
If your greenhorn DM is stuttering and fumbling for ways to keep the game in line, or if he’s committing obvious blunders that will damage the game later*, here are 5 ways to rescue your Dungeon Master.
(*note: if the DM’s blunders aren’t harming the game or ignoring necessary rules, let him/her slide. This may be a difference in play style, not game mechanics, and they’ll adjust over time.)
1) Player(s) taking advantage of the DM
“Honestly, my Class starts with this…“
With any new DM comes the opportunity to acquire advanced items without paying full price. It takes a few years to memorize all the items in the core rulebook, and the advanced books, and the DM’s guide, and the wondrous book, and the…well, everything that gets printed after the initial game launch. Because publishers know the players will buy anything if it has a magical items table.
If the player sitting across from you is salivating, trying to swindle something no DM in his right mind would give to the players, nip this in the bud. Advise your newbie DM to have players quote the base gold or credit value of an item before they buy, steal, or requisition it. Or have the player explain to the DM what spells and special attributes the item contains. Everyone at the table (except the DM) knows damn well the goblin chieftain won’t have a Vorpal Sword of Time Unraveling with a Hollow Hilt of Holding, tucked away in his armory of rusty spears and grass shields.
This also applies to a DM who is rewarding too much money or XP for encounters. Gently remind him of the reward scale (or challenge rating) at your level. Although this comes with the added risk of a fellow adventurer shiving you in your sleep. So play an elf, I guess?
2) Player(s) dragging out encounters for monetary gain
Appraise Skill isn’t a license to play Pawn Stars.
The team is assembled at a shady tavern, listening to the client’s sob story. The client is a widow who wants to hire the party. She says her husband was murdered by glittery vampires who felt really, really bad about drinking her old man’s blood. They apologized profusely as they used his bones to decorate a shrine to their dark god. And they seemed genuinely sincere in their grief, as they left a mint on her pillow alongside his decapitated head.
But before the widow can hire your party for the job (sending a Get Well Soon card to the eternally cursed) the bard speaks up. He wants to renegotiate the price.
Before this he also bartered with the bartender over the ale he’s swilling. But not before dickering over the price of his room. Earlier it was haggling with the General Store owner, greasing palms of the city watch, quibbling over coppers with the turnip merchant, and tipping the orphan on the street with a wooden nickle.
Role-playing is great. Trying to boost the party’s profit is fine. But when a player rolls checks over and over, distracting the new DM for a few measly gold, it’s time for you to step in.
Shame works nicely. Remind him there are only so many hours of game before he’s back in his mom’s basement playing Call of Duty. And if he absolutely refuses to let his diplomacy skills go to waste, stopping the game to roll for a discount prostitute, have the party pick up his tab. The thief can “equalize” the party funds at a later junction. Or refuse his resurrection fees when his cheap ass goes down from a lightning bolt.
Keep the game moving. Don’t let in-game coupon shopping fluster the new DM.
3) Player(s) arguing rule systems they’re intimately familiar with
I get arguing over game issues. I really do. We once spent an hour arguing if Ice Imps, trapped inside a burning tavern, would have enough frost breath to put out the flames before the building collapsed and took them all to Hades. Our solution was a live simulation involving Labradors, duct tape, and fire extinguishers. (note: Labradors, while intelligent, lack the understanding to aim at the base of the fire, not the flame)
On the other hand we’ve all sat through diatribes where one player defends an arbitrary set of rules that favor his character, regardless of how badly it flies in the face of common sense, logic, or the spirit of the game. A slight, purposeful misinterpretation of wording can turn a common spellcaster into a broken demi-god. But because the veteran player has spent a law degree’s worth of time studying the books, the newbie DM has trouble disagreeing with him.
As a helpful, experienced player, feel free to step in. Hold a vote around the table. Or visit the official forums for whatever system you’re playing. Many’s a time I’ve solved an argument by finding a moderated forum discussing precisely my issue; why spiked chains were never intended to be the perfect combo weapon.
4) Player(s) wandering, derailing linear story
“My work here is done. Except for the quest I’m ignoring.“
This is also known in gaming as riding off into the sunset, splitting the party, or going it alone. In a horror movie this would result in a knife to the face, probably while he was counting his gold and snickering.
Some DM’s are clever at handling a split party. Then again I’ve known many moderators who forbid characters from leaving the same area as the group, like a Sega side-scroller where players can’t leave the same screen. If a fractured group is challenging for a veteran DM to handle, you can bet new DM’s are under even more pressure. They end up dividing their attention between the campaign they wrote, and the wandering jackass who’s burning down a tavern in another town. Herding cats is easier.
This one’s pretty simple. Let wanderer(s) waste as much time as they want by themselves. Once they realize the rest of the world is pretty boring, the DM’s not paying attention, and the quest is where the action is, they’ll come back. Just don’t give them a town to kill or a merchant to rob. Encourage the DM to leave them utterly alone.
5) The DM doesn’t know the creature(s) he or she is fielding
Ok, this one’s more about saving the dungeon master from themselves. But I see this with every new moderator I’ve ever played with. Every new DM, including myself.
When I was a young Revelator, back when it was shameful to read comic books in school and declaring yourself a geek was social suicide, I tried a little game called Dungeons and Dragons. My buddies, having read a few of my bizarre stories, thought it would be interesting if I ran a game. And the very first creature they encountered was a Tarrasque.
Did you feel that breeze wafting from the screen? That was the communal sigh of experienced roll-players, silently judging my naivety.
The Tarrasque is what you would get if you merged Godzilla, Odin, and the Sarlacc into one horrific beast. And then it consumed Satan, because the Lord of Lies is a chili pepper to the Tarrasque. In fact, unbeknownst to me, the Tarrasque hardly ever makes it into any game. It’s called Dungeons and Dragons, after all. Not Dungeons and Impossible God Beasts.
My group was patient and gracious about my mistake. And by that, I mean they cackled like maniacs and told me in real life I would be a pimple on the ass of the Tarrasque, and a level 3 party had no business catching a glimpse of the shadow of its spiny appendage.
But if you’re feeling kind, you can gently warn the DM that he should put down that colossal creature model. At least until the party finishes rolling their characters.
CR 1 to 2? This looks about right…