Not the DM’s position…

I have been gearing myself up for a second edition (2E) game of Dungeons and Dragons.  I have found myself in a position where I find the mixing of skill based and level based systems is a major irritant for me.  The 2E system of leveling and proficiency based abilities has called out to me loudly and I am returning to it.  To achieve this I have been reading the Player’s Handbook again and I found a quote that I feel has lost its way in the fine art of running a game.

It is not the DM’s position to advise players on the best strategies, most intelligent actions, or optimum maneuvers for their characters.

Player's Handbook
The quote comes from page 93…

Experience tells me otherwise

I have run a lot of games.  A heap.  One thing that I have noticed begin to occur in these games that I run is players no longer realize what it is their characters do.  I think that this may be a byproduct of games that offer too many options.  Take Pathfinder for example, a typical character is made up of:

  1. race
  2. class
  3. class abilities
  4. weapon proficiencies
  5. armor proficiencies
  6. skills
  7. feats
  8. traits
  9. magical items
  10. spells
  11. possibly archetype powers
  12. maybe mythic abilities
  13. etc.

Many times that I run through initiative in a battle and ask a player what their character’s action is I get a blank stare. Then have to wait up to four or five minutes before I get an answer.  This is of course after they review every item on their character sheet.  Or I might simply get asked;

What should I do?

As a DM or GM I have a lot to do already.  I have often jokingly said to a few players that role playing is hard because of players.  If there were no players my job would be a lot easier.  Of course it would be a lot more boring too!

My experience with gaming today is that the role of the DM has shifted to be an adviser.  I think we need to quash that expectation.

Players need to know their characters

My position has been, for a long time, that all a player needs to do is know their character.  They need to understand their capabilities and options.  My role as a DM is everything else.  I am happy with that role.  I know that this position is one that comes with a lot of extra work.  How do you as a player thank me for my extra work?  Know your character.  Know that you are going to be asked:

What is your character doing this round?

Make sure that you have listened to what is going on and give me an option that suits your character.  That is all I ask!  If I have to run your character as well then I may as well sit under a blanket and tell a story to myself.  There is no surprise for me and therefore no enjoyment for me.

My position on new players

In the past two years I have introduced a lot of people to RPG’s.  I have introduced a lot of experienced players to games they would never have thought of playing also.  In either position there is some nurturing that needs to be done.  Learning a new system, or just learning to role-play does require some assistance from the DM/GM.  But it is not an ongoing role.  The DM/GM needs to get players up to speed and then be clear at a cut off point.

You have really got a handle on this game now.  The choices are all yours!

It is like a graduation in a way.  If the player is nervous about this then they should look (or be told to look) at buddying with another player.  They can help them further.  But it is not the DM’s position to play or advise the best course of action for a character.  The DM’s role is to ajudicate what comes after an action, be it ill or well advised.

Final Word

Complex systems breed complex characters.  Complex characters can be overwhelming.  If you are finding that the players in your game are struggling with their characters every round of initiative it may be time to move to something simpler.  There are a lot of systems out there available and each has strengths and weaknesses.  You, as a DM have a right to focus on the game and the situation while the players should be focused on their characters part in it.  If you as the DM need to assist in that regard then the game suffers.  Find a solution.  Talk to the players.  Enlist their help to understand their characters better.  The game will improve because of it.  Keep rolling!




  1. You’ve written some very interesting thoughts here. I am one of those guys who never bought into any of the Editions later than 2e. I had looked into 3e and played some before deciding that it wasn’t something that I enjoyed doing. It felt canned and very limiting in what you can and can’t do as a player.

    It is strange that when we had fewer limitations and less defined characters, we could play faster. We had more options! They weren’t written down on the Character sheet, I mean, sure we had Nonweapon Proficiencies, but those rarely ever came into play. We quickly looked at the situation, figured out a plan and then went for it. Having the time to really think about a scenario isn’t always an option, if you took too long to decide, then that was what your character was doing. Well, I talk in the past tense, but that is what I still do today.

    I had never felt boxed in, but I can see how players today would. Do you believe that this makes it harder for them to be good players in the long run? We take all of that dice rolling away, and open the system up so that anything is game, do you feel that they can adapt and expand how they play, or are they unable to adapt?


    1. In all honesty I think there should only be enough die rolling to support the unknown. I also run a dice-less system and the quality of the role-playing is superb because that is all there is.

      Keeping system at a minimum is something that I believe has to be a focus to help players be great role-players. I feel overall it is better to have a system in place so that people who do not feel comfortable with some aspects can fall back on it. That said, the less system seems to mean the better role-playing in my experience.


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