There was an interesting ArmorClass10.com-sponsored video done on the Nerdarchy YouTube channel that detailed not just the worst ways to Dungeon Master, but the worst ways that the Nerdarchy crew have DM’d. This caught my ear for the humorous humility one has to have in order to present such. This of course is right up my alley, and akin to my usual theme of humor in the day-to-day discussions of Dungeons & Dragons. So of course I simply had to volunteer to speak on the worst ways to DM, and add my mistakes to the list. Let’s jump in and speak of various mistakes I’ve made, shall we? Let the roast begin!
Watch out for the DM flip-flop
Well, I have done more than a few things to screw a campaign into the ground. The worst way that springs to mind is something I have done more than once but I cannot get away from. Especially in D&D I do what I call flip-flop DM’ing, or switching the theme and focus. Like I have campaign ADD, constantly pursuing one shiny object or theme after another with poor transitions in between. It has been my bane and annoyed more than one player to no end! Thank Odin I stopped doing this.
Why do I do this though? It’s because of constantly trying to input every new piece of content without stopping to think of how it impacts the story. This was worst during the D&D 3.5 influx of massive content. Between Frostburn and every other piece of content I was assaulted with more content than I could resist. Like a kid in a buffet of candy I was in a constant state of, “What’s this? What’s this? There’s something in the air!”
My players paid the forfeit of my lack of attention and dedication. My suggestion would be simply to pick a story and don’t jump stories with each thing that comes. Take each bit and decide if you want to blend it, and don’t think of them as exclusive content. There is no reason you couldn’t have each be a different area within your world.
Don’t be a rigid DMThe second worst DM thing I have done is the on-rails gaming. Where it is my story, my plans, and I would allow nothing outside my paradigm. The worst part was when I tried to pigeonhole a player into playing various things. It was almost like I wanted to be a player and DM, and that is no way to play D&D. I know it drove various players nuts, and for that reason I stopped doing this long ago.
Personally I think the worst part of this DM style is that it very quickly devolves into a player vs. DM style of D&D. I know there are some who enjoy this game style but it is not my style. In fact I have dropped games that became this kind of competition. I have enough conflict in my life. I don’t need this in my relaxation time. My suggestion is to keep an open mind and let players take the reins once in awhile. This can take the strain off of you, and enhance the fun for all.
Isn’t that what D&D is all about?
Spread the DM focus around
One of the worst DM things I have done is focusing my entire campaign on one player. This is ridiculously annoying for multiple reasons as D&D groups tend to have players not always able to get to every session. Thus when the focus is gone it delays the whole story. Not to mention how it makes the other players feel less important, if not worthless.
Doing this style of DMing can lead to a break in tempo as the players are forced to do ad hoc stories about themselves, and then the epic stuff prepped for the focus player. Personally, I would walk if I suffered through such. Thus when it got pointed out to me, I stopped doing it posthaste.
My suggestion on how to fix this DM style is to learn your player characters, and work in times here and there where each player can be the focus to shine. Let there be skill checks, or obstacles specific to each character’s specialty or class abilities. But also have times where they have to improvise to show skills the entire group lacks. Though I would keep those times few and far between.
Worst can be relative
Now one of the last things on this list of worst things a DM can do I will mention is kick-in-the-door D&D. This gaming style, with nonstop action, killed the roleplay and thus the fun for the players who like intrigue and roleplay sequences. This way of play also encourages power players and rules lawyers, causing the game to become not much more than a D&D version of a miniatures war game. If I wanted to play this I would buy a certain game involving marines in space…
Seriously though, this style of DMing is tantamount to D&D suicide as you stop running the game and end up just being another miniature general ordering your troops across the field. Kills the fun of roleplaying, which cannot get any worse if you ask me.
This is a roleplaying game, and not a roll-playing game for Vecna’s sake! I know some have fun with this but I still consider it one of the worst things I have done. It just does not work for me, and I for the life of me cannot make this kind of D&D game function. If you can feel free to let me know.
Show me your worst
Well, that is my little run down of the worst things I have done as a DM. Mind you I have stopped doing these and all this is spread across more than two decades of gaming. I would love to hear the worst things you have done as a DM in D&D or other roleplaying games, so feel free to tell us of these lessons in the comments below. What about the worst things you have seen done? As a special question I would love to hear what is the worst things you have done as a player? Let us know in the comments below!
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