Updated: Oct 23
This article looks at and addresses many difficult issues that can arise in a D&D game group between a Dungeon Master and the players.
By R. Nelson Bailey
People play RPGs to have fun, but sometimes, usually in stressful situations, emotions can run high. Players will say and do things around the gaming table that are not in the spirit of camaraderie. This can swiftly shift the tone of the game from “fun” to “not fun”. Listed below are ten common complaints from players I have heard around the game table. Nearly all these comments are directed at the Dungeon Master (DM) in one way or another, often in a passive-aggressive manner. I know that it’s a messy subject, but it is worth discussing. Otherwise, these issues can grow into major problems for your group if they are not confronted and dealt with when they arise.
1. “I can’t believe the DM is making us fight this monster.”
The monster in question is typically a powerful one with considerable and powerful abilities, such as mind flayers, ancient dragons, or major demons. This gripe most often comes from players who would prefer an easy time bagging weak monsters. In this case, the player is incensed that a DM would create an encounter where the is not evenly matched than the monster(s) in the encounter. The core of this statement (i.e. “…making us…"), however, is a disingenuous statement on the player’s part, as players are never forced to fight any monster. Players have many other options — they can negotiate, flee, avoid, or think of some other creative solution instead of fighting the monster(s). The DM should inform the players at the start of a campaign that they do not need to engage every opponent in combat, and that is not the DMs job to ensure their success. Conversely, it would behoove the DM to use these types of encounters sparingly, as players that constantly feel over-matched by monsters might end up leaving the group.
2. “The DM is just trying to kill us.”
This is actually a claim of bias of the DM against the players. The DM is perceived to be on a power trip, and is out to prove who is boss ‘round the old game table. In some ways — yes— the DM is trying to kill your character since this is an inherent aspect of the game. However, if the DM were purposely trying to kill the player characters, the players would know it and it would not be difficult for the DM to accomplish (“Ok, you open the door and four tarrasques come running out catching the entire party by surprise”). Generally, there is either a lack — or perceived lack— of trust between the player(s) and DM. In this case, the DM should work on building a positive gaming relationship with their players. They should remind them that the DM is a neutral arbiter of the game, and it is not their function to ensure success for the players. Of course, there are always those bad seed DMs that actually want to kill their players. However, they probably will not have a group for long if they insist on playing this type of game.
3. “I just want to kill something.”
Usually, this statement comes from a frustrated player after the game gets bogged down, ceasing all forward momentum. Usually, this stems from a messy situation, such as a major disagreement between players, or when the party feels that they only have bad options to choose from. The player making this statement does not want to become involved in the group decision-making process, or commit to any decision. However, by staying neutral and distancing themselves from the conflict, the player only prolongs the frustration for themselves and the other players. Furthermore, the DM should pay close attention to when communication between players starts to break down, causing these sentiments to flare up. They might need to intervene and act as a moderator for players to air their grievances. They should also remind the players that they must find some course of action, as the game will proceed without one.
4. “We all almost died in this adventure, and all we got was 42 copper pieces.”
Most players have an expectation that their characters will receive some form of remuneration for adventuring, i.e. finding treasure and magic items. However, players must keep in mind that there is no adventuring minimum wage. Sometimes you get the short end of the stick and end up with nothing. Not finding enough treasure can cause friction with these types of players, especially when the DM wants to de-emphasize the monetary reward aspect of the game. Of course, an overly-stingy DM will have to deal with complaining players that feel their characters never receive rewards for completing adventures. A good DM will always find a good equilibrium between rewarding their players with treasure and not overloading them so much that it creates an imbalance.
5. “If you want us to do this job for you, you need to load us up with magic items.”
I call this tactic “The Shakedown”. The players, whose characters usually have more than enough power, cash, and/or magic items, attempt to extort their non-player character employers for extra treasure. I have seen dirt-poor peasants in dire need of help get The Shakedown. Players justify this demand by telling them if it is an important job, they should have everything they need to succeed. Usually players resort to The Shakedown because they feel they are entitled to more compensation. “Oh, here come those dirty farmers begging us for help from the evil bad guys — again,” is the subtext. The best method to remedy this situation is for the DM to create adventure hooks that get the players involved without having an employer. It takes a bit more work to avoid these hooks, but it is better in the end as the players will feel that they are working in their own interest. 6. “Why did we agree to go on this adventure anyway?” This statement is usually exclaimed by an exasperated, defeated player. The short answer is “Because you are an adventurer and that is what adventurers do — you go on adventures.” In this case, the player is really complaining about some type of unexpected difficulty in the scenario they would rather not deal with, that they believe all of their options in a situation are not good ones, or that they don’t like the scenario for whatever reason. The root cause of this gripe is that the DM is being ruthless on the players, attacking them with powerful and difficult monsters without the party getting a “win”. The players are thrust into a difficult fight or situation and expected to cope. Often this happens because the DM failed to build up the adventure to the point where the players have a stake in its outcome.
7. “My old DM would let me do that.”
This is a bully tactic by a player who feels that they are getting shafted by their DM. Maybe they just attempted some crazy plan they thought was foolproof and it blew up in their face. Possibly, they thought they had access to some spell or power that they do not. Players should always check with the DM first before counting on some weird house rule their former DM allowed. DMs should always state what rules they use in their games before a new player joins the group. This helps ward off these types of confusions.
8. “There is a secret door here somewhere? Let’s go back and check every room, floor to ceiling.”
What the player is really saying is, “All of our options suck; I want to take the easy way; therefore, an easy way must exist.” Too often players fall back on the tropes of the game to solve a predicament. In this case, the players believe that the way to proceed in the adventure is via a secret door they simply failed to locate. In actuality, they are being indecisive because they do not like the other options presented to them to move the game forward. Unfortunately, all this does is eat up game time and frustrate the DM by making them roll a million pointless search checks. The DM must be proactive in introducing new bits of information that help steer the players in the right direction. This is not to say that they should be given the answer, or railroaded on a set course, but you don’t want to spend an inordinate amount of game time with players spinning their wheels. Cut them a break, but don’t give it out freely.
9. “Ok guys, we are going to fight the Big Boss. What do we have that can blast it all to hell in one shot?”
This is also known as the “Magic Bullet Plan”. Players resort to this plan out of fear and indecision when they know they will have to fight a powerful enemy. Instead of spending a few minutes creating a simple, flexible plan, the players waste an excessive amount of time scouring their character sheets for the most powerful spell, magic item, or ability to annihilate their foe in one fell swoop. I have personally seen detailed plans that took an hour and a half to draw up that hinged on the use of a single spell that the players believed would render the Big Boss powerless instantaneously. These plans almost always fail, as the players rarely know all of the factors involved. These players never have any back-up plan, and it all goes south fast from there. Encourage your players to make a simple, flexible plan that uses all the powers and skills of all the players working together as a team.
10. As a villain starts a dramatic monologue a player interrupts to say, “I shoot him with an arrow.”
Not really a gripe, but gawd, this one is supremely annoying. Players often think they are super funny when they say it too, smirking and all. The inviolable rule is: You cannot interrupt the DMs monologue. The gods cannot interrupt the monologue. Tell your players that is the rule and stick with it.