Working with Your DM

Over the years I've played tabletop games, it's been interesting to see how often other players come to me with issues that can be solved by just talking to the DM of our games. Many of my friends seem to gravitate toward airing their complaints about a DM with me instead of talking to the DM in question. This might be because they know I am also a DM and want my feedback, but at the end of the day, unless I am the DM of their game, I can’t do anything about issues regardless of my opinion. The recurring theme in this has been anxiety about talking to the DM or feeling like the DM is not hearing their concerns. I'd like to use this article to help facilitate conversation and growth for players and DMs that have needs or concerns that ought to be addressed.

Why to Talk to Your Dm

The reason for this is simple, talking to and working with your DM lets both of you know what you are looking for out of a character or a game. Knowing the sort of background or character growth a player is interested in helps us, as Dungeon Masters, craft encounters and story elements that our players will be excited to interact with. It helps with overall immersion, helps us have a clear idea of how we are influencing the player characters, and guides the sort of emotional impact we are able to have with our players.

From a player perspective, it helps us understand the thought process behind certain DM choices and let's us understand the world we are operating in. It's a way that we can add our own touches to the story, if they are able to work within the world, and a way for us to control some of our destiny. It also helps reinforce the idea that most games are not the players vs the DM; but are instead a collaborative effort to tell and play out a story. It brings the group closer and helps build relationships and understanding.

When to Talk to Your DM

Personally, I love when my players talk to me about things. My only rule is that if we are mid-game and there is a disagreement about a ruling I've made I request that my players talk to me about it after the game. I do this to facilitate a deeper conversation so that it doesn't feel as though I am brushing off their concerns without dragging the game to a halt for an indeterminate amount of time for everyone else. It's a rule I follow as well as I can as a player as well.

For instance, I had a DM forget that he'd told us to use a particular set of class rules. When I mentioned that I thought we were using the ones he’d linked he didn't recall. Instead of throwing a fuss and stopping combat I told him that I needed to talk to him after the game about my character and finished the rest of the session. We were able to quickly find the information he gave us when we started the game and amend things moving forward without devolving into arguments over who said what and when. If he would have chosen to stick by his in-game ruling, I would have swapped to a different sub-class and we would have gone on easily.

Likewise, I've forgotten previous rulings I've made and had to decide how to handle being challenged by players. Most all players accept, "I'm going to say this for now, and after the game we'll talk about it." It lets them know that I hear them, that it isn't the end of the discussion, and lets us both remember that we are, in fact, playing a game. Taking notes as a DM can help avoid these moments, but don't derail things sifting through page after page of notes if the ruling was made months ago either.

Most conversations should be able to take place after the game so that you both have privacy and no one is feeling like they're stuck waiting for something that they have little to no part in to be solved. That said, if it's an issue with the way you are being addressed, being misgendered or given a nickname that makes you uncomfortable are good examples, address it immediately. Most of the time, things are said with the intention of fostering closeness, or out of plain lack of knowledge. Most of us like to know about these things immediately so we can fix it. If you have the misfortune of having a DM or group of players that are hostile it's best to address it right away so you can remove yourself from the situation or resolve the issue immediately.

On the flip side, if another player is making you uncomfortable and you aren't sure how to address it, approach your DM after the game if you want to handle it quietly and make a plan for how to deal with it. Nearly every DM I've met is comfortable having those conversations with their players whether it's in the form of a group note at the start of a session, or gently pulling the other player aside to explain the situation and assess if it was an accident or something that needs to be dealt with. Don't think you need to deal with things in silence. We're here to help.

How to Talk to Your DM

Now, this might seem like common sense, but I've encountered it enough to make it worth mentioning. Talk to your DM like a human. While we are there to help our players we are not perfect and we are not machines. People who are rude to their DMs are just like people who are rude to their server at a restaurant. Just don't do it. We're more than likely your friend. Just talk to us like a person even if you're irritated with us just like you would another friend, your significant other, or your mom.

Now that basic civility is out of the way, if you're anxious about what to say or how to say things I'll give you some examples for how to start some conversations. I know a lot of us that play tabletop have wicked social anxiety. I'm not any different. Some of my go-to tools of the trade are:

  • "I have some concerns about the direction of my character."

  • "Do you think we'll see any more of [thing that interested you here]?"

  • "I'm having some issues with [player name here.]"

  • "Can we talk about some possible changes to [game mechanic, homebrew item, story element]?"

  • "I have a great idea for my character!”/ ”I need some help deciding something with my character development."

  • "I was thinking about seeing if we could make something like [homebrew item/equipment idea] for my character?"

  • "Can we talk about your ruling from earlier tonight?"

  • "I was wondering when we could do [dungeon, tavern, down time, shopping, etc] again."

  • "It feels like I've been having a hard time interacting with the others."

I have stories about every single one of these that I have brought up myself or had other players bring to me for my input when they were worried about talking to our DM. Not once has there been an issue once they talk to the different DMs I've played with. Sometimes it's as easy as a player having a quiet voice sitting too far from the DM being moved closer so they can hear. Next time you feel like you're not sure how to bring up a question or idea I hope that some of the example questions will help.

What to Talk About

Just as I’ve had people come to me for phrasing questions, I’ve had people come to me trying to figure out if their question is even fit to bring up to their DM. For that I’ve also compiled a short list of examples. These are by no means comprehensive, but perhaps you’ll see your question here.

  • Did you have an idea for a homebrew item or a type of creature your character would be looking for?

  • Do you feel like you need a new direction for your character after a botched role-play encounter?

  • Want to let that curse come to fruition?

  • Are you looking for a particular set of armor or a reason for an unusual animal companion?

  • Did you feel like you were overlooked this session or a previous one?

  • Are you thinking about switching to a new character?

  • Want to see more of those lizard llamas from three sessions ago?

  • Do you want more time in the dungeons or some quality tavern time with your fellow players?

Any of these are fine topics for DMs to know about. I know I've seen too many players throw away perfectly good characters because of one misplay. It’s sad to see when all that they really needed was an encounter to help them set the record straight. On a personal note, I've had a series of talks with Jake about my character, Mithdoliel, for Tales from the Tavern. There was a point in Masks of the Dead where I considered letting her go her own way and making a new character. With the background I set for her, it just didn't feel like she had a real reason to stay with the party beyond "this is the party I'm playing with." We both agreed to finish out the arc and move forward with one more so that I could give her time to bond a bit more with the party, and see if she could develop personal stakes in remaining with them.

As luck had it, I failed a check and was given "a blessing" that began to slowly turn my character into a Yuan-ti. Her stakes in the next arc were Very Personal since she wasn't especially fond of the idea of not being a half-elf anymore. We continued the arc and, as it became apparent to me that she was not a character that could let so many people die for her to make a wish that would only benefit herself, I went back to Jake to tell him to expect her to make a different wish. His main concern was whether or not I wanted to continue to play her or let her succumb to the changes she would have quietly and slip away.

As it turned out, I was fine playing out her changes in any way he saw fit. The big question he had was whether or not I was interested in continuing her story one way or the other. I was, and now we have plans for how to continue her story and deal with any changes that might happen for as long as feels correct. That sort of thing, without a talk, could have easily been me writing off my character since Jake would have had no way of knowing that I felt comfortable playing her after our previous conversation where I felt she was disconnected from the party. It could have led to a misunderstanding where he could have been under the impression that it was my way of writing her out so I could move on to something new.

Not all DMs are as experienced with the sort of questions to ask, so don't expect your DM to carry the conversation the way he did for me. If I'd been him I would have asked if they were looking to play a new character or not. Another person might have asked what I had in mind for a new character. At that point, it would have been up to me to decide if I wanted to play a new character or not and bring up the idea of carrying on. DMs are here to talk and help devise the best way to carry on a character and their story if that is what our players want. We just need to know what you want.

Who Should Talk to Their DM

Everyone. If everyone at the table has an open flow of communication it helps players connect with one another, and it helps them connect to their DM. As DMs, our goal is to give you the tools to tell an awesome story. Let us make it even better for you by telling us if there are issues or concerns that you have throughout the game. We like to know what is and isn't working for the players and find out ways that we can engage them.

Communication is Key

So my parting advice to DMs and players here is this; as with anything, clear communication is paramount at the table. Don't be afraid to talk to your DM and give them ideas and feedback. We love helping our players whether it's something with our game or helping them set up a game of their very own. Every player and every DM are different, but in the end we're all at the table because we want to play a game that we enjoy. Make sure you're in a good spot to give your questions and concerns ample time to be discussed and try to be mindful of your fellow players. Invest yourself in your character and have ways you have integrate them into the world and how to further their development cooperatively. You just might make some new favorite memories.

Hey folks, my name is Bailey and I’m part of the staff here at Nerdolopedia. You can find me pretty much anywhere online. I’m most active on tumblr, twitter, and our discord. Be sure to leave comments and questions for me. I’m more than happy to offer advice if you aren’t sure how to word things with your DM or players! Have you ever had a tricky situation like any of the ones mentioned? Let us know how you handled it in the comments.