Attention Game Masters (GMs)! The 8 warning signs that your players are conspiring against you!
“People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the (DMs)” – Adam Smith
Lets not sugar coat it- players hate DMs and vice versa. It’s a relationship based on mutually assured destruction that keeps the gaming peace (for a time). The following list is designed as a warning for DMs (let’s face it, players don’t read things they’re supposed to). Here are the 8 warning signs that your players may be conspiring against you…
1. They stop talking – also known as “the sulk.”
It’s a behavior often shown directly after a character death/ magic item loss/ knowledge skill not being applicable. Associated with the internalized anger and passive aggression latent in many players, it’s a sight not unfamiliar to many veteran DMs. If ignored, the sulk usually heals, but in a small percentage of cases it may fester. Monitor the creature during gaming breaks, as the player ruminates with its herd. Beware of signs that its garnering support such as other players nodding their heads, or looking about to see where you are situated. Over time, a festering sulk can lead to outbursts of “uhm actuallys”, rules lawyering, and possible assassination attempts.
2. They keep talking- also known as “table talk.”
This phenomenon is closely linked with players that struggle with control issues. Perhaps their characters haven’t been in the limelight recently; perhaps they are bored (like puppies and infants, they need “enrichment”); or perhaps they are the shy type that likes to explain intricate details about their character, but can’t think on their feet during role-playing. Whatever the case, it will only end in conspiracy against you. Allowing the table talk to happen when you’re trying to DM is like allowing Russia to invade its Balkan neighbors. You don’t know exactly when, but pretty soon, things will get out of hand.
3. Players say rude things to you- also known as “being ass hats.”
Presumably they have already taken liberties and made eye contact with you. At this point, things have gone too far. The player is issuing a direct challenge to your authority. You will have to think quickly - possibly using multisyllabic words to confuse them, or shiny things to distract (hello, platinum piece!). A word to the wise: you don’t want to antagonize the creatures, but you also don’t want to crater to their demands. Find a compromise if you can, and/or put a generous dose of laxative in their beverage(s).
4. Players say nice things to you- also known as “brown-nosing.”
The first step is to politely ask the player to remove their head from your ass. You must also remain non-committal on any discussions about in-game material. Like cats, the only reason players would be nice to you is to attain some preferential treatment, learn some insider knowledge, or to go for the jugular-bite while your guard is lowered. Make sure you treat this situation right the first time, or else pretty soon your best case scenario is showing up on set for a Disney cartoon musical about friendship every gaming get-together. Worst-case scenario? Ask yourself: how many cat owners have died since 3000 B.C.? Sadly, luxuries such as “friendship” and “trust” are things forbidden to the DM, for their safety and sanity’s sake.
5. Players arrive early or late to gaming.
You have to assume that any player not arriving to gaming simultaneously with you is engaging in subversive activities almost certainly related to sabotaging one or more of your plans. Now, players carpooling or messaging each other privately / on their own time is one thing (and can’t yet be monitored in the price range of most DMs), but deliberately showing up to the gaming place before or after you? They are sending a clear message of insurrection. If you see this, prepare for a coordinated undermining of any and all preparatory work you’ve put into your gaming session.
6. Players inquire about your family.
This is becoming increasingly common. They are either a) issuing a veiled threat or b) trying to awaken your compassion for humanity that you long-since buried deep inside before arriving at gaming (A future blog will describe this process for the uninitiated). Terse, one-word answers and aggressive posturing will let the players know that you are onto their tricks, and are not weak. Also, that night you should prepare your defenses like its grown-up Home Alone.
7. Players don’t offer you their snacks. AKA “didn’t recognize.”
This is a mistake that players who have become complacent fall into. Simply put, it means that they no longer fear you. Your reasoning with them has failed, and its time for the one thing they understand: fear. Think of it as a reminder about who’s in charge. For the astute DM, this event serves as a watermark for character death. In the interest of training the players, character death(s) should come shortly after making a passive aggressive observation about the dearth of snacks/beverages in front of you.
8. They reference the rules…. to your face… and have the audacity to argue with you. AKA “putting on their big boy/girl pants.”
This player thinks itself clever and possibly wants itself to be the DM. You should ask them that very question- for statistical purposes only, of course. Reminding them that “story trumps rules” and “it’s the DM’s discretion” help direct their confusion to a more agreeable end. But be prepared for the worst. The player’s default setting is to continue to gossip with its kind, possibly to disastrous ends. One such end is the dreaded “Rat King” of rules lawyers. For those who don’t know, just as rat kings are rats whose tails have become stuck together, fusing into one, so too amongst rules lawyers is this phenomenon evident. Players will start supporting each other, looking up rules for one another, and sometimes even wanting to make up their own “house” rules. The Rat King situation calls for acute intervention, most likely involving character deaths/TPK. After the fireworks die down, a classy DM would do something nice, like bake them a cake that reads “what’s the rule on hard feelings?”
In conclusion, DM challenges happen every day. Every 11 minutes in North America, a DM is being actively argued with. The important thing for you, reader, is to stay firm and be consistent. Trust me, players will one day look back on your days as their narrator and remark “I liked you as DM- can you do it again?” And if they remember to ask without making direct eye contact, you might have something to work with…
Dustinopolis, Devourer of Cheese (@devourcheese), is a regular blogger and senior journalist at HLG. His favorite cheese is Gouda, but a nice Swiss compliments any reputable staff get together (hint, hint).
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.