’s article about DMing is terrible and I hate it.

Do you remember that show The Big Bang Theory? It got recommended to me by every non-nerd person in my life, who was certain I would absolutely love it. Which seems weird, right? Usually it’s the nerd-people who are enthusiastic about their recommendations, but there wasn’t much overlap between this sitcom-for-nerds and actual nerds I was acquainted with. I tried the show for a few episodes and figured out why: the whole show derived its comedy from making fun of nerds. All if its “funny” situations stemmed from socially-awkward nerds behaving badly, or from pointing at the comic book/video game/star trek reference and rolling its eyes. It wasn’t funny to me, for the same reaon the kids who used to pick on me in school for reading D&D books weren’t funny.

So, anyway, I hated today’s terrible article entitled “6 Lessons You Learn DMing ‘Dungeons & Dragons'”.

The article:

First of all, I understand is supposed to be a humor website. I personally haven’t enjoyed the site in years, since the days when it had regular columnists with actual comedic talent and at least a semblance of journalistic standards. So, 2009, 2010-ish. And yes, I understand that humor is relative. I never understood what was funny about bullies picking on me in school, but the bullies and their friends all thought it was hilarious, so. Diff’rent strokes, and that. is a pop-culture website that crowdsources its content. I’m not sure what their application process is, but they frequently have contributors who write one or two short articles and then nothing ever again. They also frequently post user submissions from their forums and social media. It’s telling that this latter content is almost always better than the former, because a great amount of humor can be found in normal people sharing the foibles of their life experience.

But that’s not what this D&D article reads as. This article reads as someone who doesn’t play D&D, or maybe used to play in college 20 years ago, but has read a lot of subreddits about the topic and also has seen every episode of Stranger Things, so they feel like they have the gist of it. I feel like this must be the case because, if these 6 things were actual lessons she learned herself running a table, she would be able to spin the article as charming anecdotes with the added benefit of little humorous details that only come from lived experience. Some articles are like that. This one’s not.

As I go through the list I’m going to be keeping two questions in mind: 1) Is this funny? and 2) Is this helpful? I can forgive an unfunny list as long as it offers helpful advice, and I can forgive an unhelpful one as long as it’s amusing. This list is neither, so I’ll do what I can to offer actual advice on each topic, and maybe try my hand at a joke here or there.

0) Have a Session Zero

This isn’t addressed in the list at all, but it’s by far the most common advice given to new DMs who are starting to learn weird lessons about the game. Session Zero is a pre-character-creation session you have with your players to discuss what the game will be like, what the boundaries are, what tone you’re aiming for, etc. The idea here is to ensure everyone is on board with the game you’re about to run and to formalize the social contract players and DMs will abide by. If you go to any D&D community on the internet in 2021 citing any of the below 6 things as something you need help with, Session Zero is going to be the first response and probably also the next nineteen responses.

I’m mentioning it here because the article doesn’t mention Session Zero, which leads me to believe the author has never run one. In fact, there’s no sense of “talk to your players like adults” in the article at all.

A phrase you’re going to see as we go through the list is “good faith”. Establishing good faith is exactly what Session Zero is for. If you talk to your players and make sure they’re all on the same page regarding table expectations, you probably won’t have to “learn” these “lessons” at all.

6) Affection (and Attention) Is A Fickle Thing

This is the most common “things DMs hate” trope by far: the idea that you can spend a lot of work prepping an important, plot-crucial NPC only to have the group glom onto a random nobody you didn’t intend. One of the players in my meatspace group, which hasn’t met since before the plague but I have my fingers crossed in hope for the near future, is in charge of taking the weekly head count. She does this by sending a short “who’s in for tonight?” text message with a D&D meme attached. Six times out of ten, the meme is a comic of some D&D group frolicking with a bewildered chimney sweep while an angry princess gets mobbed by orcs in the background.

There is an element of “it’s funny because it’s true!” here, because it happens so frequently in games, but without the visual element I’m not sure it really works as 1/6th of the jokes in your internet comedy article.

The example the author gives, of making up an NPC shoe salesman in a panic and immediately establishing he has a crush on the town blacksmith, doesn’t ring true to me as belonging to this trope. Revealing an NPC’s secret love interest is not a thing you do with a character you aren’t intending your players to latch onto. What I’m saying is, her example either did not happen or she’s playing coy about not wanting it to happen.

Anyway, I have three actually useful pieces of advice to help new DMs avoid this pitfall, because as funny as it can be to meme about it, it can also be very aggravating and distracting when actually running the game. They are:

1) Don’t name characters you don’t intend to use beyond one scene, don’t give them any character traits, and don’t describe them visually. The shopkeep is just a shopkeep, full stop. Players that glom onto such a non-entity are not acting in good faith; they’ve seen one too many memes about chimney sweeps and are trying to make that magic happen for themselves. It’s okay to explictly tell players when a character isn’t important, and it’s time to move on.

2) Don’t roleplay busywork scenarios. If players want to go shopping, tell them they spend the afternoon in the marketplace and purchase what they need (with your approval of course), then move onto the next actually important scene. If it’s time to move the game along but the players just want to get drunk at a bar, it’s okay to say, “Sure, you each spend ten silver and get drunk at a bar. You wake up the next morning with a hangover but otherwise fine. What’s next?” Again, players who insist on roleplaying through scenes you clearly have no interest in running are not acting in good faith.

3) Accept and lean into it. You’re going to have a lot of NPCs over the course of the game, and the players are going to want to feel like they’re important in at least a few of their lives. If you do introduce a minor NPC that the players just happen to be super-besties with, well, that NPC is a major character now. Immediately think about how to work them into a plotline or use them to get the players onto whatever track you already have planned. (If you’re familiar with my table, ask me about Loes Vesterhoff or Caitlyn Chubb sometime.)

5) A Simple Misspeak Is A DM’s Worst Nightmare

The example the author gives here is the DM mispronouonces the word “warhammer” as “warmhammer”, and then being locked into it for some reason, and then an incresingly unlikely set of scenarios involving the player using their warmhammer to take over the world.

In 30 years’ experience with D&D I have not only never seen this happen, I have never heard of this happening.

What actually happens at a real table, if you accidentally call an orc an elk, is that you apologize for getting tongue-tied and then move on with the game. (Or, if it’s a real Freudian slip, you laugh about it for a few minutes and maybe it becomes a new table meme. But then you move on.) You don’t actually have to change all the orcs in your games to elks and then have to explain how elks can weild greataxes and come up with bizarre new list of racial traits the party’s half-elk now has.

In her “warmhammer” example, the author offers us this exchange:

“There’s no such thing as a warmhammer.”

“Then I leave the store.”

“(deep sigh) FINE. He offers you a WARMhammer for 30 gold. It’s a regular warhammer, but the handle is always warm to the touch.”

Instead, I offer this alternative:

“There’s no such thing as a warmhammer.”

“Then I leave the store.”

“You leave the store. What’s next?”

4) Making A Good Impression

Some DMs do lots of voices and accents, others do not. It’s not a requirement and from what I can tell about my travels across this great wide web of ours, it’s not even particularly common.

There is a wide perception of non-D&D players, however, that D&D involves doing voices and accents. This is spurred on by the popular D&D podcasts, which are frequently tabled by professional performers who are comfortable doing them. So I guess I see why this “lesson” made it onto this list.

I personally have a very narrow range of voices, and am more comfortable using inflection, cadence, and verbiage to make my NPCs sound distinct. And that’s when I bother to try at all, which I frequently don’t. It’s okay to do voices. It’s okay to not do voices. It’s okay to try and do voices, and fail, and then laugh about it afterwards. It’s all okay! It’s going to be okay.

I suppose there are DMs out there who desperately want to do a wide range of NPC voices, but are unable to, and if that’s the case I can see how this “lesson” could be a source of tremendous stress. The wider lesson here is to lean into the things you actually are good at, and try to not sweat the stuff you aren’t. This is also something you can address during Session Zero or just anytime you feel self-conscious at the table. “Hey guys, I’m trying to learn to do different voices for NPCs, and I realize I’m going to flub it a lot at first, I’d appreciate if we maybe keep the jokes about it to a minimum. Thanks!”

3) The Snackening

Providing snacks for D&D is a time-honored tradition but this “lesson” doesn’t amount to much beyond “dudes be hungry”. Well, yeah. People like to consume junk food during their recreation time. Shrug emoji. The author explains:

You must have food on hand, or things will get ugly.

Will they though? Get ugly?. Do players actually demand foodstuffs before the game can commence, and start yelling and breaking things if they don’t get it? Does this also happen in online games, which is where a huge amount of D&D gets played, especially during the pandemic?

The actual truth is that adult human beings are hungry, yes, and if you are hosting a D&D game and you intend to eat during it, it’s polite to offer food to your guests as well. (This is true of any gathering of people, of course, not just D&D.) But snacks don’t actually matter much as far as setting the tone of the table. If you find it is becoming a problem at your table, it’s something you solve with a simple conversation.

When my meatspace group begins playing again in hopefully a few weeks fingers crossed, we have a short set of generally unspoken rules regarding food. If The Snackening is your problem you might find them helpful:

1) Eat dinner before the game. If you don’t, you can bring your dinner to the game, as long as you clean up after yourself.

2) If snacks are presented, they are available to everyone.

3) The host generally doesn’t go out of her way to feed anyone, but if you’re hungry and you don’t have anything, it’s always okay to ask.

4) If you throw a temper tantrum because you are hungry and haven’t fed yourself, you will be mocked.

These guidelines seem to work pretty well. Apply them to your table with my good blessing.

2) Your Friends Are Secret Horndogs

Yes, humans are hungry and yes, humans are horny. They are these things because they are humans. Sex is a part of life, and being a part of life, it’s also a part of D&D.

I’m not sure I understand what the “lesson” is here, though. The author states:

And Gygax forbid you introduce a villain as “brooding” or “strangely alluring.” You will never get that party to kill that Bad Guy. Not ever. I hope you were planning a big wedding at the end of your “Curse of Strahd” campaign, because that’s where it’s heading, like it or not.

I have described villains as being “brooding” before, and the party still went on to kill them. I couldn’t swear this happened during Curse of Strahd, because I portrayed him as being more whimsical than brooding, but the campaign ended with an epic fight with the heroes desperately clinging to the cliffs beneath Castle Ravenloft. A tale they still tell to this day.

(I would shy away from ever describing an NPC as “strangely alluring”, because that makes a judgment on what a player character finds alluring, which isn’t my job. If I say this to you during a game you can be sure there is some weird fey magic involved and you should probably think about making a WIS save vs. being charmed.)

The degree to which sex stuff is okay at D&D tables is going to run the gamut between “no pen0r/vagoo at all ever” all the way to “my barbarian is wearing his +1 RapeCon ’06 t-shirt and catoblepas-leather assless chaps as he draws his Firebreathing Battle Dildo”. You have to talk to your group to know where to adjust that needle. Bring it up during Session Zero.

1) To You, They Are Rules. To Your Friends, Merely Suggestions.

The example the author gives here is a player insisting they be allowed to use charm person on a dragon. However, the charm person spell works only on humanoids, and dragons aren’t humanoids. So… that’s that.

If this is a “lesson” you think you’ve learned as a DM, and in fact you think it’s important enough to put on the #1 spot on your list of important lessons every DM learns, then I have very bad news for you: you have been playing with jerks. You have been playing with jerks for possibly years and years, and they have been taking advantage of you, and the “lessons” you have been learning from them are worthless.

Yes, players are going to try and skirt the rules. Yes, they will try to find “creative interpretations” of rules. And yes, sometimes they will simply get rules wrong. You correct them and move on. If they do it repeatedly and maliciously, you revisit the adult conversation you had about table expectations during Session Zero.

There’s really nothing else to say here. If you want to follow the rules at your table (and there’s nothing saying you have to, if ignoring or breaking rules is more fun for you), you have to learn to enforce them. They are not suggestions, and players who treat them as such are acting in bad faith.

I want to be charitable here.

My first read of this list is that it was written by someone who had never run D&D or, perhaps, who has played it a little and tried to extrapolate her DMing tips based on observations about how her DM acted. (Her only other article on is a look at which D&D monsters are most datable, so she has at least thumbed through a Monster Manual at some point. It still isn’t very funny though.)

But there is another way I think a DM could “learn” these “lessons”, and internalize them to the point where they think the “lessons” are universally applicable.

In 2018 I wrote an article called “Your DM Toolbox” where I examined a few commonly referenced pieces of DM advice and explained why these things should be part of your DM skillset but not be treated as axiomatic concepts.

Your DM Toolbox

The first tool I look at is the concept of “Yes, and…” (Or “No, but…”) The idea here is that when your player says something, you should agree to it and then build on it, or disagree but offer an similar alternative. The reason I caution against using “Yes, and…” in all cases is because your players might hear, “I will never say no.” And in a game with rules, it is important to say no.

Maybe when this contributor started running her D&D table, she psyched herself up by reading a bunch of websites espousing “Yes, and…” as an ingredient for good D&D. Maybe she applied the concept so liberally that her players learned that fun voices were mandatory, slips-of-tongue were immediately canon, players get to decide which NPCs are important, and rules are just suggestions.


That still wouldn’t explain the weird hang-up about snacks, though.

Thanks for reading my ill-tempered hit piece on!

1 comment to’s article about DMing is terrible and I hate it.

  • Drathnoxis

    Good article. You should submit it to Cracked. I bet it would drive up traffic to have someone writing counter-articles.

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