Confessions of a horrible DM

Fucked up things that I, the best DM in the world, do on a regular basis:

  • XP rewards/punishment for being on time / late to the session
  • “No phone” rule for players (that I blatantly violate myself)
  • No qualms about letting PCs die – I have the chorus of “I just died in your arms tonight” queued up to play with the push of one finger every time that happens. Which is often
  • For a while I was putting up their dead character’s sheets on my wall ← this one I don’t do anymore
  • Int/Wis/Cha are pretty much only for spellcasting & saving throws. No rolling int to bypass a puzzle or wis to find a trap
  • Two words: pixel hunting
  • Not only have I removed investigation, I’ve also removed deception, insight, persuation and intimidation from the skill list. Your shyness = your character’s shyness
  • I calculated out and assigned XP values for the PCs, i.e. what XP they’d get if they started killing each other. So far no one has gone for it
  • Trusting players? What’s that? I have them watching each other’s die rolls
  • RAW? What’s that? Our house rule document is longer than the PHB at this point
  • Including nerfing such power house spells as Light, Goodberry, Dancing Lights, Produce Flame. I told them “I want you guys starving in the dark”
  • Mood, immersion, description? What’s that? A good DM: “You smash the skeleton’s bones to shards, skipping across the floor. The top of the skull wobbling on the cold dungeon stone tiles.”. Me “You reduce the skeleton to 0 hp. You get 50 xp.”
  • Favoritism! Sorry Joe but if you would just try to apply yourself you could become as good at D&D as Mike is
  • Plot? Satisfying narrative arcs? Addressing theme? Naw, all that out the window!
  • Forget pacing, too. I never cut, never use “camera metaphors” or other TV language. I just go “what do you do?” and then I stfu until the players say what they do.
  • Improvisation? Hell no! If a monster ain’t in the prep, it’s not there!
  • Curating the experience? That’s not my style either. Dice are falling where they may.
  • Not to mention being a raging ultra marxist who has banned the words “race” and “dwarf”


Any questions? Of course not.


  • Practices in this list that I agree with (jokes aside):
    - I love a good plotless, player-driven sandbox campaign.
    - Sticking to PC deaths in systems where that's a risk, and having a ritual for it. (Goblinville has funeral rules).
    - I cannot believe that D&D has a set of rules called "racial traits".
    - Contextually useful spells are highly preferable to the spells you list above. I like magic systems that can avoid trouble when used thoughtfully, but don't get you out of trouble once you've found it.
  • ♥♥♥

    thank you moconnor

    (I forgot to add strictly keeping track of encumbrance! Another thing a lot of people consider bad DMing.)

    I ended up being very happy with the nerfs to the spells; I added component costs to those. So now Light's components uses the same amount of money and encumbrance as lamp oil. It's better than lamps because you can make anything glow, it's worse than lamps because there are so few spells in that category (cantrips) you can learn. a wizard can have 5 cantrips over their entire career and they only start with 3.
  • The dungeon crawler I play most often is Torchbearer, for which "strictly keeping track of encumbrance" would be a reasonable subtitle.
  • “Species” is more accurate than “r**e” anyway (setting aside questions of how biology works in fantasy worlds*), but I’m unsure what else you’d call the species-otherwise-known-as-d*****s. “Two-thirdlings”?

    *Oops, I forgot they can interbreed, which contradicts the definition of species. But we may as well throw our notions of biology out the window when a human and a reptilian can procreate. To quote one of Woody Allen’s early plays, “You’re Jewish, she’s fictional: think of the children!”
  • Yeah, I read through it (and LotFP and a couple of others) when I designed my own inventory sheet. Such a fun part of roleplaying games, the items gain a real weight & value when you can only carry so much.
  • I write "dwarve" for them, snej!
  • Although this is, in some ways, comedy, it is also something I have so much love for:

    An actual, real set of explicit guidelines about how and why a game is run and operates. If only more people had the insight and the guts to do this for their game!

    When I see things this clearly outlined, it makes me want to play with that group/those people.

    Now I’m SUPER curious about how you calculate XP totals for PCs! Spill the beans!
  • It's on page 274 in the monster manual. It's kind of a messy process involving a table. I'm thinking of writing a script for it.

    You look up the HP in that table. That line also has an AC. For each 2 point of AC's difference between that and the PC's AC you go 1 line up or down (respectively).
    Put one hand's index finger on that line.

    Then using your other hand's index finger, go to the line that matches how much damage your monster would deal per round if every attack hit. That line also has an attack bonus. For each 2 point of difference, go 1 line up or down (respectively).

    Now, the line right in the middle of your two index fingers has the correct CR. Which you then have to look up in a separate CR to xp table so that kinda sucks. Again, I want to script it up. I had to use this cumbersome process a lot when I was running a lot of 2e stuff with 5e rules.

    As a super rough guideline, it's 20 XP per max HP of the victim. That's the average across all the monsters in the SRD, and that ratio varies wildly, but it's especially true at our PC's current level. (They're around level 8 or 9.)
  • Oh, that’s wild! I bet 2097e would have a better solution. Haha! (Not that you should actually bother with that!)

    So much for class balance, then?

    More relevantly:

    Under what criteria would defeating or killing another PC earn an XP award? Does it have to be a “fair fight”, for example?
  • Oh, that’s wild! I bet 2097e would have a better solution. Haha! (Not that you should actually bother with that!)

    So much for class balance, then?
    I mean, some classes are better at being rich and smoking cigarettes and some are better at chopping off your arms. The latter counting for more XP under this system.

    That said, last session one of the players suggested that the XP should be based on the victim's XP! That was a really interesting take. Would want to do math™ in order to see if a multiplier would be reasonable.
    Under what criteria would defeating or killing another PC earn an XP award? Does it have to be a “fair fight”, for example?
    The rule is that the player of the victim PC has to not want it to happen. So no "hey let's kill each other's PCs to XP grind". But sleep stabbing is A-OK!
  • Oh, that’s wild! I bet 2097e would have a better solution. Haha!

    I forgot to answer this part.

    One of 2097e’s design goals is to not change too much from 5e. Or whatever edition is en vogue and plays host to 2097e’s massive pile of patches.

    If I were to make a completely own game I’d do XP for gold.

    But I think XP for monsters work well enough that this isn’t something I’m looking to change.

    There are plenty of things in that category. For example, I really love the roll-over system in ACKS (“throws”), and if I were to make my own game, that’s what I would put in. 5e uses the same system that 3e and 4e uses, d20 + mod vs AC/DC.

    I’ve been thinking of making a stand-alone version of 2097e using the OGL text in the SRD, but a version that has pointers back into 5e. Like, only have three subclasses (evoker, champion, and life cleric) and be like “for more characters go get 5e” and maybe only like five monsters (“for more monsters go get 5e”) or something. The equipment list and spell lists would be more substantive since I then could bake in the new distance system and item-size system I use. The combat chapter would also change a lot.

    There are some things that aren’t OGL but are WotC rules that I really really like and would want to include. The equation for Targets in Areas of Effect, and the conversion rules they put out for running 0e, B/X, 1e, 2e and 3e material. So that’s a problem.

    I would also put in some things from ACKS (I guess primarily the “item availability per market class” table, we use that constantly) but ACKS is also OGL so that’s not unworkable.

  • Also I have a hard time with the words "ancestry" and "stock". For me stock especially reminds me of like breeding horses. Ancestry I guess I can't complain that much about.
    I was just hoping for something even better.
  • Also!! Normal OSR DMs want the character to be throwaway, flimsy, one line of stats a la Searchers of the Unknown or Knave.

    I want them to invest AF in their chars. Not only do we use a more cumbersome system mechanically, I also force them to build relationships & traits etc.

    And then I promptly throw them into a super-lethal OSR dungeon. #cruella
  • Now that is truly cruel! :)
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