Rory’s Pocket Guide to D&D: Sucking up to the DM

December 1st, 2010 by Rory

In previous articles I've talked about character creation, roleplaying, and combat.

Now it's time to focus on all the little things you can do to make the DMs job easier! I've talked before about how much more time the DM spends preparing for a session than a player, so the least you can do is take a load off their hands when the session actually gets going.

I should note that I'm probably outright stealing some of these tips, since I've had some of them suggested by players who have read them in other places.

  1. Recap: When I DM a session, I give a minor quest if the players can do a good recap at the beginning of a session to get things started. As a player, whether or not you get rewarded, you should always be ready to do a fun recap to start things off. Taking quick notes at the end of a session never hurts. Giving a good recap saves the DM a lot of time explaining things to players who were absent from a session or forgot what was going on. Plus it shows that you are invested in what's going on, whether it be a complicated web of intrigue or a delightful romp of orc bashing.
  2. Take Notes: Taking notes during a session is always a good idea. I said this in a previous post but it bears repeating. Take notes! It helps you keep track of what's going on, shows the DM that you give a damn what his NPC's names are, helps maintain continuity since the DM might have trouble keeping track of everything, and can help you out later on. If the main villain walks with a limp, that would be useful information when you meet a mysterious limping stranger later on. Names, particularly, are good to keep track of! As a DM, I love it if a player remembers the name of the innkeeper I made up on the fly two sessions ago, saving me the trouble of digging up my notes or making up a new name that everyone knows isn't the real one.
  3. Bring Snacks: Snacks are another easy way to rack up extra XP if the DM is in a generous mood. Plus, they're tasty! Plus, they show that you're at least willing to shell out 5 bucks or so to make up for the several hours the DM spent prepping. Finally, they keep your energy level up!
  4. Volunteer to Keep Track of Initiative: One of the players should definitely volunteer to keep track of initiative, since it's one less thing for the DM to deal with.
  5. Volunteer to Keep Track of Conditions: There are a few different ways to play this. If some of the players are new or kind of airheads, and you're not, then it might make sense for you to keep track of conditions on all monsters. Otherwise, all players should offer to keep track of conditions they've caused to monsters. PCs should really be able to handle keeping track of their own conditions, hopefully. Keeping track of monster conditions saves the DM more time AND cuts down on the chances that the DM will miss a crucial condition that would have caused a monster to miss with an attack or take more damage.
  6. Volunteer to Keep Track of EVERYTHING: If the DM is willing to let you keep track of monster HP or other effects, then go ahead and do it. It speeds up the combat and gives you a useful edge! As a DM I usually draw the line at HP tracking, since I think it hurts the realism of the encounter and makes for weird meta-game choices, but if a DM is willing to take your help in this way they can probably use it.
  7. Be the Party Banker: D&D can get annoyingly complicated when it comes to an even distribution of wealth. At the very least, it's usually good for one PC to be keeping track of party gold and the like. When I'm a player, I often like to keep track of what magic items certain PCs have in order to help figure out whose lagging behind and should be next in line for a magic item from the DM or a chunk of cash to buy one.
  8. Help Prepare the Combat: As a DM, if I don't have a map planned, I sometimes ask a player to draw a fun one out while I do other precombat prep. So I might say "make a crazy garden filled with mystical traps" and let the player go from there.  This is a chance for a player to flex their creative muscles a bit and make an awesome combat location. More mundanely, it can be useful to help the DM pick out minis and tokens for an encounter if they don't have them out yet or simply clear the table of paper and debris so they can roll the combat map out.

37 Responses to “Rory’s Pocket Guide to D&D: Sucking up to the DM”

  1. Matthew AC says:

    Good stuff. Particularly like the idea of rewarding my players to present a recap.

  2. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Del-RPG, RPG Bloggers Network. RPG Bloggers Network said: Rory’s Pocket Guide to D&D: Sucking up to the DM from Blog of Holding #RPG [...]

  3. Rory Rory says:

    The recap one was definitely an idea I stole from somewhere else (don’t remember where), but I’ve used it in my games to good effect!

  4. Baxil says:

    FYI, this was linked from Reddit, and there are some great discussions going on there about the points you raised:

  5. Rory Rory says:

    Wow, a lot of responses!

    I’ll leave my comments here because I can’t figure out how to reply there (maybe I just need to register?!):

    4. I have trouble taking an objection to keeping initiative seriously. Players already have this information after the 1st round of combat, and the massive gain in time saving and avoiding mistakes that a harried DM is likely to make more than make up for the negligible losses in immersion.

    5. Conditions: Again, this is information the players should probably have a handle on. In fact, most of the time it’s info the players can request from the DM at any time. It’s important for tactical choices in combat and it makes sense since they caused the conditions in the first place. For me, it’s really just a matter of practicality. The person most likely to be able to keep track of the info should do so. Like it or not 4e d&d combat is a complicated affair and it’s really important not to miss out on that 5 ongoing damage and -2 modifiers.

    6. Actually, I draw the line at hit points too, as I stated. But my point is that if a DM is inexperienced or just overwhelmed by an encounter and is willing to take your help, then by all means help out! You’ll lose a little bit in immersion and there will be some wacky metagaming when monsters are really low on HP, but I’d gladly trade that to cut a half an hour off a 3 hour combat.

    7. For me this is all about balance. If I can do a little bookkeeping to make sure I don’t end up with gear twice as valuable than yours (something I have seen happen), then I’m happy to do it. Balanced treasure makes for balanced characters, which in my experience gives everyone their chance to shine and makes a more enjoyable encounter.

    8. Someone pointed out that I mentioned having the player litter the area with traps. Traps was a bit a misnomer. What I really had him do was fill the area with crazy hazards and interesting terrain. I’ve done this a few times, and DMs have had me do it too. In my experience, everyone usually gets pretty excited about it and it makes the combat more fun and actually much more immersive overall. Sure, the DM still has authority of what makes the cut and still gives guidance, but it provides players an opportunity to help craft combats they’ll find more interesting, and as long as they don’t go overboard giving themselves an edge, I’m fine with it. Plus it shaves off a fair amount of prep time. Sometimes as a DM I’m lazy and jump into a session with only an hour of two of preparation and sometimes encounters come up that I don’t expect. Those are the times I’ll ask a player to help out with a map.

    For me it usually boils down to the fact that I hate to see time wasted. I hate to see a combat go 3 hours that could have taken 2 hours by cutting down prep time and needlessly putting all the burden of running a combat onto the DM’s shoulders. There are few things less immersive for me, honestly, than having a turn run an extra two minutes while the DM fumbles through their notes or people keep remembering conditions and modifiers that were lost track of. And there’s nothing more frustrating than having your turn skipped entirely or having the DM forget a really important ability that could have swung the fight.

    Oh, and with regards to the last poster, 100% agreed on taking notes to preserve your campaign! I’ve got an entry on obsidian portal summarizing my last campaign in the game world, and also the campaigns I remember most fondly are strewn with in character letters, background history, and the like.

  6. [...] over at The Blog of Holding has a nice article on Sucking Up to the DM – which is to say, ways a player can make a DM’s job easier. After I got over the [...]

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