Don’t Be a Backseat DM: Let the Dungeon Master Handle the Game

"Um, actually, the dragon would technically be at a disadvantage because of the current tidal situation on the Sword Coast, so I think we should probably revisit obscure lore for half an hour."

"Um, actually, the dragon would technically be at a disadvantage because of the current tidal situation on the Sword Coast, so I think we should probably revisit obscure lore for half an hour."

In the last article, I talked about some tips for those who were new to DMing and gamemastering. I thought it was appropriate to follow up with a quick bit of advice for Dungeon Masters who are now players in campaigns whether they are run by experienced or novice DMs. As the title states, don’t be a backseat DM. What does this mean though?

It’s simple. When someone else is running the game at the table, they are going to do certain things a bit differently from you. When they make choices that you wouldn’t make or have monsters not behaving according to your “rules” of how a monster should act, you should let it go.

If you try to nitpick at every decision they are making, several things are going to happen. First, you are going to come off as a bad impression of Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons. Second, it’s going to slow down the game. Third, it is going to ruin the confidence of the DM and probably annoy the hell out of them and other players at the table.

So, most of the time, you shouldn’t backseat DM… most of the time.

When Should You Say Something?

If you were in the backseat of a car and you saw that the driver was heading toward a cliff, you’d definitely say something. While the stakes aren’t life and death in a roleplaying game (well, maybe for the characters), there are times when it can be okay to mention something to the DM – in a nonconfrontational way.

Little Reminders

Often, just a simple reminder, such as, “oh, the bugbear will still take half damage even though it made the DEX save” is all you need. Most DMs, experienced or not, will appreciate this, as it can help them to remember certain things and get a better grasp of running things. After all, there’s quite a bit to have in your head when you DM.

Some other examples would be if they skip someone in the initiative order by mistake, or they get a rule egregiously wrong that is going to affect the outcome of an encounter. Keep these to a minimum, though. Unless it’s really going to cause problems at the table if you don’t say something, let them DM their way.

Now, if there are a lot of real problems with how they are running the game, such as not knowing squat about the rules and ruining the enjoyment of the game for the table, you might want to talk to them after the session or during a break. Don’t do this in front of the other players.

When the DM Asks

Of course, the DM might also ask you questions while at the table about how to do certain things. If they are asking for the advice, go ahead and give it, but don’t let it get to the point where you are essentially the co-DM. Little rules here and there are fine – it happens at just about every table. However, the person behind the screen is going to have to take off their training wheels at some point.

Also, other players at the table, remember: “Friends don’t let friends backseat DM.”

So, have you ever had a bad or at least interesting experience with a backseat DM? Have you ever been a backseat DM, maybe without even realizing it? Let us know.