Dungeons & Dragons Online

Talk to your players and tell them when you’re trying something out.

This is not going to be some revolutionary post, about something that no one has ever thought off. This post is meant as a more in depth explanation around a common advice: "Talk to your players". It will less focus around conflict resolution, but to quickly discuss it. When there is tension or conflict between players, discuss it with your group. You're playing the game together and all have responsibility for the mood at the table (physical or virtual). Never try to manipulate other people into acting in a certain way.

Now on to what I wanted to talk about. There are many things that are often adviced against. One of the major examples is taking away agency from your players. Another would be nerfing abilities or making them impactless in many scenarios, like constantly attacking a bear totem barbarian with psychic damage.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not advocating you do these things. My suggestion is, that you tell your players when you do it and that it is an isolated incident. I've seen quite a few posts with questions about how to get around certain abilities and spells, some pertaining to isolated instances and some to entire campaigns. To quickly discuss cases where an ability is circumvented for a campaign or similar prolonged time, ONLY do this with the acceptance of the player, because this would be clasified in my opinion under a homebrew rule.

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For situations where certain abilities don't work in that specific instance. Comments often range from giving magic effects or story reasons that could accomplish it or saying that you shouldn't do this, because it's not fair and you'd be a jerk for doing it. Personally I agree with that last point in most situations.

There are situations where you want to create tension that would be more easily accomplished without certain abilities of the players. For example, by having someone be on the verge of death, but half the classes have some ability to heal. Or wanting a harsh track through a frozen wasteland, but some players have cold resistance.

In these instances I think it is okay, if you as a DM say that those abilities don't work or to a much lesser degree. The important part is that you tell your players that this situation is an exception. It's fine telling them why you're doing certain things. We're not writers or film makers that can perfectly use storytelling devices to make our players feel exactly how we want them to. Telling them the kind of feeling you want to create in the encounter or adventure, gives them the chance to play into it and make it better.

As an addition to that, don't think these things are necessary, when tracking through a desert, not all of the characters have to be hindered by the heat. Such moments are also very good to highlight a cool aspect (fire resistance) of a certain character. That said if you have highlighted that thing before and then throw them into a situation where even they have a hard time.

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These are just tips to avoid potential problems. Another thing that talking can help with is nerves. I'll try to paint you a picture. You've prepared an adventure or just a small encounter, and you're trying something new. Maybe something that could go horribly wrong, like throwing a monster at them that is way too strong and you're afraid they're going to fight it anyway.

In such situations, it's okay to tell your players that this is a thing you wanted to try and see how it went or how they would react. Especially if you're a new DM, you can be afraid of making mistakes, especially mistakes that seem irreparable. Telling your players that you have this fear and you're not sure how it will play out will leave room to later discuss what they thought and maybe even if you want to retcon some things if you deem that neseccary.

Also just telling your players that your nervous is completely okay, we might see experienced DMs online and in streams, but started in mostly the same place we did. And most of not all DMs are still nervous after years of play. I think it often is forgotten that the DM doesn't make the story for the players, but creates a line out to create a story with the players.

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You're not alone, here online there are entire communities to help, but around your table there are people that can, and hopefully want to, help too. There is already plentiful advice on letting your players make up names for a random npc or what encounters they came across on the road. This all takes the pressure of you adn highlights what is in my eyes the greatest part of playing an ttrpg. Creating a story TOGETHER. So, maybe you can also let them in, with regards to your fears and anxieties about running.


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