Player Agency

Dungeons and Dragons, like most TTRPGs is a shared experience about telling a story. The Dungeon Master (DM) sets the scene with a beginning and often has an ending in mind. How the protagonists get from point A to point Z is up to them. Railroading the players with a linear story without choices, character growth, or input from the players is rather one-sided.

It’s also bad.

While the DM is the director and supporting cast, the story is about the heroes. Telling players what choices, feelings, and even actions their heroes make removes that hero from the hands of the player. The players are not mere actors bringing the words of the DM to life, they are helping to write the tale as it unfolds, through improvisation.

Likewise, if one player tries to argue the basics of a character that someone else is playing, that too is wrong. There is no right or wrong way to play TTRPGs as long as everyone involved is having fun.

It’s the role of the DM (or GM) to keep the story flowing, to make rules decisions on the fly, and to present opportunities for the players to add to the narrative. Getting bogged down in rules, or letting a rules lawyer derail the fun, takes away from the enjoyment of everyone else at the table. Be clear with your players; make a quick decision and let them know you’ll find the correct answer between sessions.

And speak up if you’re a player and something bothers you. It’s okay to pull the DM aside, or send a private message if there’s an issue that bothers you. Communication is the key to success in online TTRPGs. GMs may know what’s going on in the heads of their NPCs, but they can’t read your mind. I recently had an issue with a rules lawyer. They would interrupt someone else’s turn with correct rules information. Neither the player being interrupted, nor I were completely familiar with the rule in question. Before I could step in and make a ruling the offender escalated things into an argument. Only the 2nd player complained about the 1st and offered to leave the table because no one else had an issue with the 1st. I assured them it was most likely a case of not wanting to rock the boat and people were just being quiet. I questioned them individually and they had all been bothered by the issue.

I was able to find another player and the offender has been removed. There had been other red flags. Despite being told that a pair of friends were merely at the table temporarily, he’d voiced a complaint as I’d begun removing them to make room for other long term players. I do not like conflict and I try to tiptoe around it as best as I can, so I fumbled the ball on this one and should have stepped in sooner.

The remaining players, however, seem happier for it.

It’s a game. Play your character, not someone else’s.

Don’t argue the rules, allow the GM to control the flow.

If you have non-starter issues, bring them up in session 0.

Roll the dice and have fun.

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