Tavern Talks: Checking Egos at the Door – Tips on Managing Your Table

Roleplaying is a group activity. One cannot enjoy roleplaying alone. Sometimes the GM’s job is made more complicated by conflict that takes place within the group, when arguments and fighting takes place between characters and players.

– Andrew McLaren

The role of the DM is multi fold – you are a storyteller, an arbiter of rules, a customer service representative, an actor, a dramatist and a people manager. Alot to balance.. I know.

A topic that always comes up when I speak to newer DMs is how to manage the different roles of a DM and at the same time manage the personalities at the table … and still keep the session fun and exciting. Concerns are ever heightened when the DM is running a public AL game. There are no formulae that will guarantee success, but, there are some tips that I use that one can use to achieve the needed goals.

(All pictures here have been sourced from google. The images are linked to the links that Google sent me to. The pictures are owned by their respective owners.)

Tip 1: Be Self Aware

It is important that you are very self aware. You do need to be able to understand who you are as a DM ; know what your strengths and weaknesses are and what you are comfortable with. Are you the type of DM who places a strong narrative and tells a story in vivid details – much like how Matt Mercer does? or are you the type of DM who is more descriptive and less narrative focused – like Chris Perkins? or, are you a combination of both, or none of them? Are you a general potty-mouth and thus can’t (and maybe should not) DM for younger kids?

Knowing who you are as a DM and being comfortable with being you is extremely important; without which, you can’t expect your players to be comfortable with you.

Tip 2: Setting Expectations

Before any dice are rolled, you have to set your expectations for your table up-front. Tell your players what they can expect to hear from you and what they can expect to do. Will BBEG encounters have a 2 minute timer per player turn enforced? or will the DM allow retcons? Things like this needs to get mentioned up-front. For example, before any of my sessions, I tell my players that they “can certainly try” any heroics at the table – just that I will assign a dice roll to that action. Those at table will have to then abide by the results of the dice roll.

Setting expectations also means that you will have to remind players and refocus play in heated moments.

 Tip 3: Get To Know Your Players (& Let The Players Get To Know You)

Getting to know the different people around that table is important. Is someone very confident and may inadvertently offend people? Is anyone at your table who might not be a social butterfly, and is generally quiet at the table? Knowing the people and their personalities will give you good insight to how to manage them at the table.

It would be good to start the table off with a 5 minute intro to the table – this can be achieved when having a chat about the expectations at the table.

Remember, D&D is a social game where players interact with everyone at the table – INCLUDING THE DM!

Tip 4: Get To Know Your Characters 

Getting to know the characters at the table is, admittedly, harder to do in AL – due to the drop-in-drop-out nature of organised play. But, this does not mean that character backstories should be ignored or discounted. Understanding the motivations (or some of it) of a character may explain certain interactions with NPCs or PC.. and can lead to you adjusting or hand-waving aspects of encounters or combat.

Tip 5: Observe & Listen (i.e. Reading Your Players) 

Everyone (including the DM) gives off physical and verbal cues to show emotions and hint behaviours. Cues like leaning away from a person and avoiding eye contact with other / or certain players are examples. Catching some of these cues are important – because if it hints to a potential problem – being able to jump ahead of any problem and defuse the situation would be for the best.

Players will also be watching you for cues as you DM – if you are uncomfortable, your players will feel it too. This brings us back to Tip 1 🙂

Now, the caveat is that as a DM –  you do need to be able to differentiate between Character Behaviour vs Player Behaviour… because Character =/= Player.

Tip 6: Adapt & Improv

It might be safe to generalise that no DM has had their adventures run as expected or as written. Players (and characters) are almost always going to get sidetracked. Therefore, one of the most important attributes for a DM is to be adaptable and be able to improvise. To borrow some of the wisdom from my time as an actor; we need to embrace the value of “Yes, and…“.

The “Yes” portion basically encourages the acceptance of the player’s / character’s action.  By saying yes, the DM accepts the contribution from the player / character. The “and…” portion then allows the DM (or other players / characters) to add new information to the narrative.

The DM can use this as a way to deal with character conflict or differences; by allowing characters to explore emotions in game and allow them an avenue to work it out.

Tip 7: Be Open & Be Bold

You have to remember, you might be the DM for the game, but you are also a person. Social interaction is a 2-way street – share your concerns with your players, and allow them to share theirs with you!

!! Important !!: Curbing Toxic Behaviours

This now beings me to an important topic of Curbing Toxic Behaviours. The DM’s and Players’ Guide have included an important contract – the Code of Conduct. (If you have not already read it, please get a copy from DMsGuild.Com).

Now that these tips have allowed you to gain an insight to the players at the table, you should be able to use the same tips to look out for signs that point behaviours that contravene the Code of Conduct.

As a DM, you are empowered – Hit pause on the game and call out the bad behaviour immediately and report it to your FLG management as soon as you can.


If you actually, made it all the way here, you can download the slides I prepared for the Tavern Talk here.


— Signing Off, DM Petrina. H “Rev”

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