Not Your Game
Finally getting to be a player is a wonderful feeling for a DM. So often we don’t get the chance to play because our role is so crucial yet so hard to fill. Because it’s so hard to find a game where you are not asked to run it, many DMs will jump at the chance to play any game they can. Not only is playing incredibly fun, but for DMs like me, it’s also necessary to improve my own skills as a DM. Running games is great, but being able to explore the boundaries and skills of another person will help you discover ways in which you want to improve as well. However, there are some pitfalls you need to watch out for when jumping into the game of another Game Master.
It had literally been two years since I had last gotten to play in a game that I wasn’t running. I was aching for the chance to use some of my player character ideas; using them as NPCs had only increased my desire to really explore them. So I agreed to join a game being run by a friend’s friend. He hadn’t run a game in years, and hadn’t played the version we were currently using very recently either. He agreed to run it, but admitted he may be a little loose with the rules. The first rule that any DM who is going to be a player needs to follow is unless asked specifically for insight, accept the ruling of the DM more easily than typical players. It can be hard to remember that the person currently running the game actually has the power to shape the world and setting however they want. Push aside the ways that you would do things, and try to sit back and enjoy the game they are creating, even if it’s different from the way you would do it.
There is an exception to this, though you need to be tactful when implementing it. In the situation above, one of the players was an archer, and during the first combat they wanted to fire an arrow at an enemy engaged with the barbarian. The DM confidently proclaimed that it was risky; he was imposing a -4 on the attack roll AND if the attack missed, there was a chance he’d hit his ally. The second rule is Challenge rules that you know may cause the party to not have as good a time, but only in a brief and clear way. I suggested that the -4 penalty was typically added to represent the care a trained archer is taking specifically not to hit their friend in combat. Adding a penalty, or adding the chance of hitting a friend was fair, but adding both potentially made the build of archer more limited than the system intended. The DM agreed with my logic and chose to simply apply the -4. Regardless of which option the DM had gone with, or if he had stuck to his guns about the rule, I would have ceased my protest immediately and moved on with enjoying the game.
The final rules I would give to DMs who get to be players are ones that I think are kind of obvious, and believe may just be automatic. I’m going to include them though because I think these kinds of actions should be intentional, and the result of not adhering to them can be very upsetting to other DMs that have you in their game. The third rule is “work extra hard not to meta-game”. If you’ve been running games, you typically know the weakness and powers of many monsters. Maybe you can see the dark cavern up ahead is the perfect spot for a Dark Mantle or a Choker to be hiding, but does your character? Maybe the players in your game came up with a brilliant and creative strategy to defeat a pair of Displacer Beasts; does it really make sense that your character came up with the exact same thing? Don’t use the unfair advantage of a DM’s extensive knowledge.
Finally, be encouraging of the DM! You know that when you go to the trouble of planning a game, working in story hooks, and crafting challenges, you love when the players are talking about it afterwards, remembering their favourite parts. Be free with your praise, and in the game itself, remain engaged and active; don’t sit quietly, find those story hooks and talk to those NPCs. This game is the chance for the DM to really be creative and flex their DM skills, so appreciate it and learn something from how they do it. The game isn’t ruined if the rules aren’t exactly how you like to use them, or if features of the world (like magic) don’t function the way you’re used to. If it’s really too much, choose not to be a player in the campaign, rather than take a stance against the DM, trying to change them. You’ll always be able to jump back in the comfortable DM seat and take control of a game yourself.