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I have a player who tells the other players what rolls they should make and when, usurping my role as a DM - they don't try to narrate the story, but do jump in to demand rolls.

For example, in their first session, the players enter an inn and their first course of action was to get wasted. Said player buys a barrel of alcohol, and the party goes to town. Before anything else happens, he tells the player who's most drunk to make a constitution roll "for consciousness"- not exactly a bad call, but unneeded. I proceeded to stick to a "roll with it" attitude and let the roll proceed.

Another example is when the players were attempting to tie rope together to make a longer rope to climb. The troublesome player told the others to roll survival for the sturdiness of the knot. I didn't say anything this time either, because he said what I was going to say word-for-word.

This happens often with dice rolls. I don't know where he got it from, but he's taking control of the game when he doesn't need to. How can I gently remind him that I'm the DM and that he shouldn't tell the other players what to do?

I have talked to him about it, and it seems to be out of habit. The player doesn't want to do anything malicious, but they seem to have an affinity for telling others to roll dice. It doesn't help that he also does so to my reclusive player who doesn't like bad luck streaks (described in “A player 'shuts down' after some bad rolls”).

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Is it appropriate to disallow the players building the world? Somewhat related, since I think the problem could be interpreted to be the same. \$\endgroup\$ – Zaibis Jul 14 '17 at 7:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ratchetfreak Please do not answer in comments on RPG.SE. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jul 14 '17 at 16:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ Please consider before answering - does your answer add anything new besides just restate an existing answer? Is it based on experience per Good Subjective, Bad Subjective or is it just your random opinion? If either is not the case, you probably don't need to answer. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica Jul 14 '17 at 22:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ @doppelgreener it wasn't meant as a serious answer in the first place. Doing what I suggest would ruin the game for everyone involved \$\endgroup\$ – ratchet freak Jul 15 '17 at 0:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ratchetfreak You might be surprised, then, to learn we get people seriously suggesting something like that from time to time and really meaning it. Thankfully this community doesn't really agree that any social issue can be solved with sufficient passive-aggressive in-game punishment, and such answers aren't taken kindly to. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jul 15 '17 at 0:09

12 Answers 12

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When he:

Contradicts you

Absolutely unacceptable as a matter of general habit. Talk to him, lay down the position that he needs to accept at least the fact that mid-session, you're the one responsible for adjudicating the rules.

There's some subtlety in how you might want to adjudicate disagreements, but ultimately, mid-session, this is your job.

Says something you disagree with or interferes with you running the game

Disagree with him openly, and see what happens. If he rolls with it perfectly well, there's nothing to do. If he contradicts you, see above. If he doesn't contradict you outright, but this interaction rubs him wrong, discuss this situation with him and phrasings he can use to make this pattern easier. Things such as "Ask the DM if you need to make a check" instead of "make a check".

Says something you were about to say or that you would have wanted to say in retrospect

Roll with it. This isn't a problem. You're getting a free assistant.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I do like the not a problem, don't fix it attitude. I'm more worried about the first two as well. Good solutions. \$\endgroup\$ – tuskiomi Jul 13 '17 at 19:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ @tuskiomi your examples all fit the 3rd case, though. If you have examples of the first or second that you've already experienced, those should go in the OP, because those are the ones that are REALLY relevant. \$\endgroup\$ – godskook Jul 13 '17 at 20:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ Having seen this very situation multiple times, I STRONGLY disagree with the third option. Even if he says something you agree with, letting it roll is only going to reinforce the habit and further undermine your authority. There's no need to be overly confrontational about it, but you should gently and firmly remind him that he doesn't need to do your job. \$\endgroup\$ – ThunderGuppy Jul 13 '17 at 21:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ThunderGuppy while I can accept that a more totalitarian approach worked for you, I feel that it is very bad general advice. I find a lot of players who will just get more frustrated with DMs who are punitive over issues that are of zero consequence. Telling a player not to ask another player for a check, and then turning around and asking the other player to make the same check falls under this description. \$\endgroup\$ – godskook Jul 14 '17 at 1:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for free assistant - if he helps other players and does not disagree with DM, hey, he is freeing up DM's mind, leaving more power for sorty building :) Of course this works only if both player and DM understand and use rules the same way \$\endgroup\$ – Mołot Jul 14 '17 at 13:45
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Players Describe Actions, Gamemasters Determine Mechanics

It sounds like the player is trying to take on tasks that are the purview of the gamemaster.

In most roleplaying game systems (you haven't specified one), it is the gamemaster's role to describe the scene. The players then describe what their characters would like to do. The gamemaster then determines the relevant mechanics and calls for rolls if needed.

You need to explain this to your errant player. How you do so depends on your relationship with the player and the player's personality. Some respond to general prompting and probing questions, others need to be told flat-out to knock it off. You'll have to judge that on your own.

Other Games

There are some games where the narrative control is given more strongly to the player, allowing them to declare aspects of the scene or dictate the actions of some non-player characters. Even in these kinds of games, the actual adjudication of mechanics and calls for rolls are still handled by the Gamemaster.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This doesn't seem to usefully answer the actual question, which is "How can I gently remind him that I'm the DM and that he shouldn't tell the other players what to do?" \$\endgroup\$ – BESW Jul 14 '17 at 8:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ The OP has also edited the question to specify the game they're playing (dnd-5e) \$\endgroup\$ – daze413 Jul 14 '17 at 9:01
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I have no idea what's the etiquette in the country where this game takes place, but to "gently remind him that you're the DM"... well, you do precisely that. Next time he does this, you call him by name and you say:

"Hey ___. Thank you but I think I can manage it on my own."

The "thank you" is important for being gentle, and I think that, since you usually agree with what he says, it's no big stretch telling him that he'd be appreciated, should you need his help.

Also, you don't want to shame in front of the other players.

If he persists, looking at him should be enough after you made it clear that you would like to be the one making the calls.

If he still persists, quietly confront him one on one, asking him if he can please be more careful (I don't think he's making this on purpose). You're the reference figure of the game after all and you need to appear credible and prepared at least. Ask for his complicity, and maybe, if he likes the idea, for a periodic session debriefing should he feel that he's more experienced than you, to understand what you could be doing poorly (i.e. use his experience to your advantage, to improve your game).

I have had an enthusiastic player that behaved like that, at a table during a convention, and gently asking him to stop just made him realize he was doing something unwelcome. He stopped with no complaints.

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The best option, as always, is to talk to the player privately. Catch him before or after the game, talk to him over Text or IM...something.

As you say, he's probably not being malicious...he might be used to being the DM, and so he's used to calling for rolls and the like, and it's just happening on reflex.

If you want him to stop, then you should ask him to do so in private, so as to not make a big deal out of it in front of the group.

Something like "Hey, while we've been playing, I've noticed that you have been calling for rolls from the other player. Since I'm the one DMing this game, I need you to let me do my job...if there are two people trying to coordinate the game and tell other people what to roll, it's just going to get confusing for everyone." You need to be very clear that him calling for rolls is not okay. If you just hint that it's kind of a problem, then he might not catch that hint. Say it as plainly as possible without being rude...but make sure you are understood.

It's only if he gets belligerent about this, or refuses to comply that you should make this public in any way. In which case...be a little more curt, and do it in-game in direct response to him calling for rolls. Like, when he calls for someone to make a roll, say something like: "Thanks for trying to help, but I need you to let me be the DM."

If it seems to be an accident, just give him a look and a "Come on, we talked about this." Then either overrule him, or call for the same thing he called for at your discretion. You need to continue to be the one who officially calls for a roll, even if you are just repeating what he said.

Perhaps, as a side-along suggestion...if he has a hard time remembering to not call for rolls, ask him to suggest them to you instead, rather than calling for them directly.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I already have talked to the player. good thoughts on the followthrough though! \$\endgroup\$ – tuskiomi Jul 13 '17 at 19:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ @tuskiomi As someone who DMs far more than he plays, I know how hard it can be to turn off the DM-brain while gaming. You might need to talk to him about it more than once...particularly since the first time apparently didn't work. \$\endgroup\$ – guildsbounty Jul 13 '17 at 20:00
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You've already spoken to the player. And that's good. It's the first step.

While you can roll with it as a non-problem when you agree with what he's saying, the problem that arises is that you, and the other players get into the habit of looking to him.

It means that when he is wrong or you want to contradict him, he'll have more moral authority.

So, when you do agree, point out that it is your decision. Not with rancor, or anger, just cheerfully point it out.

"You took the words right out of the DM's mouth. Yes, go ahead and roll that."

The phrase above reminds everyone who the DM is, and it establishes you as the last word.

Every single time he calls for a roll, you need to speak up in this manner, even if you agree. Don't just let it go past, don't allow him to take social control, because later, as the DM when you need that authority, you'll find it has already been given over to him.

When you disagree, just go "I believe that's my call. No roll is needed." or "Actually, I'm going to need [Other Character or the Person's Character] to make a different roll." I like to put a pickpocket in or some other event (like someone following them) just to keep the players guessing, and to derail those players who attempting to DM.

If you've called the player on it out of game, you can also clear your throat, smile and go "Who's DMing now?" laugh for a sec, and then totally move on. He'll know from the previous conversation what you mean.

These should all be gentle reminders, not something where you are aiming to get into an argument or are mean. I've found that a smile along with things like this can go a long way towards letting the player know that you don't hate them. Just be consistent, and do this every single time.

The player may or may not get out of the habit. But handling it this way ensures that you are still the GM and will keep the players looking more towards you for guidance. And really, that's all you should be worried about.

Another thing I do, is as I speak of the problem behavior I develop a cue of some kind associated with it--I clear my throat or whistle (yes, whistle) or use the same word along with the social pressure. Eventually, all I have to do is clear my throat or whistle in that tone and I don't even have to say anything--they'll self correct before I say a word. This, I realize, is a lot of work to remember and most people would not try this and feel natural doing it, but it's worked for me in the past.

If they get bad with it, or it's anything more than a benign habit, then, and only then should you drop the smile. I do a neutral face, look right at them and say "Hey. Not your call." Then I wait a beat, to see what they do, and take it from there.

Most back down. But I do move it along and continue.

Privately, later, I may threaten, in the most cajoling manner, to start carrying a spray bottle during sessions.

If they are really a problem player I might use it. Generally the threat is enough. Because they know me, and they know I will if I have to.

But it sounds like your player is actually a good egg who is actually trying to be helpful and it's a habit. Even if they don't stop, it doesn't sound like they are actively trying to take over--so no need to threaten them with a spray bottle.

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If you have spoken with the player and they are understanding that you don't appreciate what they are doing, then they probably just need help breaking a bad habit. The first step of breaking a bad habit is becoming conscious of when you are doing it. Ask them what you can do to help them recognize when they are doing it. Something as simple as making eye contact and giving them a look may be enough and it won't disrupt the table. Before long they will start realizing it before they say something and be able to stop. If that isn't enough, there are all kinds of guides to breaking habits online, but you probably won't need it for something like this.

Important note: Talk to you player before you do this, otherwise they might be confused why you are giving them dirty looks all of a sudden. Also, asking them what you should do is important. That way you are working on it together rather than you making them do something.

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The "gentle" way to handle this would be to quietly ignore the rolls and continue telling the story as if they never happened.

The passive-aggressive way would be to flat out question the need for a particular roll. In a purely technical manner, yes a constitution roll will determine whether or not a character is drunk. However; why does it matter if they are drunk, and what degree of drunk, if that was their plan the whole time?

Player(s): "We go to the bar to get drunk"
DM: "You arrive at the bar... (description etc)"
Rules Player: "Okay [character] you roll constitution to see how drunk you are... [etc]
DM: "[the character] is drunk nothing else exciting happens until the next morning..." (Basically invalidating the need for the roll other than to say "i got wasted in game")

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is not good advice. Ignoring one's own players is very passive-aggressive, and may not necessarily stop the "problem player" from interrupting again. \$\endgroup\$ – MikeQ Jul 14 '17 at 6:07
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Ultimately, the need and interpretation of rolls is up to the DM. The player can say "roll survival for the knot," "roll constitution for consciousness," or in any hypothetical case from waking on time, penmanship, breaking up a fight, etc. but the DM will be the one to give permission, and it will be the DM who decides what the outcome of the roll means.

The way I see it, instead of that player saying "Roll for X!" they should be saying "Can they roll for X?" To which you will reply yes, no, or some other answer. To guide this behavior, maybe talk to the player on the side, or gently remind them when they do interject to change their phrasing.

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It is a good idea to find out why this is happening, and more than just "I guess it's a habit." Depending on the why, it might not be a problem in some cases.

If the player thinks they are the boss, then yes, that could be a problem if that breaks the contract of your game.

If the player does not think they are the boss at all, then it depends...

Keep the game moving

Take the following example, and read it with the assumption that I, as a player, have been getting annoyed at the very slow pace of the last couple sessions as people have been dragging their feet lately and games have been moving at a snail crawl:

DM: Your turn. Player1: I shoot the goblin. DM: Ok. Let's see how you do. Player1: (picks up d20 and rolls) I got 23. DM: Good, you got around his shield and hit him in the shoulder. Roll for damage. Player1: (picks up d6 and rolls) I got 3. DM: You get him, but he's still going strong.

Me: (rolls d20 and d8) DM: (looks at me, doesn't even have to say anything; could if he wanted to, but doesn't need to) Me: I run up to the goblin and try to stab it. I got 17 and 5. DM: That one knocked him out.

DM: Your turn. Player2: I want to pick the lock before the other guards get back. DM: Ok, make your check. Player2: Ok. (rolls) I got 8. DM: That doesn't quite do it.

DM: Your turn. Player3: You said the door was old, wood, and everything around here is under-maintained, right? I'm going to try and kick the door down. (Player3 takes no action, is obviously waiting until the DM tells him to roll, as the others have been doing tonight) Me: Make your strength check. Player3: Oh right. (rolls) 19. DM: The door cracks in half from top to bottom, the left half falling to the floor, the right half twisting in its now damaged hinges. There is enough room for anyone to easily squeeze through.

Player3: I want to try to rip the rest of the door off its hinges in case we need to retreat back here quickly. Player1: That's a good idea. Player3: Yeah, I don't want us to get bottlenecked in the hallway there if the guards get the drop on us. Player1: Maybe you can even prop the door up defensively for us to take cover behind in case that happens. Me: Make your strength check. Player3: (rolls) 8 DM: The door twists on the broken hinges more but did not quite break off. Player3: I'll keep at it until I get it, if I can. Me: (Sits tight and listens. I'm not doing the DM's job, even though I know what I would do as DM) DM: No need to roll again then. Eventually you get it. ...

When I DM, I tell my players to make their rolls for their actions just before their turn starts to keep things moving along.

Notice my turn above; it gets to my turn, I quickly say what I'm doing and what the roll is, DM tells me the response. One say one thing, he says one thing, turn accomplished, let's move on.

Notice the other turns and all the indecisiveness. Everyone waits for the DM to tell them to take their turn, waits again for DM to tell them to roll, and so on. It drags on into several back-and-forth comments and takes several times longer.

I have been in both kinds of situation, and I can tell you that we get through a lot more and have a lot more fun when people are not dragging their feet. We can go through several full turns (PCs and enemies) in a minute. On the other hand, I have been in games where I take my turn then have to wait more than a minute before it comes back around to me. That slows the game, gets through less of the quest, means I'm playing less, can ruin immersion when you feel like the goblin is only swinging its club at you once every minute or two, and all around is less fun.

So notice what I did above: I, the player, reminded the other player to make their check. It was not a DM-type command, but it was a reminder to help game play. The DM is free to do their job at any time, even if it contradicts something I've said or done. DM could have said "No strength check needed; the door is plenty weak and breaks right off" if he wanted to, contradicting me. But DM didn't immediately respond and the player wasn't immediately rolling, so I reminded the player to keep things moving.

So make sure you keep things moving along. That might help. You do not have to play at light speed, but make sure that people are efficiently getting through their turns.

Let the players have some fun during non-critical times

Another reason a player might call some shots is just for the fun of it, if it doesn't harm anything.

Your drunken example fits into this one.

Sometimes players do not want to role play every little detail, but they might want it to be more than just "We order up some drinks to get wasted in celebration." "Ok, you get wasted, sleep it off, next day; now what?" It could be fun to mess around for at least a few seconds, maybe even a minute at that point.

When the characters are just being jovial and messing around at the tavern or celebrating after their big boss fight, sometimes the game is a bit relaxed even if the rest of it was serious and immersive. A playful "Let's roll constitution checks to see how bad we can get hammered!" sounds silly and playful.

Also, no matter what your original social contract was in the group, no matter how everyone said they wanted to play: whether everyone wanted silly and lighthearted, or just the opposite and everyone wanted serious, realistic immersion, sometimes the temporary mood changes and you need to roll with it. I was part of a serious, long term game before in which we occasionally needed some light-hearted time.

It is a game, and it is supposed to be fun, but look at it like a vacation: even in the middle of an extended vacation sometimes you need to take a break even from the vacation fun. An extended camping trip gets interrupted because nobody wants to cook s'mores tonight so we go into town for pizza instead. A week-long visit with family requires a day away from them in the middle. Etc.. So too players sometimes want to step, with their characters sometimes, away from the usual game. As a DM, I recall a few sessions where I had to ask "Are we playing a more 'out-of-character' game today?" If I asked, the answer was often "No, let's get back to seriousness." But sometimes everyone agreed to meta-game for a day and play out of character. Those days were still fun.

Conclusion

In the end, you have to try to use your own best judgment as to what is really happening and if anything I say above applies to your situation. I just wanted to add some food for thought.

If you do decide that either of the above examples describes your situation, then the strict answer to your question of "How should I deal with...?" is simply "Have fun with them."

You should try to give the player the benefit of the doubt and not assume immediately that they are taking your DM responsibilities away from you. Sometimes, however, it does happen, and I agree it can get very annoying. That case has already been covered by other answers, but I'll summarize: either 1) Ask your players if they want to try a campaign where they have a lot more control than players usually have in D&D (some other systems are built on the idea that players help build the world, and that can work in D&D too), or 2) make sure each person's roles are clear cut and well known, some strategies for which are in other answers.

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Backseat DMing is bad, mmkay.

It sounds a bit like the player doesn't understand why you don't ask for some rolls and why you do ask for others. Take him aside and explain it to him.

Every roll has at least 2 outcomes, success or failure. As a DM you have to prepare for both outcomes. If there is no failure mode then there is no reason to have rolled at all and asking for it anyway just slows the game down. A good DM will ask for rolls where they make sense to have.

Failure mode of a roll for a knot means the knot fails during use and drops whoever is hanging from it possibly killing him, depending. Or it fails during the tug test and you just need to repeat the knot tying. So asking for a knot roll means preparing for a injured or dead party member at worst or wasted time at best.

Taking it to extremes. If you get asked for rolls for every move you make, every step you take, then you will be half dead by the time you even reach the dungeon just from the minor injuries from failed rolls. And it won't feel like a good session because you remember all the failed rolls where you got a 1 more than the natural 20 where you only need a 2. Or in other words asking for a lot of easy rolls is like playing russion roulette, eventually someone is going to bite a bullet and it won't be pleasant.

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Do never - EVER - just roll with it

If you're unsure it's a problem, try to imagine the other way around. What if you started playing his character?

If you just made decisions for him and let him do stuff or even talk for him. You think that - even if your decisions were decent ones - that player would just "roll with it"?

Of course not. He would immediately call you out and ask you to stop playing for him, as that is his character and playing him is HIS role in the group.

Just like YOUR role is to decide who gets to make which dice rolls. It's not okay at all. Of course, your other players just going along with it and rolling because HE tells them to is very bad behaviour, too, but that's besides the point.

Even as DM, you are part of the group. You are playing, too. And just like you don't take away their parts of the game from them, they should not do the same thing to you. Even if they make good decisions. It's not at all wrong for you to get angry about something like that.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Actually, I have seen many DMs do that often. "But I don't want my guy to be terrified and shaking at the knees." "Too bad, you cannot charge the bear because it is too fearsome and you are left shaking in your boots." Uh, no I'm not. But whatever, DM demanded it. This is not at all uncommon, even if it is sometimes frustrating. \$\endgroup\$ – Aaron Jul 14 '17 at 19:36
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Since you've already talked to him about it, simply start implementing consequences.

If he does that, then do a DM roll to see if something happens to him. In other words, build it into the game.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Its generally bad advice to mix OoC and IC concerns, especially because there's a level of gaslighting and passive-aggressiveness involved in just "building it into the game". \$\endgroup\$ – godskook Jul 14 '17 at 1:36

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