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I am new to DMing. In fact, my whole group is new to D&D as a whole. The one struggle I seem to be facing (besides the fact that I have to look almost every thing up) is that 2 of my 5 players are never happy with any ruling I impose.

In my mind I am being fair, and any ruling I apply is carried forward and applied to all players. One example:

A monk is walking around on a platform that is clearly crumbling during combat. Before the combat began, I already knew the weight limit of this platform. For the description of this room, I used what was provided in the premade encounter. The monk ends his turn on this platform. An enemy approached him and causes the platform to exceed its weight limit. I roll to see if the platform breaks, it does. I allowed the an athletics check to attempt to jump off before the platform crumbled and he fail. He fell and took 1d4 damage.

To the monk this ruling was singling him out and not fair, even though the enemy also took damage and died from the fall. He said that he expected that because he was a monk and because of his back story (which contained a lot of information about his past training) that even while the platform was falling, he should have been able to make a second attempt due to his quick reflexes. He actually left the session and we stopped playing for the day.

Pretty much every decision I make in or out of combat is questioned, that was just one example it is always the same 2 people that take issue with my decisions. I'm trying to make it as fair as possible and I am fairly sure there is something I can learn from this to be better.

Did I do anything wrong? How can we continue to play when these types of arguments are becoming more and more frequent?

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    \$\begingroup\$ A player quits due to 1d4 falling damage? Sounds like someone who needs to play a different game. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Sep 14 '17 at 20:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ Let us continue this discussion in chat. \$\endgroup\$ – enkryptor Sep 15 '17 at 10:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ I've edited clarifications into the question and have cleaned up comments. Please put additional information there. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk - SE stop being evil Sep 15 '17 at 21:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast a player quits due to the rules not working like he expected? Not everyone likes Calvinball... \$\endgroup\$ – fectin Sep 16 '17 at 16:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ @fectin rulings/rules, but I understand your PoV on that. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Sep 17 '17 at 13:46
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Telegraph your decisions excessively, and allow retcons

In my experience, what the DM is thinking is very different from what the player is experiencing. In the example you gave, while you "already knew the weight limit," the player did not. From his perspective, then, you randomly collapsed the platform.

I deal with this issue by not only telling the players what the characters see, but also what the characters judge. For example, instead of telling your player "you see a crumbling platform," you can tell your player "you think the platform might collapse at any moment". In "real life," the characters have a wide range of experiences and perceptions that you can't possibly convey in a reasonable time as a DM, so telling the players what their characters think is an easy shorthand--the players are always free to disagree or probe more deeply, if they choose.

It's always going to be a judgment call on whether you should call for some knowledge-based roll or how much information to give, but I would err on the side of giving more information, to avoid instances like the example above.

Additionally, I let my characters do minor retcons. When your player decides to go on the ledge anyway, you can say something like "the ledge feels like it's about to give way under your feet". If the player changes their mind about going on the ledge, I let them do it.

It's going to be annoying, and it will feel like you're giving everything away, but it ultimately leaves your players feeling like they have a much better understanding of the situation and the logic you're using. Moreover, there might be some situations where the players will want to go on the crumbling platform--in those cases, they will have a good idea of what they're getting into.

"Gotcha" moments suck: focus more on avoiding them and less on mechanical surprises

Here's the thing: even though you're literally pitting the players against adversaries, the DM-player relationship in 5e should not be adversarial. I put in terrain and traps so that my players can have fun defeating them, not so that I can spring surprises on them and laugh evilly.

Even for actual, hidden traps, gotcha surprises are terrible. From the player's perspective, they get put into difficult, damaging situations totally out of the blue. Indeed, when I play traps, I give the players a few seconds to try to respond to a trap activation, just so they have a bit of agency ("you hear a click when you open the door, what do you do?"). By boosting player agency and letting them understand what you're thinking, you can reduce the number of gotchas and likely reduce your perceived unfairness.

Reset your player's expectations

Now, in order to implement this new DMing style, you have to fix your relationship with your players. After all, this problem is not only coming from you, but from your players as well.

You should talk to your players, tell them that you're going to change how you're DMing, and see if they're willing to reduce their combativeness. Hopefully, this "reset" will help your future sessions go more smoothly. Again, you can see this as part of making your intentions more transparent and more explicit, and hopefully your players will appreciate that.  

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is a good answer thanks for your input! I want to grow as a dm as quick as possible because when sessions end like that, its no fun for anyone and that's the goal of this game is to have fun \$\endgroup\$ – SaggingRufus Sep 14 '17 at 18:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ I would not say you think the platform could collapse at any moment, but rather the platform looks as though it could collapse ay any moment. You can't control what pc's think, only what they see. \$\endgroup\$ – Garret Gang Sep 14 '17 at 19:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ @GarretGang, while your comment is valid, please don't edit my answer to change my meaning. I'm aware that the DM "shouldn't" dictate what PCs think, but I find in practice the DM and the characters often know things the players don't, and telling them simple deductions like that saves a lot of time and effort. In the end, the players can choose to disagree, because they have final say over their characters anyway. \$\endgroup\$ – Icyfire Sep 14 '17 at 19:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ Excellent points. Best advice I got as a DM was to create traps and terrain features that are interesting puzzles for the players to solve, rather than arbitrary insta-death gotchas. \$\endgroup\$ – thatgirldm Sep 15 '17 at 3:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ Or have them roll for perception and then tell them if they notice the platform crumbling. :) \$\endgroup\$ – Xiong Chiamiov Sep 15 '17 at 21:30
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So, to open this up...

Based solely on your descriptions, you did not do anything wrong. Your actions here were entirely impartial. The platform had a known weight limit that was established before the PCs set foot in the room. You had no knowledge of who would step onto that platform, if anyone. And everything was appropriately rolled for, and what happened is what happened. It's not even necessary to make it clear that ground is unstable before someone steps on it (see: Pit Traps). As Icyfire said, it's nice of you to do so for new players, but it's not required.

The problem here seems to stem from a fundamental misunderstanding of how D&D, and Role Playing Games in general, work. It sounds to me like you guys need to have a meeting where you have a clear discussion on what you are expecting from the game, and make sure a couple of things are nice and clear before you continue playing. You may have to put a bit of work in to figure out how best to explain these things to your particular players.

Expectations

This is a place where a lot of confusion can come up, and I often find it best to draw comparisons to video games in some cases.

You need to find out what your players are expecting from this game.

Are the players expecting a casual romp where they rove through dungeons and kill everything with little effort or risk to their characters? This is clearly not how you are running the game, and it's not how D&D was designed to be run.

Do they understand that, like a video game, bad things are going to happen to their characters from time to time?

Do they understand that, as the DM, it's your job to control the opposition and set up things that can hurt them? And yet, despite this...you're actually on their side? This is a weird thing for players who are used to competitive games to get their heads around. The goal of the DM is to create a challenging and engaging adventure for players to complete, and that means creating threats that can harm their characters. But you're not actually trying to kill them or prevent them from 'winning' the adventure. If you were, you'd just sic the Tarrasque on the first level adventurers...or have them be hit by a meteor...or spontaneously combust.

And one last thing to make sure your players understand...

For the sake of keeping the game moving forward, D&D makes it pretty clear that the DM is the final arbiter of the rules. The DMG explicitly says...

The rules aren’t in charge. You, the DM, are

and

The rules are a tool that you and the players use to have a good time

In short, the first rule of D&D is that if the DM contradicts a rule, the DM is right (and, if a rule gets in the way of everyone having fun, the DM can declare the rule void). This is an enormous amount of power and, as the DM, it is your responsibility to wield it responsibly. If players disagree with a ruling, they can bring it up...but as DM, you must have the authority to "Make the Call" so the game can continue. That's your Job. And, frankly, the DM has the hardest job by far.

That said, be humble with this power. If you were wrong about something, own up to it and see if you need to make it right.

TL;DR

In short, you need to sit down and make sure you are all on the same page with regards to what you expect out of D&D. And don't just steamroll their opinions, you're all in this together. If your players want plenty of warning before 'something bad' happens...then maybe you can start calling for Perception or Insight checks when a character is about to do something hazardous to their health, or focus your descriptions harder on hazardous things.

And you also need to make sure you all understand how D&D works, particularly with respect to how the DM and Players are meant to interact. It's laid out pretty plainly on page 6 of the Player's Handbook.

  1. The DM describes the environment
  2. The Players describe what they want to do
  3. The DM narrates the results of the adventurer's actions.
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    \$\begingroup\$ Another great answer. Thank you for your insight I want to grow as a DM as quick as possible so my group can have the best experience! \$\endgroup\$ – SaggingRufus Sep 14 '17 at 19:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for suggesting perception checks if a player is about to do something stupid without realizing it. I'd say call for perception checks as a general rule though, so they don't start thinking every perception check is telegraphing imminent danger. Also - wish I could +1 again for the DM is the final arbiter of the rules - any time I start new players, I tell them that rule 1 is that the DM is always right. (Which doesn't mean you can't raise issues, just that once a final decision is made by the DM, you must accept and move on.) \$\endgroup\$ – MAA Sep 15 '17 at 0:51
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Addressing complaints that your rulings aren't fair

A complaint about fairness usually comes from a player thinking to himself My character should have known that would happen, and acted differently.

In your example of a crumbling platform, it's very easy for a player to think that's just an immersive environment - rather than a game mechanic. You need to expressly indicate that it's a game mechanic. What I would do in this case is point out that it might fall when they step onto it:
The platform creaks under your weight, but seems to hold.
Ideally, this indicates to the player that it might break if more weight is put on it and they can make an informed decision on whether to stick around.

Additionally, I suspect that you don't have their enemies fall victim to these sorts of things.
If the misfortunes only happen to PCs, then... you actually are being unfair.
A little bit of enemy mishaps (remember! your monsters don't know that tile is unsafe - only you do) goes a LONG way toward making their own mishaps feel fair.

Addressing complaints that your rulings aren't right

Since you're new, and you clarified in comments that you've gotten some of these complaints, let me tell you how I approach game mechanics I don't know offhand.

Obviously, I try to know all the game mechanics first. There are few replacements for a thorough reading of the PHB.
But in cases where I don't, I'll ask if anyone else at the table can give me the rules for it in five seconds or less. Use your own common-sense judgement on whether you need to factcheck them.

What this accomplishes is to speed up the game because you don't have to go searching for the rules. As an added bonus, players will feel less justified in complaining about a rule because they either put forward the ruling or implicitly admitted they don't know how it works.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I disagree that you need to make it obvious when something is a game mechanic versus descriptive text. Part of the charm of tabletop gaming is that descriptive text can become a game mechanic through player agency. Imagine it had gone down another way, the player had taken note of a crumbling bridge and rather than rushed headlong across had asked the DM how easy it'd be to collapse, then waited for the monster to start crossing and used some means to collapse it. \$\endgroup\$ – gaynorvader Sep 15 '17 at 9:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ I disagree that you need to make it obvious when something is a game mechanic versus descriptive text. -> This runs down to a german saying. A picture says more than a thousand words. You simply can not convey as much information as the character sees, and the character has knowledge that the player does not (skill wise). As such, you must guide them and be explicit. \$\endgroup\$ – TomTom Sep 15 '17 at 10:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ @gaynorvader, when I say make it obvious, the intent is to make sure both you and the player know it could be a game mechanic. When a player takes something that was just a description and says "I want to make that a game mechanic", you have the power to say yes and keep everyone on the same page. We just want to avoid the situation where you know it's a game mechanic but the players don't - that's the only problematic one. \$\endgroup\$ – Speedkat Sep 15 '17 at 13:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think it comes down to a difference in style, but I still disagree. When I, as a player, hear any description, I pay attention. If I'm a DM, I would expect the same from my players. I don't like the idea of handholding the players too much and anytime the environment is mentioned it is a mechanic, even if it's an empty 10x10' room. \$\endgroup\$ – gaynorvader Sep 15 '17 at 14:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ OP said the platform collapsed specifically because an enemy stepped onto it, who was then killed in the process, so your "suspicions" seem to be without merit. \$\endgroup\$ – Dallium Sep 16 '17 at 1:42
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As mentioned in replies above; Having telegraphed warnings, such as when the platform gets some weight on it have it shift and creak. You could also get the player to roll for perception/engineering (without telling them what it's for) etc. to see if they notice that it won't take much weight.

That being said, it is your game, the world works the way you wish it to, don't pander to the players too much otherwise it can make it too much of a vanity project.

About the person that left

Had they fallen victim to a bunch of non-telegraphed sequences? Was it nothing out of the ordinary play of the game (ie: everyone was suffering the same sort of luck but that player just took it personally etc.).

If all players were getting the same sort of luck, I would start excluding the complainer based on their behaviour, particularly if they are always bringing up random rules to favour themselves (there is always a rules Nazi). Not an outright ban, but maybe each time they have a whinge don't invite them for a longer period than last time.

If they just happened to hit that bad luck and you feel that there was no way the player knew about the danger, but the character they played should have, then you probably need to start telegraphing more.

Maybe also have a go of Paranoia, if any player knows the rules you can say:

"posession of treasonous knowledge citizen, please report to your local termination chamber."

Just remember, happiness is mandatory.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ These types of things have happened to the other players. He also gets this irate about decisions that don't even affect his character. Lets make a quick hypothetical example: A blind elf walks into a dark room and gets ambushed. This monk would argue that since the elf has dark vision he should have seen it. To which I would say "... he is blind, so while you are right he does have dark vision, meaning he sees in the dark as well as he sees in a dim lit room. He still saw nothing and got ambushed" then after that he would say something like "well if he's blind he should have .... (1/2) \$\endgroup\$ – SaggingRufus Sep 15 '17 at 10:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ (2/2) heightened hearing." To which I will point out that the elf already did a check for that and failed. then he will usually say something like "but he has super hearing, how could he not know" while this is going on, the elf is fine with the decision, but I have to constantly explain my self to this guy and justify everything! \$\endgroup\$ – SaggingRufus Sep 15 '17 at 10:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SaggingRufus Do you know this person outside of DnD? Are they normally a reasonable person? While there are some people who can just be difficult, most of the time when people act like this it is because the feel they have "hit their limit". They feel there have been enough past transgressions that anything new is just "more of the same" even when it is totally reasonable. If this is the case, you will need to have a conversation with them about their concerns and let them know how you plan to address them, otherwise they won't be able to look at any changes you make with an open mind. \$\endgroup\$ – Barker Sep 15 '17 at 16:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Barker we are really good friends and game almost daily. He never acts like this unless we playing D&D, then he changes. \$\endgroup\$ – SaggingRufus Sep 15 '17 at 17:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ Maybe have a word to him about it 'outside' game. See if you can get him to behave a bit better in-game (don't phrase it that way). Maybe query the other players out of game, and see if they have any ideas. \$\endgroup\$ – Slipoch Sep 16 '17 at 23:23
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Based on your description, it seems like the problem your players are having may actually be less one of fairness than of agency. Rolling a dice to select a player or antagonistic character to receive damage at random is technically fair since either side could get hurt, but most players won't like it because they feel like they had no say in what happened. In order to have agency, players need to have 1) the power to impact the outcomes with their decisions in the game and 2) a reasonable amount of knowledge about the outcomes of their decisions. In the scenario your described, the player had the first (ie. they made a choice to get on the platform had a consequence), but the player may not have felt they had the second.

Now you probably felt that you did give them the knowledge they needed by mentioning the platform was crumbling. The thing is, it can sometimes be hard for players to tell the difference between details added for ambiance and those that are important information. Keep in mind, everything will always seem more obvious to you as GM. Don't be afraid to blatantly say to your players "the platform is crumbling and your are concerned about its stability". Alternatively you might say "the platform is crumbling; make an investigation check" and give information as in the table below:

DC   | Results
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5    | It seems pretty old
10   | You are concerned about its structural integrity
15   | You don't think it could handle more than one person on it
20   | You think it can handle about N lbs.  You might be able to rig 
     | it to fall as a trap if you remove some of the stones on the side.

This still has agency because the players chose how to build their characters and if no one decided to put skills into investigation, there are consequences later. The important thing is that the players can see a clear path where decisions they made led them to where they ended up in a foreseeable way.

Finally, one thing to keep in mind is you and your players may not be picturing what is going on in the same way. When you said there was a crumbing platform, you may have been picturing something high up with a long fall to the ground. They may have been picturing a 1 foot high space you can easily hop on an off of. Whenever you player does something you might think is stupid make sure the reason they should also see it as stupid is clear to them and let them revise if they thought it was something different. "I hop up on to the platform." "Ok, that will put you 10ft up on an unstable surface." "Oh, sorry, I thought it was a lot lower, never mind, I don't do that." This alone can really improve player agency because it makes sure that they and their character are working in the same world.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This was all happening during combat. An honest question, do people normally stop combat to do skill checks? Would it take an action? I'm not sure how to incorporate that into combat. \$\endgroup\$ – SaggingRufus Sep 15 '17 at 16:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ It depends on the skill check. Intelligence checks are usually a free action (you are just seeing if you know something). Our group does skill checks in combat all the time. For example, if the party is attacked by a creature, as GM one of the first things you might do is ask for an intelligence check and tell them about the creature based on their results. Low checks just tell the obvious, high checks tell weaknesses and things to watch out for. \$\endgroup\$ – Barker Sep 15 '17 at 16:31

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