So, this question is kind of the driving wheel behind several other recent questions of mine. It has been partially and/or indirectly answered elsewhere, but I'd like this question to centralize the full answer.

Basically, I recently played with a DM who, although adds a nice deal of storytelling to existing Adventurers League modules (which enhances play), also has the habit of suddenly changing existing rules within game sessions. On several occasions, these changes directly impeded the usefulness of some characters' features, and when I told him about the existing rules, he either discarded what I had to say or decided to rule otherwise anyway. (Non-exhaustive) examples are :

  • Made net-restrained foe attack their net without the disadvantage caused by the net (which led to the Multiattacking enemy to free themselves easier than the normal rules would allow them, thus being able to make their other attacks in their turn) -- this is incorrect according to this question : Do you have disadvantage at attacking the net that's restraining you?

  • Made a target of a successful Flee Command word Disengage before moving away instead of Dashing (as per the default rules, the target should have Dashed, thus getting opportunity attacks in the way, which the player was counting on when using the Command spell) -- this is incorrect according to this question : Is the target of a successful Flee Command able to Disengage before moving away?

  • Made us spend twice as much movement points to travel diagonally on a square grid map (which is even more restrictive than the "realistic movement" from the DMG where you alternatively spend 5 and 10ft when moving diagonally)

  • Prevented the use of a Magic Item, firstly because the player had not mentioned it before play (but was not asked to do so and is not forced to do so to benefit from it when not prompted according to this question : Must the DM be told before a game what magic items a PC owns?), but later said that even if the player had mentioned it, he still would have refused the magic item's usage because his sessions are connected (the sessions in question were parts of a module trilogy, specifically DDAL07-07 and DDAL07-08) -- this is incorrect according to this question (case 1) : Can an AL DM prevent you from getting access to a Magic item obtained between two of his sessions?

When you're playing in a homebrew game, the DM is of course empowered to make all the rule changes he wants. But I feel like in Adventurers League organized play, a DM is not allowed to change existing ("core") rules. I might be mistaken, hence why I'm asking this question.

So the bottom line question is : is an AL DM allowed to change existing rules? If so, to what extent? If not, what consequences should apply when he does so regardless?

Note that, although the actions of this DM have left me quite angry (it's a flaw I have, unfortunately), I don't believe he is a bad DM per say - quite the contrary, in fact. His storytelling skills are, I would say, better than mine (I am also an occasional DM), and it frustrates me that I'm unable to enjoy his story-enhanced games because of these rule changes he makes that impede the strategies we try to apply during play. I want to have an official, clear answer to give him that he should not keep changing existing rules going forward, in order for all his players to enjoy his games like they certainly would otherwise.


3 Answers 3



Consider the following excerpt from the AL FAQ:

What Rules Do I Use

As a D&D Adventurers League Dungeon Master, you are empowered to adjudicate the rules as presented by the official materials (PHB, DMG, MM, etc.). Run the game according to those rules, but you are the final arbiter of any ambiguities that might arise in doing so. (Emphasis mine.)

We see this also in the AL DMG which says in "Playing the Dungeon Master"

You're Empowered. Make decisions about how the group interacts with the adventure; adjusting or improvising is encouraged, so long as you maintain the adventure’s spirit. This doesn’t allow you to implement house rules or change those of the Adventurers League, however; they should be consistent in this regard. (Emphasis mine.)

DMs are simply not allowed to change rules, houserule, or intentionally mis-read rules.

But DaleM first made an excellent point:

The DM is allowed to be wrong!

Most of your examples look like places where your DM has made a mistake. I'd submit, though, that at least in bullets 2 & 4 those are reasonable mistakes to make. In (2) during combat they may not have the complete text of command at the tip of their brain. Likewise for (4) the rules on how adventures continue over sessions aren't referenced very often. We simply don't look over those rules very frequently, so they're not at the tip of the brain. Did they handle it well? Maybe not. Is that understandable? Maybe.

Not only are they allowed to be wrong, I'd expect my AL DM to make mistakes some times. The GM has a lot of chances to make a mistake during a session. We're not going to get every one of them right. I, personally, often lean on my players (half of whom are excellent GMs, too) to keep me on the "straight-and-narrow."

So it comes down to this: what happens when my AL DM is wrong?

You've said "when I told him about the existing rules, he either discarded what I had to say or decided to rule otherwise anyway." I think we're missing an important bit of context here: was that during the middle of an encounter? At the end of a session? Before the beginning of a session? Offline?

There aren't many players whose definition of "fun" is gathering at their FLGS to spectate as two people debate rules while their characters' lives are on pause. I'd suggest that in real time isn't the time to press a disagreement. Raise it once? Sure. But if they don't immediately see your point then jot yourself a note and move on.

Raising rules-questions out-of-session.

Ask your DM if you can chat with them while you help clean up minis and fold up maps. Explain exactly what you said above: you love some things about their style (and are trying to learn from them) but other things make it hard for you. Your understanding of AL is that they're supposed to hew to the rules. You understand they'll make mistakes just like any human, that they have many more opportunities to make mistakes, and their mistakes are more visible/impactful than any others. And ask how you can help.

If that gets nothing, if they show no interest in reducing their error rate, that's when you ask the site coordinator for help.


Yes and No

From the current (25 August 2017) Adventurers League FAQ (pp. 2-3) [my emphasis]:

What Rules Do I Use

As a D&D Adventurers League Dungeon Master, you are empowered to adjudicate the rules as presented by the official materials (PHB, DMG, MM, etc.). Run the game according to those rules, but you are the final arbiter of any ambiguities that might arise in doing so.

D&D 5e deliberately embraces a rulings over rules philosophy so the DM decides how the rules apply to any given situation. Does this give a lot of power to the DM? Bet your a** it does!

Unfortunately, it also means that if your DM reads a rule, decides that they don't like it, they can then "adjudicate the rules" to mean whatever they prefer the rule to mean. The DM is allowed to be wrong! Even egregiously, arbitrarily, knowingly and spitefully wrong. Doing so makes them a bad DM but they are still the DM.

In many instances you may think the DM's ruling is wrong, I might think its wrong, RPG.se might think its wrong, Jeremy Crawford might think its wrong, the Supreme Court of the United States might think its wrong. None of that matters - the DM is "the final arbiter".

You can talk to him, you can ask the organizer to talk to him, you can show him all the answers you have gotten on this site. He may change, he may not.

The only powers anyone has over the DM are:

  • not to play with them
  • "The organizer has the right to remove a disruptive or aggressive player or Dungeon Master from the play area or premises" (Adventurers League Players Guide v7.0) - this doesn't seem to be an issue at present.

You have to either accept the ruling(s) and enjoy the game as best you can or find another DM.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ This is not correct... In DDAL play, the DM is the arbiter of ambiguities, not the rules at large. \$\endgroup\$
    – T.J.L.
    Jan 31, 2018 at 13:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ @T.J.L. And if the DM rules the rule is ambiguous? \$\endgroup\$
    – Dale M
    May 11, 2021 at 21:39

I'm going to echo @nitsua60 here, the DM is allowed to be wrong.

Working through your examples, these are not incredibly common cases in a very complex game. I've been DMing 5e 2x / week for 2+ years and a lot of this stuff is very easy to screw up.

  • I've yet to have a net come into play in all of that time. The disadvantage comes from the condition granted by the net, it's not in the actual text, so it's easy to forget. And the net has an AC of 10. So you're talking ~20% chance that the disadvantage was even relevant. I can see how this is unfortunate, but it's really small on the random scale.
  • The "realistic movement" thing is also unfortunate, but I've actually been mistakenly playing that method for a while with no issues at the table. Honestly, in my latest game, I have a few giant jungle maps with no grids at all 😯. Everyone works on rough measurements and everything works just fine, if someone is worried about line of sight or range, we just talk it out quickly. D&D is not a "war game simulator", heck, grids and miniatures are completely optional.
  • The magic item thing is again uncommon. In my weekly game, the odd player does come back from a con with a new magic item, but maybe like twice in 2 years. Typically, they are alert enough to mention it to me, especially if it's a little more powerful than expected. But I'm also allowed to audit everyone's logs before I start the game, so I can know this information if I really care to. But again, this isn't a regular occurrence and does involve diving deep into the AL's DM Guide.

It sounds like you know the rules for AL + D&D very well. That's great for you. Not every DM does. DMs are not pre-programmed video game machines, they all have their bugs.

At some point, the way to bridge this gap is simply to communicate. This whole thing is a shared story-telling game. If someone points out a small mistake politely, most DMs are happy to retcon the correct experience. If you come back to your weekly game having played something in-between, just tell the DM in advance so that they're not surprised.

Everyone has to contribute.

  • \$\begingroup\$ To clarify, the situations here were in the shape of "DM: this happens; Me: Huh? I don't think that's how it's supposed to happen; DM: Yes it is; Me: But isn't (explanation specific to the situation) ?; DM: No". So in other words, I pointed him about the mistakes in question, but he would continue to apply them. \$\endgroup\$
    – Gael L
    Jan 31, 2018 at 13:35
  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ On your third bullet... audit is an important word. An AL DM can audit, but not edit. Unless the DM is accusing the player of cheating, in which case they should eject the player from the game, they cannot deny the use of a properly earned and properly logged item. \$\endgroup\$
    – T.J.L.
    Jan 31, 2018 at 13:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ To give credit where it's due, my "dm is allowed to be wrong" is a point Dale' s answer made before mine existed. It might be more appropriate to give the nod their way than mine. \$\endgroup\$
    – nitsua60
    Jan 31, 2018 at 19:13

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