I have been running a long, epic campaign for 2 years now. Players have come and gone over time; about half have stayed since the beginning.

But since they acquired a higher level and well as knowledge of game mechanics (5e), they constantly antagonize me, the DM, in my rulings. They try to bend the rules and abuse every aspect of game mechanic to "put me in my place" and beat the game.

I constantly find myself telling them they can't do something. For example, one player wants to abuse the Bag of Holding by using it as a vehicle, "All players get inside and a dominated eagle carries us". When I told them that the bag has a limited space, he was visibly outraged.

Another time, they were racing against the bad guys through the Teleport through Plants spell of the druid. I made one of the bad guys' many mages then simply use the teleport spell, the players got angry at me again.

It has gotten to the point where I am not willing to play D&D because they are trying to wrestle all control from me as a DM, jumping and killing encounters I prepared with a lot of care and excitement (I put a lot of passion into my story, trying to keep it full with 3-dimensional characters, reoccurring themes, plot twists and dynamic relations. I even oil paint the most awesome moments that occur throughout the campaign).

I told them that the game can't be played if the DM can't have enough control to know what to prep, but then they argue that it can. I tell them that if the bad guys are a smart organization, of course I will let them outsmart the players, and I tell them that if they abuse the rules to do extreme things, why can't the Zhentarim do that too?

It's like they don't want to have me as a Dungeon Master and play my campaign, but they want me as a Dungeon Processor who runs their fantasies of unlimited power. And when I stop them, even with the best arguments, then I am the bad guy who is ruining their fun.

The problem though is, as sad as it might be, at this point of my life I've got nothing but D&D for fun. I work a night-shift job, and work on my degree during the day. I am constantly broke, and D&D, writing stories, making adventures, and running the campaign is all I have, so I am quite anxious about breaking up the campaign, as any normal DM would have done by now. Because then I will be left with nothing, and all the heart I put in to this campaign for the last 2 years will be dead in the water.

Is there anything I can do, or any suggested course of action to get my group back on track?

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    Are there times when the players actually have the ability to shine and snub their opponents or is it possible from their point of view that everything they do is one-upped by your NPCs? – Slagmoth Mar 22 at 19:45
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    They shine all the time, more then they are worth actually. The lvl 14 barbarian (the head whiner) basically killed a pit fiend almost by himself. The dwarven gunslinger absolutely slaughtered a priest of bane before he could summon a group of devils, turning the tides by himself. I believe the shine almost too much – Xycas Mar 22 at 20:00
  • @Xycas O_o I would say... Pit Fiend should be a deadly encounter for 4 14th levels... – Slagmoth Mar 22 at 20:07
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    because they always take advantage of the world, they "convinced" a mage from an earlier quest line to give them control over 2 iron golems, who tanked the pit fiend. I didn't want to allow that, of course, but after 2 hours of arguing "we saved his life he can give us his golems" i just sad F*** it he gives you controll over them EDIT: its 6 players – Xycas Mar 22 at 20:09
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    By oil paint do you mean literally painting a picture or is it some sort of metaphore? – Tim B Mar 23 at 20:23

11 Answers 11

up vote 49 down vote accepted

Shared Storytelling isn't easy

Right now, you and your players are working towards very different things. You want balanced and challenging adventures. You also have a very clear vision of what you want the adventures to entail. They want to do amazing, creative, even zany things.

The problem you are having is the amazing things they would do would break the game balance of the adventures you’ve prepared. But I doubt your players really want there never to be a challenge — they just are champing to do some more of the shared storytelling.

You and your players are telling different stories. The best way out of this is for the stories both sides are telling to weave together more. That might mean things happening in your world that you think are a little goofy. My advice is you do your best to accept player input.

Commit to sharing the story

The good news is you’ve got passionate, creative players that want to take an active role in the game. Yes, that comes with its own challenges, but it can be way more rewarding than players that always just ask, "Is it time to roll initiative yet?"

You should let your players know you want to commit to shared storytelling, being more open to their creative ideas. What you need from them is acceptance that your hours of preparation usually cannot be entirely skipped. Some things will happen largely as the adventure you have prepared, because that is the adventure you prepared. See if they will agree to this deal.

If they really want a more open-ended game style where they can skip content, you could let them know that (like any sane person) you don’t want to throw away hours of work on a regular basis, so you would spend less time on preparation. The encounters would be a lot less fleshed out.

Instead of telling them "No" tell them "Yes, but."

Now for the "Yes, but how?"

Players tend to be much less upset when you let them try out their idea to limited success, than when you stonewall it. Keep things moving by following Tina Fey's 4 Rules of Improv.

That Bag of Holding trick? The rules say there’s a limited amount of air in the bag. So instead of just saying, "No (ya dummy) that won't work" you might have let them try it, and then use the limited air supply issue to make sure this trick is not overpowering.

In some instances, you can stall them by saying an idea will probably work, but they'll need some downtime to work out the kinks. For example, since the Bag of Holding has a soft bottom, you end up piled on top of each other and it’s just intolerable, and it’s dark, etc. The message is, that’s a fun idea and you can try it later, but right now it just won’t work because it would skip all the preparation.

Have Contingency Plans for Dodged Challenges

Your players like to try to be clever and duck out of challenges you present. Be ready for this, and let winning that race have its own challenges. That MacGuffin they won the race to with their teleport spell might be more heavily guarded than they’d been led to believe. They can still feel clever about beating the Zhentarim there, but now there are ogres. (OK?)

So, you’ll want to identify parts of the adventure that might get skipped, and prepare those a little less. Prepare the “goal” parts of the adventure more.

Use non-combat time to develop shared storytelling

If you let your players come up with clever solutions in downtime, they will feel less stymied, but you will still have time to adjust your adventures to accommodate their clever new tricks.

Taking the specific examples you happened to pick, your players seem to want to skip the overland travel part of their encounters. You might work out a new mode of transport — together with your players — that they think is cool and are happy to use. The key is getting input from everyone. This can happen in-game, where friendly NPC’s find out what the party might want, or out-of-game, where you just talk to the players about what they think might be cool.

Find fun that does not hinge upon your players doing what you want

You mentioned D&D is the lion’s share of the fun you are having right now. And you get disappointed when the players deviate from your intentions. But you should let go of trying to control them, because that will never work.

One way to relax about what the players are doing is to think of your campaign as something that has a life outside of the current game. You’ve basically created an adventure modules — with the amount of work you’ve already put into this, you really might think of putting your materials together as modules that might be distributed, or at least, replayed with a different group. The actions of your current players are just one thing that might happen in the modules.

Give yourself credit

I just wanted to add that, yes, your players sound like a bit of a handful. Seems that folks at the table are very into the game, sometimes a bit too much. Excited debates about what should be possible are part of many campaigns, but hours-long arguments that you don’t enjoy are not something you should have to put up with. (And guildsbounty, for one, offers a lot of good advice about getting them to stop.)

You are in your rights to say, “I’m done arguing about this. Let’s pack up for tonight and I’ll think about it.”

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    One of your sessions, don't go to your DND session. Treat everyone to a drop-in improv class! – corsiKa Mar 23 at 15:44
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    "you should let go of trying to control them, because that will never work." This, a thousand times this. – Totumus Maximus Mar 26 at 15:28

It's time to have an out-of-game discussion with your players.

This is not an issue that can be resolved with DMing styles, rules adjustments, or anything of the like. This is, in truth, an interpersonal issue--and needs to be handled as such.

So, you need to get the party together when you aren't playing the game and address a few things.

They seem to think D&D is adversarial in nature

Your players seem to have this idea that the DM is the Enemy, and they are trying to Beat the DM. This is not the case of any sane D&D game...if the DM is your enemy, he is going to win. Every single time. Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies. Game Over. DM Wins.

As you appear to know, this is not the case. You are not their enemy, you are working with them to create an engaging and challenging adventure.

Be Frank about your prep time and improv capabilities.

Yes, there are DMs out there who can improvise anything at the drop of a hat. Who can weave together a consistent, believable, awesome story out of thin air. 99.99% of us can't do that. A 'good' DM usually has significant ability to improvise, bending their story and plotline around their players' actions. But if the players just surge ahead of everything, break your entire plot, and move beyond anything you are even remotely prepared for? Most DMs hit that point and, at best, end up having to call for a break so they can go figure out what to do.

So, be honest with your players. Let them know that you have a life and a job, too...and only have so much time to prepare for the campaign. It's one thing if they just happen to do something totally unexpected, but if they are intentionally trying to shred all your hard work on a regular basis...well, you're going to have to cut sessions short.

While railroading is not often viewed as a positive thing, there is an implicit social contract that should be followed whenever you're playing D&D...and it's simple: "Play Along." The DM is trying to take you through a story of some sort, so if you just merrily, intentionally skip past all of their plot hooks...you're going to exhaust your DM and burn out their entire stock of plans.

Discuss why you say no.

We can tell that you aren't being arbitrary about this, but your players may not see it that way.

For example: Why don't you want to give your players a pair of Iron Golems? Well, because at your level--a single Iron Golem is stronger than the entire party. Two of them, by themselves, could kill nearly anything I would normally throw at you. So, to challenge you, I have to seriously amp up the difficulty of combat encounters, and that means you guys end up fighting things that will annihilate you if they hit you, not the golems. I don't want to make things so ridiculously easy that you guys are never challenged, and I don't want to make things ridiculously lethal to compensate for the fact that you have a pair of CR 16 golems escorting you.

As an addition to that...

Talk about why the rules are being used in the first place.

The rules of D&D and, indeed, any tabletop RPG exist to create a balanced field where things work in particular ways and make sense. They exist to create limits, which create challenges. If your players are just interested in having unlimited power fantasies with a narrator, why are they playing D&D? If they aren't interested in the game having rules that constrain things to create such challenges, it would make far more sense for them to play a free-form Pure Roleplaying RPG like you could find on many a post-by-post roleplaying forum.

Discuss the role of the DM

The standard rule of almost all roleplaying games is commonly known as Rule Zero (named after an actual rule in D&D 3E). The rule is simply that the DM's call is final.

The purpose of this rule is to keep gameplay going.

If you have often seen children playing a make-believe game, you have likely seen their games disintegrate into an argument over how the game is supposed to work and why the game works the way each child wants the game to work. And then they end up spending more time arguing than they do actually having any fun.

The DM is granted the power of Rule Zero in order to prevent this from happening. In order to keep the game moving, in order to keep everyone else from getting stuck at the table listening to two people arguing over some minutiae of how they think a rule ought to be interpreted (and thus meaning that everyone except the two arguing people are bored and not having fun), the DM is given final adjudicative authority.

Appeal to friendship

Presumably, these people are your friends. Make it clear to them that while you enjoy hanging out with them and spending time doing stuff with them, they are making D&D Not Fun for you. The point of a game is for everyone (including the DM) to have fun together, and their regular "beat up on the DM" sessions are making you miserable. You don't want to end the game, because you like them and want to hang out with them...but you aren't having fun while they keep acting like this.

Establish a system for handling future disagreements.

Once you have this hashed out, there are still going to be cases where they disagree with you. So, how do you approach it? A few options.

  1. Let the rulebooks do the disagreeing for you. When a player wants to do something that breaks the rules, ask them to look the relevant rules (/spell/magic item/whatever) up in the rulebook and then read them. If they keep trying to contest, just point at the sourcebook and shrug. "Them's the rules." Hopefully, this means they get mad at the book, not you. Deflecting blame onto inanimate objects or concepts is a fantastic disagreement settling technique. Perhaps the phrase: "I'm sorry, there's nothing I can do, that's just company policy" sounds familiar to you?
  2. Give them advantages when they are clever. In the example of the race that you gave, let their trick with teleportation (assuming it was rules-legal) give them a head start...and have the Zhentarim act extremely surprised to find out that they aren't in the lead. "We teleported! How did they get ahead of us!?"
  3. Be blunt. If your party starts asking for something absurd, break character and tell them why not. "No. I can't let you guys make off with a pair of CR 16 minions...it'll break combat balance so badly I might kill you all by mistake." or "Sorry guys, you just ignored absolutely everything I had prepped for tonight. I guess we're done."
  4. Have an established 'out.' A way to set an argument aside and move on. For example: "Alright guys, we need to keep the game moving. I'm just going to make a call for now, and then if you want to keep discussing it later, you can hit me up on chat/text me/meet me for coffee/whatever during the week. If we need to retcon something later, we can."

So what if this doesn't work?

You had your chat, they didn't listen...what now?

Re-roll

It's much easier to confine low-level players. Let the campaign you are running come to an end, then start a new game with low-level characters. Be more cautious about passing out magic items, make sure NPCs they rescue don't have earthshakingly powerful minions...etc.

Try a different game system

Other game systems, such as Fate and Savage Worlds are less tightly constrained than D&D is. See if they're interested in trying out a game in some other system that is lighter on rules.

Hand over DMing responsibility.

Your players clearly aren't going to be happy with your DMing style, so let one of them take over. You can keep hanging out, keep playing D&D as a player. Let one of them adjudicate their power fantasies instead.

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    Beautiful answer. Maybe add that some systems give more power to the Players without detracting from the DM'ing (in the other systems section). I'm thinking of 4e where my characters were literally superheroes. – David Coffron Mar 22 at 21:17
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    "Sorry guys, you just ignored absolutely everything I had prepped for tonight. I guess we're done." - This right here. It's like a player showing up and saying, "Oh yeah, I didn't bother making a character." The players expect you to create something in the world for them, so if they opt to ignore the challenges you laid out, then end the session. They won't wilfully ignore it next time. Of course, make sure you have several ways to point them at the encounter. If you make it a railroad, players aren't likely to take the bait. That's why there are plot HOOKS plural. You want to get a bite. – Lino Frank Ciaralli Mar 22 at 22:25

A principle we have in D&D is that you should let the players be awesome. If they find a clever way to avoid or negate an obstacle, the DM should let them have their victory as a reward for being clever.

Having said that, it's important to check the rulebook. I notice the transport via plants spell says:

You must have seen or touched the destination plant at least once before.

and it's not clear if your players had done that.


One thing that I do, when the players try something surprising, is I ask them to find the relevant spell or magic item and read the text to me. When I do it this way, it's not me telling them they can't do something -- it's the rulebook itself.

The other thing that I do is I try not to run campaigns that last as long as yours have. D&D gets harder and harder to run at high levels -- the players get more and more control over the game. What I usually do is I plan an epic final battle, and after they win, I congratulate them on their victory. Then I say: "This campaign is over, but I'm starting another one next week, and you can build a new character to play in that one."

That way, broken spells and magic items (etc) don't stick around forever -- the players can have fun exploiting them but eventually they go away.

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    Based on the other descriptions, the players are ignoring the actual rules (see Bag of Holding argument). – NautArch Mar 22 at 20:45
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    @NautArch: that's why this is good advice: better the players be visibly annoyed with the rulebook than with the DM. – TimLymington Mar 22 at 20:50
  • What...? No high level play? Rip all my 20 level builds xD – David Coffron Mar 22 at 21:16
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    @DavidCoffron 5E did a better job with the unwieldy might of post 12th level but it takes a special kind of patience and tenacity to keep the reins on characters beyond that point. Most of our number crunching for all the editions seem to have 12+ the start of a disproportionate balancing system. – Slagmoth Mar 22 at 21:22
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    I fundementally disagree with the idea of always blindly accepting a "clever way" to victory. Part of a DM's duty is to make the players enjoy a story, if Gandalf had said at the start "well I'll drop the ring in the volcano with an eagle", the campaign was over and everybody can go home. Nobody wants that. – Theik Mar 23 at 10:47

Relearn how to DM

... jumping and killing encounters I have prepared with a lot of care and excitement (i put a lot of passion in my story, trying to keep it full with 3dimensional characters, reoccurring themes, plot twists and dynamic relations. I even oil paint the most awesome moments that occur throughout the campaign).

This isn't what a DM does: its what a novelist does.

The entire point of D&D is for the players to smash your encounters, outwit their enemies and destroy their plans. The fun of being a DM is finding out how the other players will do this.

The "most awesome moments that occur throughout the campaign" are what the PCs do: not what you do. Go and look at the fundamental rule of D&D (PHB p.6):

How to Play

  1. The DM describes the environment
  2. The players describe what they want to do
  3. The DM narrates the results of the adventurers’ actions

The adventurer's actions are the things in the world that have results. The player's are the people who have agency in the world: everything you do is scenery and bit-parts.

Don't punish cleverness - reward it

You say:

... one player wants to abuse the Bag of Holding, using it as a vehicle.

I hear:

... one player wants to use the Bag of Holding, using it as a vehicle.

Now, there are reasons why this might not work, specifically:

Breathing creatures inside the bag can survive up to a number of minutes equal to 10 divided by the number of creatures (minimum 1 minute), after which time they begin to suffocate.

Point this out to the players - if they can find a way around it then good for them.

Bad guys make mistakes

When they try to beat the bad guys in a race against time through the Teleport through Plants spell of the druid, and I make the bad guys then simply use the teleport spell (they have many mages amongst them, so its nothing irrational) they get angry at me again.

And rightly so. It isn't irrational but it is cheating.

Now, if after they have used Teleport through Plants and caught up with the bad guys and if the bad guys survive then the bad guys can use Teleport and they players won't feel cheated. If the bad guys don't survive then yay the players won through their cleverness and get to feel good and next time you plan a race against time scenario you might remember to think about things like Teleport and Contact other Plane and all the cool things that exist because its a fantasy world.

That said, there are plenty of bad guys who are dead or in jail in the real world because they made a stupid mistake. Even really smart people are not immune to this. "15 years for something I didn't do! I didn't wipe my fingerprints off the safe."

Don't prep plots

Plots are for novels: they have no place in a role-playing game.

A plot is a sequence of events: A happens, then B happens, then C happens. (In more complicated forms, the sequence of events might fork like a Choose Your Own Adventure book, but the principle remains the same.)

A situation, on the other hand, is merely a set of circumstances. The events that happen as a result of that situation will depend on the actions the PCs take.

So they killed the BBEG the first time they meet him and you expected he would taunt them a second time. This is great! Now you get to think about what happens next. There is now a great big power vacuum at the top of the Evil OrganisationTM. Who will fill it? Will there be a smooth transition of power or will the Evil OrganisationTM shatter into factions? How could those factions advance the story? Could one or more reach out to the PCs for help? Will ControlTM try to enlist the players to destroy the Evil OrganisationTM in the chaos? How will that help KaosTM in their plans? So many possibilities!

  • I suggest trying to find a way to inline the Control & Kaos images or whatever it is you want to convey with them, since both of those links could easily break. (Alternately if you're confident the meaning is OK even if the images break, feel free to ignore this suggestion.) – doppelgreener Mar 23 at 0:30
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    I am tired of this answer. Dynamic, plot rich D&D, with players excited to explore ongoing story threads and their PCs' growing role and influence in the world, is perfectly good D&D. It's about what the group wants to play, not what is the right or wrong way to run a RPG. "Relearn how to DM"..?! – Neil B Mar 23 at 9:33
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    @NeilB - While it's true that that's a perfectly good way to play, the question makes it sound like the group in question doesn't want to play that way and, like you said, it's about what the group wants to play. If the group wants to play in a different way than the GM wants to run, then the GM needs to either find a new group, convince the current group to play the way he wants to run, or... learn to run the way the group wants to play. – Dave Sherohman Mar 23 at 11:54
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    @NeilB I have no problem with adventure of the week or dungeon crawl or sandbox D&D. This answer is targeted to the OP who doesn’t want those styles - he wants an epic story and doesn’t realize that stories are fragile. – Dale M Mar 23 at 21:17

Consider letting your players outsmart you (sometimes).

RPG's are ultimately games of power fantasy, where the player takes on a role of a hero of the land, who possesses incredible abilities and battles impossible odds. They often serve a fundamentally different experience to the players than their real life, letting them slay terrible monsters, cast powerful, world-bending spells, and become important figures throughout the land.

The point is, they play to feel awesome. They worked hard and went along with you through those lower levels in order to gain awesome abilities, and use them to overcome challenges you place before them. They want to be clever and feel like they "won", especially now that they have some crazy abilities and remember how the only thing they could do at first level was hit the goblin with their stick, or throw a glorified spark at them. They want and need to succeed in order to keep having fun with the game, and not start treating it as a mental exercise in which they have to abandon fun for the sake of outsmarting you.

Another point: the DM and the players play together, not against each other. This seems to be a common enough occurrence that most DM's have at least heard of such case, but the whole point of the game is to tell an awesome story together. Sure, you all need challenges, and the DM must act and play the world as if they wanted to kill or otherwise stop the players from achieving their goals, but that just serves to provide tension and chance of failure, without which there would be no excitement when the heroes finally succeed in obtaining the artifact or slay the demon prince. There has to be danger for the players to feel like they achieved something when they overcome it, but the whole point is for them to succeed.

You could also take the approach of "sure, but...". For example, you could've let them win the race by teleportation, but later let the bad guys steal the prize from them at night, or take it away under the pretext of violating the rules against teleportation in official races (if it were a more structured thing with such rules in place). Let them travel in the Bag of Holding, but the Eagle might've missed the destination, or the concentration of the caster might've been broken. (by the way, Bags of Holding have enough air to sustain one creature over ten minutes, so that might've been a problem if they all went inside it)

I understand you put a lot of work into your world and into what you prepare for them to play, I do it too, but you have to be flexible and let the players have their freedom. Especially at higher levels, when teleportation becomes the normal form of travel, you can't prepare everything, and have to be ready to improvise, sometimes a whole session or two, sometimes a whole city or a country they visit unexpectedly. Try to prepare more of a "these are the major events that will happen over the next, say, ten days", and let the world naturally react to what the party does, rather than "this is what I want the players to do over the next ten days", because that will never work, due to Murphy's Law.

Also, make sure your players understand how you feel and have a feeling of how much work you put into this. This is not in an attempt for you to make them feel bad, but rather for them to understand that it's a workout to prepare a fun, compelling game for them, especially now when you can't railroad them as easily, or at all.

After reading the comments on your question, though, it seems like the fault lies much more with the players than at the middle or with you, as I initially thought. In that case, you might want to talk to them out-of-game about what your thoughts are on their way of playing, and ask them to consider not only if what they're trying to do is mechanically sound, but also if their actions would fit the world and the situation they find themselves in. Also make sure they're asking the NPC, and not you - they'll be less inclined to threaten the archmage out of his golems than they'll be to threaten you and your idea of fun.

If you talk for more than fifteen minutes out-of-game on the feasibility of something in-game, it's time to make an executive decision and move on. It might not be a decision your players will like, but don't be afraid to go against them and explain yourself later. For example, the golems. I would never hand them over to the party if they weren't the intended prize, or if the party didn't do something extraordinary to earn them (eg. not only saved the guy's life, but also restored his home and retrieved his possessions, or something comparable). Even then, it might be just one golem, or not a complete ownership change, but a loan, with a promise to return the constructs in pristine state. Even then, you could devise a scheme to rid them of the golems or make them irrelevant to a particular situation. (Antimagic Field? Dispel Magic? material specific method, like Stone to Flesh or a strong magnet?)

This then can become a game of "who can outsmart the other side", which can be fun for a while, but ultimately will lead to you all not playing D&D, but rather playing a meta-game around that.

TL;DR Let the players use the awesome and powerful abilities they worked hard to earn, even if it means occasionally trivializing what you've prepared for them. Provide power-adequate and hard-to-trivialize challenges, and make sure they feel like they succeeded at something often enough to keep them feeling fulfilled. Make sure any outraging pleas are made in-game, so that it's easier for you to justify declining. If they keep wanting more than you deem appropriate, don't be afraid to put your foot down and say "no", for even if they are discontent now, the challenges they'll face in the future will be so much more rewarding if they don't have all those things they begged you for and have to actually work harder to overcome the adversity.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – mxyzplk Apr 17 at 3:11

I would say that at least some of the issue might be your seemingly outragious reward system. I will admit I have been pretty stingy in the past with rewards and treasure found. Just recently for the first time in 30 years I gave out Armor of Invulnerability. I admit I was worried how it would turn out. I will let you know. But giving out two Iron Golems to a 14th level party (I know table mileage varies and you were somewhat bullied into it) but this would have been way outside the realm of my comfort zone, Shield Guardian would have been a better choice in my opinion but I don't know the rest of the story.

You might consider an alternate mindset. I realize you have not really provided much insight into your role-play style but consider keeping them as much in character as possible in situations like that. So instead of bullying you into something they will be attempting to bully the NPC, which can have bad repercussions. This may be too little too late in your current situation and you might have to address all of this out of character and possibly as a last resort get new players. Perhaps fresh faces and perspectives can help your players and yourself come to a common ground.

Knowing the rules is one thing, having the players know the rules is another. But one thing I have learned over the years is I used to say "No, you can't do that" far too much. Now I simply let my players try.

As an example: Your Bag of Holding issue, I would have said something along the lines of "Ok, Bob the Whiny Barbarian gets into the Bag, when Sue the Sorcerer tries she notices that the opening is somehow rejecting her." I might not invoke penalty of overloading and ruining the bag, but then again I might. Also, keep in mind that from the inside, without Planeshift (or similar) you cannot get out again. :)

I also mirror @DanB with having the players look things up and reading them to me. I have done this and it has worked to quell rebellion for me as well.

And last but certainly not least. I used to also spend endless hours preparing a detailed story or encounter only to have my players go in an entirely unexpected direction. My advice to this is outline certain things but get better at adjudicating and story-telling on the fly. People are unpredictable and gamers even more so. I have had players burn level 5 spells to find an acolyte to show them where the privy was. I have had players use the grease spell then skate on their shields to avoid a trap. It is not just the DM that tells the story, but the players do as well. This is a lesson that can be gleaned from Gamers: Dorkness Rising. If you have not seen that movie it might help you a bit as well. It made me look at myself in the mirror a bit.

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    Do bear in mind that his players (by his account) whined and cajoled and argued and debated and irritated their DM until an NPC they had rescued who happened to own a pair of Iron Golems as guardians handed them over. That was not a reward he was planning to give them. – guildsbounty Mar 22 at 21:02
  • Granted, he could have just had the Wizard kill them or leave without any reward... all sorts of options. I understand the frustration of difficult players, I have one that thinks every character he has is an engineer :( – Slagmoth Mar 22 at 21:18

There may also be a playstyle element to this problem as well. Some DMs and players like a more scripted linear adventure, with a plot, and defined obstacles. Others may be more comfortable with a more “sandbox” sort of playstyle, in which there is much more freedom to act.

In my early D&D days, our group had two main DMs, me and George. George is, among other things, a movie scriptwriter. His adventures are always interesting, detailed, intricate, and closely plotted. The party pretty much has to follow the course if the whole thing is to work, and if they stray too far off, events are likely to happen to shunt them back on course. It was very hard for me to adapt to. But I eventually relaxed my playstyle, and resolved to just enjoy his stories, and had great fun. Conversely, my world is a big sandbox. I decide where everything is, and the characters decide how to respond to everything. “Here’s what you see. What do you do?” George felt lost in my world; there were no clear channels to take to further the adventure. He eventually adapted to my style as well, and became a very creative player.

So, you and your players may just need to come to some accord as to what game you are playing, how much the plots matter, and how much improvising is wanted.


I’m a “big sandbox” kind of guy. I try, in my campaigns, to develop several events going on, and let the characters discover various bits about them, depending on where they go and what they do, and they get to decide how (or if) to interact. Right now, I’ve got two parties of adventurers roaming my world, on a continent about the size of Australia.

Among other things, they’ve found a necromancer who wants to become Santa Claus (both parties have decided he’s more-or-less harmless for now; one party has hired some of his rent-an-undead teams). There’s a mad demon-worshipping wizard, who has befriended both parties to play with; he helps them out often, but also summons demons to fight them just for the fun of it.

One party is looking at a blue dragon who has enslaved a bunch of gold dragonborn related to one of the characters. The other party has been hired by a Revenant to help him get revenge on the evildoers who slaughtered his family and took their ancestral castle.

Both parties are connected in different ways to a plotline involving a Hobgoblin Warlord, who is amassing an army of thousands in order to fight a Kraken underwater and drive it off of a shipwreck that has the Holy Grail in it. One party has fought with the Warlord, been captured and sent to the slave mines, and escaped the mines along with a bunch of rescued slaves. The other party has decided to enter a pact with the Warlord in exchange for being among those who benefit from the Holy Grail, and will be helping by casting Water Breathing on the thousands of goblinoids so they can dive in and fight the Kraken.

There’s also the first clues now occurring to both parties involving a plot by the Mind Flayers to break the 7 seals and bring back Cthulhu and the other ancient gods. One PC party includes a Triton, whose tribe guards one of those seals. The other party includes a mad Warlock, with an Old One pact, who has been to the Mountains of Madness, and probably will want the Mind Flayers to succeed.

I outline these storylines, determine and place the major players, and the timelines their actions occur in, but don’t spend a lot of time detailing the specific adventures unless and until the adventurers decide to look into a particular course of events. I only try to plan a couple of play sessions ahead of the events currently occurring in the play sessions, which also gives me good flexibility to determine how the BBEG(s) react to what the PCs do to their plans.

And sometimes it just doesn’t go according to any of the ideas I had. In an older campaign, the party decided early on to literally ignore all of the encounters, adventures, cities and known territory, everything that I had prepared, and just go exploring in the wilderness instead. They noticed a road on the map that went off into the desert, and decided to chuck the whole idea of civilization and the known world, and go exploring overland. They did that for literally years of play, and that party never even entered the whole settled/civilized/mapped/politically subdivided half of the continent.

I like that style of play. But some people it would drive nuts.

You must define where the DM does and does not have authority.

Your situation is not unlike a border dispute over who exactly owns each piece of land. In situations where you have agreement (e.g. "we are playing D&D 5e"), there is no dispute, no problem. Where you have problem is where you are working from different assumptions to your players (e.g. "six people will fit in a bag of holding", or "the DM is final arbiter of the rules").

It is therefore critical that you and your players come to an agreement on where the DM has authority, and where he does not. This may mean putting your foot down in some circumstances, but conceding to your players in others.

Become a better Dungeon Master

You must level up to take on difficult challenges.

  1. Learn the rules better than your players. In theory, the DM is an all-powerful king, but in practice, the rulebooks are a Magna Carta that gives your players a certain amount of entitlement. One of the DM's responsibilities is to know these rules. A command of the rules will bolster your authority when you are right, and stop players from taking advantage of misunderstood rules.
  2. Learn to say no. "The wizard walks away and takes his iron golems with him." Part of how D&D is played involves ekeing out every possible advantage to ensure victory. If you do not put your foot down when players try to do the impossible, they will continually attempt the unreasonable.
  3. Learn to say yes. It is vital that you do not railroad your players (unless you have agreed in advance that this is suitable). D&D characters have free will, and you must not nerf their abilities or steal their victories out from under them; they will not find this fair or enjoyable. In my first ever session as DM, the players unexpectedly defeated my recurring villain. I let them have the win.
  4. Learn to improvise. No plan survives contact with the enemy. D&D adventures are the same. In my last campaign, multiple entire adventures came from players making impossible escapes that invalidated my plans for the entire session. You cannot run D&D unless you are able to cope when this happens.
  5. Keep your players happy. This is the #1 responsibility of any DM. Nothing else is as important. Your plot arcs, writing, plans, NPCs, oil paintings and even the sacred rules themselves are only tools to achieve that goal, and may be sacrificed if they get in the way of player happiness.
  6. Know your players. Be realistic and consider the players as a factor when making your plans. Do not assume your players will tackle your challenges a certain way, or fail when it would be dramatically appropriate, or succeed when they ought to.
  7. Speak to your players. Come to a mutual understand of what kind of game they want to play. Do they care for narrative? For high difficulty? To feel powerful?
  8. Train to become a better DM. If DMing is important to you, do all that you can to become better at it. Read forums, blogs and articles on the topic. Watch Matt Colville's Running the Game series on Youtube.

There are also some good answers on this question: What do I do when a player refuses to accept my decision?

  • I think this is a great answer... but I don't entirely agree with #5. Especially when someone has warped expectations and dysfunctional behavior, trying to "keep them happy" can be problematic. If there are sane rational players, I'd try to keep them happy, and indulging off-base players tends to run counter to that. (As a player, I'm delighted when power-mad characters do themselves in by attempting crazy schemes that don't work out...) – Dronz Mar 25 at 0:14

It's hard to say where the problem is. Above everything else, a DM must be fair, reasonable, and consistent. Players will end up being creative and disruptive no matter the rules. That's part of the fun. But you do need good, consistent rules so that they know when enough is enough.

Examples:

  1. Another time, they were racing against the bad guys through the Teleport through Plants spell of the druid. I made one of the bad guys' many mages then simply use the teleport spell, the players got angry at me again.

    Your bad guys should follow the same rules as the players. If you created him with the appropriate skills and a teleport spell either prepared or available via scroll/wand, then that is far game. If you just made it up on the spot to deny the players their win, then they are right to be upset.

  2. I constantly find myself telling them they can't do something. For example, one player wants to abuse the Bag of Holding by using it as a vehicle, "All players get inside and a dominated eagle carries us". When I told them that the bag has a limited space, he was visibly outraged.

    If you're using a standard Bag of Holding, I believe the capacity is 4 feet deep, 2 feet in diameter, and 500 lbs. Technically, you're right, but that does nothing to appease the player. Provide the rule/spec which is limiting them, and let the player decide how to respond. Perhaps a smaller PC could crawl in, then act as a guide, lower a drawbridge, or drop a rope after arriving. Perhaps the party could shrink.

    Alternatively, let them try and fail. You're the one who has to be creative and improvise now though. As DM, your "failure" decision must still provide an opportunity to advance the story---even if the only way forward derails your original plot.

Your players may be immature and want a fantasy-fulfillment, powergaming, munchkin kind of campaign. It sounds like you do not want that kind of campaign. If this difference in goals is the case, then you need to try accommodating each other or part ways. Either way, that involves communication which may need to happen out of character.

  • Note that those are just the outside dimensions of the bag. Per the description: "This bag has an interior space considerably larger than its outside dimensions, roughly 2 feet in diameter at the mouth and 4 feet deep. The bag can hold up to 500 pounds, not exceeding a volume of 64 cubic feet. The bag weighs 15 pounds, regardless of its contents. [...] Breathing creatures inside the bag can survive up to a number of minutes equal to 10 divided by the number of creatures (minimum 1 minute), after which time they begin to suffocate." – V2Blast Mar 25 at 22:12
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    @V2Blast Looks like you're right about that. The rule about breathing only allows a few minutes of travel time, depending on the size of the party. Either way, it's his responsibility as DM to provide the limits and let the players improvise as they can. Just saying "no, you can't do that" doesn't provide a solid boundary for them to explore. – DoubleD Mar 28 at 21:32

You must talk to your players. The point of D&D is an enjoyable game for everyone. I started DM'ing in 1982, I've seen a lot of game changes but that remains the same. If the players feel they are trying to compete against you as the DM, then that's an issue. Same as it would be if it is you vs the players. You need to come to an understanding as to what you all want to get from the game. Lastly as a DM I had a classic rule lawyer join my game and it took him a while to catch on. He would constantly complain about a monster or NPC doing something. "He can't do that. How does he get a save? That's Impossible" I had to stop the game and out of game explain to him that during the game I explain what is going on, but not how nor why. As a players they only have a small fraction of knowledge as to what is happening and they must be willing to accept that. He has since caught on and truly enjoys our game, but it was bumpy at first. 1st Edition D&D the very first rule is that the DM overrides all rules. That shouldn't change regardless of the edition. If it has to then there is a problem with the DM.

Bottom line is talk to your players. Maybe switch and let one of them DM. Often a little taste from the other side helps you both.

As a person who can relate to your situation because of my dropout college years, I have an idea I want to tentatively share.

Perhaps ruining your campaign, you could write a new masterpiece. Freeze your campaign, take them to another dimension (with or without them knowing) perhaps through an illusion spell or a plane shifting spell, where they get everything they want (starting with the current baddies), beat any enemy they want and become kings of the universe with nothing in sight that can challenge them in a very short time similar to one punch man. Make it comical. If they complain, they have nobody to blame but themselves. In short, give them what they want and in addition, try to teach them a lesson. I have a feeling they are trusting you not to do this.

If they complain that you are making it too easy, make a pact and reset to the point you've left off. If not, they've had their light-hearted fun and you've had yours.

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    Do you have any experience you can share about how this has worked out in practice? – doppelgreener Mar 25 at 17:15
  • @doppelgreener what I've described is a little paradigm shift accompanied by a light dose of cognitive dissonance. In my experience, this sort of thing yields a positive experience for all. – pwned Mar 27 at 7:14

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