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I agreed to DM the Waterdeep: Dragon Heist adventure for a group of my friends. One of them wants to play a wizard. Based on past experience, I know that she will ignore the prepared spells and just cast anything she wants. Our previous DM attempted to keep her to the rules, but she wore him down and eventually he caved on multiple occasions.

Because of this, I recommended that she plays a sorcerer. While I don't think this will stop her from trying to cheat, I'm hoping it will at least help with the issues she caused in the previous campaign. She's the least experienced player in our group, usually doesn't pay attention, and has forgotten on more than one occasion to bring her character sheet. She is ignoring my recommendation, though, and insists on playing a wizard. I'm not really sure why, other than she knows that I don't want her to play one.

How can I best handle this situation?

I would love to exclude her from the game, but I already know that the remainder of my friends would be unhappy with that decision. I can allow her to play a wizard, but based on prior experiences I know that she bends the rules and I really don't want to DM a campaign where one or more players are cheating. I know that eventually she'll lose interest and stop showing up to the game, but I would prefer to deal with the issue now. Also I'd rather address it now, instead of having to argue with her every single session. I'm worried about this player's expectation that she can do absolutely anything that she wants.

I offered to let someone else DM, but no one appears to be willing. The previous DM seems to need a break, and will only be a player in this campaign. Our session zero won't be for a few weeks, so it's possible that I'm raising an issue before it actually needs to be addressed.

In her defense, she had a few things that were draining her time and apparently energy, and so at least has a good excuse for why she was not focused in the last session.

TL;DR: One of my players chose a certain class, but I am concerned that allowing them to play the class will create problems and drag the game down. How can I best resolve this situation?


In case it matters, two details:

  • I believe everyone in this group is in their 30s. I'm probably the oldest, and the problem player may be the youngest. I've DMed a couple sessions of LMoP, but otherwise I've only been a player in 5e. I've DMed 2e, but that was way back in the early 90s.
  • I'm not capping the party size. I'm expecting 8+ players for our first session, and I really don't think that I'll have time to hold any one player's hands during the game – figuratively speaking.
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    \$\begingroup\$ Loosely Related, insofar as "dealing with players bothering you": rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/150315/… . If nothing else, a good read for the querent. \$\endgroup\$ – goodguy5 Jul 10 at 14:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Jul 10 at 14:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ Relevant meta: “Update: here's how it worked out…” Where does it go? In general, if you follow the advice of a specific answer, you can leave the result of following that advice as a comment. If you applied the advice of a mix of multiple answers, or none of them, you can leave your own answer to the question explaining what you did and how it resolved the problem. The question itself should only contain the question, not the solution/outcome; as such, I've edited that section out. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Jul 10 at 22:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ Does anyone in the group have the responsibility (in their wheelhouse) to actively educate this person on what the D&D game is, and how it is actually played? Does she own and have read the books, or does she think you guys just make it up as you go along (because it would indeed seem like that if you weren’t familiar with the books). Does she have experience with other forms of fantasy gaming which are more free-form like LARP, or rules-behind-the-curtain like videogames? \$\endgroup\$ – Harper Jul 12 at 18:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Harper No one has been assigned that responsibility, per se, but this will be her 3rd 5e campaign. For our last campaign, I would estimate that she attended about half of the sessions. I do plan to go over what D&D is, and how to play, in our session zero. She does not own any of the books. I don't believe she has any experience with LARP or videogames, and may be attempting to treat D&D like a traditional board game. \$\endgroup\$ – Raj Jul 12 at 19:07

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The class played doesn’t matter, and arguing about it only hurts your position

This situation really, really wouldn’t be any better if she was playing a sorcerer. If she ignores her prepared spells, why wouldn’t she also ignore her known spells?

You imagine that it will be easier for you to keep a sorcerer in line because it will be easier for you to keep track of what the character can or cannot do. But, quite simply, you’re wrong about that; this isn’t about being right or wrong. She won’t care that she’s wrong, or that you know it. You don’t say that she claimed to have prepared things she hadn’t; it doesn’t sound like she even lied about it. She just showed up with nothing prepared and just cast things regardless. It sounds like she just didn’t care that wizards are supposed to prepare spells, and didn’t care that the DM wanted her to abide by that rule, and just did what she wanted anyway. I see no reason to expect that she will act any differently with any other class, and I see no reason why you are any more likely to convince her to obey any other class’s rules.

And trying to enforce a special rule particular to her—to ban her from a particular class—is rather unfair. By doing that, you weaken your position because you are no longer being fair to all players. She may deserve it, but the rest of your group doesn’t seem to think so since they still want her in the game.

Communication and getting on the same page

But this isn’t really about the class she plays, it’s about the fact that she and you are not on the same page with respect to what you want from the game.

You want the game, more-or-less, as described in the books. You want spell selection to matter, for players to be challenged by their choices and rewarded for choosing well. That’s fine, more than fine even, since that is what the books describe as Dungeons & Dragons and is therefore what most people expect when they agree to play Dungeons & Dragons. I share your preference.

But that’s not the game she wants to play. Really, the game itself doesn’t even sound important to her—it sounds far more as though what is important to her is socializing with the group. She doesn’t want to deal with the fiddly details of the game, she (most likely, in my impression) wants to just play with the group and enjoy the social activity and have fun with a shared story. Maybe she wants the spotlight, the opportunity to be awesome and cool and win the admiration of her peers by saving the day with the right spell. Maybe she just doesn’t care and can’t be bothered to deal with preparing. Considering your certainty that she would drop out even if she got her way, I’m thinking disengagement is far more likely than spotlight-stealing. But one way or the other, she doesn’t want to play the game you want to play.

Get the whole group involved

No one is forced to play a game that they don’t want to play. She doesn’t get to force you to play a game you don’t want to play. If you don’t want to play the game she wants to play, don’t play that game. If she doesn’t want to play the game you want to play, she shouldn’t. Agree to play, or don’t play: fundamentally those are the only choices available to anyone in this game. And it’s pretty clear that the two of you don’t want to play the same game.

There can’t be a game unless everyone agrees to be playing the same game. You need to talk to the entire group about the game you are proposing to run. Emphasize the things you want to see emphasized in the actual game. Get feedback, listen to questions or concerns, and try to come to a consensus among the entire group about what game you want to play. Ultimately, you can only run a game if you have players who agree to play.

If you have deal-breakers, name them. If you are unwilling to run a game for players who show up unprepared—no character sheet, incomplete character sheet (e.g. missing spells prepared), or whatever—say that. If you are unwilling to allow players who fail to prepare to gain advantage from that—for example, by suddenly having prepared exactly the spell they want when they failed to prepare them ahead of time—say that. If you are unwilling to run a game for people who disrupt the game and cause arguments—say that.

Emphasize that you will not run the game if deal-breakers happen—and mean it. And see what they say in response. If they agree, and follow through, then great. If not, stick to your guns. If you said you would not run a game if people came unprepared, then call off the game and do something else with your time if she shows up without her character sheet, or without her spells prepared. See how much the rest of the group appreciates and wants her presence in the game if she’s preventing the game from happening. See how long she sticks with the game if she doesn’t honestly want to play that way and isn’t enjoying it. Maybe she’ll surprise you. Or maybe she won’t, but at least the rules were established from the beginning, so the others are less likely to hold them against you.

But ultimately, you need to improve communication here, establishing your expectations clearly and publicly, and then you need to improve your follow-through, make sure that what you established is actually upheld. Otherwise you have no hope.

You may find yourself with fewer players than you imagine

The rest of the group, it seems, hasn’t been bothered by her antics in previous games. They don’t mind that she is always casting whatever she feels like, and they don’t mind that she disrupts the game to argue with the DM about it. They may be more on-board with her kind of game than with yours. They may not want to play a game that’s strict. You may not have a group to run for.

But that’s why I called them “deal-breakers”—if they happen, there’s “no deal,” you walk away and there’s no game. That’s the option you get. If you want to run a game even if there are these problems, then they aren’t deal-breakers and you shouldn’t call them. If you cannot follow-through on the rules you established, for all of your players, then they aren’t really rules. So you have to determine for yourself that you feel strongly enough about these things to prefer no game over a game with them. “No gaming is better than bad gaming” is a commonly-quoted maxim around here, and it’s true—but you have to determine what “bad gaming” is for yourself.

If these aren’t truly deal-breakers for you, you can still bring up your preferences—but odds are good that you’ll find enforcing them to be a deal-breaker for at least the one player, so if you give at all, you’ll likely give it all away and have to let her have her way. If that sounds awful and miserable, well, then, they are deal-breakers for you. But “no deal” is always going to be a possibility; it has to be for this to work. You can’t force anyone to play a game they don’t want to play.

About enforcement

Enforcing the rules against antagonistic players is miserable. Talk about “bad gaming.” You should trust your players enough to abide by the rules established at the beginning of the game. If you don’t, then you don’t really have a game. That, for me, would be an absolute deal-breaker.

So keep that in mind when you think about the rules you want to establish. The ideal here is for everyone to keep track of their own character—and do so honestly. Any and all advice you get about how to enforce things, no matter how good it is, is necessarily going to mean quite a bit more work for you. Consider carefully what and how much you’re willing to do for players before you run a game.

Consider carefully whether or not it’s worth it.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I think this answer addresses the actual problem. +1 (And thanks for saving me the work of writing an answer) \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jul 10 at 14:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ I do not agree with your point about fairness. If someone is unwilling or unable to handle the mental gymnastics required for a class, allowing them on the grounds that everyone else can is not "fair". \$\endgroup\$ – Szega Jul 10 at 15:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Szega And a DM who feels they are empowered and competent to judge someone else’s mental abilities like that is quite simply someone I never want to play with. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Jul 10 at 15:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan They did not look into a magic 8ball to determine it. They have observed the player and drew conclusions. This is usually not an issue with 5e, as it is fairly simple, but I have played games where certain people should not have played a certain, more complicated class as they could not quickly assess what ability the should/can use and dragged down the game. \$\endgroup\$ – Szega Jul 10 at 18:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ +1, if the player cheats and you make them a fighter they'll just cheat about hit rolls and whether they already had that weapon in hand and whatever else (especially if they can't be bothered to bring their character sheet?!? "I hit!"). This is a hardcore XY problem. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Jul 10 at 23:03
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Disclaimer: After some concerns regarding copyright, I felt a bit bad about the previous images I was using. I replaced it by one I made with using PowerPoint and crayons.


This looks like a job for a good set of props!

Let her roll a wizard, but spice things up a bit so that preparing spells becomes less of a chore.

From my experience, most of the time that players are ignoring the "prepare spells" rule - for Wizards, Clerics, and whatever else prepares spells - it happens not because of malice, but because this is a very boring mechanic for them. Some people like this prep, but others really dislike it.

Solution?

I've been using homemade spellcards to help my players to keep track of their prepared spells with minimum hassle. I made the process more interesting and colorful for them, and it helped me out quite a bit.

enter image description here

My players prepare their spells by building a "deck", which is kept with their character sheets. When they no longer have the spell prepared, they hand the card back to me.

This creates a very fun mechanic of picking and choosing spells. Instead of rummaging over an endless, boring list your players can touch the spell cards. They can fiddle with them, look at pretty pictures. They can hold their spells during the game, flipping over them to take their decisions or to check what they have available.

And, best of all - when they figure out that they have that one spell that is needed for the encounter, they can toss it on the middle of the table, on a very joyful heck yeah! moment.

If you do something like that, your problem player won't have a way to "evade" the regular spell preparation routine. Either she has the spell card, or she doesn't. If she doesn't, she can't cast it. Simple as that.

That said, I doubt she will try to cheat if you have those props in place. Fiddling with spell cards is fun as hell.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Jul 11 at 14:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for this solution because it is a serious attempt to solve the root cause and to work with, not against, problem players. \$\endgroup\$ – Tom Jul 13 at 6:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ This would have been my suggestion too, note also that you can purchase pre-made packs of spell cards for most of the common classes if you don't want to make them yourself. \$\endgroup\$ – Tim B Jul 13 at 11:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ This answer and the comments that were left on it are being discussed on meta here: rpg.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/9267/… \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jul 15 at 13:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ This sounds like a good strategy but how do you account for the possibility of casting a spell multiple times if the slots are available? \$\endgroup\$ – Eternallord66 Aug 26 at 23:30
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Cheating in DnD is easy because everything is numbers on a character sheet, and numbers on a sheet are easy to rewrite as needed. Making things more concrete makes cheating harder --- definitely not impossible, but with a bit of investment into supplies you can at least get the easy opportunities for cheating out of the way. What follows is based on second-hand knowledge from an experienced GM friend of mine.

Said GM runs a lot of introductory games where people frequently make mistakes because they misunderstand rules or forget details. He purchased and has enjoyed a deck of spell cards for the express purpose of helping novice players remember which spells they know and/or have prepared, as well as having the specifics of the spell readily at hand. This speeds up the game when newbies do spellcasting: they don't have to spend time digging up specifics in the PHB (or other source books) and can easily maintain a selection of them as prepared.

While they used them chiefly to speed up play and avoid benign newbie errors, they're also applicable for preventing more intentional twisting of the rules. You, as the GM, can keep the player's spellbook (in spell cards) at hand, and when they prepare spells, give them that stack and how many cards they get to keep. The rest of the cards are returned to you, and you can check that you got the correct amount back. Cheating (and accidental misuses) are a lot harder now, because forging an extra spell card for a spell they'd like to use is far more difficult than altering one's character sheet during the session to include spells that weren't there before. They also cannot claim you made a mistake in recording their prepared spell picks, since they chose their cards themselves and handed the rest back to you.

The downsides of using spell cards as a convenience and anti-cheating measure are that it requires investing money for a deck of those, and in case you're dealing with a particularly committed cheater, they can possibly buy a deck of their own. If you like crafts, you can create the spell cards yourself, so they can't just buy their own set.

This person sounds like difficult company (at least for DnD)

Using spell cards can eliminate this particular case of cheating, but overall, refusal to stick to the commonly agreed rules and the insistence of playing a particular class just because you don't want them to play it are red flags of greater issues: this player doesn't seem like a person who is committed to the folks around the table having a good time, and that remains a problem even if you come up with a method to block particular avenues of cheating. I would definitely consider excluding them, or at least having a serious talk with them about the conduct you expect from the people around the table.

Whatever your feelings, remember that ultimately excluding a member from the game is a group decision --- being the GM doesn't automatically mean the others will do what you want. Remember that any friendships are worth more than the game.

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Get the wizard's spells at the start of each day.

First things first: If you're going to do anything in this post, make sure that you relay it to the player(s) and be consistent. I recommend a session zero.

You've implied that the player is pretty uncooperative, so your mileage may vary. I'm going to go ahead and admit that I've never done this with a problem player, though I have done it as a part of an interactive game atmosphere. I would ask the players what their characters were doing/preparing that day.

"Wizard, what do you have prepared today?". Then one of you can write it down for your reference. They cast fireball? "I'm sorry, earlier you said that hadn't prepared fireball. Is there something else you want to cast?". I've never had this come up, but it's how I would deal with it, if it were to happen.

What to do if they don't know?

I often use default actions for players that are doing something time consuming; bathroom trips, indecision, and miscellaneous breaks alike. I usually ask the players what their defaults are going to be, but in the case of indecision, I choose their basic attack. This is communicated early and generally is accepted as reasonable, especially because I don't intentionally make bad decisions for absent players.

In that vain: Start off with a default list of prepared spells. You can ask them for it and if they don't respond, you can tell them what it is. "magic missile, shield, etc".


Alternate option - don't worry about it

You said yourself, the player is going to ditch "soon"™ anyway. Are they really that disruptive; enough to put the effort into altering your dm-style to circumvent this one player casting a spell that they're not supposed to be able to?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ As for getting the wizard's spells at the start of the day, our previous DM already tried that. She wore him down, he caved, and she was allowed to change her spell list in the middle of combat. \$\endgroup\$ – Raj Jul 10 at 13:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ It feels like something is missing. Do you have have any idea why she is wanting to {or thinks she should be able to) cast spells which are not prepared? \$\endgroup\$ – mattdm Jul 10 at 13:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Raj Then just don't cave? I'm not trying to be rude, but that's the solution. "I'm sorry, wizards can only cast spells they have prepared. You can prepare that tomorrow." \$\endgroup\$ – goodguy5 Jul 10 at 13:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ @goodguy5 My thought is that forcing them to choose a different class would actually be easier than having to argue with them every single session about what spells they do or don't have prepared. And yes, they will argue with me every single session. \$\endgroup\$ – Raj Jul 10 at 13:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ @goodguy5 has this right, just don't cave. Or is your real question about the fact that she is a problem player rather than about fixing the spell issue? It seems that you are worried her personality is going to stop any mechanical option from working \$\endgroup\$ – SeriousBri Jul 10 at 14:00
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Class Isn't the Problem

One of them wants to play a wizard.

So, let them be a wizard.

"There's Your Problem"

Based on past experience, I know that she will ignore the prepared spells and just cast anything she wants.

Which leads me to think the solution isn't about what class but whether she should play in the group. And this list look like a pretty good reason to exclude her:

  • I don't think this will stop them from trying to cheat

    You think she is dishonest.

  • [L]east experienced player in our group

    Not typically a deal breaker alone, but is part of the list of reasons she doesn't fit in with this group, it is a factor.

  • [D]oesn't usually play attention

    That would be enough alone in my game.

  • [R]arely even remembers to bring her character sheet

    This is a point that is really annoying to players and GM alike. Don't be that guy/gal.

  • [E]ventually she'll lose interest and stop showing up to the game.

    Great, so take care of it for her.

  • I would prefer to deal with the issue now.

    Then do so. Deal with the problem, don't skirt the issue of what the real problems are. Bad D&D is worse than no D&D.

Here's Your Solution: Session 0.

Have an open honest conversation with the group in session 0 about expectations. Then give her (well, all the players to be fair) three chances. First violation of the agreement/expectations is 1 point of exhaustion for the session. Second mistake is 3 points of exhaustion for the session. Third mistake is 6 points of exhaustion -- which is death. Your party will have a chance to use whatever rez they have, but they are not required to. It will be up to you to stay in their good graces to see if you leave the game. Dying this way, you don't re-roll a new character; you're done.

I've had a DM use this to deal with problem players in the past. The game mechanic wasn't exhaustion, but that system's equivalent. It made one person turn from their evil ways, and one leave the game (before being kicked). Both improved the quality of the game.

After, get a moment to talk to her alone, and ask her:

  • Do you like playing the game, or is there somewhere you'd rather be and people you'd rather socialize with than those at the table? If you want to be here, be here. Don't be in apps or texts on the phone not related to the game, be here.
  • Are you trying to cheat with your spells, or you just not care about the rules?
  • If you are trying to cheat, why? It is a story game, you're not going to "win" D&D except by telling a memorable story. Sometimes, failure is a better plot point than success. Can you obey the rules?
  • Are you able to show up prepared, or is there some life stuff that has you all over the place? The DM spends a lot of time (and money) out of game building stories, buying or making maps and mini, buying supplements and writing out notes about who you might meet. Can you show up on time with your character sheet (DND Beyond is awesome if you have a phone or tablet), spells prepared.
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Try talking with your player.

She insists on playing a wizard, and you know that she's going to cheat as a wizard. It seems likely that she insists on playing a wizard specifically because she wants to cheat in that particular way. You're not willing to kick her out entirely, and if you don't kick her out, she's going to insist on trying (again and again) to play the way that she wants to, rather than the way that's actually in the rules. In the meantime, having her cheat in your game would make you actively unhappy, and trying to keep a lid on it would also be frustrating to you.

The question, then, is why. So ask her. Have an open conversation with her, one-on-one. Both of you know what happened last time, and how it worked out. What does she actually want? If you can discuss it openly with her, and ask her what it is that she wants out of the campaign, you may be able to come up with something that works for both of you. You're the DM. You're allowed to make house-rules, and if you can customize something for her that's similar to a wizard, but doesn't have those frustrating limits on picking which spells to memorize, that may be enough for her (example: a version of wizard that has access to all of its scribed spells, but misses a chunk of HP, or one that has all the spells but loses out on their arcane tradition).

Once you're discussing how she feels, and what she wants to make the game enjoyable for her, you can also include talking about how you feel, and what you want to make the game enjoyable for you, and come to some sort of an agreement that will make you both happy. Note that this is very different from "come up with a houserule that you think might work and present it to her". A big part of this is the bit where you ask her what she wants, you listen to the answer, and you try to build a solution around it.

In general, I've had good success at the table with helping players be happier about the campaign by customizing their characters to their personal preferences or story, but this goes deeper. I've had quite a lot of success with handling potential emotion-driven conflict by helping the other person feel heard, respecting whatever their emotion-bits want, expressing my own needs on the matter when there is a conflict, and coming up with a solution that gives them the actual things they're asking for, once they've been convinced to ask.

Important note on the emotion-bits: They want what they want. Sometimes it's a bit weird. That's okay. Sometimes it's petty. That just means that it's easy to satisfy. The important thing is that they want it, and if you can give it to them just because they want it, they'll be a lot happier about any compromises they might have to make basically anywhere else. It signals to them that they matter, and people care about that stuff.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 The situation is a person problem, not a system problem, so it should be addressed with interpersonal skills rather than DM mechanics. Establishing trust and expectations (e.g. agree on rules, don't argue during gameplay, etc) should yield good results. \$\endgroup\$ – MikeQ Jul 10 at 14:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ Heck: a wizard that has exactly 1 spell prepared at a time. They can try to cast a different spell up to once/turn (not round); on an 11+ they swap their prepared spell for the new spell (and then spend the action to cast it); on failure, they may try a different action (but not try to swap in another spell). As an action by reading their spellbook they can change the spell they have prepared. Their spellbook counts as an arcane focus. \$\endgroup\$ – Yakk Jul 12 at 18:40
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I think there's a communication breakdown here.

In a comment, you say:

My best guess is that they want to "win" and be the "best" player by always having the right spell for the right moment. Beyond that, I honestly couldn't tell you.

As the DM, you should never have to guess. You should talk to the player and find out. But, I think you're starting from a place of frustration, and frustration leads to anger, and thanks to Master Yoda we all know where that goes. Instead, try to be understanding and listen, so you can work together on finding a solution. But, listen first — I suggest the practice of reflecting, where rephrase and repeat back what the other person says so that you make sure you're understanding, before offering any advice or solutions. (And especially before arguing or contradicting what she says.)

It's possible that the player is very competitive. In that case, it might be good to talk about what it means to "win" in D&D, and how this is a group game in which we share the spotlight with others and the rules and limitations of classes are designed to encourage that teamwork. Maybe that will help.

But maybe it's something else. Maybe she's truly forgetful, or finds the system complicated. (A lot of very smart people have mental quirks that make some of these things hard sometimes!) In that case, a mechanical solution might be helpful — for example, using spell cards.

But there could be another thing: maybe she's frustrated with the very concept that got labeled "wizard" in D&D, and wants to make it different but doesn't know how. When I first started with D&D, my idea of "wizard" came from Tolkien, and a lot of things in D&D feel very tolkienesque — but not wizards! I was aghast at the very idea of Gandalf facing off against a Nazgûl and being like "Oh, darn, I didn't prepare the right spells for this today!" That. Just. Did. Not. Compute.

Perhaps your player thinks a wizard should be like in Harry Potter — a lot of studying and book knowledge, so the D&D sorcerer doesn't sound right, plus those are so limited. They should be able to study spells, and then at the right moment draw on that cleverness. Always having the right spell is exactly the narrative trope of this kind of thing called "wizard", so if that's the expectation I can understand the frustration of needing to guess ahead of time.

If this is the case, perhaps the explanation that D&D wizards were inspired by "Vancian" magic would help (even if 5E magic isn't really like that exactly anymore). This might get you to "yeah, it's not the kind of wizard you're thinking, but try it and you might find it has its own flavor of fun." Perhaps adjusting this story idea of what a wizard is will solve the problem — maybe even with "Oh, in that case I don't really want to be a wizard after all."

Or, it might get you to finding a house-ruled solution that works. There are other alternative magic systems that might be more appealing. In my early D&D case, I found a homebrewed spell-points system that "felt" better to me (there's a variant spell-points system in the 5E DMG, even). Or maybe the Unearthed Arcana School of Invention would fit the bill — it's kind of the opposite of "cast whatever you want, whenever you want it", but, again, depending on what the actual problem is, you might be surprised by what your player will be happy with.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I can't get on board with a solution that suggests creating a homebrew set of rules to settle a player who won't play anything else other than a class that apparently doesn't meet their needs. That sounds very high maintenance. \$\endgroup\$ – SeriousBri Jul 10 at 14:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SeriousBri It really depends on the game. Some games are very by-the-book, and others are... flexible. Again, it's a matter of communication and understanding.I think "high maintenance" might be the case, but it also might just be a one-sided perception. I think there's more to this story. \$\endgroup\$ – mattdm Jul 10 at 15:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ I agree that there is more to this story. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jul 11 at 12:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for pointing out alternatives to the default Vancian magic system, which honestly is one of the worst parts of D&D if not the worst. Most gamers these days get their first exposure to RPGs via the video game variety, and there's a very good reason why video games, with all their diversity, still almost universally go with some sort of spell point system rather than a Vancian system: spell point systems just work sooooo much better in terms of ease of use and minimizing player frustration. \$\endgroup\$ – Mason Wheeler Jul 11 at 15:50
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You've got a couple issues here. First, the character sheets. Simple solution, you take care of the sheets. I have one game where folks forget stuff all the time. The simplest solution was to keep the character sheets with me where we play. Literally everyone could show up with nothing more than pizza and drinks, and we can still play smoothly each week.

The wizard spells is trickier. You're strict (which is fine) they are not (which is also fine). The key here is compromise. Offering for them to be a sorcerer isn't a compromise, you're still being strict. You've got to loosen up, it's a game. They want to be a wizard that has all the spells prepared, okay, how do you balance that mechanic? Maybe nerf their INT modifier, roleplay the character as absent-minded and easily distracted (even in battle), or add a random chance of complete spell failure with a d4 roll on each spell cast rolled by you. Don't look at it in terms of playing by the rules, the rules are just guidelines. I've broken every rule in DnD at least once as a DM, almost always because in some way it made the gaming experienced better and more enjoyable for the players.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! Take the tour if you haven't already, and check out the help center for more guidance. Have you tried the recommendations in your answer, particularly those in your second paragraph? How have they worked, in your experience? We expect recommendations of homebrew to be supported by citing experience with that homebrew or something similar. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Jul 10 at 22:59
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There have been a lot of excellent answers! Thanks so much for what everyone else has shared.

One thing I wanted to mention that has helped my current group is that everyone is using D&D Beyond. One member has a paid account and has access to all of the character sheets in the campaign. This has helped me personally (as a novice I have a hard time keeping track of all the nuanced rules about my character) because I have a tool that helps me manage abilities, skills, spells prepared, etc. In addition nobody "forgets" their character sheet anymore because we can always pull it up. In our latest session we had a player who had to keep skipping home (across the street) for the HVAC repair guy and so someone else was able to use his character sheet on D&DBeyond to play his turns.

Generally speaking I try to attribute "bad" behavior to ignorance or indifference rather than malice. If you assume that either she doesn't know or doesn't have much time to invest, maybe offering to help her manage her character through a tool like D&DBeyond would help as well.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! Take the tour if you haven't already, and check out the help center for more guidance. Good first answer! :) \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Jul 12 at 0:23
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Forgetting what spells you have prepared, which ones you have used, or even forgetting to prepare them in the first place, is common. I do it all the time, and I know plenty of others who do it all the time. Keeping track of numbers is not fun.

Does it really affect you?

There is no reason why you cannot both have your play styles at the same time. Yes, everyone needs to agree on aspects of the type of game they are playing, but that does not mean that you should force every little detail about how someone plays. Details like you've mentioned barely affect you, if at all. As a DM, I've even explicitly allowed players to do such things. Allowing any of the actions you've mentioned this player doing is unfair gameplay advantage, that is true, but the wizard casting a spell they shouldn't have had access to doesn't break actual realism, doesn't break immersion (especially if you're not looking over their shoulder and micro-managing them, which you shouldn't be), and the only affect it has is an arbitrary mental effect on those paying attention to it.

If it just irks you so badly that you cannot play a game where someone does something which doesn't really affect you, then that is your problem to start with, not theirs. I don't mean that as a personal attack, I just mean that literally, this is your problem and the onus of burden is on you, unless every other person at the table unanimously agrees with you.

Of course, it could become a bigger problem if it sets a precedent. If everyone changes their tactics because everyone is ignoring damage they take, level 5 wizards are using resurrection, level 2 clerics are using fireballs, and everyone charges at the horde of dragons because their ignored damage makes them invincible, then it has gotten out of hand and has actually changed the playstyle. But a wizard saying "magic missile!" when they've already used it up, or "fireball!" when they prepared a lightning bolt instead, is something that you should not even notice if you weren't actively back seat driving the character.

Give them a sorcerer in wizard's clothing

There are still things you can bring to the table. You could discuss playing a wizard that uses mechanics more similar to a sorcerer. It could look like a sorcerer, walk like a sorcerer, and smell like a sorcerer, but the player could call their character a wizard and walk around with a spell book.

I have done this with other classes before, and it has worked out great. "I'm a paladin... for the trees!" "Paladin with druid rules?" "Sounds great, except I want to drop druid feature X and include paladin feature Y." "Sounds awesome." And it is awesome.

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Ask for help - find one of the more experienced players whom you think the troubled player will listen to and ask them in particular to help keep track of the spell slots - as for the character sheet I have players take a photo of them each level up - in a pinch it can be used to quickly re-create one, or just played with for that session

I haven't done this in particular, but I have asked players to be in charge of turns/initiative and DJ duties before with successful results

Lastly if they aren't paying attention to the game, then neither is their character - don't bother repeating stuff, just say the wizard was staring absentmindedly at the clouds while the rest of the party went off to liberate some pie from an orc or whatever - if the wizard snaps back and asks what's going on, deflect that to their party to explain if they feel like it

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  • \$\begingroup\$ "just say the wizard was staring absentmindedly" FYI Just so you are aware, that sounds like an in-character punishment for a mostly out-of-character issue and some people do this, but it really pisses a lot of people off if the group has not agreed to allow that. Better make sure the play style is not too serious first. \$\endgroup\$ – Aaron Jul 11 at 19:14
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I am guessing this woman is really fun to have around in other areas, and your friends don't want to upset her by excluding her, and like I used to be joining in really most part of the fun.

You know who she is an how she likes to play, so make her her very own class.

She can have every spell in the book, as preparing is dull (yes it is).

But restrict her in some other way, she can cast 1 level lower than a wizard can, so at level 7 I can cast level 3 spells, well she can only cast level 2 spells.

Save her the boring bit of remembering the spells list, you keep a list of the spells available to her (so you can even trim it), this is available to borrow each week.

You keep a count of how many spells she has cast, and her spells will weirdly fail after she has run out of spell slots.

This is an amalgamation of being the awkward player, seeing people bring their partners to play and making it simple for them, and just playing now for 20 years and watching interactions.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Have you had success, as a player or as a DM, in doing this during your games? If so, I'd suggest you edit that in and tell us how it went. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jul 12 at 12:52

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