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I am currently in a long-running game with friends and family. The question is, what do you do about an inconsistent and abusive GM?

Example: Recently mid-session, there was a routine turn of combat played out similarly to any other combat we have done in the past. During this one, however, arbitrarily the DM decided to change already ruled upon and established ways in which we did combat. When it was pointed out to the DM that a ruling had already been made by them in the past that contradicts their ruling now, and that we had been playing this way for the entire campaign, he refused to hear it.

This was then followed up by a simple statement of "We can discuss it later, lets continue" from the player. But when that was said, the DM took a harsh "How Dare You" type of stance, loudly berated the player for suggesting that it could be discussed at a later time, proclaimed that there would be no discussion as it was "already had", and made it clear no questions were to be raised on their rulings.

The player and DM then proceeded into a circular "I don't want to stop gameplay, we'll talk later." followed by "We will not talk later, you are ruining this whole session by questioning me" argument that effectively killed the entire night.

In this instance I do not know how things should proceed. Should we inform the player that regardless of inconsistency and contradiction to previous rules they have to deal with the DM's decisions and the fact that they won't discuss anything further at a later time, or should we confront the DM letting them know that they don't have to bend to player requests/questions, but losing it over the "audacity" of someone saying they will talk about a ruling later is pretty crazy.

I know in D&D that the DM is ultimately the decision maker, but is it ok for them to change their own rulings arbitrarily, and to tell players they aren't allowed to discuss it?

This is not a campaign we can simply walk away from as it is a family event, but how do we address a DM like this IF we should address it at all?

SO I guess the question is: "Can a DM arbitrarily make a different ruling on something they have previously already made a decision on, and how should it be handled if they refuse to discuss any of their decisions?"

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    \$\begingroup\$ Is there a specific outcome that you want? By which I mean, do you have a preference between getting players to accede to the DM or persuading the DM that players at the table are unhappy with situations like the one described? I'm not trying to be nit-picky, but as currently posed this question is at risk of drawing close votes for needing more focus and being opinion-based. It may also be helpful to describe the original ruling and how it was suddenly changed; DMs are in charge of a lot of information players won't know, and that could have an impact on the overall situation. \$\endgroup\$
    – Upper_Case
    Feb 20 at 3:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ This should have been discussed after the game, as the gm said. \$\endgroup\$
    – NomadMaker
    Feb 20 at 3:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ My personal opinion is that regardless of anything changing, it should have been discussed later as the player suggested, this is more of a "Am I wrong?" type of question. \$\endgroup\$
    – Steven
    Feb 20 at 3:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ In the second paragraph, I think it's a little unclear which person proposed leaving a detailed discussion for later. That said, the question is also quite broad and seems to just be "the players disagree with the DM, what do?" You might be able to find some specific advice by browsing other questions in the [problem-gm] tag, otherwise you will need to adjust the question a bit. If your question is "does the DM officially get to do whatever they want?" then clarifying that in the question would make it answerable. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 20 at 4:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ It may help possible answers to clarify whether the DM is a "friend" or "family" \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Feb 20 at 7:40
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You need to communicate; but not about this particular ruling.

So to answer your first question up front: Yes, the DM has the right to make rulings, he has the right to reverse earlier rulings, he has the right to make any ruling final, and he has the right to close discussion on a ruling—but your second question is the one you are really asking. Since this is clearly a problem for you (and would be with most groups—just because the rules say he can doesn’t mean he should), you need to have a conversation with him and the specific ruling is not what that conversation should be about. What you and the other players need to talk to this DM about is his style of running the game. When someone in a group is doing something that makes the game not fun for someone else, the first thing that needs to happen is communication.

How you approach him (one spokesperson, or as a group) really depends on the family dynamic, but the approach should be made outside of gaming time, in a friendly and positive way. Start out with what you like about the job he's doing and move on to discuss some of the things that can improve. The communication must lead to change, and landing on what that change should be—with the DM’s buy in—is the goal of the conversation.

While I think you and the other players recognize that a DM's ruling is final, you're obviously not comfortable with accepting rulings and reversals of rulings without at least being able to discuss them and hear justifications. Most players would be right there with you. So when you talk to the DM, do not make it about the ruling and do not let him make it about the ruling. First, make it clear that it is his style that you wish to discuss. Second, let him know how that style makes you feel and why it bothers you. Focus on your perspective and your feelings, don't accuse. Start your sentences with “I” or “we,” not “you.” If you would have played the encounter differently had you known he was going to reverse the ruling, that's an important point that you must make clear, because it shows how his style hinders good play. Third, emphasize to him that keeping players in the dark and arbitrarily reversing established rulings with no warning or discussions is not going to fly with your group. Be firm on this.

But before you talk to the DM, consider his perspective.

There is a lot you do not reveal in your question but that you should consider before talking to the DM. Is the DM older or younger? What is his gaming experience relative to the rest of the group? Are you all immediate family, or extended family playing during get-togethers? How do you all get along outside the game? Families can be complicated. Consider the power dynamic outside D&D. If this is a little brother playing with older kids, he may feel he needs to be dictatorial to control the game. If he's a cousin and everyone else is siblings, he may feel "outnumbered" in a way and being DM is just another thing separating him from the rest of the group. My first thought when I read your question was that this DM might not want to be DM, but fears how you all would react if he gave up the job. If it's possible that he does want to be relieved of the responsibility, perhaps there's a player willing to step in and take over, allowing him to be one of the players.

Make the discussion about how to make the game fun for everyone.

There are really too many different possibilities to give more specific advice. You know and love this person. He is family. Make sure he knows that, and stress that you're talking to him because you care and you want your time together to be fun for everyone. He should too. Then you can begin discussing how to make it fun for everyone, whether that means him refining his DMing style, perhaps you players changing a few things (maybe he was reacting to something you all do that bothers him?), or switching out on the DM duties.

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    \$\begingroup\$ As someone who has been dealing with ambiguous applying of rules from the GM side of this (running a custom system that is both too strict and too loose with the rules at the same time due to changing the focus of the system while playing and players being used to by-the-book-ish D&D (pretty long story) ). That answer is a lot clearer than many answer tacklying the same problem on this platform. I'd have like to have read 8 month earlier. Enjoy the +1. \$\endgroup\$
    – 3C273
    Feb 21 at 4:49

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