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Yesterday's game was nice and intense, but at some point my fellow players disappointed me, heavily.

We're not allowed to say technical things about the game.

Basically we had this dragon that was very much damaged, prone and slowed. We also were very low in our resources, especially hit points and we didn't have the opportunity to take a short rest before the dragon fight.

The monk knocked the dragon prone and said "Attack him with your melee weapons". Then I (bard) slowed the dragon, I read the spell effect aloud (that's allowed) and my character translated it as "Just hit and go back, the dragon is too slow to surprise you with a hit".

Then the ranger, level 7, 15 feet from the dragon, takes his bow and attacks the dragon, only once, and misses, then says "I end my turn". The DM, who never asks this, asked "Are you sure?". The player answered "yes". I facepalmed. The DM says "you could have multiattacked and fetched an advantage by going melee". The paladin makes the random note that "multiattack is a very nice feature".

The very next turn is the paladin's turn, level 6, 20 feet from the dragon, goes in melee and attacks with their weapon, and hits. But no smite. Then moves back and says "I end my turn". I facepalmed again. The DM repeated his question, "are you sure?", which he never ever asked before the previous turn! The paladin's player said "yes". The DM reminds the player that he said "multiattack is a very nice feature so why didn't you use it?" - The paladin player says that his character is badly wounded and that it makes sense that he's not giving all he can. I facepalmed again.

The next turn, the dragon escaped. We later learned that it had 20 HP left, basically we were 1-2 hits away from killing it.

Now the ranger player has a difficulty retaining all his character's capabilities, and the paladin player is customary of random handling of their character and finding weird excuses to explain it when we show it to him.

How can I explain to them that they should pay attention to what each other character say, and that at this point my fun is greatly reduced because we try to make it easy for them to understand the situation and they just don't pay attention, and do random, unthought actions instead?


Answers to questions and assumptions made in comments and other answers.

  • While I personnally want to play optimally, I accept that everybody doesn't play like that and has different playstyle. I don't want to play a tactical game, even though between the DM, the monk and myself, it's clear that we're the three trying to optimize our moves. However, I don't want everybody to play optimally, but also, I don't think it's wise to play against a dragon (our first in this campaign) just like we're level 1 players.
  • This campaign started in January 2019 (so is running for 2.5 years), with one session every 4 weeks, plus a few extras during last year's confinment. Both the ranger and the paladin started the campaign, I joined in November 2019. We passed level 5 last year (that's the level where both players got multiattack). The ranger plays 3 TTRPG each month but I believe his introduction to TTRPG was with our campaign. The paladin plays several TTRPG each month as well and has been playing for a long time before our campaign started.
  • I don't believe the paladin made their move intentionnally, but I may be wrong. As mentioned, the paladin has a background of trying to roleplay mistakes as if it was intended. I believe this is what happened in this scenario.
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    \$\begingroup\$ As a bard it's time to break out the tune "Brave Sir Robin" (from "Quest for the Holy Grail") youtube.com/watch?v=BZwuTo7zKM8&t=62s \$\endgroup\$
    – Jasen
    Jun 27 at 9:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ How experienced are the players? With both combat characters not making use of multi-attack, I assume they are very novice players. (If making an Attack action, is there ever a reason to not take additional attacks?) \$\endgroup\$ Jun 27 at 13:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm not sure I agree these people are intermediate players. I DM or play three games a week and I would not consider myself intermediate. If these guys play in your game once a month and then one game a week then not knowing stuff makes sense. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 27 at 22:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ "No table-talk beyond the six-second combat turn" for real-time decision making is not "no helping other players with rules and mechanics". When I DM, I absolutely allow "You just cast hunter's mark as a bonus action after your attack, remember you can do it before your action" while I usually disallow "You should cast guiding bolt so that I can get sneak attack on my initiative" during combat, although I would absolutely allow the latter as a tactical discussion before combat. Maybe check with your DM to see whether they are trying to prevent just one of these or both. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Jun 28 at 16:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ There are systems with far less complicated mechanics but which are just as interesting, and far better if you want the combat to sound like a story. I'm looking at Numenera, for example, which encourages flourishes. \$\endgroup\$
    – ikegami
    Jun 29 at 5:07
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It sounds to me like you're running some intermediate players in an expert-mode game.

I think it's completely ridiculous to have a ban on talking about mechanical terms at the table. D&D is a complicated game with a lot of intricate interactions that can be hard to keep track of even for expert players. Making it illegal to even talk about that complexity just makes the game even more difficult, especially for players who just aren't that invested in learning all the rules by memory.

Vaguely hinting that a player could possibly do more and then acting all grumpy and superior when the player doesn't pick up on it is exactly the kind of thing that's going to frustrate people who don't know the game rules off the top of their heads. The DM giving a clear and concise reminder like "Remember that you have Extra Attack now, so you can make two attack rolls" or "You can shoot arrows if you want to, but as a reminder, the dragon is prone right now, so melee attacks get advantage" is a vastly better way to help players without coming off like a jerk. But you have, as a group, decided to prioritize supposed "realism" over communicating clearly, I guess, so the price of that is that some of the players will miss things and fail to understand why the DM and more experienced players keep dropping vague hints and harassing them about being sure.

In my experience, there are some players who absolutely hate even the implication that they have made a mistake, and it's particularly common among intermediate-level players. They're beyond the beginner stage where they need to be guided through things, but have not yet reached mastery (and may never get there*). They resent "helpful" advice, often characterizing it as "trying to play my character for me" or "being a know-it-all". They feel like they're pretty good at the game, and being told they've done it wrong (or worse, not wrong, but merely 'sub-optimally') makes them feel like the 'expert' is being pushy rather than helpful. I know -- I've been the expert player. I didn't mean anything but to help, but it came off like trying to grab the steering wheel away from them and caused a major problem at the table.

I don't think the Paladin honestly did that on purpose. They forgot about their extra attack, and made up an excuse to pretend they totally meant to do that. Which is childish but honestly, I'm not sure I can blame them in this situation.

*Some players simply don't have the ability or interest to learn all of a massive rule-set by heart. I know players who've been playing D&D for over 20 years and 5th edition since it came out, but will still ask things like "What does 'prone' do, again?" We all have a limited amount a brain-space, and some people aren't willing or able to dedicate that much of it to D&D. Heck, even I get rules wrong and have to be corrected, and I'm usually the walking rules encyclopedia at my table.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Finally someone convinced me that the rule is problematic and can be the root cause of my troubles here (the other answers didn't). I'm not in favor of that rule (I didn't start it, the DM did), I'm not against it: I'm only playing around it by giving in-character hints. But no one at any point in time acted grumpy or superior. I kept my frustration for myself and the facepalm was done interiorly. So except for the accusatory part where I take "you" as "me" or "my table" (while it's all my DM's choice as the rules were laid when I joined), I really think there's something here that's helpful. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 27 at 21:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ Well, this is more 'you, plural', i.e. the whole group;, I'll edit to clarify. It's good that you controlled your reaction, but the "Are you sure?" and "Multi-attack sure is nice" business is the 'acting superior' I was referring to. Everything described here tells me these players acutely feel their lack of system knowledge and are getting deeply annoyed at being toyed with. "You're doing something wrong but I won't tell you what until it's too late" is not a good look -- the group needs to either give clear, timely reminders, or shut up and let them make mistakes without criticism. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 28 at 13:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ “It sounds to me like you're running some intermediate players in an expert-mode game.” Do you mean to say that it sounds to you like OP is the DM? I don’t think that’s the case. \$\endgroup\$
    – Beanluc
    Jun 28 at 15:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ "decided to prioritize supposed "realism"" The "supposed" here is exactly what's going on. Realistically, a trained warrior who spends all their day to day life running around fighting monsters isn't going to just forget to attack more when they could. In "reality", the characters would be hyper-focused on min-maxing their current situation as much as possible because their lives depend on it (granted they wouldn't have nearly as much time to think as the players, but they would have had 100s of hours of training and practice to compensate). \$\endgroup\$ Jun 28 at 16:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ To add to Darth's point: It's unfair not to give such reminders to the players. Fundamentally, the PCs will be aware of things which the players are not, because the PCs have different skills/stats. This includes mechanical play, social interactions, and skills. As an example: Suppose the PC is an expert woodsman or survivalist and encounters a pool of water which is perfectly clear. The player thinks, "clear water is clean, so I can drink it!" The PC thinks, "nothing is able to live in this water, so it's probably poisonous." The answer is not that the player must remember to roll. \$\endgroup\$
    – Brian
    Jun 29 at 13:53
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Discuss the type of game you should have

The answer of "talk to them" comes up so often it is almost trite on this site, but it is the correct answer a lot of the time.

In this particular case, I recommend talking to the entire table specifically about the type of game you want to have because I suspect there is a disagreement about that at least implicitly. I get the feeling you want a highly tactical game where everyone is, if not ruthlessly optimizing, at least making tactically sound decisions. This is not only a valid style of play, I suspect it is the most common version within DnD-5e and the one the designers expect most players will take.

However, your other comments make me suspect that is not the way some of the other players see it. You say that the "The paladin player says that his character is badly wounded and that it makes sense that he's not giving all he can." Now, its possible this is excuse because he just really didn't want to admit that he forgot a feature. But it could be that the player is sufficiently devoted to story and role-playing the character that he wants to follow it even at the loss of tactical advantage. Done too much or done poorly, this could lead to "My Guy Syndrome". It is in fact, not a playstyle I would recommend even as someone who generally favors story over a tactical game. But done reasonably, it too can be a valid playstyle even if much less common.

The fact your DM does not allow you to say technical things about the game also got my attention. He could be doing this to try to increase immersion and encourage exactly the type of devotion to role-playing that the paladin says he was engaging in. Again, this is perfectly valid, but it seems like it clashes with your play style.

So, talk to the entire table but center on the type of game you want to play. Let them know what you want, which I suspect is a game that is more tactically centered. Discuss the fact that too much devotion to roleplaying can impact tactics and that you like to focus on the tactics.

It may also help to remind everyone that in DnD lost hit points do not necessarily translate into narrative injuries and can reflect merely reduced ability to avoid damage going forward. In particular, as Peter Cordes helpfully explained, enemies in DnD are effectively at full strength until they are at 0 hit points.

It is probably not productive to express your disappointment. Depending on your friends' personalities, that could easily lead to a fight or quiet resentment. However, constructive feedback presented politely is often appreciated and requests to do things that help you enjoy the game should be at least recognized by your group.

Discuss whether the rule against talking about technical things is helping or hurting the game.

You may also want to talk to the table, but the DM specifically, about removing the restriction on discussing technical matters. It is a perfectly valid rule for some tables, but it is not one any table I have ever been at has used. Your fun, and your group's tactical effectiveness as a whole, might improve if the more experienced players can provide tactical advice or at least rule reminders to the other players.

That is extremely common at almost every table I have ever played at in any system. In fact, the one time it was discouraged in my experience was at a LARP a friend talked me into going to and as a first time LARPer it caused me a lot of problems for a few sessions. Discussing technical matters even has a basis in real life. While no one has detailed discussions of strategic theory in the middle of a firefight, communication is key in a real tactical battle on modern battlefields and directions, orders, and advice are often shouted out.

GMJoe helpfully provided a link to this question which may help address the advantages and disadvantages of the "no technical discussions" at the table rule. I have no personal experience with such a rule in a TTRPG but based on my experience in a LARP and the discussion at that question, I believe that such a rule would generally have more disadvantages than advantages and based on your question I believe the rule conflicts with your personal playstyle.

Consider helping the other players make reference sheets

It sounds like some of the problems come from the other players forgetting key rules. Helping the other player prepare reminder sheets about their abilities and tactical considerations they should remember in combat may help, especially if the rule against discussing technical matters at the table remains in place.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for role-playing style. And I confirm usefulness of reference cards if forgetfulness is the problem. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mołot
    Jun 27 at 0:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ IME, these "no technical discussion" rules often backfire. Players aren't seeing through their characters' eyes; they're working off a description of what their character experiences. Even the best narration can't entirely compensate for the loss of information, and if you ban overt technical discussion you can end up with players just getting more distracted by trying to work around it in order to get the same level of information/utility that their characters would have. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 27 at 2:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ The answer "talk to your [players|GM]" comes up so often I've wondered about making it a community ad this year. \$\endgroup\$
    – nitsua60
    Jun 27 at 13:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ PCs playing tactically worse when injured only makes sense if the DM buys in to that and plays NPCs / monsters that way, too. (Except mindless ones that really would fight at full strength until dead.) As well as being a My Guy problem if done unilaterally, it's kind of missing the central point of how D&D's hit point abstraction doesn't allow weakening a character (except via status effects), only neutralized or not. i.e. D&D combat is built and balanced around not playing this way. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 28 at 20:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ Basically I felt like your wording was too charitable towards the Paladin's choices. I think it's fair to say the player was letting down the side, whether unintentionally via a misguided attempt at an RP choice, or by poor play and a lame attempt at ass-covering. So yes, totally agreed, now that it has happened, they need to sit down and talk about it. And being tactful is a good idea at that point, so I wouldn't quite put it in those words to their face if I were in the querent's shoes. Pointing out that D&D enemies are full strength until 0HP may be a helpful argument. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 28 at 21:06
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I once had a teammate who I felt was playing badly.

I tried talking to him about it. I asked him if he could try to play his character more effectively. He said: "No, you don't get to tell me how to play my character. I will play my character the way I want to, and you can play your character the way you want to."

(I think this may have happened more than once. I was a fairly aggressive optimizer when I was first learning how to play. That was D&D 3.5e, where optimizing was more important.)

Eventually I gave up on asking people to play differently. I learned that, if players are doing what I want instead of what they want, they're not going to have fun. I learned to identify the worst offenders and try to avoid playing games with them.

I still think it's worth talking to your fellow players about the issue you're having, but I want to set expectations that it's probably not going to work.


There's another thing I've done a couple of times. There have been times when I realized that my character was the only one in the group who was actually trying. What I did was I roleplayed my character accurately. My character politely left the group and went to try to find a better group to adventure with. I retired that character and brought in a new character that would be a better fit for the group.

In your case this would mean retiring your bard character and bringing in a new character who didn't care as much if the group was fighting effectively.

It's up to you to decide if this is something you would enjoy doing, but (based on my experience) it's likely it would solve your problem of being annoyed by your teammates.


(Note: I actually think Darth Pseudonym's answer is correct, and this is a case of player error being disguised as roleplaying. I'll leave this answer here purely for completeness.)

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    \$\begingroup\$ This. Some people are actually playing to have a good time, immersing themselves into the story, rather than getting the most out of it. I've learned to accept that (for video games at least), and since then I stopped worrying about telling people what to do. It allows them to have fun, and I have fun playing the way I want to do it. \$\endgroup\$
    – Clockwork
    Jun 27 at 20:11
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As TimothyAWiseman already explained in their answer, it is very well possible that you are experiencing a case of conflicting agendas: you want the dragon to die as fast as possible, because it is advantageous to the state of the game, while the paladin and the bard's players wanted to realistically roleplay their characters not wanting to get into melee (whether this was true or just a reaction to criticism about their choices, I'm unable to discern).

I've seen somebody suggesting to have an out of game discussion about how characters in your game should act, and in my long-time DM and player experience I've only seen it go two opposite ways:

  • the other players would like to keep playing their characters' fears even if they are detrimental to the effectiveness of combat (thus risking more character deaths, which I don't think anybody wants, at least not in a D&D game), or
  • the other players agree that it would be a good idea to try to keep characters alive and accomplish tasks successfully.

Luckily, these two objectives are not incompatible and I'm going to offer a way that works very well in environments like yours where you all want to roleplay your characters without talking about mechanics.

Have your character be disappointed at their fellow adventurers and criticize their character's behaviour in-game ("It was wounded, we might have been able to take it down!", "I told you it was safe to go in, why didn't you?"), then talk about strategies and tactics and trust in-game. Next time, it will be in-character for their PCs to multiattack.

Before doing so, however, pitch the idea to the players as a way to reconcile your playing styles and get their approval. If it's done right and all players are up to it, I feel like it's a wonderful way of roleplaying a team getting better at their job over time. Like it happens in movies. And it's been a great moment for all groups where I've had the chance to do it...

...with one caveat. If the group is more interested in fighting and looting and getting things done than in roleplaying characters, as some groups are, the idea of "wasting time" by roleplaying inter-party interactions might not be appreciated. Your group doesn't look like that to me, but you know them better than any of us.

(If the problem was indeed players not remembering their options, cheat sheets are the way to go, like Timothy suggested.)

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DnD's major selling point is letting you make nonstandard choices.

Here you've got two completely different actions that you're conflating into one - the player playing the Ranger forgot that his character could attack twice, and the player playing the Paladin decided that his character should only attack once due to being wounded (roleplaying).

Many of these answers here are telling you that people react poorly to being told what to do in a game, even if it would improve their winning chances. However they don't really get into why. This isn't just 'people being petty and defeating the group endeavour!' or whatever. DnD is about letting you go do whatever in the game, that's why it has a human deciding what happens. There are far better tactical tabletop wargames, droves of the things. There are far prettier and more interactive video games about blastin' demons. These are both activities you can do with other people, that do those parts of DnD in a more fun and more interesting way.

But what DnD offers that those activities don't is freedom of choice. You want to kidnap the mayor because you're convinced he's behind the disappearances? You can. You want to run away instead of fighting? You can. You want to pat the dog? You can pat the dog.

So if you start telling people what to do, what you are threatening to do is take away that freedom of choice. Most people won't articulate it in those terms but they will react far more negatively to being told what to do in DnD than to, being told how to chop the avocado so it will fit in the blender (or whatever). And they are not wrong to do so. It's like going kayaking and someone tells you you don't need an oar on this river. It's far more the flavour of sabotage, from their point of view, than friendly advice, even if you genuinely don't think that they need an oar.

TLDR, your fun is trying to minmax a win using game mechanics vs mechanical obstacles and that's fine. But other people's fun is often other things and they also get to have fun. The point of the game isn't roleplaying OR mechanical challenge solving, it's both.

So what should you do about the situation?

Remind the Ranger that he can attack twice with this phrase (or similar); 'Remember you get to attack twice'. Don't make a big deal about it.

The paladin was making a roleplaying choice. By your description, the Ranger forgot. Remind the guy that forgot. Don't remind the guy that is making a roleplaying decision, as he clearly knows.

But won't the party die and isn't that bad?

The GM clearly knows that not everyone is going to be playing mathematically optimally. You encountered a dragon, people made suboptimal choices, and you won. GM is doing his job by presenting encounters taking into account player skill/choices as well as character math, and apparently doing a pretty good job of it. If you all were playing optimally, he'd have to present harder encounters - this would not meaningfully change the game.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for the last paragraph. The pleasing illusion of challenge is just as important as the pleasing illusion of progress (when your characters level, increase in power and suddenly start facing more difficult monsters). \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Jun 28 at 22:38
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Your DM already did what you should do

Based on your description these players made two separate less than optimal turns. They both attacked, but didn't do the exact optimal attacks. After that turn the DM told them what they could have done to be optimal. That is how you teach people to fight better.

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A lot of players hate being told how to play their characters, and don't respond well to assistance. They like doing what they like. As a player there's less you can do. Suggesting things in combat is rarely ideal, unless you have a good vibe with them as other players often get resentful of you controlling their characters. The DM is better able to fix things, and you can talk to them about them. They can do these things.

Have enemies demonstrate special abilities.

If an enemy ranger has multi attack and repeatedly uses it to attack you, doing extremely well because of it, players often quickly learn to use their own abilities well. I've made good use of this with enemy combatants, letting a weaker enemy combatant shine by using a PC ability well. Players tend to like competing with enemies.

You can also have friendly NPCs use such abilities, and suggest their allies use them as well. Make sure they're weaker than the PCs, to avoid the issues of DM PCs, but strong enough to do better if the PCs don't use their abilities.

Have bad encounters which pressure them due to their lack of abilities.

Pain and failure are great teachers. If players don't use their abilities well they won't succeed at their goals. Challenging encounters where player abilities can swing encounters are great for encouraging use of them. If the game is too easy, they may see no need to use such abilities.

This also makes suggesting tactics more organic. If the players complain about how hard an encounter is, you can say "Yeah, I balanced the encounter around you having abilities xyz, I can't believe you didn't use them."

Make sure the game has stuff they care about.

If they don't really care about the game and just want to spend some time with friends or such, they might not care about playing well. As such, as DM you need to make sure you include things they want if they succeed, like treasure, prestige, or social connections, so that they want to do well. I've often had players play badly because they just didn't care.

You can suggest this to the DM, but you can't do it. From personal experience, a lot of other players are resentful at being told how to play their characters. Your DM, and you have tried, and it didn't work. Often experience is the only way forward.

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Tell them what's on your mind!

We're not allowed to say technical things about the game.

So you're not allowed to say "use your multiattack", but you are surely allowed to say "Hit him again!" which is in character and not a technical thing about the game.

In a comment, you say...

That was done. Check the fourth paragraph

which is..

Just hit and go back, the dragon is too slow to surprise you with a hit

... but in the heat of battle that might not be clear enough, especially if the GM asks "are you sure?" which is also an opportunity for you to shout "HIT HIM AGAIN!" as the character might if they saw their comrade hesitate during the "are you sure?" moment.

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