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There is a question for how to help another player remember the rules. We have a slightly different problem: our DM is forgetting how even our most commonly used character features work, and is constantly perplexed how we get to our attack bonus or damage, or whatever it may be that works in our favor, and keeps asking about it.

For example, we have a rather overpowered Gloom Stalker ranger, and practially every session when he uses a feature like Sneak Attack, and tells him the damage, the DM is incredulous and asking questions about it. Then, we have to walk him through how we got to that number. We are all old friends, and so the tone in those situations can get a bit tense at times "Come on, you ask that like every effing time! How can it be you cannot remember this, he's using it all the time!". It may not help that we all have busy work and family schedules, and the cadence of play can vary and often is at best bi-weekly; nor of course, that our 15th level characters have a lot of features and items stacking up by now.

Scolding the DM does however not help them to remember better. So we have the same conversation three weeks later again. Has anyone else had this problem and found an approach to help address it?

In case it is useful: we usually play online on Roll20, with voice via skype. We are playing D&D 5e, but I felt that you could have this issue with any RPG that has moderately complex character ability structures and rules, so I don't think the issue is specific for 5e, and did not tag it as such.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Is your DM new to D&D or to D&D 5e? Are they more familiar with an older version of the rules? Is this a "forever GM" we're talking about? What phase of life are they in, are children a new factor? \$\endgroup\$
    – From
    Aug 24, 2023 at 8:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ @From We all have been playing D&D for decades and 5e since when it came out. This campaign is the first one he is DMing, but we are 15 levels in by now. So not really that new any more. Yes we all have kids, the DM too, young teenage age. We actually paused the campaign because the others got a bit fed up with this and other behaviors they felt were biased, and I'm as the "forever DM" am DMing in the meantime, but we are planning to resume \$\endgroup\$ Aug 24, 2023 at 9:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ Does the DM recognize the problem? Or do they forget that they forgot? Does the DM trust you, as the "primary forever DM", to fairly represent the rules, even if they don't trust the Doom Stalker player initially? \$\endgroup\$
    – From
    Aug 24, 2023 at 12:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ (Pardon the many questions, I don't want to answer the wrong problem or in a not-helpful way) \$\endgroup\$
    – From
    Aug 24, 2023 at 12:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ Reminder to everyone that answers, including partial answers, suggestions on where to find an answer, or just general advice regarding the asker's problem, do not belong in comments. \$\endgroup\$
    – Oblivious Sage
    Aug 28, 2023 at 21:10

6 Answers 6

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Set macros so that every roll is self-explanatory.

That's a lot of work (especially on roll20), so you don't have to do this for every feature, but doing it for the worst offenders could only help.

On roll20, when someone rolls something stuff appears in the chat (the total result of this roll, but also the result of each individual die). You can create your own macros so that relevant details also appear as comments. This could display something like this for one of Mr Gloom's attacks:

Attack roll: 20
14 8 (adv from Umbral Sight), +4 Dexterity, +4 Proficiency, +2 Combat Style, +1 magic weapon, -5 Sharpshooter
Damages: 32
2 (1d6 shortbow), +3 +2 +4 +6 (4d6 from sneak attack), +4 Dexterity, +1 magic weapon, +10 Sharpshooter

Configure it so it stays up-to-date when you level up or acquire other modification and your DM can simply give a look at the chat every time they think the amount of damage is suspiciously high.

I personally use this as a player when I am playing Pathfinder 1st edition (who isn't nicknamed Mathfinder for nothing) as otherwise I wouldn't know which bonuses I already accounted for, but I have to admit roll20 doesn't make creating and using those macros the easiest thing. It is still manageable though.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Great suggestion. I usually DM, but do this for players who have trouble remembering their complicated abilities. A display like "8 damage, +2 if he was raging" goes a long way. Setting up explicit macros lets humans do what they are good at (telling stories and making fuzzy decisions) and lets the computer do what it is good at (keeping track of numbers) \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Aug 24, 2023 at 14:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ I didn't downvote but I don't like this answer as it puts extra burden on the DM while knowing players' abilities inside out isn't really DM's job to begin with, let alone spending hours setting up macros for them. Roll20 already lets players configure all that in their character sheets without any input from the DM. \$\endgroup\$
    – AnnaAG
    Aug 25, 2023 at 8:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ @AnnaAG: This answer is suggesting the players make macros that re-explain their rolls to the DM, since the DM currently stops play every session to ask for this level of detail. With the details all laid out, the DM can look if they're curious, but hopefully can get in the habit of not paying too much attention to the details, as long as they know they're there so they could look if they wanted to. (And/or that they're public, so other players can cross-check each other.) \$\endgroup\$ Aug 25, 2023 at 9:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ @PeterCordes I am aware of that, I would have downvoted if the answer was explicitly saying for DM to make them. I'm considering that perhaps these players are well versed enough in roll20 to make the macros just by themselves but from my experience with a few groups (not a representative sample, I know) this quickly turns into "Anna, I want to make a macro for my character to to do <this thing> and can't get <this bit> to work, can you have a look and help?", which is usually followed by me spending hours debugging it, just to write it from scratch at the end. \$\endgroup\$
    – AnnaAG
    Aug 25, 2023 at 9:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ @AnnaAG: Ah, now I see where your criticism is coming from. Good point. As the current DM is not the group's "forever DM", this task might fall on Nobody the Hobgoblin rather than this DM, but good cautionary note in general that this might end up being significant extra work for someone (outside of sessions instead of pauses during sessions.) \$\endgroup\$ Aug 25, 2023 at 10:36
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Reduce what the DM needs to know

It seems your DM is regularly asking about Player Character features. Why is that their responsibility? Sure it seems like something they should know, and outside of the session I would wager they do know it. However you may be underestimating the number of different things a DM is trying to keep track of during a session.

During a typical encounter a DM of a group of four needs a functional understanding of:

  • Describing the setting and encounter
  • Tracking initiative
  • The actions of between 1 and 5 unique NPC or monsters (likely with once off abilities to learn on the fly)
  • The locations, reach and movement range of all creatures in combat
  • The hitpoints of all creatures in the combat (and optionally PC's)
  • Managing music, lighting or other atmospheric tools
  • Maintaining a narrative and pacing of the story
  • At least one level 15 caster's shenanigans and how they impact the NPCs
  • A level 15 martial class with some kind of aura or defensive ability that impacts creatures near them
  • The level 15 Gloom Stalker Ranger / Rogue multiclass with a complicated sneak attack calculation that may or may not include sharpshooter

Can you see how in the moment the DM might not remember the exact mechanics for your PCs? Most players struggle to remember everything their 1 level 15 character can do, why expect a DM to remember everything for a whole party of them?

Taking Responsibility for your Characters

Instead of viewing this as "How to help our DM remember?" view it as "How to reduce the number of things our DM needs to remember?".

To start with, each of you should take responsibility for knowing your own characters abilities. Be ready to explain to the DM any rolls or circumstantial effects they need to be aware of. Revisiting your example:

  • GS: I'm going to attack the Gnoll. Sneak Attack!
  • DM: How does that work?
  • Players: Why don't you know?
  • GS: Do I have advantage? If I do I get 4d6 extra damage.
  • DM: No, why would you have advantage?
  • GS: I have Umbral Sight, so I'm invisible meaning I should have advantage, oh and sharpshooter!
  • DM: Ok, so you do have advantage, what does sharpshooter do?
  • GS: rolls 15 - 5 from sharpshooter, plus 7 to hit. Does a 17 hit?
  • DM: That hits, how much damage?
  • GS: 27 + 10 from sharpshooter.

Consider how that could be improved if the player didn't expect the DM to know everything.

  • GS: I'm attacking the Gnoll with sharpshooter. I have advantage from Umbral Sight so I get sneak attack. 17 to hit?
  • DM: Hits, roll damage.
  • GS: 37.

It sounds a bit formal written out like that, and you wouldn't really talk like that at the table. But the point is that by giving the DM the relevant information upfront they don't need to worry about remembering it.

This requires a solid trust between players and DM that no one is cheating, but if that is a concern at your table this isn't the question you should be asking.

Offer to help

Another way to help your DM is to take some of the load off them. If they are open to it, you could delegate things like tracking initiative to one of the players. Similar managing things like music and lighting (if used), moving miniatures or calculating range are all things that can be handled by a player. What your DM wants or needs help with is something you should discuss with them.

Whatever you decide, try to cut your DM some slack. They are doing a hard job and remembering the specifics of your characters is the least of their responsibilities.

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    \$\begingroup\$ We do know our character abilities. The issue is that the DM is not believing us when we tell him we do x damage or rolled y Initative or whatever, and has us walk him through how we get to those numbers again and again \$\endgroup\$ Aug 24, 2023 at 8:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ It seems to me that the OP's DM wants to know the characters' features and what they do, they do not want to have less things to remember. I anyway agree with you that DMing is a huge load of work, and sometimes having some little information support from the players could be really helpful. \$\endgroup\$
    – Eddymage
    Aug 24, 2023 at 10:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ Or maybe just convince them that it would be better not to slow down play to go through the details of character attack / damage bonuses every week, because this isn't something the DM needs to micro-manage. It's ok if they don't remember the details as long as they trust the players, so at most asking for a summary like "gloom stalker first turn + sneak attack" should be sufficient. If they enjoy D&D mechanics and character-build optimizations for their own sake, but can't remember from session to session, stopping to talk about it mid-combat is the wrong time. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 25, 2023 at 9:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ @PeterCordes This answer does not solve the problem asked (as the majority of frame-challenging answer in this site imho). The fact is that the DM seems to forget even basic and often used features, such as sneak attack. Even with the suggested approach the DM will ask for more information, given what the OP write in the question. In the example provided, if the player says "I have advantage from Umbral Sight so I get sneak attack." the DM will ask "wait, what does Umbral Sight do?". \$\endgroup\$
    – Eddymage
    Aug 25, 2023 at 12:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Eddymage: yes, good point. Not all mechanics are purely bonuses to attack and damage. The DM needs to know that the gloom stalker is invisible to enemies relying on darkvision, since that will affect the enemy's situational awareness and thus choices in combat. (RAW, invisible isn't automatically hidden, but still.) Anyway, I agree it's not clear exactly how this answer would directly solve the problem; my earlier comments were optimistically coming up with a possible reason it might for some people (less mental load = able to remember basic stuff more easily.) I didn't upvote this :/ \$\endgroup\$ Aug 25, 2023 at 19:02
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Sound like your DM is struggling

Personally, I doubt this is really an issue about knowledge of the rules. Sounds like the DM is frustrated trying to create balanced encounters.

Talk to your DM about whether they feel they aren't providing appropriate challenges.

DM'ing for 15th level characters in 5e is pretty tough. Even tougher when players min-max and every monster seems to die instantly.

This relatively new DM is almost certainly struggling to challenge the party, and his constant questions are likely because he's a little baffled at what to do.

The easiest fix is to start over

If you started at level 1, maybe leveled up a little slower, and the players just made fun characters without min-maxing, your DM's job would be way easier. He could just look at monster CR to create encounters — or maybe just use a published adventure.

Save minmaxing for more experienced DM's

There's a time and place for min-maxing and optimized characters. But playing with an inexperienced DM isn't it.

I'm a forever DM (since '81) and a war games enthusiast. I can make an optimized character and play with optimized tactics. But when I get a break and one of my friends will DM, I try never to really OP too much and stomp on their encounters — though it still happens sometimes.

You want to be aware of the DM getting frustrated when the party is romping through everything.

Quadrupling hit points

Another short cut to take is, if the party is going to do way more damage than the Monster Manual assumes, the monsters can just get way more hit points.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I think you are right in what is driving this, we have a other related issues (like here. Starting over would help. It's not an option howerver, we do not want to start over -- we'd like to play all the way up to level 20 for once, and DoTMM is really the only published module for it, so we'd like to duke it out to the end. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 28, 2023 at 9:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch-is-skeptical-about-SE Yes, we are all on board, including the DM. We currntly plan to pick up play again in an in-person multi-day retreat where this will be less of an issue, and he said he is happy to run with it. I'll sign off for a while now here. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 28, 2023 at 13:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ I can relate to this answer. I had a DM who, while not new, was getting frustrated that our characters beat everything put before them, he tossed a lich at us (we're about level 11-12 at the time). The frustration grew when we counterspelled the power word, kill spell, and we still managed to defeat the lich (while running away mind you). A few levels later and we encountered (I kid you not) six _simulacrum_ of the lich. We still defeated them. The whole time was, "How are you doing that?" Not too long after that, they became "busy" on game night 3-4 weeks in a row, until we gave up. \$\endgroup\$
    – MivaScott
    Aug 28, 2023 at 16:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ The only one that can answer to this hypothesis is the DM itself. The experience given by @MivaScott actually makes me think that knowing even a little bit the chars' features would help in creating better encounters. \$\endgroup\$
    – Eddymage
    Aug 29, 2023 at 12:20
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"Can you post the description of this feature/spell/whatever into the chat?"

Full disclosure: I am suggesting this because you said you play with roll20, it's not a solution that is going to work for an in-person game. I personally use it all the time when I DM.

As someone already mentioned, a DM already has a ton of things to remember, knowing how your character abilities work is your own job, not theirs, I usually just have a vague overview of what my party can and cannot do and it doesn't stop my players or myself from enjoying our sessions at all.

If you haven't been lazy about setting up your roll20 character sheets and updating them on level-ups, every attack, spell, feat, racial or class ability and everything else should be on it. From there it takes a single button click to post the entire description of the feature to the chat, you use this speech bubble - looking button to do it. You can even choose whether to post it publicly or directly to the DM.

Whenever I'm not sure / have no idea how something that they want to use is supposed to function, all I need to say is "please post the description" and then spend about 10 seconds reading it.

Also be precise about what you want to use and why, if you want to use Sneak Attack you need to explicitly say that, as well as the reason why you think it applies, the DM cannot read your thoughts.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks AnnaAG; the one of us that runs the Gloom Stalker only has the rules in hardcover German, as he is not so strong in English, so especially for him this won't work as well, but it'll be useful for the rest of us. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 28, 2023 at 9:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NobodytheHobgoblin Then that player needs to make a token action to display the same info. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 28, 2023 at 13:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NobodytheHobgoblin now I'm confused, what language are you playing in then and how are you doing that if you don't all speak the same language? Just tell the player to find his class features in English and add that to the character sheet too. \$\endgroup\$
    – AnnaAG
    Aug 29, 2023 at 10:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ @AnnaAG We play in German, but use (except for that one player) English rule books, and roll20, which is English, too \$\endgroup\$ Sep 2, 2023 at 4:14
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Suggest them to read the character sheets before each session.

As a DM, before each session, I read the character sheets of the players for checking their abilities, features and eventually particular magic items. This is really useful when the characters leveled up from the previous session, and then they may have gained new class features never seen before.

In this way, when a player says "I use [ability][magic item]", I know what they are talking about and what this is doing and/or its effects.

Sometimes, I make a check also on their prepared spells: this speeds up a lot encounters when there are casters in the party, specially when they prepared spells with several or ongoing effects.

I can do this because we play online, being scattered abroad, and we use DnDBeyond: in roll20 you have the same possibility.

In case of tables that are not playing online but in person1, for applying this strategy the DM should have an updated paper version of character sheets.


1 Lucky you people!

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  • \$\begingroup\$ That is a good suggestion, and I will recommend him to do so. Not sure if his schedule permits, he also is juggling his work and kids, and other activities, and already puts in a large amount of prep time, but worth a try. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 28, 2023 at 9:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ -1, it's not DM's responsibility to know character sheets inside out and every at least half-decent DM already spends more time on game prep than the other players combined, it's the player that should know their abilities and be able to explain them, knowing their own sheet is pretty much the ONLY responsibility they have, trying to offload it onto the DM is really unfair and lazy. \$\endgroup\$
    – AnnaAG
    Aug 29, 2023 at 10:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ @AnnaAG It depends on what the DM wants to know. The OP's DM seems to be interested in knowing the char features, and my personal experience as a nearly forever-DM, and the experience of my previous DM, even roughly knowing the char features can really speed up the fight, when the number of players is "large" (in my case, 6). \$\endgroup\$
    – Eddymage
    Aug 29, 2023 at 12:17
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There may be big shoes to fill

The new DM has seen you handle the story while keeping track of all PCs, possibly even seen you suggest ways to better achieve intended outcomes and remind players of forgotten modifiers. So that's what every DM should be able to do, right?

It seems to me that the new DM may be trying to juggle a full figure-8 as that is what was happening before, when just keeping three balls moving may be the (current) extents of their abilities. Trying too hard, and while doing so, being unwilling to relax and let anything go without being sure they understand what's happening.

That's diving straight into the deepest part of the pool without first learning to tread water. This DM needs some floating assistance.

Divide et Impera

You have a veteran DM, who knows the rules but wants to play, and a newbie DM, who wants to lead a game, but is unsure of the rules. Offload the new DM by handling the rules for PCs while explaining your rulings so they can pick up on the details if they wish to learn. Let them keep track of the world and NPCs, but be prepared to offload even more.

I did this in another RPG, where I also occasionally took over entire flanks of the combat, to make combat faster. That requires a large amount of trust and an ability to understand what the main GM is going for in that conflict, so YMMV, but just offloading the "rules stuff" in regards to PCs should be simple enough.

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    \$\begingroup\$ That seems unlikely to help the new DM. If they’re already asking for proof about PC mechanics, having Groody manage that still seems to put the GM Ina a “huh, is that right?” Position. Have you been in a similar position and utilized this where that didn’t end up happening? If so, what do you think prevented it? \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Aug 24, 2023 at 19:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ Not sure why this answer is attracting this many downvotes. (Unlike NautArch, I'm totally willing to help newer DM's with whatever details they need. I'm sure some forever DM's agree with either of us.) You might think "Not for me" but that doesn't mean nobody should consider it. Does anyone really think this answer would be harmful? \$\endgroup\$
    – Tim Grant
    Aug 27, 2023 at 14:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ This is what I do to help one of our DMs. Good suggestion. My nephew does it for me when I DM. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 28, 2023 at 13:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ @TimGrant I'm one of those that downvoted because, yes, I think the execution of the idea as proposed in this answer could be harmful. It's fine to want to have a co-DM, which is what this answer seems to be suggesting but this is something that needs to be discussed in advance with your potential co-DM, doing it like described in the answer (just offloading half of the DMing in the middle of the game on a veteran DM whom you have invited to play as a party member) feels like bait-and-switch to me AND puts the person on the spot and under pressure to agree even if they might not want to \$\endgroup\$
    – AnnaAG
    Aug 29, 2023 at 10:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ @From, AnnaAG was good enough to provide feedback. Consider editing your answer, rather than arguing in comments. Your idea is solid here. If you address the concerns, your answer is likely to be better received. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tim Grant
    Aug 29, 2023 at 20:30

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