I've been DMing for a group for a year. Initially, they were mostly new to D&D—one had a bit of experience, and two were fans of D&D shows. I've played quite a bit myself, so they asked me to DM. We've completed a homebrew adventure, a one-shot, and Dragons of Stormwreck Isle (which took over 8 sessions).

I believe in learning the rules and getting deep into character and world-building. They, however, just want to have fun with minimal prep. I've asked them if they wanted to try DMing and they said yes (a one-shot each). At this point I helped out, providing them with backgrounds, pre-gen characters, and a guild structure to ease their prep work. Their reaction to the prepped material was anxiety and feeling pressured, despite my intention to help them focus to focus only on their one-shot.

I’m frustrated. They want to keep playing D&D but aren't willing to invest the effort it requires, leaving me to do all the heavy lifting. This is my only in-person RPG group, and I love playing.

What would you do in my situation?

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    \$\begingroup\$ And that, kids, is why we they turned the role of the DM into a (relatively well-paid) profession. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 26 at 14:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ Your direct issue is "I want my players to DM a one-shot" right? You haven't said why you want this, other than vague wish they would "invest the effort it requires". I can guess the real situation behind the passive voice is: "I want a break from DMing and my player's won't DM: (describe situation) (I would like my players to try out DMing, so maybe I'd get a chance to play) (it hasn't gone well, description of how it went). (Why I want them to DM instead of me)" - is that accurate? \$\endgroup\$
    – Yakk
    Commented Jun 26 at 14:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ Why did you ask players to DM sessions? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 26 at 15:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ Not really, the question is how do you deal with passive players that don't want to put any effort in a camping but still play? The reason why I have them DMing is for them to try a different role and understand the effort that goes into DMing \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 26 at 16:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SisterOfAvalon: You might get more focused answers if you described a specific instance of players not putting in enough effort while they were playing (and not DM'ing). Right now, your question gives the impression that this is a problem between you wanting your players to DM one-shots, and them not wanting to do so. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kevin
    Commented Jun 27 at 8:11

10 Answers 10


Do you want to be a DM?

You said, that you love to play, but the question is: Do you love DMing, also?

They asked you to do it, as you explained it, but did you offer to be the DM in the first place?

Be assured, I know what you're talking about. I think 75% of all players I had (in the last decades, and in different RPG systems) are of about the same kind as your players, to a more or lesser extent. And I agree that you cannot (and should not try to) change your players in the way you mentioned.

In one particular group, all friends of mine, I actually stopped DMing (after the adventure), because I felt the imbalance of workload (and appreciation for my work) was too great. This happened only once, and I was confident that in the end one of the players would stand up and give it a try - as it currently happened really. They already signaled, that everything is good but asked me to DM the next adventure again. I am curious if this way of teaching them does work as I hope for.

Besides of quit being a DM you can change the players, as others already suggested. Actually, you probably don't need to change the whole group: In my experience it helps and motivates players if there is (at least) one 'working horse'-player. Maybe you can find and invite such a player? This player can support your work (answering simple rule questions, writing notes for the whole group, ...) and gives an example of what the game can give to players (links to character background, emotion, ...).

In the end it's your decision: Is the game currently fun for you or not?

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks so much 🙏 this answer really put hope in me. As written in other comments, I really do enjoy DMing but is it wrong to ask for a little crumble in return (as in ateleast read the things I have been preparing, when things are usually 3 pages tops not 50) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 27 at 6:11

The specific things I would do if I were you are:

Stop giving your players homework (which is what you're doing). Stop pressuring your friends to do things they don't want to do. If they tell you they are feeling pressured and anxious at the thought of GMing one-shots, listen to them, and respect that.

I am sure this impulse is coming from a place of good intentions. But I can virtually guarantee you, it won't work. Not everyone wants to be a GM, or is ready to be a GM. And the whole idea of making someone do this is... questionable. Really really questionable.

Please understand, though, that I know where you're coming from, or at least I think I do. I've been gaming-- either playing or GMing-- for a good forty years now. Trust me when I say that I know the distribution of labor is uneven between GM and players, and even between some individual players. And I know that if the players seem to take it less seriously than you do, that just makes the imbalance seem even larger.

But the thing is, you game with the players you have, or you get different players (which might mean no players.) You're very very unlikely to change your players in the way you want to. But you are likely to damage some relationships in the process.

The general things I would do if I were you are:

Find satisfaction in GMing that is not so dependent on the specifics of your players' attitudes, or, especially, their game-related workloads. In a game like 5e, those workloads will never be equal. That's life.

And yet, lots of people-- including me-- still GM. In my case, it is because I get more satisfaction (and a different kind of satisfaction) from GMing than I do from playing. If I felt the need to have all players contribute as much as I do in GMing, well, I'd never GM again. I'm the heavy lifter. That's the job. To call it a labor of love is cliché, but it isn't wrong.

How you find this satisfaction is, unfortunately, not something I can convey. There is no magic.

Also, it is possible that you are driving yourself too hard, as well. I am absolutely not going to tell you how to have your own fun. But I am going to ask you to at least consider the idea of, instead of upping your players' workload, possibly lowering your own.

Perhaps, with that in mind, there's a way to meet in the middle, in a place where you're not coercing your friends to GM one-shots that they clearly do not want to GM, and you're not feeling frustrated and burned out.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Yes: "the distribution of labor is uneven between GM and players". I think, any DM that does not recognise this is going to be the case will end up frustrated and disappointed. If I didn't enjoy the prep, I just wouldn't bother. \$\endgroup\$
    – Senmurv
    Commented Jun 26 at 7:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ As someone who is just a player, I have absolutely no intention of DMing myself. It is something I find daunting and would not enjoy. I love playing as a PC and that's where my enjoyment comes from \$\endgroup\$
    – MCG
    Commented Jun 26 at 7:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yep, I am on both sides of the coin. I love being a player, because I get to go on an adventure and experience the story we're creating. I also love being a DM, because I love seeing my friends enjoy the scenario that I have fleshed out and seeing how they react to different aspects of the world laid out before them. But I 100% see why someone would not want to DM - it can be a LOT of work, sometimes for very little payoff. Sometimes you just need to go to DM's guild and send them on a pre-made journey, because you don't have the energy to come up with something new. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 26 at 13:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ I wanted to clarify my suggestion about trying out DMing. I asked if anyone was interested, and they were. I've created basic material for us to develop one-shot adventures. Each of us will create an adventure using predefined characters since most dislike character creation. I've done that part but left room for personalization. The party will be part of a guild with a set structure. Some felt pressured by my help, thinking I set a standard, but I aimed to support everyone. I hope this clears things up. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 27 at 5:48

Frame Challenge: Switch to a low prep/no prep system

Your players don't want to do the work to run a D&D game. You don't want to do the work to run a D&D game. So maybe the problem is D&D. Many people are under the impression that other RPGs are more complex than D&D but in fact, the opposite is almost always true (there are a few games more complex than D&D, but they're the exception, not the rule).

You might start with a look at Dungeon World, one of the first Powered by the Apocalypse games (and not the best, mainly due to the earliness of it's inception). It's still basically d&d (you've got the 6 stats, HP, AC etc.) but considerably simpler for both the DM & players. The amount of prep required to run is worlds less than for a D&D session and there is a good framework to support the DM.

However there are thousands of other games out there that are also much simpler than D&D and still basically D&D. You've got Gonzo Survival Horror like Mork Borg, OSR and NewSR games that aim for the simplicity of original D&D (5th edition is really about the 9th or 10th edition depending on how you count - or 11th edition soon when the "new" 5e drops) such as Dungeon Crawl Classics, Black Hack/White Hack, Old School Essentials, are examples of these but you might also want to investigate Shadowdark, DC20, Mazes, FATE, Savage Worlds, Band of Blades, Root RPG, or Daggerheart as examples of considerably simpler games to prep and run.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 the current top answer states "In a game like 5e, those workloads will never be equal. That's life." but doesn't take the logical next step to suggesting that this group might prefer a game without the same built-in assumptions about work distribution. Not sure if OP's group will ultimately go for it but I think it's worth the frame challenge. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 26 at 22:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ D&D is particularly hard on DMs with groups who don't even want to learn the (very complex!) player rules, because then the work of keeping track of character abilities ALSO falls on the DM. The existence of rule 0 doesn't erase that it's a lot to ask of one person to keep track of the rules for everyone at the table, and it sounds like that might be what's happening in this group. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 26 at 22:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KernelPanic, that's exactly what's happening. It's like someone saying, "I absolutely want to play chess and nothing else," but they won't even learn how to move the pieces. I enjoy the prep work, and I'm only asking for a minimum level of engagement. However, I might be wrong, which is why I turned to this community for insight. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 27 at 5:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SisterOfAvalon I really don't have personal experience with which to turn this into an answer or tell you what to do about it, but your situation rang a bell and I think it was this thread I read recently, maybe you can relate: prokopetz.tumblr.com/post/752293768206614528/… \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 27 at 6:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SisterOfAvalon how set on Fantasy as setting is your group? There are many great non-fantasy games out there as well (I limited my answer to D&D alikes because I wasn't sure) but you might also consider DMless games like Fiasco - and if your group isn't married to Fantasy/D&Dish setting there's a HUGE wealth of systems out there, many quite simple to run and play. Lady Blackbird is a great free 1 shot with super low prep (and steampunk is fantasy adjacent you might be able to onboard someone to run a session of that). \$\endgroup\$
    – aslum
    Commented Jun 27 at 15:35

Stop trying to force your friends to DM

They have already told you they don't want to do it and that it makes them feel anxious and under pressure. And it's just not a very nice thing to do trying to manipulate someone like that. Being a player and being a DM are two completely different roles and it's fine to have a preference for one or the other. There's nothing wrong with "wanting to have fun with minimal prep", D&D is something you do for fun after all.

You as the DM are supposed to do the heavy lifting, if you're looking for an equal distribution of workload, it's just not possible in the system you're playing, by design the DM is the one doing all preparation. You can delegate certain tasks like picking out and playing music, making notes and so on, but you will never reach an even split.

The way this whole situation reads to me is that you're not particularly happy DMing. You agreed because the others asked you are and because you are the most experience but you would really prefer to be a player. There are other solution to that than trying to force one of your friends into a role they don't want. If I were you, I would look for another DM willing to join your group and run a game for all of you. That would probably be the most satisfactory option for all of you. Looking into GM-less (and possibly rules-light-ish) systems is also a possibility if you're open to playing something else other than D&D.

  • \$\begingroup\$ thanks for your response, but that's not quite the point. I might not have expressed myself clearly. I asked if they wanted to try, and they do. However, they don't know the rules. While I have full confidence in them, it's like wanting to play poker without knowing the rules. I love DMing and prepping, but I need them to engage at a minimum level instead of just sitting at the table waiting to be served. I'm not sure how to encourage this. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 27 at 5:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SisterOfAvalon you say you love DMing but from everything else you wrote it appears that you really don't. It's your job as the DM to do the heavy lifting and theirs to "sit at the table waiting to be served" as you call it. As long as they know what's in their character sheets they're doing fine. \$\endgroup\$
    – AnnaAG
    Commented Jun 27 at 8:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ and that is one of the problems of the lack of commitment. I am ready to put in the work as in "engage at a minimum level" it's just a matter of respect isn't it \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 27 at 15:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ @AnnaAG You clearly missed a crucial piece of information from the question, which completely negates the premise of your 'answer'. To wit, "I've asked them if they wanted to try DMing and they said yes (a one-shot each)." \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 27 at 18:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ @TheoBrinkman if you look at the timestamps, you’ll find that the info you’re referring to was edited into the question a day after I wrote my answer \$\endgroup\$
    – AnnaAG
    Commented Jun 27 at 18:46

You might want to do a belated "Session 0" with them

Session 0 is a tool to get you all on the same page for your expectations from the game, including in regards to play styles. Usually, you would do it before you start playing, but you can also do it later on if you realize it would help.

In this exercise, you can discuss your expectations regarding the play style of the campaign. If you cannot find consensus because the others just like to play a more casual, less serious style of bashing monsters, collecting treasure, and having fun that way, while you prefer to play with deeper immersion into the game world, more preparation and effort for versisimilitude, then the conclusion of this may be that you best should try to find another, more like-minded group of players. The guys you play with are probably not the only people you could find to play with.

You can take a look at How can I find other RPG players? for suggestions on how to find other people to play with.

If the issue is just that they do not know the rules, see What can I do to help the players remember the rules? to understand what you can do. Forcing them to DM is probably not the right approach here. DMing requires lots of things and work that you do not need to do or know as a player, and many people strongly prefer playing rather then DMing. Your payoff of getting them to DM is rather low if knowing the rules is your issue. Instead, ask them to be sure they know how the class features and abilities of their characters work.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Thanks sooo much ♡ and I promised I feel I have been trying everything that you mention in the last bit of your answer. Just to go back, I asked them if they wanted to try and they said yes. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 27 at 5:59

Accept that the DM does most of the work

It's intrinsic to the D&D game that the DM has the opportunity and responsibility to act as an auteur, creating the entire campaign world, all the non-player characters, and decide and adjudicate everything that ever happens in it. In the Forward to Original D&D Vol-1 (1974), the creator Gygax wrote:

The most extensive requirement is time. The campaign referee will have to have sufficient time to meet the demands of his players, he will have to devote a number of hours to laying out the maps of his "dungeons" and upper terrain before the affair begins.

And then under Preparation for the Campaign:

The referee bears the entire burden here, but if care and thought are used, the reward will more than repay him.

Personally, my favorite mode of playing D&D is with brand-new players who know nothing about the rules. They're unencumbered by game mechanics, and simply immersed in the campaign world and responding to what their characters see and feel, nothing more. Over time I try to take more rule-work away from my players to make the game more smooth and immersive.

In general, players making decisions based on game rules is simply deficient to their making decisions based on the in-world situation. (One can read more on this point in Peter Perla's influential book, The Art of Wargaming.)

A lot of early DMs rolled all the dice for the players behind the screen. OD&D Vol-1 literally says the DM should roll all the ability scores for the player characters. Personally, I switched from modern editions of D&D back to OD&D (1974) because it's more lightweight, flexible, and improvisational for the DM to run in this way.

So if you're going to DM a D&D game, you need to embrace and relish the fact that you're doing a lot more work than the players. Among other options, you might consider trying an earlier, thinner version of D&D -- maybe OD&D or one of the Basic D&D games from the 1980's.


If your main issue is that you are doing all the work: Off-load as much to your fellow players as possible. Somehow the GM almost always ends up being responsible for scheduling, note-taking and often even hosting the game. There is no real reason why it has to be that way.

You can also use pre-made adventures which provide you with encounters, monsters and story.


I will try to make as little assumptions as possible and try to lay out what we did when we started roleplaying. You can then pick and chose if it applies to the people around your table, since you know them best. If it doesn't, no harm done, pick one of the other answers.

I will make one assumption though: you want the role of the DM/GM/ST whatever you call it to go round, so you can experience games a s a player, too, and the burden of preparing the adventure is not always on you alone.

Not everyone is open to being the single responsible person for everyone's fun.

Some people will want to be the story teller, some people might be persuaded when they see others being successful at it, and others may not like it as much, but put in a little effort to not stand out. Some might not want to, at all. That is fine, too. But you should make sure that it is because they genuinely don't like it, not because they are afraid of doing it, or to lazy to invest the time needed.

If they are helpful in other ways, maybe offer to invest time on other things, maybe they always pay for the snacks and drinks, maybe they buy the majority of books or maybe they bring the painted miniatures for your battles that they painstakingly painted up because you asked for "something like a green dragon". Helping your group succeed can come in many ways and you will recognize them. It doesn't need to be shared story telling, you can sink countless hours into the hobby and your groups success without ever DMing.

But it should be shared effort. If you find people that are just there to take and never give, you will notice them, too. It's up to you what you do, but for me it isn't worth it. Someone who isn't in it... doesn't need to be in it.

So enough rambling, what did we do back in the time? Well, DMing can be scary, because you should be in control. But you aren't. In your group, you are the one in control, you know all this stuff, the rules, the lore, all they can do is give a best guess and probably be wrong.

So for each person, let them pick something they are in control of. Whether it is another system entirely, just another part of the game world, another style of playing if your game has different styles. If they feel like they might be right or wrong on something they do, they are not the game master. They are the game proxy. Your proxy. Doing your job, just worse and opening themselves to criticism.

So we for example played D&D a lot. But one of us had read all the Forgotten Realms lore. And another had bought the Dark Sun boxed set. Full of weird magic and psionics, almost a game of it's own. A few of us really liked Cyberpunk 2020. One was a Star Wars fan. So we played a lot of games. And each had their specialist. They knew what they were doing. Or maybe not. But it was their decision. Nobody could tell them they were "wrong", because it was their story, their world, maybe even their system.

People would get battle mats, or miniatures or terrain based on adventures. The DM would tell the wargamers/miniature painters beforehand "hey, it would be really cool if we had a dragon for the end of the campaign". Or just "can you bring undead for today?". And it was their job to make sure that happened, and also their job to keep that secret so to not spoil the surprise. And they were in control of that part, the DM did not have miniatures, certainly not painted one's. And would not be able to tell them whether they were right or wrong about what they brought.

So what I am trying to say is this: People who you give a job to that is basically just "do my job", and who are inexperienced and are afraid of maybe not being as good as you are, are very reluctant to actually try. Give them control over what they want to do. Say

hey guys, after our next meeting, I don't have time to prepare an adventure for the three weeks after that, our inlaws are visiting with their baby. I can still be here and play though. Does somebody else want to do an adventure? We don't have to keep the system if you prefer to try a different one, like Star Wars or Shadow Run. Think about it and lets hear some ideas and decide on something next week so we know what we do the week after."

Make it about what they want to do and how they want to do it. Don't make them do something that you ordered them to do.

  • \$\begingroup\$ thanks so much. This is incredibly helpful. Thanks for taking so much time answering 😊 \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 27 at 19:01

Create player aids for certain rules

You cannot force players to learn all the rules (even if every DM would probably like that).

I play in a group in which I'm the one with a bit of experience, and some others are also mostly here for the fun and do not care that much about the rules.

It's ok for the most part - and I don't mind helping the DM for remembering others rules - but what really was a bummer is that they had troubles remembering what their own characters can do (spells, abilities, etc). So, to avoid them looking through X pages on each of their turns and lose a lot of time, I made them one-page spells summaries, for example.

They also printed their abilities on a separate sheet, highlighting what's important, and it helped a lot. Sure, there are always turns for which they're not prepared, but it's rather a player problem than a rules problem.

You're supposed to do most of the work

This has always been true. You are the referee, and should know most of the rules, or at least know where to look them up if necessary. Also, you're in charge of the world building, lore, etc. In fact, the only thing your players should have to do is creating their characters backgrounds and learn a bit about their classes.

If creating a campaign from scratch is to much work for you, use existing adventures. There is plenty of good and enjoyable material, either official published books or fan-made content.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks, yes, I've done all that, including creating cheat sheets. Still, it feels unfair. If you want to play any game, you should know the basic rules, right? Of course, I'm there to help, but why should this be different? Besides these existential questions, I'm ready to do most of the work as a DM. However, I've snapped because my help has been perceived as setting an impossible standard for them. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 27 at 6:07


If you aren’t enjoying your leisure activity, why are you doing it?


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