I DMed for the first time last night and it was great besides one aspect. I am running the lost mines campaign with two players and two NPC's (the campaign calls for four or five players, so I wanted it to be well balanced.) One player is familiar with the game, the other is fairly new. I decided and we discussed before the game how I wanted them to direct the NPC's in the party (I didn't want to have a say in the decision making, seeing as I already know the story). I was specific about it, this would only be used if they needed a specific skill from an NPC. I told them that they could try to convince the NPC's to do something, but they can't actually control the characters. I wanted them to the feeling like they solved the puzzle or they figured out the best tactic to kill the monster with the aid of their companions. I also wanted to give them "moments of glory", where they can describe an interesting spell or a killing blow when I give them the chance to. I was also rather specific about that, saying that you can describe "your" actions.

However, this had unintended results. As the campaign progressed, they became more involved in various decisions. At one point, one of the players even took control of an enemy Goblin and described its movements and actions before killing it. Occasionally, they would tell me that the NPC used a certain weapon, or that he attacked in a certain way, or the monster swung a certain direction, or reacted in a certain way. I tried to regain control throughout, but it was difficult without just saying "no" to the players. Whenever I did resort to that, the players responded with "why not?" Or "he's going to die anyway". I usually just ended up caving because it would understandably be met with disappointment. It happened rather frequently and sometimes even after I had already described the results of their actions.

I'm not even sure myself if I should do anything about it because it doesn't "technically" affect the end results. I feel as if it breaks the flow and the realism as people just throw out random results and make up crazy scenarios. Another thing that makes this feel wrong is that the NPC's seem like they aren't acting beings that have their own decision making process, fighting style and personality. They are, for the most part, controlled robots.

Is there any way to regain control over these aspect of the game without making the players feel like I'm stripping something away from them? Should I relay what I said in the beginning in more detail? Should I suck it up and let it happen as long as everyone is enjoying themselves? Or should I toss out these ideas all together and not even give them the option?

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    \$\begingroup\$ One thing I would certainly recommend, which might help in some small degree. Stop calling the player's second characters NPCs. They are, by definition PCs, even if the players have two of them. It might knock them out of the mindset that they get to control NPCs \$\endgroup\$
    – Cyberspark
    Nov 15, 2016 at 11:24

5 Answers 5


There are good things and bad things about having the players take up control of the narrative like this. I will challenge the frame slightly to suggest that "taking back control," might be less appropriate than "maintaining control of what you feel strongly about."

For instance, you might want to GM a relatively low fantasy saga (say) but the descriptions from your players veer more and more toward the high fantasy, or the four-color comic books, or some other genre. In such a case, what is important is not controlling every detail of the descriptions or the NPC actions, but enforcing the overall genre conventions.

Or you might not care too much about genre (or just might not be having that problem) but might be in a situation where you need to detail NPC actions-- even in death-- to provide some key details of the setting. If they describe a beheading and a fountain of blood for something that is actually a construct or a bloodless undead, well, that's a problem!

But the solution is not necessarily to shut the players down entirely and take back all control. An equally good method is to sit them down and make it clear that you have veto power over their descriptions, that sometimes you'll explain yourself and sometimes you won't. In the case of genre enforcement, explanations are probably warranted. Other cases are play-it-by-ear.

(And neither the initial talk nor the veto instances need to be aggressive or confrontational unless the players make it so.)

The short version of this advice is: Figure out what you really care about, and protect that. For the rest, be grateful you have engaged players.

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    \$\begingroup\$ For me, the most important things would be maintaining the key NPC's characteristics (the ones in the party, so they actually have a personality, not just another character the players control) and keeping a certain level of "realism" to the adventure. However, I do think everyone has a different idea on what "fantasy RPG" means to them, like you said. Luckily, I have a group that would be more than willing to discuss these differences. Thank you, very helpful. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tyler Dood
    Nov 12, 2016 at 20:50

As I understand it, the main issue you have is that the other players are taking control of other monsters and NPCs, aside from the two specific NPCs you gave them to balance out the party.

If you want that to stop, I'd suggest talking to them before the next session and clarifying that you only intended for them to do this with these two NPCs, not with every creature they encounter. I'd also suggest just giving them the two "party NPCs" wholesale - effectively have each player control two characters. That will help to clean up the lines between who's player-controlled and who's not.

While it may be true that the goblins were going to die anyway, this could become a bigger issue if/when they do something similar with a more important villain character - perhaps without realizing he's as important as he is.

Normally I'm a big proponent of collaborative story-telling and allowing the players to steer the story in whatever direction they want, but that's also sort of couched in the assumption that they are doing so with their own characters. There's nothing inherently wrong with the style of play you describe - just as long as everyone, yourself included, is having fun that way.

If you're not, the best way to right the ship is simply to be honest with your players. Find a common ground where you can all have fun. If they really enjoy taking over goblins and such, perhaps set up a system you can use to cue the players on which random creatures they can "take control of" and which they should leave alone for your plot purposes. ("any character wearing a magenta cape should be left to my control.") That way you can retain control when you (as DM) feel it's important, but let them go nuts as well, when appropriate.


I think your players might be right by saying "why not?" or "he's going to die anyway". You said it yourself, it doesn't make any technical difference, so what is the problem? Your players seem to enjoy doing this, but it seems you don't.

If you try to think about the RPG experience as a shared experience (although not symmetrical when there is a distinction between GM and players), you might realize that the story you (as a group) are telling is not just yours (as the GM) to control. By the way you use verbs like "I wanted them to", "I told them […] they can't" or "I decided", I am not sure that you are deeply aware of this (in fact I am pretty sure you are not).

So my advice would be: "let it go". Let them take control when they want to. It's one thing less for you to manage during the game. If you fear that they might ruin what you have prepared, you can still make it clear to them that, as the DM, you have the option to enforce your own description of NPCs' actions. Just try to keep it for important NPCs, not just your random kobold encounter.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I actually had a great time despite. However, it was rather difficult to describe the result of an action in detail and then have the player basically toss it out the window to form a more favorable result. I suppose I could delay my response time to give the players a chance each time to describe the scenario. I understand that DMing is primarily about putting expectations aside, and I'm more than willing to do that. I spent so much time building a story, I forget that it's primarily a shared experience. Thanks for the reminder, greatly appreciated. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tyler Dood
    Nov 12, 2016 at 20:12

This is one thing I struggled with a bit with a group of new players. Regularly they would try to argue how a creature would act, or in some other way manipulate the environment so that something was there that was not described.

The way I've managed this is instead of asking what they do specifically, I ask what they want to do. Let's face it, they could try to run down a hallway and spear the goblin chief in the head, but that hardly means it happens (the hallway could be trapped, a hidden goblin scout could stab them, they could miss the goblin chief, etc). Getting this point across may be more difficult for some players than others, but they should all eventually get that, while they are participants in the story, their control over it is limited to their characters.

I do like to provide players with some limited ability to manipulate the situation, though, but only if prompted to. They might enter a shop, and I will pick one at random and say something like "You see an item in this shop that interests you deeply, what is it?" or, if they find a body on the ground, I might say "one of you recognizes the body, describe it." There's some subtlety here, in that you don't want to give your players the ability to wreck the game, but it provides a lot of opportunity for character growth. You should look up the Ashes of Valkana series that Wil Wheaton did, he uses this method a lot.

Another way I let them burn off this desire to control the world (and reinforce their role in it) is to follow Matt Mercer's method of asking them "How do you want to do this" when they kill a monster. This allows them to describe in detail how they want the action to unfold, but is always followed by a recap of me as DM detailing the action. I give a lot of leeway in these, because the monster is dead, and I also try to reward RP and creativity.

One final bit of advice for your situation is that you should get used to handling NPCs while maintaining what they do and don't know. Say, you know a dragon is impersonating the Queen, but the King doesn't, how will you RP the King properly if you can't keep that isolated? If you don't "know" if a NPC would think of something or not, decide how complicated that is, and roll for it. Players can still suggest that a character do something (much like they would another player). TBH, you might be better off finding a couple more players or tailoring encounters to the lower party count.


If you enjoy it and the game runs well and you can plot your story without issue, then there is no problem. Hurrah!

If you don't enjoy it as much as you should because you are finding it difficult and feel like you have to "cave in" for instance (not positive for you), then you should talk to your players about it and come up with a solution to try out. This sounds like a better description of where you are at from what you have written above.

My experience is that player input and even running NPCs for short periods can be fun. Often they come up with better ideas that I did and we run with it (whether I let them know it or not). However it stops working when the player's expectation is to be able to do this all the time as a matter of course. The DM is ultimately responsible for the plot/story. You need to know that if you need NPCs and monsters to behave a specific way due to their agenda, which the players are not (fully) aware of, that you can say "This is how they behave" without the players kicking off or being tipped off that something unusual is about to happen. They are called "Non-Player" characters for a reason.

One thing that stands out is this line you wrote in a comment:

However, it was rather difficult to describe the result of an action in detail and then have the player basically toss it out the window to form a more favorable result.

The players generally should not have the power or expectation to be able to toss something out for a more favourable outcome. That is not fair on you, the DM and it can break the game. You may allow it from time to time but it should not be the expectation.

Why not? Some stories require un-favourable outcomes to be not only possible but probable or even necessary. Imagine how the film Aliens would have gone if the colonial marines always beat the aliens - boring! The phrase "Nuke them from orbit, it's the only way to be sure" would not exist. To get that story they had to have their collective butts kicked again and again, for most of them to die horribly and for only four unlikely people to survive after working really hard. What a great story! It requires the hardship, challenge and unfavourable results (deaths) to be such a great story, and this is true of any game I have played and enjoyed.

The DM has the majority responsibility for the story and plot, and for running the game. They often put the most hours in, the most prep and have the biggest investment. They need the final say to be able to live up to and enjoy that responsibility and investment.

This is why it is a fundamental part of the design of D&D, rules as written (RAW) state that the DM has the final say, in fact even if it technically breaks any other rule. The players have the responsibility for their character's actions and reactions. They can, and should be able to make suggestions about what the other protagonists may or may not do, perhaps play NPCs with the DM's permission and guidance and have many other ways of input outside just their characters, but when necessary accept the DM's decision. This does not mean they can't challenge the DM, what it means is that you all work together to make the game fun and the DM has the final say. If it stops working you talk about it and discuss how to do it differently.


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