Stupid Advice: Special Player Status?

2008 February 7
by Vanir received its very first “letter to the editor” this week (a phenomenon that seems to be contagious).

My name is Jamie, I’m 19 and an enthusiastic player (big fan of the site, by the way).
I have a question for my specific situation. In our group we have five players, including myself, and one DM. The other four players are rather new and inexperienced. Some who have played very little, some entirely unfamiliar to the game. However, all of them are wonderfully engaged in the game, especially roleplaying. I have a large advantage in our group due to the fact that I’ve been playing regularly for almost two years, having played almost every base class and race, and the experience of playing with different groups and DMs. I don’t consider myself a better player because of this, I certainly don’t lord it over everyone condescendingly but I try to help anyone who needs help doing things like leveling or understanding certain abilities that I’ve almost memorized. I know that our DM takes a certain amount of relief in having at least one player who can level their characters without needing it checked over for any accidental feats or extra skill points, and one willing to help others without the worry of misinformation.

In play sometimes our DM will ask me if he’s correct in his memory of a rule, ability, spell, etc. not wanting to interrupt a combat scene by searching for a book. So, I have obvious acknowledgement from our DM of my sometimes obscure knowledge of the game. My concern is about the other players and our DM’s feelings about my role on the edges of the game where the character and player are blurred.

I don’t want the other players to feel as though I have a DM-esque authority over the game, especially if they viewed it as on par with our DM’s actual authority.
My worry with our DM isn’t about unintentionally stepping on his toes but that he might be too open with me about the intricacies of our campaign. I’ve played with our DM since he first started DMing, and have been friends even longer. I think that because I’ve been his only consistent player (I’ve never missed a session of his) he feels more comfortable involving me in the planning process of our campaigns. It’s never anything huge, for example: a detail he needs to tell me about in order to make sure I’m comfortable with my character being last to have their backstory examined in the campaign, or some insight into other options for enemies (one of our players actually has an intense fear of zombies so variety in undead enemies is slightly stunted).

He might also be holding back any complaints about my behavior during a session where I might answer a question asked by another player that was probably directed more towards our DM. I don’t do this often as I remember we’re in-play but it happens at least once a session.

Personally, I like answering questions I know so it’s hard for me to reign in the habit.
So my question is whether there’s any obvious sign of oncoming problems and if there’s anything I should do, or talk to him about, concerning the boundaries of the player and DM.
I’m flattered to be included in the process of campaign planning but I definitely wouldn’t be selfish enough to enjoy a special status at the risk of causing tension in the group.
I’m all ears for any advice you may have.


Jamie Q.

Well, Jamie, for starters — if we didn’t know any better we would swear you were talking about the Stupid Ranger. And because of this, you’re going to get a couple different answers. One from a person very like yourself (Stupid Ranger), a person in a similar situation to your DM (Dante), and an indifferent third party with an opinion he cannot keep to himself (Vanir). We’ll start with Vanir first.

  • Vanir says:

    Jamie, what I think we have here is a failure to communicate. If you have not already, I would take some time before or after your next gaming session and discuss a few things with your gaming group.

    I would not worry so much about being the Unofficial Gaming Encyclopedia. We have one of those, and her name is Stupid Ranger. She is a valuable resource. The DM gets the final say. And by that, I mean whoever is the DM right now. We’ve had some issues with Dante taking a break and someone else giving it a go, and when a call needed to be made several heads turned toward Dante instead of our new guy. Not cool. You need to talk to the group and decide what the protocol is on such things. But really, it sounds like your DM trusts your judgment and will make his final call based on yours. If I had to guess, he doesn’t like dealing with the rules much and you take some of the load off him. As long as the group is cool with that, then there isn’t a problem.

    As for having “special status” — well, again it depends on your group. Talk to your DM, talk to the other players. If one of them is angry at you, you’ll find out why and be able to work something out. I applaud your sensitivity to others’ feelings in the group, but it looks like you share a common problem with me in that I frequently avoid talking to the people that I worry might be mad at me. Then I attempt to figure out how I could act to prevent them being angry and dance and rules lawyer about until hilarity ensues. Even now, in our current group, every time I worry about something and sit on it and don’t say anything, I end up regretting it. It’s easier just to bring it up and be uncomfortable for a minute. Vanir promise.

    One tool that will probably help you deal with this is the Social Contract. A lot of groups use one and don’t know it, but we found out about it through Martin Ralya’s awesome (and sadly, on-hiatus) site Treasure Tables. You don’t have to make a big deal about it, or make anyone walk the plank if they screw up one of the group’s rules, but it will help you and your group establish a protocol to clear things up when you’re worried about things like you described.

    But anyway, yeah. In short, talk to your group!

  • SR says:
  • Jamie – I know how tough it can be to be that in-between person… you know a lot about the game and its mechanics, you have a lot of great advice to give, you want to help, but you don’t want to step on anyone’s toes.

    I’ve been that person. And what I’ve discovered is that each group needs one of us, an adviser, to keep the game moving forward and especially to maintain the DM’s sanity. The DM has to maintain the balance between plot development and game experience; adding the mechanics to this mix jumps the DC on that save. By helping out with the little details, you can make things much smoother and easier for everyone involved.

    Vanir is absolutely right; you should discuss your concerns with the group. If they are happy to have you continue in this adviser role, I would give you this piece of advice: it’s very important to keep your advising under control. First, you don’t want to burden the group by enforcing rules that will detract from everyone’s gameplay. For instance, I don’t see how it’s possible for anyone to spend “quality time” with their spouse while on the back of the tarrasque, but arguing those mechanics would have ruined a great story and really detracted from Vanir’s roleplaying experience.

    Second, the DM will ultimately make the decision, and you never want to undermine his authority by arguing if he makes a decision that is not in alignment with the rules. Having an all-out argument on the rules vs game play will definitely make it look like you think you’re better than the DM, and we know that’s an impression you want to avoid.

  • Dante says:

    I will give you a slightly different take than my partners-in-crime. As my friends pointed out, I suspect you may be a bit over-sensitive to the way this situation is being perceived. As a DM, I really enjoy having a few people in my group that really know the rules, or are willing to dig into the rules while I come up with The Next Big Thing on the side. This frees me to be able to worry about the compelling creative stuff while someone else argues the nuts and bolts of the fight mechanics, spell rules, or what have you.

    Secondly, I think that your concerns about being the DM’s outlet for more confidential campaign information is well-founded. If its making you uncomfortable to know what’s coming or to have extra perspective to plot points that are in progress, you simply have to ask your DM to stop including you at that level. If you don’t mind it so much, I think the rest of your group will raise the issue if it is truly something they perceive badly. Personally, I try my best to not share any privileged information about the campaign in progress unless it can’t be helped, or I am completely at a loss tying an aspect in to my characters backstory (read that as: I forgot something I should’ve known). That is my personal preference, I know there are others that roll a different way than I on that matter.

    Finally, if you’re still feeling really badly about the level of exposure you have or how much you are influencing the gaming session, I recommend a brief stint (maybe even a one-nighter) as DM yourself. This assumes, of course, that you’ve never done that before… I suspect that a few sessions behind the screen will have you understanding how welcome your input is and how valuable your storyline guidance can be.

Thanks for writing in, Jamie! We hope our advice helps you and anybody else who finds themselves in your situation.

Jamie’s letter also gave us a pretty cool idea — if anybody else out there could use some advice, we think it’d be pretty cool to have a semi-regular advice column. If you’d like to take 12d6 of advice damage and promise to fail your save, please email us at

2 Responses leave one →
  1. ChattyDM permalink
    February 7, 2008

    Absolutely great concept. And I too started receiving letters…

    I’ll complicate matters a bit here.

    While I totally agree with the ‘talk to the group’ thing, I have a different take on the ‘DM’s confident’

    DMing takes a lot of work and sometimes you need a sounding board. If a DM is really lucky, he’s got a neutral friend that is not in the gaming group that will play that role….

    However, it’s often not the case. That’s when the DM may feel the need to turn to the most experienced player and use him as a sounding board.

    Jamie should ask himself if knowing some of the campaign’s details affects is own fun. IF it doesn’t then it becomes an exercise in keeping player and character knowledge seperate.

    If that’s possible, then Jamie can now have an impact on the campaign’s direction and see behind the screen… and help the DM in pointing out what players like and dislike in general.

    My 2 cents!

    Great post guys and gal!

  2. Jamie Q. permalink
    February 7, 2008

    Thanks a lot guys, I really appreciate your advice!

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