How to Fire a Bad Dungeon Master

The determination that a game group has a bad DM that needs replacement does not happen over night. It is usually the cumulative result of obvious, cliched plots (save the princess!,) poor table management (the last session ended with 2 hours of arguments about Star Wars vs Star Trek,) miserable presentation skills (the DM’s nickname is “mumbles,”) and criminally negligent rule interpretations.

Thumbs Down on Your DM
Thumbs Down on Your DM

In hushed tones and secret emails, the group decides it needs a change. There is no good way to do this, but here are my thoughts on some of the least painful ways to get rid of your DM problem.

Telling the DM in question that you have some concerns and offer some suggestions as to how he/she might improve is the politically correct tactic. Personally, I think that this is pointless. If the DM has no clue after weeks of player groaning and rules arguments, then the DM is just not DM material. Part of the DM’s task is being aware of the total game, not just the tabletop, but his players as well. This approach might work with a newbie DM, but anyone with more than a year of DMing under their belts should know better.

Instead, seek a subtle alternative to the direct confrontation. All of these methods assume you want the current (bad) DM to stay as a player. One of my favorite methods is to volunteer to run a new game or take over the existing campaign. This allows the current DM a “break” and moves them back onto the player’s side of the table. A bad DM is not necessarily a bad player! I met some people at conventions that make me quake in fear at the thought of them DMing again, but demonstrated real skill as players.

Should this approach fail, force the issue with a “majority rules” change of campaign…with someone else running the new game.  It helps to go from a common game to something obscure that the bad DM does not know or own. It helps to make the change with the DM in mind. “Sweeten” the new game with something that targets the problem DM’s tastes. Offering up a sci-fi game to the sci-fi loving DM will encourage a change from DM to player.

Finally, after the bad DM retires back to being a player, make certain that the next game you play is run well. Pick the best DM of the group let him run the game. A running commentary about what the new DM is doing might help as a sort of “on the job” training for the bad DM. Do not expect miracles the next time he runs a game, but it cannot hurt.

All RPG games depend on the DM and the players cooperating to produce a fun experience.  Do not stand idly by and let bad DMing ruin your game. Take action, regardless of how cruel it may seem. It is simply wrong for one person to ruin the game for the other players. Suffering in silence with a bad DM is just a recipe to break up your game group.

A final note about “rookie” DMs. Do not fire them, regardless of how bad they run! Many DMs (myself included) made their major DM mistakes when we were 13 years old, so our “learning curve” is carefully hidden from our current players. There is no school for DMing a game. It is a trial by fire and doing it as an adult for the first time takes no small amount of courage, so give respect (and slack) where it is due. Use these hints only for experienced gamers that are not DM material, not to shoot down the “new guy.”

Trask, The Last Tyromancer


Trask is a long-time gamer, world traveler and history buff. He hopes that his scribblings will both inform and advance gaming as a hobby.

3 thoughts on “How to Fire a Bad Dungeon Master

  • December 12, 2008 at 3:59 pm

    This is good advice. I’d suggest that if you’re going to do the ‘running commentary’ option, you might want to be careful that it doesn’t turn into picking on the bad DM with a constant litany of ‘here’s one more part of DMing you sucked at’. The DM in question should be open to critique or you should probably not point out their failures at every opportunity once they’re no longer DMs.

    One other option that you didn’t cover (possibly because it’s cowardly and passive-aggressive) is to kill the game by engineering a TPK and moving along from there. (woops, I hacked the wrong rope and the rope bridge we were on disintegrated, throwing the whole party into the Chasm of Irrevocable Death. My bad! So! Who’s up for a game of Savage GURPS? I’ll run it!)

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  • December 16, 2008 at 10:17 am

    I asked two of my players to GM. After the sessions, I asked my players for input. I was surprised to find that they much preferred the other GMs style to mine.

    I took the clue and allowed the new GMs to run their campaigns while I joined in as a player.

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