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How to help when on the other side of the screen

Recently I got to actually play a PC in a campaign rather than my usual DM role. And it was a blast! As much as I love crafting devious storylines, it's great to take part in the adventure too. During the game I realized that even while not acting as DM, there are ways you can help it run smoothly.

Think of Yourself as the DM's Assistant
This is the mindset I take when playing a PC, mainly because the person who DM's when I step down is fairly inexperienced and new to running games. Use your experience and knowledge to help their game flow and progress - the entire table will benefit from the results. Ask yourself often - if I were running this game, what would I want and/or really appreciate right now? This mindset is the basis for rest of this post.

Keep the Party Focused
One of a DM's biggest enemies is inattention. Maybe the players are talking about the latest movie, or about some recent news, or even something in-game that's completely unrelated to what is actually happening. Most DM's have seen this enough on the other side of the screen; if you see this happening while playing try to steer the party gently back on course before it reaches the point of "DM intervention." One of the more subtle ways you can help get everyone's attention back onto the game is by...

Asking Leading Questions
Most experienced DM's will be able to spot a plot hook a mile away. However, not all players have this same sensory ability (no joke!). You can really help your DM by spotting these hooks or realizing when the party could really benefit from additional information, and asking the questions they want to answer. We all know how frustrating it is when you present the party with a seemingly obvious hook and they completely miss it - you don't want to break the immersion and point it out, yet it's essential to the plot development.

Keep in mind that you don't want to go too far - don't ask questions about everything in a paranoid obsession for detail. In fact, asking too much can be terrible for a new DM, since they likely aren't ready for a lot of improvisation and on-the-fly specifics. At best, you might frustrate them; at worst you'll completely frazzle them and throw them off their game for the rest of the night.

Volunteer to Be the "Rules Guy"
This isn't as bad as it sounds, because let's face it - in most groups, whoever normally DM's is ALREADY the "Rules Guy," simply because they require to know the rules inside and out already (for the most part). But help your DM out. Chances are they've never had to look up how much horse barding costs, what the differences are between cover and concealment, or what a tiefling's racial ability is. Even if you don't know either and have to dig through some books, this leaves the DM free to continue telling the story and focusing on the important details.

Other examples would include keeping track of status effects, putting bloodied/marked indicators on figures, and clearing the figures while the DM is readying the next encounter. Anything to lessen the DM's workload.

Don't Make DM Decisions
This can be difficult, but try to remember that you are not the DM. If there is a tough decision to make (such as a fuzzy rules situation), do not step on the DM's toes. Let them make their decision and don't upstage them by arguing it. Instead, try to imagine yourself as a detached, neutral party and offer suggestions or alternatives to both sides so that a conclusion can be reached that satisfies both sides. If it's turning into a heated argument, do your best to diffuse the situation, maybe by coming up with a compromise or volunteering to research the rule in question.

Finally, above all else, DO NOT SAY "Well in MY game this is how we'd do it" or "I would do it this way if I were DM'ing". It's insulting to your DM and disrespectful, and you're essentially cutting his legs out from under him and telling the other players that you're better at DM'ing.

Playing the Game Properly
This is very simple, but it's important. It's so, so easy to metagame or abuse unspoken game rules (like not robbing merchants, even though it's clearly obvious you would be able to), but this sort of behavior just makes a DM's job even we all likely know, from experience. For instance, in the game I played we found ourselves in the laboratory of someone named "Acererak." I knew instantly who this was and what it meant, and while inwardly I was screaming "Oh shit!!" I saw that no one else recognized the name, so I simply asked the DM for a History check to see if I knew who it was. I rolled badly, so I shrugged and we moved on.

Anyone else have any tips on what a DM can do to help out when they are a PC?


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