Playing Dungeons & Dragons is one of my favorite things to do. It’s imaginative, interactive, social, and most of all fun. However, poor D&D etiquette can quickly ruin the game experience for everyone at the table.
If you’re brand new to D&D, you might be wondering how to be a good D&D player—what are the D&D etiquette rules (both spoken and unspoken) you should know? It can take a little while to learn the ins and outs of D&D table etiquette, so I’ve put together this guide for new players and DMs/GMs alike. Use these guidelines to make your gaming experience fun and comfortable for everyone at your table!
9 Rules of D&D Etiquette
#1 Set Expectations
The best way to avoid conflicts or missteps at your table is to set the right expectations from the beginning. As a Dungeon Master, your players should understand the following about your game before anyone ever rolls a die:
- Genre/style of game
- Rules of the game world/setting
- What kind of content is and is not allowed
Letting players know the genre or style of your game before you start is crucial to getting everyone on the same page. Whether you’d like to play a horror, high fantasy, mystery, exploration, Afropunk sci-fantasy game, or anything in between, it’s best to make sure your players are on board with it.
Along these same lines, as a DM, you should establish the general setting and rules of your game world. This will help players develop characters and backstories that complement the game instead of clash with it. In fact, you can work as a group to create adventure hooks, NPCs, locations, and more to tie the player-characters snugly into the world around them.
Finally, your D&D group should decide what kind of content does and does not have a place at your collective table. Doing this might look like a casual conversation during character creation, or it can be as formal as sending out a checklist like this one.
Checklists or surveys allow group members to indicate whether certain content—from sex and racism to heatstroke and spiders—should or should not be included in the game. What’s useful here is that your group can set up boundaries from the beginning instead of trying to backpedal after a sensitive topic has already come up. Consent in gaming is key!
But it’s not just about drawing lines. From a checklist like this, players can select whether content is a hard no (should never come up in the game), behind a veil (can happen “offstage” but not roleplayed at the table), or a yes (players want to see this in the game). Not only does this help everyone enjoy the game comfortably, but it also gives DMs and GMs a hint about what obstacles their players want to encounter.
#2 Pay Attention
This rule is neither surprising nor difficult—but it is one of the most important pieces of D&D table etiquette. When the DM or GM is talking, when players are taking actions, when combat is raging, put your phone away and pay attention.
When the spotlight is on your character, this is easy to do. But when others are taking their turns or the DM is diving into exposition, it can be tempting to zone out and cruise social media.
Please. Just don’t.
Players and DMs alike put time and effort into telling the story together. An inattentive group member can make others feel like their contributions don’t matter as much. On top of that, when a player doesn’t pay attention, they have to ask to hear what the necromancer said about the magical gem all over again, which slows the game down for everyone.
#3 Be Prepared
The best way to keep a D&D game running smoothly is to be prepared, both as a player and as a game master. DM preparation is an obvious part of this equation, but players don’t always realize that they need to prepare as well.
As a player, your preparation before the game includes getting to know your character sheet, preparing a backstory, and getting as familiar as possible with the rules and dice of Dungeons & Dragons. That doesn’t mean you have to memorize every rule and character ability—but you probably shouldn’t wait until your very first session to figure out which one is the d20.
During a session, good D&D player etiquette means being prepared for your turn in combat as well. Keep track of when your turn is coming up, and think of what you want your character to do beforehand. Nobody loves watching someone pore over a character sheet for ten minutes; that can turn an exhilarating combat scenario into a total drag. So, do your part and think about your turn ahead of time!
Some people love roleplaying their characters, and doing so comes naturally to them. Others, not so much. If players or DMs who love roleplaying don’t make a conscious effort to share the spotlight with other, quieter members of the group, then the game can feel unbalanced.
An important part of tabletop RPG etiquette (not just for D&D) is to encourage everyone to participate in the story. If your group has a mix of people who are confident roleplayers and others who would rather sit quietly, this can be tricky sometimes. Here are a few ways you can make sure your table is welcoming to all different playstyles:
- Ask each group member what they want their character to do in a given situation
- Ask each group member for their opinion when forming a plan
- Look for moments to set others up for success (let the rogue pick the lock, ask the wizard to examine the magical artifact, etc.)
- Understand others’ character motivations and help build the story toward important moments for each of them
One piece of advice I read (and included in my guide to roleplaying a character!) is to remember that you are not the main character of the story—your whole group is the main character. While your character might be the most interesting, entertaining, and exciting part of the game for you, remember that your fellow players likely feel the same way about their own characters. When you all give each other a chance to shine, everyone will have more fun and feel like valuable members of the story.
#5 Respect Time and Schedules
Scheduling sessions is famously difficult for many D&D and other tabletop game groups. Most of us have lives outside of game night, including work, school, partners, kids, pets, vacations, and more. This comic from artist N00b Mama sums up the struggle pretty well:
That’s why respecting others’ time is vital when it comes to D&D etiquette, both for the players and the DM.
For all group members, this means showing up on time for scheduled sessions—or notifying everyone in your group in advance if you have to cancel (at least a day in advance if you can!). We all have emergencies and that’s okay, but bailing over and over again at the last minute can kill your group’s momentum. And you may not be invited back if you’re only consistent about flaking out.
As a DM, you should also respect your players’ schedules by ending sessions on time. If you think your session may run long (like when you want to wrap up an epic boss fight), check in with your group to make sure this works for everyone. Some players would play D&D all day long; others struggle to keep focus after two hours. As with most things in life, communication goes a long way. Work with your players to set time and scheduling expectations that everyone can get behind.
#6 Play Nice
If you want to know how to be a good D&D player, follow this rule: Play nice! Both in and out of character. It can be fun to play a character who pushes the envelope at times—the dodgy rogue with sticky fingers, the daring bard with a devil-may-care attitude, the loose-cannon barbarian with a temper. But when your character’s decisions disrupt the game for everyone else, or if you find yourself justifying poor behavior with “It’s what my character would do,” then it might be time to reign it in. Ask yourself the following:
- Does your character often choose to separate from the group?
- Do your character’s actions get in the way of what the group is trying to accomplish?
- Do your character’s actions often draw the spotlight away from others and onto yourself?
- Does your group have to bail your character out as a result of your actions?
- Do you often have to justify your character’s actions to the other group members?
- Overall, does your character contribute to or detract from the group’s mission?
If you answered yes to several of these, it doesn’t mean you’re a bad D&D player. Roleplaying is exciting, and it’s fun to explore decisions that you might not normally make in real life. But you should always make sure your fun is not spoiling the experience for everyone else. It is quite possible to play a loud, zany, quirky, oddball character while still cooperating with your group.
#7 Avoid Metagaming
Speaking of being a good D&D player, you should avoid metagaming as much as possible. Metagaming is when you use the knowledge that you have as a player (that your character doesn’t) to make choices that your character would not otherwise make.
For example, if Jasmine, as a player sitting at the table, knows that red dragons are immune to fire damage, but her character, a young halfling who knows nothing about dragons, doesn’t know that, then she should make choices based only on what her character knows—that might mean her character shoots a firebolt at the dragon only to discover that it’s immune.
For some players, it’s tempting to metagame because that seems like the best way to win. It’s important to remember that the primary goal of D&D and other tabletop RPGs is not “to win the game.” Mistakes, failures, accidents, and even character deaths can enrich the game and often make for the best stories. Don’t be afraid to make the less optimal choice if it makes sense for your character.
#8 Get Narrative Consent
Most people understand how important it is to respect the other players sitting around the table. But not everyone knows that it’s important to respect the other characters inside the game as well.
This is where the concept of “narrative consent” comes in, a term I first heard from my friend (who’s a professional GM), Natasha Ence. Getting narrative consent means making sure everyone is on board with what’s happening in the story and with their characters.
This doesn’t mean the characters will never fail or die (the dice giveth, and the dice taketh away). It means players and DMs shouldn’t mess with another person’s character unless that player is okay with it.
For example, let’s say Raul is running a campaign and thinks it would be a cool twist if one of the characters, Jude the Barbarian, was secretly related to the evil villain. Instead of deciding to surprise everyone—including the person who plays Jude—with this revelation in the middle of a session, Raul decides to ask the player beforehand if adding that detail to Jude’s backstory is okay.
Sounds easy enough, right? Getting narrative consent, or in other words, simply checking in with each other, is a huge part of D&D etiquette that many new players and DMs miss. So when in doubt, just ask if something is okay!
#9 Resolve Conflicts Off the Table
I have read questions from many DMs that go something like this:
“Player A keeps doing [some kind of problem behavior]. I don’t know how to make them stop. What should I do to their character to show them that [problem behavior] isn’t okay?”
I hope all of your D&D groups are wonderful and perfect, but there’s a chance you may run into a problem player at some point (or a problem DM for that matter). And you’ll have to learn how to handle that person’s behavior. There’s no silver bullet that will work for every kind of toxic behavior, but here’s one principle that applies across the board: Handle it outside of the game.
The only conflicts you should be solving in-game are the fictional ones. All others require real talk with real human beings.
As hard as it can be to have an open, honest conversation with someone face to face, it’s the best and most effective way to handle problem players in D&D. And in life. Here are some quick tips for how to approach such a conversation:
- Give yourself plenty of time to talk (not five minutes before the session starts)
- Outline what you’d like to communicate
- Stick to facts rather than subjective opinions
- Use “I” statements
- Assume the player isn’t trying to upset others on purpose
- Ask questions and seek to understand
- Consider solutions and work together to find one that works
- Be prepared to ask the player to leave your game if the behavior is bad enough and they are unwilling to fix it
The Core of D&D Etiquette
The rules of D&D etiquette revolve around one simple thing: be a good human. If you start there, then people will enjoy playing at your table, even if you’re brand new and still learning the ins and outs of the game. So try not to stress about the specific D&D etiquette rules and just communicate with your group, be kind, and most importantly, have a ton of fun.