Don’t Be a Dick – 4 Tips for Following Wheaton’s Law

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on July 16, 2012

I’ve been gaming a long time and for the most part I’ve had very positive experiences. This is especially true when it comes to public-play gaming. The people who come out to my FLGS to play D&D Encounters, Lair Assault, LFR, D&D Game Day, Free RPG Day, or just a pick-up game are for the most part really good people. I’ve found this to be true when I’ve gone to conventions as well. Gamers in generally are pretty good people who enjoy the hobby and want to have fun.

However, every now and then you get a player that is the exception. In some cases they’re genuinely trying to be extra helpful and come off as the Gaming Jerk, and in other cases their inexperience and lack of gaming protocol leads them to step over the line. At the end of the day it’s important to follow Wheaton’s Law: Don’t be a dick! Obviously, no one comes to the gaming table planning to break Wheaton’s Law but it happens. Regrettably I’m seeing it happen more often so I felt it was time to help the newer players by sharing a few words of wisdom and providing four tips on how to avoid breaking Wheaton’s Law.

1) The DM’s ruling is final

When there is a dispute over the rules it’s up to the DM to make the call. If the player impacted doesn’t agree with the DM our house rule is that the player has until the beginning of his next turn to find something in the rules to settle the dispute either way. After that the ruling stands and we drop it. The idea is that it’s more important to keep things moving than it is to debate one call. The only exception is if the ruling will result in a PC death in which case we stop to make sure we get it right. After the game is over we make a point of finding the correct rule so that in the future we know we’ve made the right call.

At my FLGS I play with a lot of newer players, many of whom have little previous gaming experience. So when there’s an ambiguous ruling, especially one that doesn’t go their way, they feel it’s their obligation to find the correct ruling. Now I’m all for making the right call, but once the DM’s ruled you need to move on. Yet some players won’t relent. They keep searching through the books until they find something to back up their argument.

I’ll admit it sucks to be the player and have a ruling that you know or suspect to be right overturned by the DM, but you’re not going to win over the DM by wasting time looking for the right rule. More importantly if you do find that the DM was indeed wrong, making a big stink of it at the table isn’t going to make the game go any faster or smoother. I’ll admit there are times when I’ve made the wrong call, but my expectation is that once I make the call the table will live with it (at least until the end of that session).

In my opinion the correct way to handle this is to speak to the DM privately after the game and discus the rule. Alternatively you could send the DM an email with relevant sections of the rules copied from the online compendium or a book and page reference so they can look it up themselves.

2) Ensure your character sheet is accurate

Having an accurate and up-to-date character sheet is your responsibility as a player. Although it’s possible to create a character the old fashioned way using pencil and paper, there is so much material out there now for 4e it’s practically impossible to build a character without Character Builder. This is all well and good if you’ve got a DDI subscription, but there are players who don’t have the money or don’t want to incur the expense for DDI. However, you still have an accurate character sheet even if you don’t have Character Builder.

I see a lot of newer players downloading the old Character Builder to create their first couple of characters. This is not something I encourage simply because the old builder is just that: old. It hasn’t been updated with the latest errata nor does it have any of the newer powers or feats. If you’re still using the old Character Builder it’s your responsibility to double check that the powers are still correct as printed. If the DM challenges a power or tells you a power has been errataed than you have to accept their ruling (see #1 above).

If you’re unsure how a power works ask the DM before the game how they’d rule on certain elements or just pick a different power. Don’t spring it on the table half way through the encounter. First of all it will slows things down and secondly there’s always a chance that you’re not going to like or agree with the DM’s interpretation (again, see #1 above).

One other aspect of having an accurate character sheet includes recording expenditure of resources. It’s your responsibility to track your own damage, healing surges, and power use. I know a lot of players like to print new clean copies of their PC every time they play, but make sure to transfer that hand-recorded information from one sheet to the next. I’m sure this kind of omission is accidental, but I’ve had some players that seem to do it with alarming frequency. The DM has enough to keep track of, they shouldn’t have to track your damage along with the monsters’ just to make sure you’re doing it right.

3) Be ready to act on your turn

When I’m tracking initiative I always announce whose turn it is now and whose turn is coming up next. This allows the player to review how the encounter is progressing and get ready for their turn. Yet even with these constant reminders I’d say about half the players I play with are not ready when their turn comes around.

If you see that the player acting just before you in the initiative is doing something that won’t have any impact on your actions, pre-roll the attack and damage. This way when the DM moves to you in the initiative you can call out what you’re doing. Announce your standard, move and minor actions; inform the DM which creatures you’re attacking, the attack result and any corresponding damage. And most importantly when your turn’s over clearly state that you’re done so the DM and the other players know your turn is over.

Before pre-rolling anything, make sure you check with the DM. I’d recommend doing this before the game and not during someone else’s turn. Some DMs want to witness rolls and if this is the case with your DM pre-rolling may not be an option. Other DMs may just ask you to leave the dice, as rolled, on the table so that they can see them. This can be helpful if you roll a natural 20. For strikers who do a lot of extra damage dice (sneak dice, hunter’s quarry, warlocks curse) I can’t recommend strongly enough the benefit of pre-rolling at least these extra dice ahead of time. Roll the extra dice numerous times and record the results. When you hit, apply the next number on your list.

Pre-rolling can really save a lot of time, especially if the table has players who are bad at math. If pre-rolling is not an option than at least roll your attack and damage dice together on your turn.

4) Help the DM

One thing I take a lot of heat for from my group is when I help the DM by remind him of conditions that are harmful to the PCs. Things like getting a +2 to attack from combat advantage or reminding him that the monster can take an opportunity attack.

The DM has a lot of things to do whereas the players really only have to worry about one thing – their own PC. There are a lot of times when these little reminders mean the difference between a hit or a miss, and that’s when I take the most crap from the other players. But the way I see it is that we’re all in this together. By not reminding the DM of these little details it’s almost like cheating. I want to defeat the monsters but I’d like to know we did it without cheating.

We have a standing rule at our table that if you’ve got a condition on a monster it’s your responsibility to tell the DM when that monster takes its turn. This includes ongoing damage, debilitating conditions, defenders’ marks, or anything else. If you don’t remind the DM then he assumes all is good and proceeds with the monster’s turn. This also goes for effect duration. If the monster’s condition is save ends then remind the DM to make the save. Many DMs are quite good at tracking a lot of these, but it never hurts to have the players remind the DM of these things.

In many groups everyone takes a turn as DM and what goes around comes around. Help the DM and make his job easier. It might mean that a PC takes a hit or two but when you’re the DM you’ll appreciate the assist.

Remember that at the end of the day we’re all in this together. D&D is just a game and the objective is to have fun. By following the four tips I’ve suggested above you’ll find that the game will run smoothly and there will be fewer instances where Wheaton’s Law is violated.

As this is by no means an exhaustive list, what other tips would you add to help players (new and experienced) from breaking Wheaton’s Law? Do you disagree with any of my suggestions? What adjustments would you make?

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{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

1 shortymonster July 16, 2012 at 11:23 am

“Obviously, no one comes to the gaming table planning to break Wheaton’s Law but it happens.” Lets hope not…

As for advice, i would say help out the other players too. Experienced gamers can often act like a new player is a hindrance, but without new blood into the hobby, it would be in its death throes right about now. lend a hand, offer advice – in a none condescending manner – and if the new player does feel aggrieved by a rules call, a little empathy goes a long way. After all, we have all been there.

2 Llanwyre July 16, 2012 at 11:58 am

I think it’s also helpful to explain to new players what a game’s all about, especially if it’s not the standard d20 fare–then be welcoming if they choose to stay and supportive if they choose to go. Not every game is for everyone, but sometimes both prospective players looking for something to do and DMs hoping to fill a FLGS or convention table pretend that a match is going to work even when it isn’t. As a corollary, I’d say don’t be afraid to split your own party at cons; if some of your friends are into storytelling games and others want more tactical combat, don’t try to stick together, or someone’s likely to wind up miserable and may make everyone else miserable, too.

3 OldSchoolDM July 16, 2012 at 12:09 pm

As to your point #1 and your suggestion about approaching an “erring” DM after the session – might I suggest this thread at

4 Joe July 16, 2012 at 12:15 pm

Pre-rolling is also great for persistent variable damage powers. I had a cleric with Blade Barrier, and whenever I’d cast it the DM would ask me to roll up 10 damages or so, and whenever someone went into the barrier, they’d suffer the next damage value on my list. This saved TONS of time, especially since we had a party with lots of forced movement powers, so lots of enemies were getting pushed into the damage zone.

5 Alton (Marc Talbot) July 16, 2012 at 1:00 pm

Don’t be late! One of my big rules. Unless some big traffic jam prevents you from getting there, there is no reason to be late. If you have a regular gaming group chances are your friends have scheduled time off or even traveled some distance to get to the session. Be considerate. Show up on time.

6 B.J. July 16, 2012 at 2:44 pm

Number 3 really bothers me. It kills me that combat takes far too long in many games. The amount of hemming and hawing players do when it’s their turn is maddening. It’s as if many are surprised that it’s their turn again. They then spend five minutes trying to muddle through.

I think the players need to take a proactive role in playing the game. That means keeping up with what others are doing, thinking ahead to see how they can be most effective on their turn given what everyone is doing. That’s not being a tactical wizard, that’s just common courtesy. Know the weapons you have at your disposal and think ahead. By checking out between their turns (by chit-chatting, checking cell phones, ordering corn dogs, or looking at products in the game shop), these oblivious players insert speed bump after speed bump into the game.

When I play, I make it a point to keep my turns between 1-2 minutes in combat. I use my available or desired actions, clearly say what I am doing, and try to keep things going efficiently and quickly as possible. Where necessary, I may take longer to describe what is going on, but if I’m just whacking a guy with my the business end of my broadsword, not much exposition is needed.

When I DM, I try to emphasize speed in combat. I’m new to DM-ing, but the speed of combat during the 5e playtest was a sort of revelation to me. I try to prompt my players into thinking ahead and knowing their characters. I also make the monster’s turn speedy and brisk, explaining actions only when necessary.

7 shortymonster July 16, 2012 at 2:47 pm

The longest I ever spend on combat description is the horror perpetrated by people trying to kill each other. I like the detail you can drop on people taht’s a lot more effective from a role playing viewpoint than, that’s another five points, next.

Other than that, I like to keep combat moving. If people look like they’re not sure, they get a quick prompt, then I ask them if they want to hold their action. that gives them oe last chance to rock smoething cool, or they’re waiting until they think of something whilst everyone else carries on.

8 Rogue #1 July 16, 2012 at 3:46 pm

I did number 4 big time at Fan Expo last year. I had ran the adventure all weekend, then played it. So, I ended up psudeo-DMing the game as well. In one map he forgot windows. In another instance I reminded him some of the monsters powers. I don’t think the group liked it… hehe.

9 Matt July 16, 2012 at 4:14 pm

One thing I would add is to pay attention to what’s going on at the table when it’s not your turn. I DM Encounters with a lot of new players as well and I am surprised, especially lately, at all the talking that’s going on during someone’s turn. Players need to watch the action closely to know what conditions are on monsters (so they can take advantage on their turn) and to understand any narrative that’s unfolding around the combat. Just waiting until it’s your turn next to start thinking about your plan is freqeuently too late… or you up only being aware of what the last person did, and not the monsters or the rest of the party.

10 Soklemon July 16, 2012 at 9:56 pm

Keep your cell phone away. Everyone agrees and then seems to decide it does not apply to them!

11 Sunyaku July 16, 2012 at 11:14 pm

Thank goodness my usual Lair Assault players stick to these rules pretty well.

12 Kiel Chenier July 17, 2012 at 4:57 am

Always a great rule. Don’t be a dick.

In regards to number 2, I can see how this would be essential for public games (Encounters, Lair Assault, LFR, Con games), but could be relaxed in a home game.

Also, rolling characters from scratch with 4e is definitely difficult. If it’s something you want to do, try out this tool I whipped up. It’s not 100% accurate, but guarantees making a 4e character from scratch in less than 20 mins.

13 Ameron (Derek Myers) July 18, 2012 at 8:27 pm

Benoit from Roving Band of Misfits sent me an email with some interesting information about the old Character Builder. See below.

In your article “Don’t Be a Dick” you state that:

“I see a lot of newer players downloading the old Character Builder to create their first couple of characters. This is not something I encourage simply because the old builder is just that: old. It hasn’t been updated with the latest errata nor does it have any of the newer powers or feats. If you’re still using the old Character Builder it’s your responsibility to double check that the powers are still correct as printed. If the DM challenges a power or tells you a power has been errataed than you have to accept their ruling.”

In case you were not aware, the old character builder source code was released to the public following WOTC abandoning it in favor of the online version. It was then picked up by the community and maintained, kept up to date, had whatever bugs were left fixed, etc. Currently the offline character builder, if updated, is actually more up to date (content wise) than the online character builder AND has none of the restrictions, bugs, etc that plague the current WOTC supported CB. It is completely free to use and is updated with errata, dragon articles, etc on a daily basis. I don’t mean to sound like a fan boy, but there’s just no reason to pay for a restrictive program that still has bugs and is not kept up to date when you have this kind of other option.

I believe everyone should know about this option. I discovered it by accident while searching for a better CB and since then I have not met many other players who are aware of it. Once you have the old character builder fully updated (the update files can be found online, the newest update released was for October 2010) you then use the file CBloader (look up the name in Google and you will find it) to change the update addresses and that’s it, it updates itself and you’re good to go. The program CBloader can also be used to load entire homebrew settings directly into the character builder in order to simplify custom content and what not. It’s truly a gem.

I want to thank Benoit for bringing this to my attention. I had no idea this was available and I suspect that many of our readers were as clueless about it as I was.

14 mattdomville July 19, 2012 at 11:39 pm

Had no idea about the regularly-updated old version of the character builder. If I can get it working, it will save me a heck of a lot of time.
As for not being a dick, D&D is odd. It’s often a competitive game, with combats and skill challenges having clear victory conditions. But D&D’s also got a weird combination of meticulous rules and a DM who’s allowed to ignore any of ‘em (because the secret first rule is that the DM’s word is law). A detail-oriented rules person sometimes has trouble adapting to the latter. And a DM trying to introduce something innovative that doesn’t mesh with the established rules might find resistance from the rules person. This kind of conflict has the potential to produce dickishness. Hopefully, cooler heads will prevail, but those are the circumstances that have surrounded most of the dick moments I’ve experienced (occasionally firsthand, I’m sad to admit).

15 B.J. July 20, 2012 at 1:33 pm

Do we have a link for where we can find the old character builder?

16 TJ July 25, 2012 at 9:52 pm

I did a search and found a torrent site to download it. However, I ruined my last computer by choosing a bad torrent site and I’m not technologically proficient enough to trust downloading it.

17 B.J. July 28, 2012 at 12:36 am

That’s hardly worth it then! If it was released by Wizards, it should legitimately available… unless it wasn’t as officially released as reported. If that’s the case, it’s hardly a reasonable (or legal) option for those of use do-gooders out there.

18 Tom Coenen July 28, 2012 at 11:32 am

My casual group is also using the old character builder.
A few weeks back we searched for an up-to-date version but we didn’t find any.
So a link to it would be appreciated.

Accurate character sheets are sometimes a problem, especially when players have new powers by leveling but don’t know how they work.
In that scenario I thinks it’s best to look it up after the session and ignore the new power until then.

Some players are indeed surprised when it is their turn, even with a public initiative list and someone telling them when the player before them is playing out his turn.
I agree that pre-rolling can save time, but the biggest time sink in our group is deciding which power(s) to use.

19 Kiel Chenier July 29, 2012 at 6:35 pm

I wrote a similar post on my old blog a while back, but broadened it to include tips for DMs as well. While people who run games may often see players as being ‘dickish’, it’s important to remember that running a game gives you a bit of authority and power, which can easily be abused or mishandled.

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