Backseat DMs require a bit more of an explanation than I can give in an article that talks about all problem players.
Backseat DMs most of the time intend well. Sometimes they are terrible players that need to be dealt with. Use them to help rather than harm.
As stated back seat DMs generally mean well so why do they often times turn into problem players?
Why Backseat DMs happen
You are a new dungeon master and want to try it out. Perhaps you started because no one stepped up to the plate, a forever dungeon master wanted to be a player for once, or you just really wanted to try it. Whatever reason, you are new and everyone knows it.
Most of the time other players want to help out the new dungeon master at first. Players try to let things slide, help with the rules, or be very patient overall. Some players try to help by reminding about the rules and this is where the problem lies.
An experienced player or usual dungeon master knows the rules inside and out. They know what should be done and when you don’t do it this frustrates them. Therefore without realizing it, they become rules lawyers. The bad kind where it takes away the fun and forces the dungeon master to deal with all kinds of extra stress.
They don’t initially mean to be harmful but it does happen.
This process continues where you don’t do things as that dungeon master would. This dungeon master sees it as ‘wrong’ since you are new instead of just different. This causes them to be a bit heavy-handed with the rules and try to get that new dungeon master on track.
Before they know it that player has become a backseat DM and is soaking the fun out of your game.
Primarily it starts because you are new and not confident in your abilities and misguided attempts to help turn into a fun soaking leech.
Since this is damage control, how do you fix the problem?
Fixing the problem
I myself was a backseat DM once upon a time. New dungeon masters are not able to handle all the rules or play like an expert. Here is the secret though, you will not be an expert. No new person in anything is an expert or even generally good at something. You see this in sports, games, jobs, all aspects of life.
Since you need time, experience, and training to be good at something there are a few ways that you can handle backseat DMs.
The first is to be confident and learn from your mistakes. This may jar the backseat DM a bit but this is your game and most of the time these backseat DMs just need a good reminder that they are not in charge of the world.
The second way is to embrace the backseat DMs to a point and use their knowledge as an asset rather than a thorn in your side.
Talking down Backseat DMs
Backseat DMs sometimes need to be talked down. They are most of the time dungeon masters who are able to be players and are bored. They are used to so much more than just playing 1 character and want to do something else since they are used to considering everything under the sun.
First, you should talk to them outside of game.
I know that many people would ask for advice besides this but it really does work in almost any situation. Talk to them outside of the game and discuss your personal feelings about them being too overbearing.
At this point, you will have 2 responses. Either they see the error of their ways or they get even pushier.
If a backseat DM gets pushier you are going to have a problem. This player will only get more controlling and needs to either be in charge or not play in your group. Since you are the dungeon master and they are not this is one of those rare times that you need to boot a player for making everyone, including yourself, miserable.
Do not put up with an overbearing backseat DM who will not try to work with you.
In fact, here are some typical responses to help you talk down backseat DMs.
Here are some helpful responses to say to backseat DMs.
When they state how a ruling should go you can state “normally yes, but not here.” You can also state “Interesting but for now, this ruling stands. We can talk about it after the game though.” Lastly, you can state “the rules are a guide and I think this way is better.” The last one might make a backseat DM a little mad but it is a legitimate answer.
If they are being pushy in general you can state “this is my game and not yours. If you want to run your own game then you can make that ruling but here we go by this ruling.” That response is to show confidence and enough authority that you won’t be pushed around.
A passive-aggressive backseat DM might say ‘well this is what I would have done.” If they say that phrase then state “that is great for your game but you are not running this one.” This should shut down that backseat DM who is trying to take control of your game.
One last way that I will give you on how to deal with bad backseat DMs is to make the game completely different than normal. You can make the game more theater of the mind (subjective) or do something crazy like run a ridiculous module that makes no sense. We have a great module for this called the cube so go check it out.
You do not have to just shut down these backseat DMs though. Only completely shut them down if they are pushy and will not work with you.
You can instead use them to help better the game.
Using backseat DMs
Backseat DMs do not always have malicious intentions as stated in the beggining. Some will not be overtly pushy and will be willing to work with you. Once they see the errors of their ways and are potentially helpful players, you need to mold them into helpful players.
Some people have chosen to make backseat DMs their co-DMs. They put the backseat DMs in charge of the technical rules or combat while the new DM is in charge of the story, plot, and roleplay.
This can work but we are not going to talk about using backseat DMs as co-DMs. You want to be a dungeon master and someone is being a backseat DM. You did not talk with them beforehand about being a co-DM so I understand completely if you do not want them to be a co-DM.
Instead, you should use them as an asset.
If you are unsure on the rules look to your backseat DM. They should be able to answer the rule question for you. You might need to talk to them and let them know that they are an expert on the rules and you might need their help, but to not give it unless asked.
Now you have acknowledged that the backseat DM does have superior rule knowledge which is most likely true and that you ask their opinion when you are unsure. If you are sure about something they will most likely let it slide.
Make sure that they can talk to you outside of the game. Do not talk to them during the game or this makes you look incompetent to other players even if this is not the case. You are the one running the game. Don’t let other players think that the backseat DM is running the game.
You do not have to demean backseat DMs. You can use them as an asset and they will be faster than looking up a rule. Treat these players who are not too pushy and who will work with you as a blessing.
Good backseat DMs will let you run the game and not try to take control.
Backseat DMs can be trying to deal with. They can try to take control of a game or become a problem player that needs to be taken care of or it will destroy your game.
Backseat DMs can be a blessing in disguise. They can help you figure out rules much quicker than normal and let you run the game more smoothly. This depends on the type of backseat DM. Some can be too pushy.
If a backseat DM is a real problem then you might have to, unfortunately, kick them. Bad players like this will murder your game and suck the life out of it. Don’t let that happen.
I hope that I was able to help you deal with backseat DMs a little bit better.
This has been Wizo and keep rolling!