As a Game Master (GM) or Dungeon Master (DM), you’re bound to receive criticism from your players at some point. And that’s okay! Criticism helps you improve as a GM so everyone, including yourself, can have a better time playing the game. We can all improve something in our storytelling. Not a single GM is perfect at any point.
This article is about managing our expectations and responses to receiving criticism. As an introvert and a Referee Game Master type, criticism is a huge struggle for me, to the point that I try to avoid asking for feedback from my players. But I’ve had to work through it due to professional GMing.
So what do you do when you receive criticism? First, it’s important to remember that not all criticism is created equal. Some of it will be constructive and helpful, while other criticism will be simply mean-spirited and unhelpful. However, as a DM, it’s essential to take all criticism in stride and use it to your advantage to become a better DM for yourself and your players, especially if you’re a professional game master.
The Good: Constructive Feedback
The best type of criticism is constructive feedback because it’s specific and actionable. It tells you what you can do to improve as a Dungeon Master without being overly critical or negative.
This type of feedback will help you grow as a GM and provide your players with an even better experience.
Some examples of constructive feedback might be “I felt like the combat was too easy/too hard,” “The background music is sometimes too loud,” or “I didn’t understand what my character was supposed to do.”
These are specific examples of things that you can improve in future games. As a DM, you should always be open to this type of feedback so that you can learn and grow from it. It’s critical to ensure a continued space of safety.
How to Encourage Constructive Feedback From Your Players
- Use the Stars and Wishes face-to-face system after each session or after a designated amount of sessions.
- Use a Google Form to ask for player feedback anonymously. If you are more of the sensitive/empathetic type, request that your players offer their feedback constructively and gently despite its anonymity.
- As a preventative, make an expectations note during Session Zero that you’re happy to receive feedback, as long as it’s helpful and respectful. You can also note how it’s to be delivered.
The Bad: Unconstructive Feedback
Unhelpful or unconstructive feedback is not specific and does not give you direction on improving as a DM.
It might take the form of general comments such as “That was terrible” or “You’re not a good DM.” This type of feedback is hurtful and useless because it doesn’t provide any direction on what you could do differently in future games.
As a Dungeon Master, it’s vital to brush this type of criticism off and not let it get to you. Remember that if someone is taking the time to give you feedback, they must care about the game, even if their delivery could be better. Alternatively, they’re jerks, and you should not run games for them. Thank them for their input, and move on.
The Ugly: Toxic Feedback
Toxic feedback is similar to unconstructive input in that it’s unspecific and hurtful. However, toxic feedback goes one step further by being insulting or degrading.
This type of feedback might take the form of personal attacks such as “You’re an idiot” or “You suck at this.” Toxic feedback is never okay under any circumstances.
If you receive this type of feedback from a player, it’s essential to address it immediately. Thank the player for their input (even though it wasn’t helpful), and let them know that personal attacks are unacceptable.
If necessary (which it is), remove the player from the game so that you and everyone else can enjoy themselves without having to deal with their negativity.
Receiving criticism as a Dungeon Master is inevitable, but it’s important to remember that not all criticism is created equal.
Some criticism will be constructive and helpful, while others will be simply mean-spirited and unhelpful.
As a DM, it’s essential to take all criticism in stride and use it to your advantage to become a better DM for yourself and your players.
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