11 Bad Habits in DnD: Being a Better Roleplayer

It’s easy to develop bad habits in DnD, especially when no one points them out -- and it’s even worse if everyone around you is doing it, too. What are some bad habits that frequent the gaming table... and how can they be avoided?

1. “How much HP do you have?” (Healer)

Everyone is guilty of it. If it isn’t an outright question, it’s a sidelong glance towards someone else’s character sheet. But not only can you not ask “How much HP do you have?” you also shouldn’t be asking “Hey, how injured are you?” -- at least, not while in battle. A round is only a matter of a few seconds. In D&D 5e, it’s 6 seconds. Hardly enough time to, in the thick of battle, request someone’s status -- unless it’s all that you do.

In-game, either players should be shouting out for aid, or healers should be asking how injured someone looks. A quick glance to see whether someone is bloodied is perfectly fine. On the other hand, if someone has taken mostly bludgeoning damage, you might not be able to see the internal bleeding that’s slowly killing them.

It’s all a bit of a gray, squishy area.

2. “Can you kill that guy? You kill that guy, I’ll take this guy…” (Fighter)

Strategies have to be discussed before the fight starts. In the thick of battle, you don’t know whether your wizard has exhausted all his spell slots, and you can’t ask him whether he has another spell slot from across the room to kill the guy to your left, so you can take on the wizard in the back. You need to strategize as your character would strategize, which, to be honest, is mostly hitting the dude who just hit you (not true for all characters, of course).

Of course, a paladin with a background in war may have the Captain America-esque ability to call out shots, and likewise an assassin with a good eye may have a penchant for long-range targeting. If you have a highly intelligent rogue, they may very well be able to start calling out strategies to their comrades.

3. “Alright, so I shoot him once. (Next round) I'll shoot the other guy. (Next round) I'll shoot the other guy.” (Ranger)

There’s an eternal question that I’ve never been able to answer in D&D. Why do rangers do this? Rangers I've played with almost exclusively target a different person every round. Ping, ping, ping. 

I don’t understand why this happens, because from a role-playing perspective, a ranger might try that trick once, see that soldiers are still coming, and narrow their focus to a single target. From a video game perspective, a ranger would never do this, because damage received from enemies doesn’t drop off the more injured they are -- i.e. it’s never more valuable to injure multiple targets rather than dropping a single one.

But every ranger I've played with does this type of arrow spray, and it’s consistently confused me. Answers to this question vary from “it’s more satisfying” to “I was hoping to hit them for more damage.” If you really want to do this in-game, use poison arrows, or something.

4. “Let’s rest.” “Now? While we’re attacking the castle?” “Sure.” (Everyone)

I think this is most frustrating because it often works. During a jailbreak, a mage realized he was out of spell slots and said, “Let’s rest here.”

“What? Like, while we’re breaking out of jail?”

“Yeah, sure. My spells are expended, so we aren’t going to get out of here otherwise.”

“But -- rest? Here?”

And it worked! There were other jailers who knew we were escaping, but nothing happened, because some DMs just don’t like messing with players when they’re resting. And that’s fine -- we all hate night time encounters.

But there is a time and place for, “You cannot rest here, enemies are nearby.”

5. “Sorry. Huh? What?” (Everyone)

Get off your phone! There are times when it’s unavoidable. Maybe work is calling you. Maybe you’re losing a fight with your mom. Whatever. When you don’t pay attention to the game, you waste everyone’s time, including your own.

6. “My bear attempts diplomacy.” (Ranger)

When someone has a pet or a familiar, the tendency is to start playing the animal. I’m not sure why, but the hero all but disappears and instead, the familiar begins taking on all the tasks. The bear tracks and attacks; the bear perceives and deceives. If you want to be a bear, why not be a druid? At least then, you are the bear.

It’s not just that it becomes a distraction, it also takes a lot of time. People who have pets tend to take twice as long as everyone else, because they’re micro-managing both their own actions and their pet’s actions.

Though your bear and you have a special bond, your bear is still a bear. It’s not going to look for guards, because it’s a bear. It’s not going to look for traps, because it’s a bear. It’s certainly not going to tactically charge into battle: it’s going to follow the very rudimentary commands that you can deliver.

Because it’s a bear.

7. “Well, I’ve tried nothing and I’m all out of ideas.” (Everyone)

Basic attacks don’t have to be basic. Cantrips don’t have to be boring. When your skills are expended and you have no additional spell slots, why not improvise? Rather than a magic missile to the side of the head of the deranged necromancer prince, why not try to shoot the chandelier down?

As someone who has an incredibly hard time with this type of stuff (I don’t think well on my feet), I often create a table of things that I might try and simply roll dice during the occasion. This gives me the time to think of interesting things, while still adding some fluidity to the game itself.

8. “I’m bored. Let’s kill him.” (Everyone)

As we’ve mentioned in the past, being a murder hobo is not something that should be celebrated; it’s generally an indictment of a tale gone wrong. It’s fine to have a chaotic neutral hero, but it’s debilitating to have a chaotic neutral player.

One of the worst habits a player can get into is getting divorced from the essential realities of the game -- treating murder and death as a casual occurrence, and reducing everything down to stats. Once you’re killing villagers for sw33t l00tz (the three copper and piece of string they carried), you’d better have a very clear and thematic reason for your behavior.

9. “I seduce the rock.” (Bard)

Getting drunk and seducing everyone seems to be what the Bard class does now; it’s less an inspirational minstrel, and more a washed-up rockstar. That’s okay except when it becomes distracting to the core mission. When played properly, a Bard is actually pretty powerful in 5e, especially out of combat. There’s no reason a Bard has to function solely as an awkward segue into sex.

10. “I succeed.” “On what roll?” “Oh, finesse.” (Everyone)

Rolling without stating intent and without being prompted essentially means nothing, since if you roll poorly ”It was just practice” and if you roll well, it was suddenly the exact skill that you wanted to roll.

In fact, on most tables, players shouldn’t even be rolling until the DM has told them to; a player doesn’t decide or demand that they are going to roll, as it may be something that the DM has already decided is either impossible or irrelevant (in which case, they may have other plans).

11. “I’ll take that, and that… and that.” (Rogue)

Has anyone not encountered the loot thief rogue? This sticky fingers will have their hands in the corpse’s pockets before the battle has even ended. What’s more, they’ll end up taking everything meant for the other players and keeping them, often ending up with tremendous amounts of gold.

Rogues can be particularly tricky because in many systems, they can use nearly any skill, including magical abilities. Eventually, rogues can end up being “skill thieves,” too; performing all actions better than the relevant class, at least while exploring and in towns. Allowed, perhaps -- but not always fun, and not always roleplaying. Few characters really have a background that enables them to do everything.

Breaking your bad habits in DnD means being a better player -- and telling a more interesting story. Most of the bad habits of D&D players reduce the game to grinding and battle; some people are into that, some people are not, But a lot of it is also being self aware and understanding that you aren’t the only person playing the game; that everyone else is there having a good time, too.