A good fellow, whom I shall leave nameless, unless he wishes to announce himself, tells me that part of my DM's character is that I do not "take a stance against the players."
That's gratifying, but it makes me wonder. I suppose, in my recollection, that DMs often do - if by 'stance' we mean the adoption of a confrontational position that dares a player to step across an imaginary line, with the implied, "Do it and you'll see what happens to you!" sort of threat.
Last night I was writing of my belief that when a player has made trouble for themselves, and gotten themselves into a mess out of which they may not get, that my right action is to be sympathetic. Perhaps the player showed poor judgement. Perhaps the player has a habit of doing repeatedly stupid things in a campaign, out of sense of enthusiasm, a failure to make connections, or just because that seemed like the best tactical action possible. Whatever might be the reason, however, I don't think I should, well, jump on the player.
I have, though. I certainly have, and once lately in the online campaign, I won't say I'm innocent there. I was wrong, but I wasn't innocent. A player's choice took me by surprise and I overreacted. But I did tell the player that it was my responsibility to deal with my own behaviour, and I feel certain he and I share no hard feelings.
But I know there are those who feel it is their given right as a DM to make judgements on bad player decisions; who ride players; who make players feel punished for every action and who overall discourage players from even playing the game. I don't think they MEAN to discourage players; I think on the whole they think they're doing right, implementing negative reinforcement for negative decision-making, tit for tat.
It's not right. It's really not a DM's mandate to pass reviews on player behavior, any more than it's my responsibility to decide if my clients live up to a moral standard I've set. I only want their money, and I should only want their money. My judgement of their behavior extends as far as their manners and no farther. I deserve, I feel, to be spoken to politely. I want that as a DM, too. And I demand that players speak politely to each other.
Intimidating players with my expectations, however, is right out. I may intimidate them with a glowing giant of a skeleton undead lord; I may intimidate them with a growing sense that something is terribly wrong in the peaceful town of Dodge; but I draw the line at saying, "You're a bad player, you ought to be ashamed of yourself."
I have seen DMs do that. Not in those words. Often, not in any words. It is quite possible to convey that whole message with one fixed look.
A look that can easily be delivered without the DM being conscious of it. Human beings are sometimes like that.
It is still wrong.