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D&D General D&D as a Curated, DIY Game or "By the Book": Examining DM and Player Agency, and the DM as Game Designer

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
This idea of itinerant players wandering from table to table clutching their character sheets seems very uncommon. I imagine it happened back in the day? Does it happen much at all these days outside of AL?
It's mentioned in the 1e books as being, if not the expected way to play, then certainly a common one. Also mentioned in the DMG is the idea of DMs in effect sharing their universe, so as to allow such transfers to make in-game sense.
 

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Lanefan

Victoria Rules
The DM enforcing their role as sole curator against the wishes of the players absolutely deserves tyrannical undertones.

The DM being willing to be sole curator because that's what suits everyone is a different story.
One thing to keep in mind: IME if I'm a player at a DM's table it's because I've been specifically invited to be there and have accepted said invite, having had the choice of declining.

Same goes if I'm the DM - if you're at my table it's because I invited you there and, after hearing the general idea of what I had in mind and having asked such questions as you wanted to, you accepted. Accepting that invite means you're also accepting how I run things...and also means you're accepting an almost-completely-homebrew game system (that still vaguely resembles 1e, which was its basis) and completely homebrew setting.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
One thing to keep in mind: IME if I'm a player at a DM's table it's because I've been specifically invited to be there and have accepted said invite, having had the choice of declining.

Same goes if I'm the DM - if you're at my table it's because I invited you there and, after hearing the general idea of what I had in mind and having asked such questions as you wanted to, you accepted. Accepting that invite means you're also accepting how I run things...and also means you're accepting an almost-completely-homebrew game system (that still vaguely resembles 1e, which was its basis) and completely homebrew setting.
That's been my experience as well. Someone sends out invites, gives you some info about the game, maybe during session 0 they discuss some details and you make characters. Occasionally (with DM's approval) it's a PC from a different campaign.

Different people have different experiences and all, but I've never heard of joining a new game expecting to help build a collaborative world. Obviously it happens and I DM more than I play, but I just have a hard time envisioning how it would work other than establishing a specific character background. I've had people be impressed by the depth and history of my world, never had anyone even propose making drastic additions or modifications.
 

When I play roleplaying games I expect to be involved on a creative level with a group of peers. I do not want a hand crafted experience that you think is best for me. Same with rules and stuff.

I would add that this does not exclude thematic campaigns. If everyone wants to try a Theros campaign, the other players are just as well-situated as the DM to propose Greek inspired ideas (or to shamelessly steal from M:tG cards).
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Carefully curated and DIY are pretty much at the opposite ends of the spectrum. The DIY ethos pretty much comes from punk rock and early indie music scene. It was about the opposite of curation - putting the raw unedited stuff out there.

For what it's worth I think any group should be expected to make the game their own. I just think that should be a communal process. I believe that the experience is best when we create it together. The GM is a player like any other player.

When I play roleplaying games I expect to be involved on a creative level with a group of peers. I do not want a hand crafted experience that you think is best for me. Same with rules and stuff.

Two things-

First, I disagree with the distinction you are drawing between "curated" and DIY. DIY ethos in D&D incorporated some of the punk rock ethos (70s!) but it certainly didn't come from it. After all, Gygax and his contemporaries were many things, but unlike Sheena, they were not punk rockers. Instead, they were very much a part of a hobbyist culture. Whether you are discussing wargaming, or model rockets, the hobbyist DIY subculture was strong in America, and manifested in a particular way when it came to the more ... nerd-ly pursuits. And part of that DIY was the ability to curate- to pick and choose those things that you wanted.

As such, I think you misunderstand the use of curation in conjunction with DIY; the DM is not simply regurgitaing the mass-produced content without care, but is selecting, organizing, and presenting official and 3PP content for use in her game, along with creating (DIY) additional content both ahead of time and extemporaneously. It is both curated and DIY. If it were not curated, then the game would always run "as is."

To the extent you want to invoke the punk ethos, the idea of running the rules that you are given by your corporate overlords seems very much against that ethos.

Finally, while not exactly on point to this, in the before-times I had the pleasure of seeing Glenn Friedman and Guy Picciotto discussing the photographic work of Fugazi; a lot of what people think of today as the "punk rock" and "skateboard" ethos is actually ... carefully curated photographs. ;)

As to the second thing, it has become the seed for thought, and but will require a new post!
 
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I can only speak for the people I have played with over the past 40 years. Even players who are interested in the rules expect to only be responsible for their own characters. Running the world and adjudication is solely the DM's responsibility.

That's a narrower statement than "players don't want to deal with the rules" though.
 

It's mentioned in the 1e books as being, if not the expected way to play, then certainly a common one. Also mentioned in the DMG is the idea of DMs in effect sharing their universe, so as to allow such transfers to make in-game sense.

It was extremely common in the OD&D days. I doubt its been so for many years now, however.
 

nevin

Adventurer
That bolded bit gets parroted out a lot as some sort of self reinforcing truism that is true because people say it.. but frankly it's just not that true. Sure you can "modify" the game, but there is little underlying structure to build on/off with next to no guidelines used when designing things and nearly everything is a one off edge case making it so that attempting to actually "modify" anything other than fluff that was never difficult to modify in any edition will quickly become a Sisyphean task of epic proportions. You can see this clearly in the number of optional rules in the dmg that either accomplish nothing or break the game unless you apply them in an extremely narrow scope like a game where nobody is playing one of the seven out of 13 classes capable of casting the spell cure wounds or go on to fix a bunch of edge cases not even mentioned in the optional rule
Imo the game only breaks if you change the rules only for the players. As long as the rules change for monsters and NPCs as well it usually balances out after a play test or two.
 

TwoSix

Unserious gamer
That's been my experience as well. Someone sends out invites, gives you some info about the game, maybe during session 0 they discuss some details and you make characters. Occasionally (with DM's approval) it's a PC from a different campaign.

Different people have different experiences and all, but I've never heard of joining a new game expecting to help build a collaborative world. Obviously it happens and I DM more than I play, but I just have a hard time envisioning how it would work other than establishing a specific character background. I've had people be impressed by the depth and history of my world, never had anyone even propose making drastic additions or modifications.
One thing I've been picking up through all these related threads is that the social arrangement of the table plays a huge role in determining how much implicit "authority" each participant has to set the rules. It seems like a lot of tables run under a "host-guest" structure (even if the DM isn't physically hosting the game), where the DM is charge of deciding who to allow into the game, and setting up the concept of the game and the house rules. The players are guests in the host's campaign; and you don't criticize the house rules and the setting any more than you would criticize someone's decor or choice of food at a party.

Even if you're playing a game in which player agenda is intended to be more front-and-center, the DM-as-host generally has a lot more sway over the overall decisions about setting and play direction. That's because, again, when you accept an invitation you're accepting that the host is going to be the decision maker for the event, because they're the one setting it up. It would be rude to tell the host what kind of food to make for the party, although mentioning you have certain allergies and bringing a bottle of wine is perfectly OK. That would parallel with the DM-as-host having authority over the campaign, but the players asking for certain permissions or exceptions for their backstory.

We can contrast this with long term tables, most especially ones that don't have a permanent GM. The main distinction here is shared responsibility for the maintenance of the group. The DM certainly has deference because of the generally greater amount of work they're investing in a particular campaign (and many tables run under play assumptions of greater DM control being the standard), but setting parameters such that any one player would feel excluded would necessarily be frowned upon. You don't suggest a bread-and-cheese tasting when your group has someone with lactose intolerance and someone else with celiac disease. :)

Obviously, there are a ton of variables here. There are plenty of long-term groups who are totally oriented around the game, such that socializing is secondary, and the group would fall apart if the game play was no longer satisfactory; those tend to stay closer to a host-guest model. Even in tables with multiple DMs, authority might necessarily flow towards the DM if the campaign is a long-term (multiple years) one, especially if the DM's setting gets used for multiple consecutive campaigns, and PC's come and go. The more the focus of play is on the setting, the more authority accretes on the DM as the arbiter of the setting.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
One thing I've been picking up through all these related threads is that the social arrangement of the table plays a huge role in determining how much implicit "authority" each participant has to set the rules. It seems like a lot of tables run under a "host-guest" structure (even if the DM isn't physically hosting the game), where the DM is charge of deciding who to allow into the game, and setting up the concept of the game and the house rules. The players are guests in the host's campaign; and you don't criticize the house rules and the setting any more than you would criticize someone's decor or choice of food at a party.

Even if you're playing a game in which player agenda is intended to be more front-and-center, the DM-as-host generally has a lot more sway over the overall decisions about setting and play direction. That's because, again, when you accept an invitation you're accepting that the host is going to be the decision maker for the event, because they're the one setting it up. It would be rude to tell the host what kind of food to make for the party, although mentioning you have certain allergies and bringing a bottle of wine is perfectly OK. That would parallel with the DM-as-host having authority over the campaign, but the players asking for certain permissions or exceptions for their backstory.

We can contrast this with long term tables, most especially ones that don't have a permanent GM. The main distinction here is shared responsibility for the maintenance of the group. The DM certainly has deference because of the generally greater amount of work they're investing in a particular campaign (and many tables run under play assumptions of greater DM control being the standard), but setting parameters such that any one player would feel excluded would necessarily be frowned upon. You don't suggest a bread-and-cheese tasting when your group has someone with lactose intolerance and someone else with celiac disease. :)

Obviously, there are a ton of variables here. There are plenty of long-term groups who are totally oriented around the game, such that socializing is secondary, and the group would fall apart if the game play was no longer satisfactory; those tend to stay closer to a host-guest model. Even in tables with multiple DMs, authority might necessarily flow towards the DM if the campaign is a long-term (multiple years) one, especially if the DM's setting gets used for multiple consecutive campaigns, and PC's come and go. The more the focus of play is on the setting, the more authority accretes on the DM as the arbiter of the setting.
Before I moved, most of my players had been there for close to a decade. When we went on to the next campaign we chatted about what we wanted to do next but since I was going to run the game it was still my world and none of the base assumptions changed. I also share my campaign world with my wife, but she has the same preferences so it's never been an issue.

I guess you can describe it any way you want, but in games I've been involved with, it's pretty much been the DM setting the rules and establishing the rules. Which doesn't mean I, or other DMs don't discuss options with players but the final decision is left to the person running the game.
 


Well, I'm running an adventure path (Rime of the Frostmaiden) at the moment, so there is less for me to do there; but I am having to play online, which means more work in the creation of battlemaps, tokens and other resources. It's kind of a teacher thing - if you have more prep time available, you don't put your feat up, you use the time to make things better.
Isn't there a whole pack available on Roll20 which gives you all that stuff pre-prepared? Battlemaps, tokens, and so forth? I'm supposed to be playing in a new Frostmaiden campaign in a few weeks, and that's my understanding from the DM. Naturally you can always do more, but with that much time invested, I would think this could be a big time saver.
 

There's also a lot of variation as to where its considered appropriate to get your oar in as a player. We're still fairly top down in practice (though we try to be responsive) in the local group, but--not criticize a GM's house rules? That's a laugh. No one will hesitate for a minute to tell the GM a rule they're using doesn't work for them, or otherwise looks like a bad idea. And no one will blink when someone does it to them (and we have a very high density of GMs; I'm not sure either branch of the group has more than one person who doesn't GM on occasion).
 

Azzy

KMF DM
Games will have to be fully sold to players in the future and not simply thrown out there.
Personally, I feel this has always been the case. In my experience, prospective GMs have always pitched their ideas (whether it be for what game to play, setting, house rules, etc.) to the rest of the group.
 

Minigiant

Legend
Personally, I feel this has always been the case. In my experience, prospective GMs have always pitched their ideas (whether it be for what game to play, setting, house rules, etc.) to the rest of the group.

There is a difference between selling your game and saying what your game is.
 





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