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D&D General DM Authority

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
This came up on another thread, but there's a lot of things going on over there so I thought I'd repost.

How do you view DM authority? Some people say that they feel that "DM as ultimate authority" is outdated, but what does that really mean? According to the rules, the DM is the final arbiter of the rules, the guy who makes the final call.

From the PHB
One player, however, takes on the role of the Dungeon Master (DM), the game’s lead storyteller and referee.​

From the DMG:
A Dungeon Master gets to wear many hats. As the architect of a campaign ... as a referee, the DM interprets the rules and decides when to abide by them and when to change them.​
...​
The D&D rules help you and the other players have a good time, but the rules aren’t in charge. You’re the DM, and you are in charge of the game.​

In games I've run or played in, the DM makes the final call on rules. They come up with the campaign world and broad campaign, decide restrictions and house rules.

Gathering feedback is typical and if someone challenges or requests a change the answer can be anywhere from "Yes", "Cool idea, let me think about it", "What does everyone else think?" to "No, but here's what we can do" to "No". Ultimately the DM makes the final decision. The actions of the PCs are up to the player with exceptions like some groups not allowing evil characters, no PVP or of course dominate and similar. In my campaigns PCs can and do have lasting impact through their actions.

  • Specific game rules: take (random thing that has come up based on text that could be interpreted multiple ways) Heat metal. If cast on armor player says "they are at disadvantage as long as I maintain concentration". DM says "the way I interpret it, the target gets a con save every round to see if they're at disadvantage". Or even the DM banning/modifying the spell.
  • Player disagreeing on power level: Similar to specific game rules, the player says they're chosen of their god so their god helps out in ways that are not indicated by the rules.
  • Playable options: player says they're playing a tortle. DM previously said what races are allowed and tortles aren't on the list. Does it matter if the rest of the group is happy with the list the DM came up with?
  • World building: player points to a spot on the map and makes up a kingdom and story. DM says that conflicts with previous lore or doesn't fit the campaign such as a highly technologically advanced civilization in a low technology world.
  • Player wants to play a gunslinger with 6-shooters in a world where guns don't exist. Multi-shot auto-loading hand crossbows are also not a thing (at least at lower levels).
Some of these examples come from my personal experience - including a guy who thought he could run so fast that he could create a tornado like The Flash or the guy who wanted to play a half-dragon half-vampire. I had a guy who worshipped Odin who insisted that since Odin "saw all" he could find anyone on any plane of existence despite spells to obscure detection just by calling up his buddy on speed dial. Oh, and the player would just "pop up to have lunch" with Odin, even though he had no way of attuning a fork to that plane and planar travel is explicitly limited.

So for those that say they don't believe in DM as ultimate authority, what does that mean? Conflicts on rules and rulings always come up now and then how do you handle it if the DM doesn't have final say?

I'm not saying that any style of game is right or wrong, it's just that I have never seen a game in real life where the DM did not have the final say. Which isn't to say that the games aren't collaborative, they are, at least to a degree. But in my experience the DM simply has to be the referee at times.
 

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Thomas Shey

Adventurer
Frankly, I don't even see the "final authority" as a particularly strong necessity, and I absolutely think the top-down attitude it has bred in some people when it comes to GM has been more malign than not over the years.
 

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
Frankly, I don't even see the "final authority" as a particularly strong necessity, and I absolutely think the top-down attitude it has bred in some people when it comes to GM has been more malign than not over the years.
I agree with the attitude part, but most things good have a way of being corrupted for some. I’m not sure that’s a particularly strong argument against the necessity of a “final authority”.

So if there is no final authority then how do the kinds of conflicts that were referred to in the OP get resolved?
 




BookTenTiger

Adventurer
GMs have authority in the way a group of friends say, "Jake hasn't had a turn to pick a lunch spot in a while. Jake, where do you want to go?"

Some of those conflict examples are conflicts the player is having with the rules (there are defined ways to control weather, speak with gods, and planar travel).

But otherwise the GM has taken on a role because the other players in the game have agreed to that role. When the GM says "This is how I interpret the rules," they can do so because the other players have imbued them through their trust and the invisible social contract. If they are doing so in a way that is rude, mean, or self-serving, then the role of GM is not right for them.

Other than that, I think GM Authority is just an illusion some people call upon when they want to avoid the work of conversation and compromise.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
GMs have authority in the way a group of friends say, "Jake hasn't had a turn to pick a lunch spot in a while. Jake, where do you want to go?"

Some of those conflict examples are conflicts the player is having with the rules (there are defined ways to control weather, speak with gods, and planar travel).

But otherwise the GM has taken on a role because the other players in the game have agreed to that role. When the GM says "This is how I interpret the rules," they can do so because the other players have imbued them through their trust and the invisible social contract. If they are doing so in a way that is rude, mean, or self-serving, then the role of GM is not right for them.

Other than that, I think GM Authority is just an illusion some people call upon when they want to avoid the work of conversation and compromise.

But then the group has elected/decided that the DM of the moment is the authority, right? I mean, ultimately it's a social contract because if players don't like the DM they'll leave. I know I've left games because of it.

I don't see much of a distinction.
 

Asisreo

Archdevil's Advocate
Respekt mah Authoritah!

DM's are both entertainers and referees in the game. You don't want to run a game no one wants to play in because no one would be having fun. At the same time, the players should understand that you're doing your best to provide them with entertainment and you're likely not being paid to do so.

DM's have a world, rulebook, notes, and your characters to juggle the entire time. In effect, the world is your DM's character. She makes the stats, the background, and she roleplays it to its entirety.

DM's should definitely be respected. But then again, shouldn't all players at the table?
 

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
GMs have authority in the way a group of friends say, "Jake hasn't had a turn to pick a lunch spot in a while. Jake, where do you want to go?"

Some of those conflict examples are conflicts the player is having with the rules (there are defined ways to control weather, speak with gods, and planar travel).

But otherwise the GM has taken on a role because the other players in the game have agreed to that role. When the GM says "This is how I interpret the rules," they can do so because the other players have imbued them through their trust and the invisible social contract. If they are doing so in a way that is rude, mean, or self-serving, then the role of GM is not right for them.

Other than that, I think GM Authority is just an illusion some people call upon when they want to avoid the work of conversation and compromise.
I mean I’ve been in groups where the GM was much newer to the system than some of the players. Rules questions or corrections that didn’t require much judgment were typically taken up by them.

But it was still a “this is how the rules do it, if there’s a good reason to alter it feel free”
 

BookTenTiger

Adventurer
If that's not possible? I mean, what kind of consensus is there to a monk running so fast they can create a tornado?
What happens when consensus can’t be reached?
When I played Monopoly with my family as a kid we quickly reached consensus on which rules we would use and which we would ignore. Why should it be any more difficult with a game of D&D?

What if consensus can't be reached on where to go for dinner? Or what music to listen to? What to watch on Netflix? Is there always someone in these situations who is the "authority" who gets to make the final decision?

I would argue that compromise and collaboration are two important parts of what you call GM Authority. For example, one compromise a GM makes is that they will refer first to the rules when making a decision. The GM should be the facilitator of the game, and there are many ways they can make that role work. Being a final arbiter of rules is one way, but it's not the only way.
 

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
Respekt mah Authoritah!

DM's are both entertainers and referees in the game. You don't want to run a game no one wants to play in because no one would be having fun. At the same time, the players should understand that you're doing your best to provide them with entertainment and you're likely not being paid to do so.

DM's have a world, rulebook, notes, and your characters to juggle the entire time. In effect, the world is your DM's character. She makes the stats, the background, and she roleplays it to its entirety.

DM's should definitely be respected. But then again, shouldn't all players at the table?
Sure, but that like a rather trivial point that everyone already agrees with. Has anyone suggested players not be respected?
 

aco175

Legend
From the PHB
One player, however, takes on the role of the Dungeon Master (DM), the game’s lead storyteller and referee.
One PLAYER steps up. You need to be a player and lead which runs a line, but everyone needs to understand that someone is in charge in the way that guides and is the referee. As the DM, you also need to understand that everyone is there to play and have fun. You need to provide that to the players, but also to yourself.

When this cannot be had, the DM is the final voice. Is there a reason why the DM is is usually the one most invested and buys all the books, and has all the minis, and maps, and etc...
 

BookTenTiger

Adventurer
But then the group has elected/decided that the DM of the moment is the authority, right? I mean, ultimately it's a social contract because if players don't like the DM they'll leave. I know I've left games because of it.

I don't see much of a distinction.

I mean I’ve been in groups where the GM was much newer to the system than some of the players. Rules questions or corrections that didn’t require much judgment were typically taken up by them.

But it was still a “this is how the rules do it, if there’s a good reason to alter it feel free”
In my view, yes, GMs have "authority" because the group has agreed they have that role. But I bristle at the idea that's often presented that the GM's authority grants them more power in the group than other players. For example, situations in which the GM "kicks out" a player who doesn't want to play in the GM's preferred style of game.
 

loverdrive

Makin' cool stuff
Publisher
What happens when consensus can’t be reached?
Then why are you even playing together? And I seriously doubt that in such case, having someone to slam their fist on the table would make anyone happy.

If that's not possible? I mean, what kind of consensus is there to a monk running so fast they can create a tornado?
Well, that seriously depends on type of game you're playing -- that sounds pretty reasonable in a game inspired by, say, Naruto, but wouldn't work in a game inspired by Conan. And if you aren't on the same page about the genre and the tone, then you need to solve that problem first.

Maybe I'm lucky and only ever played with reasonable people and there are tons of complete morons out there, but I have a pretty hard time imagining such scenario in an actual game. Unless there are some serious problem in communication, which can easily be solved, when such question arises.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
The DM has exactly as much authority as the players grant them. Which, if not enough, may cause the DM to renegotiate or stop DMing.

I like when players want to add things to the world, but I hold veto power. If the players weren't okay with that even after I explain that's important to me, I probably would stop running for them. But more often the answer is yes - from player input in Session 0 the moon is actually the skull of a decapitated god, the earth its it's body which is the source of magic, the dwarves have been genocided and the drow are a created race to take their place and "mine the bones of the earth" for magical materials. Halflings are also a created servitor race. None of that was me, all I said yes, and it's majorly shaped the campaign.

On the other hand, my personal take is that the DM only has authority within the game. For example, a DM can veto a new player (I don't want them in the game), but can't unilaterally add one (because thr group hanging out is a function of everyone). But that's among a long standing group of friends I play with. In another game DM can invite without clearing anything (and we've gotten what I've considered too many players and it's impacted my fun when one DM was running). And ina store game it's a whole different dynamic.
 


FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
Then why are you even playing together? And I seriously doubt that in such case, having someone to slam their fist on the table would make anyone happy.
Because the way consensus problems are solved is by electing a leader to defer to when such situations arise.

Whether that’s lets elect joe because he hasn’t got to choose where we eat in a while or the dm is elected because he’s most neutral member by virtue of not having a character to advocate for.
 

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