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D&D General DM Authority

We once tried a DMless game. It involved the random dungeon rules in the DMG first edition. It was not very fun and it was abandoned after about three or four sessions. We did not enjoyed it but we tried it. Maybe we were too young to do it properly, but it is still something I would not recommend as this lack a lot of direction and the finesse a DM can bring to the table.

We also tried the rolling DM's approach where everyone was supposed to DM the group. Each DM would do one adventure and once the adventure was over, we switched DM and characters (we rolled randomly to know which character we would get each time). This experience was a it better but it lacked finesse and continuity that a single DM can bring.

The co DM approach was also tried and this was way better than the other two approach. But, in the end, one DM finally took over for good at the request of all players. The tone of the campaign could change much from one DM to the other. The co DM approach is better with different campaigns, each taking turns after one campaign ends.

Although I do like to be a player, I was almost always the DM in my younger years and now its been more than 20 years that I last took the seat of a player. Maybe I'm long overdue to be one...
 

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Lanefan

Victoria Rules
In short, you're approaching it from a weird angle. You seem to have an assumption that players want to "beat" the game -- like their goal is to make their characters succeed.
I would have thought this would be both obvious and unquestioned.

I mean, what players ever go into a game with the goal of making their characters fail?
Which (I guess) is fine, but isn't applicable to this sort of game.
What sort of game? We're talking about D&D here, only without a DM. In all other respects I thought the theory was to keep it as close to the status quo as possible, hence my questions.
So, point by point:
  1. Who designs the setting on both a macro (kingdoms, cities, etc.) and micro (dungeon layout) scale? Everyone. One player decides to name a character Roderic of Moonfall. Puff! Now there's something called "Moonfall", be it a noble house, a land, a gang or whatever else. They may decide to elaborate a bit more or just leave this thing hanging to be developed later.
So, setting design by committee. Got it. Ditto for dungeon or adventure design?
  1. Who runs the opposition? Whoever feels like it, maybe because their "primary" character isn't present in the scene, or incapacitated, or whatever. Isn't that person immediately in a conflict of interest in regards to running both sides of the combat? Well, yes, the same way a writer is in a conflict of interest in regards of writing both the protagonist and the antagonist. They can run enemies dumb, but that's both boring and, well, dumb. If Roderic of Moonfall just slices through the Blackwatch mercenaries like hot knife through butter over and over — that's boring and doesn't lead to cool and exciting shit. But if Erriana the One-Eyed, an elite enforcer of the Blackwatch shows up, kicks his ass and takes his heirloom magic sword sword — then it's a cool set up for character development (like, "are you nothing more than your magic sword?") and also it leads to much more compelling narrative. Even if it was just an odd adventuring quest for 50gp and a healing potion, now this is personal. Puff! You have a boiling conflict and a powerful opposing force for the characters.
Still puts a player into a position of trying to kill off her own character, though, which seems utterly counterintuitive vis-a-vis the player's primary goal, that being advocacy for the PC.
  1. Who keeps the secrets? No one. You maybe know where precisely every trap in the room is, but characters don't.
Which immediately leads to meta-game complications, in that IME players are generally not cool with having to pretend they don't know something and have their characters run afoul of it.

My mantra, repeated: player knowledge and character knowledge, where possible, should be as close to the same as they can be.
  1. Depending on the nature of the scene, it may be cool to just have the characters to skillfully traverse through a booby-trapped room, or it may be cool to make them run from a giant boulder. Also, it's possible that no one at the table actually knows who is behind the mystery. In Atomic Robo, for example, players take turns narrating what evidence their characters found and then the group reverse engineers the big picture.
So, mystery by committee? I'll have to take your word for it that this can work, as I simply can't see how.
As for does R20 allows for multiple people to reveal fog of war and whatnot — I don't know, honestly, I don't use fog of war nor r20
Were I to ever use roll20 as a DM the fog of war would be one of its more useful features.

What I'd prefer, however, is a more robust drawing function where I could just upload a generic grid and draw in things as characters see them, just like I do on the chalkboard when playing in person. Right now it only lets you draw with a mouse, which is kinda hopeless.
 

I mean, what players ever go into a game with the goal of making their characters fail?
I think the point is that win/lose isn't the way a lot of people look at RPGs.

Many players just want to play a character and have a good time doing so. They don't particularly want to "win the game" and maybe even don't necessarily care about how successful they are so long as the character is fun to play (which, depending on the RPG, may require a certain level of success, or not).

They're neither playing to win, nor playing to fail. This isn't uncommon either - it's a huge proportion of people playing RPGs. Many games are designed in such a way, too, that your character inevitably failing, in some serious ways, at times, is a big part of the game. This is particularly true with modern RPGs - PtbA and Resistance-based ones for example, it's very significant.

Your entire post shows a somewhat myopic/grognardian approach to RPGs, though, and perhaps a very limited experience of RPGs with modern design principles. You're being skeptical about and surprised by stuff that's absolutely routine in a number of RPGs. You don't have to take people's word for this stuff working - you could easily go find someone playing these sort of RPGs and see that it works.

Still puts a player into a position of trying to kill off her own character, though, which seems utterly counterintuitive vis-a-vis the player's primary goal, that being advocacy for the PC.

This is sort of a good example of the myopia (sorry to use this word, but all the other ones I can find seem worse, as they make intentional, whereas this seems accidental) or limited experience here. A player's primary goal isn't necessarily "advocacy for the PC". A player's primary goal, across my entire time playing RPGs, has almost always been "having fun". Only some players operate as basically an attorney trying to get their character the best possible deal continuously, because that's their fun. Many players, because they are there to have fun, may be quite happy to see dire consequences, even death, befall their PC, if that contributes to the overall fun of the game (especially if making/getting a new character doesn't suck). I actually think this attitude is not uncommon in older-school RPGs too, where some people happily shrug off their PCs dying, and don't necessarily do everything they can to stop it.

I mean, just look at the recently released (and excellently-designed) Heart RPG. The top-tier upgrades for your character, in that, the "Zenith" abilities, pretty much all take your character out of the game permanently. Some are even purely negative from the character's perspective, like they just die horribly, not even in burst of glory or something (though that is also usually an option, depending on the class). They will likely be cool, and memorable, though, as horrible as they are for the PC.

Further in Heart, your character cannot die unless you say they die. They can become completely unplayable (due to piling up Major Fallout, which is very inconvenient, sometimes even crippling), sure, but they won't die until you say so, because you can only sustain Major Fallout from the dice, to get the Critical Fallout (which is how you likely die, if it's not from using a Zenith ability), you have to decide to suffer it - which removes two Major Fallouts. Sometimes you'll survive Critical Fallout, but not very often (and not usually without help).

Don't get me wrong - I totally understand "zealous advocate for your PC" as an approach. It's kind of how I play D&D myself when I'm a player. But it's not how I play all RPGs, and I can't even remember a time when I wasn't willing to see bad things happen to my PC if it was cool overall. Indeed many of my fondest memories of RPGs involve pretty horrible things happening to my PCs, but which were extremely funny or advanced the story, and many of my worst experiences have been with players (or myself!) operating as excessively zealous advocates for their characters, and the absolute worst experiences all involve players who were "playing to win", in the sense that they played the RPG we were playing exactly like it was a non-RPG game, with a win/lose condition, and they would "win" at all costs, even if it meant ruining the game for absolutely everyone else involved. That's the classic determinant of what a "munchkin" was, too - that they thought RPGs had "winners" and "losers", and they were determined to be the "winner", and the rest of the PCs and the DM would be the "losers".
 
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I mean, I can't help explain that to you man. If all the different ways we've explained it over the past week haven't been enough, I don't know what else we could say to make it make sense to you.
For the record, I was specifically referring to the write up about a DM-less game, not people coming to a consensus about a rule once a session.
 

Campbell

Legend
I personally have not and would not use any edition of D&D to run a game without a DM/GM. I tend to like character advocacy though so I generally have a preference for games with a GM although I generally prefer a sense that they are also bound by the rules.


If you are wondering how play without a GM could work here is a co-op session of Ironsworn which is designed to be played solo, co-op, or with a traditional GM role. It is more of a tutorial than full on actual play though.


I imagine playing D&D without a GM would require additional work, but be fairly similar.
 

Campbell

Legend
As far as the fear goes of players being too easy on themselves my personal experience is that when given a chance to make things more difficult for their character in more character rather than challenge oriented games players will be tougher on their characters than most GMs would be. Shawn Tomkins, designer of Ironsworn actually reminded players to be easier on themselves when coming up with consequences in this twitter thread.

 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest
As far as the fear goes of players being too easy on themselves my personal experience is that when given a chance to make things more difficult for their character in more character rather than challenge oriented games players will be tougher on their characters than most GMs would be. Shawn Tomkins, designer of Ironsworn actually reminded players to be easier on themselves when coming up with consequences in this twitter thread.
I can see that as a potential issue. The pressure of trying to avoid looking like they're making things easier for their PCs could push them into actually being harsher than an independent/impartial GM would be.
 

I can see that as a potential issue. The pressure of trying to avoid looking like they're making things easier for their PCs could push them into actually being harsher than an independent/impartial GM would be.

It's not just that, either, there are other factors, in fact I'd say what you're describing here tends to the be smallest and most temporary factor - one that it's easy to "get over" for players and stop doing.

The more persistent issues I've seen causing harsher outcomes are there:

1) Players are even better at imagining horrible things that might happen to their characters than most DMs are (non-sadist DMs at least). I've seen this talking to players for a long time - we probably all have, they often suspect scarier things were going on than actually were, or that a monster had a more alarming ability than it actually did. I saw this particularly playing games based on the Resistance system, where players might suggest a Fallout I didn't think of, and they're thinking about stuff you're not thinking about. They're worrying about stuff you're not even aware of. And thus they come up with things that are harsher than you would have thought of.

2) What players find "acceptable" changes in a really remarkable way, when the players themselves is involved in deciding that their character dies, or is maimed or whatever. I noticed this a really long time ago, when we had to write out some overpowered characters in an early-90s D&D campaign, but I never actually thought about, just was surprised the players came up with pretty wild fates for their characters (sadly I forget exactly what). Anyway, point is, if you, the DM, say "X horrible thing happens to your PC!" you may well get a reaction of "NO WAY MAN!" and then them trying to rules-lawyer out of it - but if you're playing a game where the openly-rolled dice say something bad happens to them, and they get a say in what it is, suddenly X horrible thing may be exactly what they want to happen, because it's dramatic and shocking and engaging. It's the same player, but because they're making the choice for this to happen, not just being told it does, they're willing to inflict it on their PC.

As the Twitter poster says though, there should really be a study on this or something lol.
 

Mannahnin

Explorer
You know, when talking to Oofta previously, it was that these sorts of major decisions were made very rarely.

Now I am being asked why we would do this when decisions need to be made every five minutes.

You're conflating two different things here. Oofta said high-stress rulings, where there's a real conflict with what a given player thinks should happen, are rare. Not that the DM making decisions or rulings is rare.

In D&D as usually played, the DM is constantly making routine adjudications. I share some of Scott's curiosity as to how this works in the described GM-less/GM-full game, which specifically says one of the player has the role of adjudicator/decision maker at any given time. Do they use a strict rotation schedule of some kind? Do they wind up defaulting to one player 80% of the time who's either charismatic, pushy, or just demonstrates a great creative flair and/or fair judgement?

While I agree with you that in most pure applications of the written rules where you're playing with folks who have good rapport, DM-as-authoritative-judge-to-lay-down-the-law is rarely needed, in instances where any kind of subjective judgment needs to apply, either you have one person saying "that's a great idea and I'm awarding a +2 bonus to your check!" and "yep, the tree is wide enough that you can hide completely behind it", or you have to spend table time hashing out all those little things amongst a committee.
 
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Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
You know, when talking to Oofta previously, it was that these sorts of major decisions were made very rarely.

Now I am being asked why we would do this when decisions need to be made every five minutes.

Maybe they like DnD man. Maybe it is because DnD has so many random tables that it makes it far easier to just roll and allow things to play out randomly. Maybe they don't have the rule books for whatever game would be absolutely perfect for them, but they do have the DnD books.

Who knows, I just know that it is possible to play the game this way. It is possible to have none of these issues people bring up when defending absolute need for a DM with Final Authority.

I mean, heck man, we are at the point where you guys are defending the DMs position by saying "but the rules say", in a game and culture where "the rules are guidelines" and "There is no one true way" are the most commonly used refrains for any problem.

It is a tradition, and it has pros and cons, and the other ways have pros and cons, but you can play the game either way.

Rule adjudication decisions are rare. Decisions like "what can I see", "how tall is the tree", "can I grab that chandelier and swing over the guys in the way" are things a DM has to decide all the time. Along with how the NPC responds, what DCs should be, is the rogue hidden. That's not even touching on world building, secrets or exploration which I'm not sure how that would work without a DM. Not saying it can't, I just don't know how it could be much more than a glorified dungeon crawl.

As far as rules adjudication, there are active questions on this message board that basically boil down to "how does this rule work". If there were one true ruling we wouldn't need Sage Advice.
 

You're conflating two different things here. Oofta said high-stress rulings, where there's a real conflict with what a given player thinks should happen, are rare. Not that the DM making decisions or rulings is rare.

In D&D as usually played, the DM is constantly making routine adjudications. I share some of Scott's curiosity as to how this works in the described GM-less/GM-full game, which specifically says one of the player has the role of adjudicator/decision maker at any given time. Do they use a strict rotation schedule of some kind? Do they wind up defaulting to one player 80% of the time who's either charismatic, pushy, or just demonstrates a great creative flair and/or fair judgement?

While I agree with you that in most pure applications of the written rules where you're playing with folks who have good rapport, DM-as-authoritative-judge-to-lay-down-the-law is rarely needed, in instances where any kind of subjective judgment needs to apply, either you have one person saying "that's a great idea and I'm awarding a +2 bonus to your check!" and "yep, the tree is wide enough that you can hide completely behind it", or you have to spend table time hashing out all those little things amongst a committee.

Sure, but I don't see those as actually being that hard to implement.

"I think I'll jump behind this pillar and hide."

"Yep sounds good to me, in that case I'll..."

That's about all you would need, and they wouldn't really discuss it unless someone had an objection.
 

Rule adjudication decisions are rare. Decisions like "what can I see", "how tall is the tree", "can I grab that chandelier and swing over the guys in the way" are things a DM has to decide all the time. Along with how the NPC responds, what DCs should be, is the rogue hidden. That's not even touching on world building, secrets or exploration which I'm not sure how that would work without a DM. Not saying it can't, I just don't know how it could be much more than a glorified dungeon crawl.

As far as rules adjudication, there are active questions on this message board that basically boil down to "how does this rule work". If there were one true ruling we wouldn't need Sage Advice.

But think about the context I've been saying.

This type of play works best with Mega-dungeons and hack-and-slash games. Which yeah, those are basically Dungeon Crawls. That is still DnD.

Few NPCs involved. Is the Rogue hidden gets handled by being behind cover and rolling stealth. Questions about if the cover is big enough might come up, but they are all working together, so they can generally all agree on the scene and what is in it fairly quickly. Or roll.

How tall is the tree... why are you asking? You are part of the group who is making the decisions of what is in the scene. You are basically asking yourself if the tree is big enough. And again, if someone disagrees, they bring it up and then you discuss.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
But think about the context I've been saying.

This type of play works best with Mega-dungeons and hack-and-slash games. Which yeah, those are basically Dungeon Crawls. That is still DnD.

Few NPCs involved. Is the Rogue hidden gets handled by being behind cover and rolling stealth. Questions about if the cover is big enough might come up, but they are all working together, so they can generally all agree on the scene and what is in it fairly quickly. Or roll.

How tall is the tree... why are you asking? You are part of the group who is making the decisions of what is in the scene. You are basically asking yourself if the tree is big enough. And again, if someone disagrees, they bring it up and then you discuss.
D&D is a whole lot more than dungeon crawls for a lot of people. If it works for you, great.

The rest? I was just making it clear game decisions the DM makes all the time, that I've made in recent games.

You were conflating those types of decisions with rules decisions which are rare with my current group.
 

Sakuglak

Villager
We have several players who DM and while we might articulate an argument, whoever is running the game has final say over what makes sense for their world.
 

loverdrive

Makin' cool stuff
Publisher
I would have thought this would be both obvious and unquestioned.

I mean, what players ever go into a game with the goal of making their characters fail?
I think that default assumption is everyone at the table want to have fun time.

"My wizard snaps his finger and mighty lich ceases to exist! This is it fellas! Oh, we have another four hours we planned for this session?" obviously, isn't fun.

We're talking about D&D here, only without a DM. In all other respects I thought the theory was to keep it as close to the status quo as possible, hence my questions.
Oh, then I misunderstood you. Still gonna clarify as I see things anyway.


Which immediately leads to meta-game complications, in that IME players are generally not cool with having to pretend they don't know something and have their characters run afoul of it.

My mantra, repeated: player knowledge and character knowledge, where possible, should be as close to the same as they can be.
When you are GMing, there's probably all sorts of NPCs who know way less than you do, which isn't a problem, right?

If we assume that the players want to use every possible way to make their characters succeed that wouldn't work, of course, but I think that with or without a GM, players should see their characters pretty much in the same light as a GM sees NPCs. Y'know, as characters and not avatars of themselves.

So, setting design by committee. Got it. Ditto for dungeon or adventure design?
I honestly don't understand what you mean by dungeon and adventure design in this context. Adventure is whatever happens on-screen, dungeons are a subset of places that are shown on-screen. The characters enter the armoury — ok, now there's an armoury in these dwarven ruins.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
How tall is the tree... why are you asking? You are part of the group who is making the decisions of what is in the scene. You are basically asking yourself if the tree is big enough. And again, if someone disagrees, they bring it up and then you discuss.
That sounds about as fun to me as having all of my teeth pulled. But if you're having fun doing it that way, more power to you. :)
 

Mannahnin

Explorer
Sure, but I don't see those as actually being that hard to implement.

"I think I'll jump behind this pillar and hide."

"Yep sounds good to me, in that case I'll..."

That's about all you would need, and they wouldn't really discuss it unless someone had an objection.
What would be the basis of the objection? What you're now describing, to me, sounds much more like collective storytelling than a D&D game.
Not to say that you can't have a fun game that way, but it's a fundamentally different experience to say "I want to hide behind the pillar, therefore the pillar is naturally big enough", or "My character wants to hide behind the pillar , but I think it would be more dramatic if the pillar is not actually wide enough, therefore it is not wide enough", than to interact with a quasi-objective world created and defined by a semi-neutral designated author-type person.

The usual DM/player split of roles and responsibility creates much more a feeling of interacting with another world with its own "reality" and logic and verisimilitude than collectively all sharing the author voice and making up what could be important details on the fly.

Exploration and Discovery are experiences which are much better simulated when I as a player don't know the answer but I can trust the DM to answer any given question in the role of my senses as I explore a world. And I know that for for many questions they or the scenario writer has already defined the environment before I thought to ask; and certain details might be more important than I initially realize, or bear hidden significance that I can discover! This makes that secondary world feel and act more like an objective reality, rather than an arbitrary fiction subject to my whims in the particular moment when I think to ask.

This brings to mind a great blog post Ben Laurence (the creator of Through Ultan's Door) wrote about old-school play, but which I think applies pretty much equally to modern D&D, about the pleasures of Secrecy and Discovery, and contrasting the play style with more story-oriented games like Powered by the Apocalypse.

 
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D&D is a whole lot more than dungeon crawls for a lot of people. If it works for you, great.

sigh

Of course DnD is more than that. I actually don't personally like mega-dungeon hack and slash games.

But the point I was originally countering was "It is impossible to play DnD without a DM"

Well, a hack and slash, kick down the door, kill the monster, take their stuff, repeat style game is still DnD. Might not be our favorite, but DnD it still is.


Now, if you want to say that it is impossible to play DnD in the style you prefer without a DM... then I'd say of course it is impossible. Because your style was built and predicated on the role of the DM existing.

Analogies are often in adequate, but if someone said to me "It is impossible to play soccer without a referee" I'd tell them they were wrong, if they said "It is impossible to hold the FIFA World Cup Soccer Tournament without a referee" well... I'd say they are right.

The game is bigger than one style though.
 

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
sigh

Of course DnD is more than that. I actually don't personally like mega-dungeon hack and slash games.

But the point I was originally countering was "It is impossible to play DnD without a DM"

Well, a hack and slash, kick down the door, kill the monster, take their stuff, repeat style game is still DnD. Might not be our favorite, but DnD it still is.


Now, if you want to say that it is impossible to play DnD in the style you prefer without a DM... then I'd say of course it is impossible. Because your style was built and predicated on the role of the DM existing.

Analogies are often in adequate, but if someone said to me "It is impossible to play soccer without a referee" I'd tell them they were wrong, if they said "It is impossible to hold the FIFA World Cup Soccer Tournament without a referee" well... I'd say they are right.

The game is bigger than one style though.
Do you remember the point the post you are replying to was originally countering?
 

What would be the basis of the objection? What you're now describing, to me, sounds much more like collective storytelling than a D&D game.
Not to say that you can't have a fun game that way, but it's a fundamentally different experience to say "I want to hide behind the pillar, therefore the pillar is naturally big enough", or "My character wants to hide behind the pillar , but I think it would be more dramatic if the pillar is not actually wide enough, therefore it is not wide enough", than to interact with a quasi-objective world created and defined by a semi-neutral designated author-type person.

The objections would be based on other people's perceptions of the pillars.

"Wait, didn't someone say those pillars were broken, is it even tall enough to hide behind"

Many many many issues I've seen with DMs setting the scene is that the players picture something different than the DM. But, if we give the DM all of the authority, then the players are challenging them by acting on information they don't have.

Hence why you have to ask "is this pillar wide enough to hide behind" because you need to confirm with the DM that your understanding matches theirs. I'm sure we can all think of examples where confusion and lack of understanding of the environment caused problems.

But, in this example, there should be no confusion. The group established the pillars existed, they might even have drawn a quick map. And if the players are confused.... it is treated like being confused, because they aren't challenging the author and trying to change the scene, they are working to clarify what had been decided.

The usual DM/player split of roles and responsibility creates much more a feeling of interacting with another world with its own "reality" and logic and verisimilitude than collectively all sharing the author voice and making up what could be important details on the fly.

Exploration and Discovery are experiences which are much better simulated when I as a player don't know the answer but I can trust the DM to answer any given question in the role of my senses as I explore a world. And I know that for for many questions they or the scenario writer has already defined the environment before I thought to ask; and certain details might be more important than I initially realize, or bear hidden significance that I can discover! This makes that secondary world feel and act more like an objective reality, rather than an arbitrary fiction subject to my whims in the particular moment when I think to ask.

Sure all of that can be true. But it doesn't have to be true.

There are other ways to play.
 

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