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D&D General Dungeon Master or Referee?


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Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
To me it is quite the opposite, referee suggests you are not adversarial, but meant to be fair and impartial. I find thinking of myself as a referee actually helps me not to be adversarial, because it reminds me to listen openly to what the players are trying to do and really think about it without allowing any biases I might have to obstruct them (for example the bias of wanting them to just get to the dungeon or to deal with the interesting situation in the north of the city, or the bias of them not killing an NPC I like, etc).
It definitely suggests impartiality, and I can see why that appeals to a lot of folks. However, to me it also suggests a role of mediator of competition between players, which is something I don’t want in D&D.
 

It definitely suggests impartiality, and I can see why that appeals to a lot of folks. However, to me it also suggests a role of mediator of competition between players, which is something I don’t want in D&D.

This is something I've never really encountered with people who use referee as a term. I actually do like player versus player when everyone is on board with it, but I've found it is actually a tougher sell among folks I know who use terms like referee (I think they are just tend to be more into a traditional, cooperative party). With referee, to me it isn't suggesting you are referring between players who are at odds with one another, but that you are referring in terms of rules adjudication. In this case, the players are effectively on the same team, and the opposing teams might be the threats they face or the challenges they encounter in the world.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
This is something I've never really encountered with people who use referee as a term. I actually do like player versus player when everyone is on board with it, but I've found it is actually a tougher sell among folks I know who use terms like referee (I think they are just tend to be more into a traditional, cooperative party). With referee, to me it isn't suggesting you are referring between players who are at odds with one another, but that you are referring in terms of rules adjudication.
But isn’t mediating between players/teams that are competing against each other the whole purpose of a referee?
In this case, the players are effectively on the same team, and the opposing teams might be the threats they face or the challenges they encounter in the world.
Sure, but since the DM is in control of those opposing teams, isn’t having them also be the referee of that competition kind of a conflict of interests? A referee is supposed to be a neutral third party, but in D&D there are only two parties. Unless the players are competing and the DM is mediating it, referee doesn’t seem like an accurate analogy to me.
 

Sure, but since the DM is in control of those opposing teams, isn’t having them also be the referee of that competition kind of a conflict of interests? A referee is supposed to be a neutral third party, but in D&D there are only two parties. Unless the players are competing and the DM is mediating it, referee doesn’t seem like an accurate analogy to me.

That is exactly why thinking of yourself as the referee is useful. Because I think it is very easy to adopt an adversarial perspective when you are the one running the monsters. But if you call yourself a referee, you remind yourself your role isn't to compete against the players, it is to fairly adjudicate between the players and the monsters. It definitely is imperfect. You are taking on responsibilities and powers a soccer referee doesn't have. But the point is to prioritize making judgments about rules, running encounters and monsters fairly, giving player efforts a fair hearing and not being married to outcomes.
 


Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
To be clear I don't insist on anything. Players call me the DM. I view myself as a referee during play and an adventure designer outside to play (based on PC actions). I don't like dungeons in general.
I absolutely LOVE dungeons. Why? Because even a small one will give me a 2-4 session breather to work on the rest of the game if I've fallen behind. Players are by nature very cautious in them, so they will spend a lot of time not going very far. :)

We're just beginning a new campaign where the players are relic seekers, so I expect this campaign to be more dungeon heavy than most of mine, but the players chose the campaign focus, so...
 

I am not running a game with two competing teams of players, so I am not a Referee. I don't run hexcrawls or dungeon crawls, so I am not a Dungeon Master. I like cooperative games and help the players tell their story, so I tend to steal Storyteller from White Wolf games. That name really fits a lot of modern games, beyond just 5E D&D.
 



Marc_C

Solo Role Playing
I am not running a game with two competing teams of players, so I am not a Referee. I don't run hexcrawls or dungeon crawls, so I am not a Dungeon Master. I like cooperative games and help the players tell their story, so I tend to steal Storyteller from White Wolf games. That name really fits a lot of modern games, beyond just 5E D&D.
A storyteller is someone who is telling a story to other people listening passively. Never liked that WWG use that term.
 



Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
Game* Master is much cooler than Referee, it implies mastery and authority in the game system. The GM is not a neutral arbiter

Dungeon master is also cool but using GM breaks out of the dungeon confines and opens up much more varied setting possibilities
 

Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
"In older D&D books the person behind the screen is often called the Referee"

Which books?
The original Dungeons & Dragons 1974 used the term "referee" but the term was dead by 1976. The term Game Master was used in Dragon magazine in 1975 and by 1976 the geek community had started using Dungeon Master though it wasnt officially used until 1979 AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide
 




pemerton

Legend
The original Dungeons & Dragons 1974 used the term "referee" but the term was dead by 1976. The term Game Master was used in Dragon magazine in 1975 and by 1976 the geek community had started using Dungeon Master though it wasnt officially used until 1979 AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide
The term "Dungeon Master" and the acronym DM both appear in the AD&D PHB. So does the word "referee", which is used strictly synonymously.

since the DM is in control of those opposing teams, isn’t having them also be the referee of that competition kind of a conflict of interests? A referee is supposed to be a neutral third party, but in D&D there are only two parties. Unless the players are competing and the DM is mediating it, referee doesn’t seem like an accurate analogy to me.
This sort of incoherence in the framing of RPG participant roles has a long history, as Ron Edwards has noted:

From the introduction to RuneQuest, second edition (The Chaosium, 1978, 1979, 1980; specific author for this text unknown; game authors are Steve Perrin, Ray Turney, Steve Henderson, and Warren James):

The title of the game, RuneQuest, describes its goal. The player creates one or more characters, known as adventurers, and playes them in various scenarios, designed by a Referee. The Adventurer has the use of combat, magic, and other skills, and treasure. The Referee has the use of assorted monsters, traps, and his own wicked imagination to keep the Adventurer from his goal within the rules of the game. A surviving Adventurer gains experience in fighting, magic, and other skills, as well as money to purchase further training.​

Now all that's pretty Gamist stuff of a late 1970s vintage, right? Get this, which follows immediately:

The adventurer progresses in this way until he is so proficient that he comes to the attention of the High Priests, sages, and gods. At this point he has the option to join a Rune Cult. Joining such a cult gives him many advantages, not the least of which is aid from the god of the cult.

Acquiring a Rune by joining such a cult is the goal of the game, for only in gathering a Rune may a character take the next step, up into the ranks of Hero, and perhaps Superhero.​

All right, that bit about joining cults still seems kind of Gamist, right? About getting more effective and so on? Great ... except that the GM controls the High Priests and sages. Why would he, whose job was just stated to be to "keep the Adventurer from his goal," have them recognize the Adventurer in the first place? Either they do, and the GM must abandon the stated goal, or they don't, and that whole paragraph becomes gibberish.​

At least in the case of classic D&D, I think the way out of the incoherence is to identify two distinct roles for the DM/referee: in advance of play s/he designs the "arena" for play - the dungeon or wilderness map-and-key, associated random encounter tables, etc; and then during play s/he is a neutral referee in the free kriegsspiel style.

That division of labour breaks down basically as soon as the way play takes place requires the DM/referee not just to adjudicate established fiction but to make up new fiction that serves some sort of adversary role; which is to say any time play breaks away from map-and-key adjudication. Urban adventuring and any sort of subtle social interaction are probably the most obvious ways where this happens.

EDIT: Classic Traveller (1st published 1977) calls the GM the referee, although it anticipated plenty of urban adventuring and subtle social interaction right out of the gate! And more generally anticipates that the referee will establish adversity during the course of play and not just in advance of it. So in that case "referee" was probably a misnomer from the outset. Though I still use it when talking about GMing Traveller.
 

R_Chance

Adventurer
Referee comes from wargames, going all the way back to the Prussian kriegsspiel. Dungeon Master used to literally mean you had created a big dungeon that you ran players through, which is an increasingly inaccurate term for the role in D&D.

I still say "DM," but I'm trending toward changing my usage to "referee."
When we played miniature wargame campaigns (WW II, Napoleonic, 18th Century, medieval, or fantasy courtesy of Chainmail) we had referees. They interpreted rules (rarely needed), set up battlefields for miniatures when forces met on the campaign map, and allowed for "secret" movement as commanders maneuvered their forces across the campaign area.

The DM does a lot more. My players wanted to know where they came from (not just appearing at the entrance to the dungeon), and more about the world / nationalities, where different races came from, and how they related. I used a campaign area I set up for a Chainmail fantasy miniature campaign. Our campaigns were pretty detailed, taxes and loot was collected, troops were recruited / trained, and the next years campaigns were plotted out during the winter / off season (excepting WW II). The move to D&D was pretty smooth and a lot of background was there for the players who wanted it (not everyone did). Adding / expanding on this added a lot of work to the DMs role. A lot more than just a referee.

It continued to get more complex and detailed as it went, but my game came with overland, town, and dungeons from the beginning along with weather and a sense of time passing. And wars in the background to complicate matters :D
 

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