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D&D General Dungeon Master or Referee?

Reynard

Legend
Fairness, on the DM's part, extends into the fiction as well.

Gygax emphasizes his point of "Always give a monster an even break", and he's right: a DM has to be fair to the opponents just as she has to be fair to the PCs.

Further, if a DM is fair to the PCs in the fiction then by extension she almost can't help but be fair to the players at the table.
This is only true in certain kinds of games in which the players are looking for a specific experience that includes threat and difficulty. After many, many years of doing this, I have discovered that it is a rare group that actually wants that. Most players, in my experience, want something just hard enough to feel accomplished with few if any permanent consequences of that difficulty (along with wanting a story presented to them rather than emergent). And they don't like too many choices, by and large. They want two, three options max for any given decision point, and two or three decision points in any given adventure.

Note that none of the above is my preferred game to GM. I like sandbox campaigns with self motivated players willing to risk it all for great rewards to create a tale worth telling. It's just a rare group that wants all that.
 

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R_Chance

Adventurer
This is only true in certain kinds of games in which the players are looking for a specific experience that includes threat and difficulty. After many, many years of doing this, I have discovered that it is a rare group that actually wants that. Most players, in my experience, want something just hard enough to feel accomplished with few if any permanent consequences of that difficulty (along with wanting a story presented to them rather than emergent). And they don't like too many choices, by and large. They want two, three options max for any given decision point, and two or three decision points in any given adventure.

Note that none of the above is my preferred game to GM. I like sandbox campaigns with self motivated players willing to risk it all for great rewards to create a tale worth telling. It's just a rare group that wants all that.
Guess I get to tell my players that they are "rare" :D And that I'm lucky.
 


pemerton

Legend
@Lanefan, when Gygax says "Always give the monsters an even break" - which from memory is in ALL-CAPS - I think he is fairly clearly talking figuratively or with exaggeration for effect. He is giving advice on how not to be too "soft" as a GM - as @Helldritch elaborated on in replaying to my post upthread.
 


Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
This is only true in certain kinds of games in which the players are looking for a specific experience that includes threat and difficulty. After many, many years of doing this, I have discovered that it is a rare group that actually wants that. Most players, in my experience, want something just hard enough to feel accomplished with few if any permanent consequences of that difficulty (along with wanting a story presented to them rather than emergent). And they don't like too many choices, by and large. They want two, three options max for any given decision point, and two or three decision points in any given adventure.
I’ve found that players are fine with more options at a decision point, if two or three options are directly presented and options beyond those are accepted. Most players don’t do real well with “anything,” but they do just fine with “A, B, C, or anything else.”
 
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Why not just suggest it upfront? I don't really get the need for "nudging".
I think this is a much better approach than nudging personally, and I like nothing more thsn a sense of real believable world. But nudging to me is a soft form of railroading (possibly railroading depending on how it is done). I would much rather the GM tell us out of game that he or she has an adventure planned in port sul that night. With that premise I am happy to buy in if I know in advance but the nudging feels…like an odd dance where the Gm can’t say explicitly we have to go to port sul, but in actuality we have to. My experience with players is, if there are parameters like this, that can be fine but being upfront and getting their buy in naked for a more positive experience
 

pemerton

Legend
For the same reasons we generally pretend that it's a real world with unfolding events.
My response here is much closer to @Bedrockgames's. Having to "hunt" for the action is something I find a bit frustrating.

I've got no problem with giving it an an-fiction overlay so as to maintain continuity, but I don't think that requires coyness on the GM's part.

The in-fiction overlay might vary depending on other features of system and the particular game being played. Eg in an "adventure of the week"-style game, maybe the GM says OK, so on the instructions of so-and-so you've travelled to Port Sul. In a more player-driven game, presumably the whole Port Sul adventure is already relevant to some thing the players are working towards, and so the GM says OK, so your researches into how to achieve XYZ show that the answer is at Port Sul, with an apothecary known as Hazen. After a few days travel, you arrive there. Do you try and track down Hazen straight away?

Eg in my Classic Traveller game, the PCs were investigating an alien ship that had travelled in time and was linked somehow to psionics. They had made the necessary Computer checks to interpret its data and play back the ship's records. And the players therefore asked where the ship had come from. So I had to tell them something! Having anticipated this, and having made up the world in question and placed it on the star map, I was able to give an answer. And so the next bit of action was preparing to travel, and then travelling to that world - Zinion.

Classic Traveller isn't really a "say 'yes' or roll the dice" game - it's a bit more of a PbtA "if you do it, you do it" approach. So we didn't just say After a week in jump space, you arrive at Zinion. We did the refuelling, and the drive failure checks, and all the procedural rigmarole that Traveller requires. (Full actual play account here.)

Maybe that's what you would characterise as a nudge? To me, it's just clear framing: we all want the next thing to be looking for alien ruins on Zinion; the logic of the map puts Zinion over there; the rules of the game require you to make these checks in order for us to be allowed to agree that your PCs have got from here to over there; so we resolve those checks and (given that at our table they were successful) we narrate the arrival at Zinion and you start declaring actions that will help you find the alien ruins.

I see this as very similar the player-driven version of the drip to Port Sul I described above.
 

My response here is much closer to @Bedrockgames's. Having to "hunt" for the action is something I find a bit frustrating.

I've got no problem with giving it an an-fiction overlay so as to maintain continuity, but I don't think that requires coyness on the GM's part.

The in-fiction overlay might vary depending on other features of system and the particular game being played. Eg in an "adventure of the week"-style game, maybe the GM says OK, so on the instructions of so-and-so you've travelled to Port Sul. In a more player-driven game, presumably the whole Port Sul adventure is already relevant to some thing the players are working towards, and so the GM says OK, so your researches into how to achieve XYZ show that the answer is at Port Sul, with an apothecary known as Hazen. After a few days travel, you arrive there. Do you try and track down Hazen straight away?

Eg in my Classic Traveller game, the PCs were investigating an alien ship that had travelled in time and was linked somehow to psionics. They had made the necessary Computer checks to interpret its data and play back the ship's records. And the players therefore asked where the ship had come from. So I had to tell them something! Having anticipated this, and having made up the world in question and placed it on the star map, I was able to give an answer. And so the next bit of action was preparing to travel, and then travelling to that world - Zinion.

Classic Traveller isn't really a "say 'yes' or roll the dice" game - it's a bit more of a PbtA "if you do it, you do it" approach. So we didn't just say After a week in jump space, you arrive at Zinion. We did the refuelling, and the drive failure checks, and all the procedural rigmarole that Traveller requires. (Full actual play account here.)

Maybe that's what you would characterise as a nudge? To me, it's just clear framing: we all want the next thing to be looking for alien ruins on Zinion; the logic of the map puts Zinion over there; the rules of the game require you to make these checks in order for us to be allowed to agree that your PCs have got from here to over there; so we resolve those checks and (given that at our table they were successful) we narrate the arrival at Zinion and you start declaring actions that will help you find the alien ruins.

I see this as very similar the player-driven version of the drip to Port Sul I described above.
What I mean by nudging might be providing an improvised plot hook or possibly some rearranging of things behind the curtains. Like characters meet other travellers at the roadside inn and learn that they're travelling to Port Sul because there is going to be a Festival of Spirits there. Or indeed your apothecary example. Perhaps the GM had not originally though of Hazen, or though they might live somewhere else, but wanted to combine this thread into other treads that were at Port Sul, so the characters' learn that Hazen is there as well.

And one thing I already wanted to say in the railroad thread, which is relevant here as well. I don't usually have strong feelings as GM what specific thing the players should do; as long as they do something they seem to be interested in, then fine by me. Such nudging simply is to avoid lulls where the players are just confused and/or bored and have no ideas of what to do or to tie separate things together into more satisfying whole.
 
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Reynard

Legend
What I mean by nudging might be providing an improvised plot hook or possibly some rearranging of things behind the curtains. Like characters meet other travellers at the roadside inn and learn that they're travelling to Port Sul because there is going to be a Festival of Spirits there. Or indeed your apothecary example. Perhaps the GM had not originally though of Hazen, or though they might live somewhere else, but wanted to combine this thread into other treads that were at Port Sul, so the characters' learn that Hazen is there as well.

And one thing I already wanted to say in the railroad thread, which is relevant here as well. I don't usually have strong feelings as GM what specific thing the players should do; as long as they do something they seem to be interested in, then fine by me. Such nudging simply is to avoid lulls where the players are just confused and/or bored and have no ideas of what to do or to tie separate things together into more satisfying whole.
It is really important for a GM to be agile and able to improvise. I much, much prefer an improvisational style, especially when filling in the details of a broad, overly vague "plan" regarding how things will go when the PCs interact with the situation I have created.

But it is equally important for players to recognize that the GM does prep, and communicating to the GM what their plans are is just polite so that the GM can prep. Sure, sometimes you are going to focus an something unexpected or even strike off in an unexpected direction, but the vast majority of the time the session can end with players saying, "We are headed off the Lord Dread's Keep" or whatever. And chances are, they are headed there because of the events that occurred in play, "nudging" or otherwise.
 


pogre

Legend
When running D&D = Dungeon Master
When running Traveller = Referee
When running other games = Game Master

Not that I would ever expect a player to address me by such a title.
 

Edgar Ironpelt

Explorer
To me, the old use of "referee" instead of "Dungeon Master" implies the style of play where the monsters are being run by another player. DM or GM is someone who both runs the monsters and adjudicates the rules (among other things).

As for giving the monsters an even break, I strongly prefer the style heavily skewed toward the players, even though I mostly sit in the GM chair myself. There's an old USENET post defending this. Not by me, but I thought I'd quote it here.

RPGs and video games differ from most ordinary board games in that there doesn't have to be a loser. I think it's reasonable that they attract mindsets which aren't very interested in losing; and a lot of RPG groups successfully cater to this.

If I enter into playing, say, chess with the expectation I will never lose, I'm being an idiot and I'm bound to be disappointed. Not even the World Champion gets that. But if I enter into Heroes of Might and Magic IV (which is what I'm currently playing) with the
expectation that I won't lose, I'm not hurting anyone, and it's not unreasonable that I may get what I want. (Especially if I turn the difficulty down--and I may yet do that, because the losses are really more annoying than challenging.)

Whether the player still wants it when she gets it is another question, but for at least some players in some situations the answer is "yes." I don't think I would still be playing Heroes if I lost even 1/3 of the time. In a board game, I know I have to give my opponent a fair shot, but here there's no such obligation; the only thing against winning all the time is that it may detract from the challenge, and for me, right now, I'd rather win than have a really strong challenge.

If this is a personality flaw it's an awfully common one; I think it's better just regarded as a preference.

A common problem with such games is that they are entertaining for the players but not for the GM. I get tired of having my NPCs wiped out time and again; I spoiled a campaign recently by engineering a TPK in the attempt to make things "a bit more challenging." Clearly I overshot, but by game contract I shouldn't even have been trying.
 

I really do not see the point of playing something if there is no chance to lose. If I do not want to have any chances of losing, I watch a movie or read a book, or go watch a play.... otherwise, I need a challenge.

Yes there might be some interesting point in building a story once in awhile in which heroes can't fail. But it makes for bland tasteless stories where every success feel artificial and unearned. Whenever I read such book or watch such a movie, I get bored to no end and might even not finish it. The goal of a story is to entertain, to show the struggles of heroes and how they win against all odds. But there must be the feeling that failure is But a step away. Without that feeling, the story will feel artificial and in the Ling run, interest will fade out.

I have seen many times the "Story Before Everything Else" approach. Invariably, all these games/campaigns ended way before their conclusions or simply stopped. I often compared this to the Monty Haul campaigns. Might be fun once in a while. But it gets boring quite fast if this is the only thing you do.
 


pemerton

Legend
What I mean by nudging might be providing an improvised plot hook or possibly some rearranging of things behind the curtains. Like characters meet other travellers at the roadside inn and learn that they're travelling to Port Sul because there is going to be a Festival of Spirits there. Or indeed your apothecary example. Perhaps the GM had not originally though of Hazen, or though they might live somewhere else, but wanted to combine this thread into other treads that were at Port Sul, so the characters' learn that Hazen is there as well.

And one thing I already wanted to say in the railroad thread, which is relevant here as well. I don't usually have strong feelings as GM what specific thing the players should do; as long as they do something they seem to be interested in, then fine by me. Such nudging simply is to avoid lulls where the players are just confused and/or bored and have no ideas of what to do or to tie separate things together into more satisfying whole.
It is really important for a GM to be agile and able to improvise. I much, much prefer an improvisational style, especially when filling in the details of a broad, overly vague "plan" regarding how things will go when the PCs interact with the situation I have created.

But it is equally important for players to recognize that the GM does prep, and communicating to the GM what their plans are is just polite so that the GM can prep.
The idea of prep seems to be implicit in the notion of rearranging things. In the absence of prep, inventing Hazen the shady apothecary of Port Sul is not "rearranging" anything. It's just making something up.

I think this is the play experience that pushes towards "no myth" play: instead of prep, and then nudging and rearranging to avoid lulls of confusion and/or boredom, let's cut to the chase! Prep might still have a role, especially in stat-heavy systems like D&D; but it becomes about having ideas and story elements (eg haunted houses) ready to go, rather than a pre-established "matrix" of fiction that the players have to metaphorically wander around in.

I don't think that this has to clash with the experienced verisimilitude of the shared fiction.
 


Seems to me that claiming to be a "referee" when you're writing and running the adventure is a bit silly. It'd be like some mad scientist putting you up against a team of his creations to play the mad scientist's version of soccer, with his own rules, on the pitch he created, claiming he was an "impartial referee". Fat chance. Even if he genuinely believes he is, that's probably self-deception (which used to be a hilariously common trait in both DMs and players, when I was younger).

That's not to say you couldn't have a referee in D&D, but you'd probably need a tripartite system - the players, the referee, and the dungeon master. The players would be as normal, the DM would design the adventure, and run the monsters, but would not have the final ruling/say on what players could do, or how things were going to work, rules-wise. That'd be on the referee, who would be beholden to neither.

Good luck getting someone to do that of course, it's not a fun job to start with, you wouldn't get to play, and you'd get frowned at (at a minimum) by both the players and the DM!
 

The idea of prep seems to be implicit in the notion of rearranging things. In the absence of prep, inventing Hazen the shady apothecary of Port Sul is not "rearranging" anything. It's just making something up.

I think this is the play experience that pushes towards "no myth" play: instead of prep, and then nudging and rearranging to avoid lulls of confusion and/or boredom, let's cut to the chase! Prep might still have a role, especially in stat-heavy systems like D&D; but it becomes about having ideas and story elements (eg haunted houses) ready to go, rather than a pre-established "matrix" of fiction that the players have to metaphorically wander around in.

I don't think that this has to clash with the experienced verisimilitude of the shared fiction.
Sure. It's just different people work differently. Some can and like to wing it in complete "no myth" others don't. What I usually do is probably "a little bit of myth" or something like that. And I don't ultimately feel that there is any clear and drastic difference between what I mean (at least some instances of) nudging and what you mean by framing.
 


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