GMs are an endangered species!

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
Changing it up, we are?

Two questions:

- Would you like to see a hard line between the GM role and the PC role?
Yes.

Players should buy the pizza.

DMs should kill the players.

Such is the circle of (gaming) life. You know ....

From the day we arrive on the planet
And blinking, step into the sun
There's more D&D to play than can ever be played
More games to run than can ever be run

There's far too many orcs that need a killin'
And more treasure that needs to be found
But my d20 keeps rolling high
Need a crit? That's my die
See the corpses spread across the battleground

It's the circle of life
And it moves us all
As a player, and as a DM
Killing players, and eating pizza

Till we find our place
In front of, or behind the screen
In the circle
The circle of life




- If not, where do you draw the line?
Easy line.

Killing orcs? Player.

Killing players? DM.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Players should buy the pizza.

DMs should kill the players.

Such is the circle of (gaming) life. You know ....
But, dude.... if you kill the players, they can't bring you more pizza.

No, really. Even Necromancy won't help you - undead pizza delivery ain't a thing for a good reasons. Zombies shambling along will *not* get you pizza in 30 minutes or less, and their stank on it is worse than anchovies.
 
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Dming is the easiest thing in the world. You just need a room full of undiscerning man children who are starved for meaningful social interactions, a couple of books, and a nearly eidetic recall of every crappy movie you've ever seen at three in the morning on the student station when you should've been studying for finals. You don't even need to be able to afford snacks. Oh yeah, and maybe a few sets of dice.

What is going extinct is the social stigma attached to being said man children. How can we be out, if there is no inside? But these are naught but the ravings of an aging nerd who still rants on message boards at 5am local time. Soon I will transform into a Kafka-esque petty government bureaucrat so I can afford my mortgage and model paints. (Don't worry about my kid - grandma's loaded and my spawn's college fund is secured, assuming sea levels don't reach Wisconsin in the next 11 years).
 

DMMike

Game Masticator
Also seriously, you have to be really over the top to separate yourself from the sort of extreme points of view that are all too common at EnWorld. . .

Also seriously, despite the self-parody (?) of the original post, are you intending to start a more serious discussion, or should I just be going along with the joke?
Fair enough. I must have a pretty good filter; I haven't noticed too many crazy posts lately. Or Umbran is doing a kick-ass job at moderating?

The OP (now) asks how you feel about the separation of GM and PC. Or should there even be a distinction? And then later, well, someone starts talking about killing players.

So, yeah, ENWorld thread :)

Not if the game that is hard to GM is D&D. Then they go through a cycle: the DM wanting to try something else, the group being unable to agree on what else to play, the DM burning out, someone else running something terrible for a short while until the DM (somewhat recovered) can't stand it anymore, and back to the DM running.

OTOH, sometimes the hard-to-GM aspect of the game is kinda the point. The GM runs the game the way he likes, and the players either toe the line, or get the old "if you don't like it /you/ run for a while!" That usually shut's 'em up...
… I mean, hypothetically.
One good point: D&D is really the default RPG, to the extent that in some areas/groups, "game" equals D&D. Which means that in these areas, there must be a DM, and that DM must (more or less) use D&D's definitions of DM and PC. I think the DM role has evolved, if only a little. There used to be more rules that were exclusively in the DMG, no? Then they streamlined some tables and solidified the DC concept, which made the DM role more important, because it would be a little weird to have PCs setting their own DCs...

Your circle of GM-life seems pretty on-point to me.

I like this thread. Where is your newsletter and how do I subscribe?

Dming is the easiest thing in the world. You just need a room full of undiscerning man children who are starved for meaningful social interactions, a couple of books, and a nearly eidetic recall of every crappy movie you've ever seen at three in the morning on the student station when you should've been studying for finals. You don't even need to be able to afford snacks. Oh yeah, and maybe a few sets of dice.

. . . (Don't worry about my kid - grandma's loaded and my spawn's college fund is secured, assuming sea levels don't reach Wisconsin in the next 11 years).
Hey! We brought one out of the woodwork. Er, basement? Keep an eye on Lake Superior, Carter. She's a tricky one.

What I'm reading is that the GM/PC distinction doesn't matter, because GMing is so easy. Is that a fair induction?
 

Celebrim

Legend
The OP (now) asks how you feel about the separation of GM and PC. Or should there even be a distinction?
I'm going to go with the ever popular, "It depends." Back in the days of the early bronze age, our primitive forefathers believed there was only three reasons to play D&D. But now that we are more advanced, we know that there is not only dozens of reasons to play D&D, there are even some other RPGs out there.

The thing about the GM/PC divide is that it really supports some of the traditional reasons to play an RPG well. The drawback is someone has to be the GM, put in a ton of work, not even get to play the game, and then get bad mouthed on the internet for being a jerk because the DM wouldn't let his Gnome Paladin start with his dad's +5 Holy Avenger that he totally would have given to him when he came of age.

You can get by without a GM if you've got a group of amateur thespians that are just happy to tell a short story with a limited cast together, play for a couple of hours, then start a new story. It's to playing D&D, Call of Cthulhu, or any other trad game what 'Threes Company' is to 'Game of Thrones' or 'Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog' is to the Marvel Extended Universe. Or you can get by without a GM if you just want to pit yourself against randomized PvE, but then I sometimes wonder whether you wouldn't be better off playing a multiplayer cRPG. Or you can pretend you are getting by without a GM, but instead are just passing the DM hat around and hoping it all works out.

My general impression with GM-less games is that to get them to work, everyone involved has to be skilled enough to actually be able to run a game with a GM as the GM, and sort of needs to have a GM's perspective on what is fun.... you know, nigh unto masochistic suffering and a touch of sadism. But, at least you don't have to do 20 hours of prep.

I suspect if we were to be totally honest, none of the GM-less games really work. I mean, you can make them work, but if you counted every single weekly session of them worldwide, they'd probably not get out of the double digits. The problem is that not only are they obscure, and not only are they fringe even in the fringe hobby of table top roleplaying, and not only do they require a handful of uber-nerds or wanna be theater geeks, but they just don't sustain themselves for more than a dozen hours of play. So even if you do enjoy them, chances are your play time is about 10:1 in favor of something like D&D, and everyone is asking you to be the DM because they just saw a thing on EOnline about how some celebrity on the backside of his career plays D&D.
 
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Saelorn

Adventurer
- Would you like to see a hard line between the GM role and the PC role?
- If not, where do you draw the line?
My view on this is fairly traditional: The point of an RPG is to role-play, and in order for the players to stay in the character mindset, a GM needs to be there to handle the back-end (playing NPCs, and adjudicating uncertainty in action resolution).
 
One good point: D&D is really the default RPG, to the extent that in some areas/groups, "game" equals D&D. Which means that in these areas, there must be a DM, and that DM must (more or less) use D&D's definitions of DM and PC. I think the DM role has evolved, if only a little. There used to be more rules that were exclusively in the DMG, no?
Oh yeah. Back in 1e, remember, there were not only rules found only in the DMG, there were rules in the PH that were /contradicted/ by inner-mystery rules in the DMG, and DMG rules also contradicted eachother, at times.
Over the eds, rules have moved from the DMG to the PH. It peaked in 4e, when even magic items were in the PH!
5e has moved some of the rules (and mystery) back to the DMG, which is consistent with DM Empowerment.
Then they streamlined some tables and solidified the DC concept, which made the DM role more important, because it would be a little weird to have PCs setting their own DCs...
Well, players could look up DCs in static tables, as long as you had comprehensive enough tables, anyway. For instance, in 3e, you could conveniently look up the chance of making an NPC 'Helpful' with a Diplomacy check - that worked fine.

Your circle of GM-life seems pretty on-point to me.
Heh. voice of experience.

The OP (now) asks how you feel about the separation of GM and PC. Or should there even be a distinction?
Oh, the distinction if vital for what we generally think of as TTRPGs - D&D & it's myriad imitators and the more obscure fringes of the hobby that have moved on from those beginnings. DMs don't just make up the world & the adventure, or they could be replaced with a module. They don't just make decisions for monsters or they could be replaced with a flowchart. DM's provide rules interpretations and judgement calls without which even the most meticulously designed TTRPG system would grind to a halt pretty quickly.

D&D-ish boardgames, like Castle Ravenloft point to how you might sideline the DM, mostly. You'd have a pre-packaged adventure, players would crawl through it like a pick-your-path adventure, and monsters would be controlled by an odd PC out in each combat (that is there'd be a mechanism for nominating a de-facto temporary DM).
See? Wouldn't be too satisfying an RPG experience, would it?
 
Fair enough. I must have a pretty good filter; I haven't noticed too many crazy posts lately. Or Umbran is doing a kick-ass job at moderating?

The OP (now) asks how you feel about the separation of GM and PC. Or should there even be a distinction? And then later, well, someone starts talking about killing players.

So, yeah, ENWorld thread :)


One good point: D&D is really the default RPG, to the extent that in some areas/groups, "game" equals D&D. Which means that in these areas, there must be a DM, and that DM must (more or less) use D&D's definitions of DM and PC. I think the DM role has evolved, if only a little. There used to be more rules that were exclusively in the DMG, no? Then they streamlined some tables and solidified the DC concept, which made the DM role more important, because it would be a little weird to have PCs setting their own DCs...

Your circle of GM-life seems pretty on-point to me.


Hey! We brought one out of the woodwork. Er, basement? Keep an eye on Lake Superior, Carter. She's a tricky one.

What I'm reading is that the GM/PC distinction doesn't matter, because GMing is so easy. Is that a fair induction?
I only wish I had a relevant point. I thought someone said something about GM's becoming extinct. Or good GM's being rare. I'm not really sure at this point.

Superior they said never gives up her dead when the galles of November come early.
 

DMMike

Game Masticator
The thing about the GM/PC divide is that it really supports some of the traditional reasons to play an RPG well. The drawback is someone has to be the GM, put in a ton of work, not even get to play the game, and then get bad mouthed on the internet for being a jerk because the DM wouldn't let his Gnome Paladin start with his dad's +5 Holy Avenger that he totally would have given to him when he came of age.

. . .My general impression with GM-less games is that to get them to work, everyone involved has to be skilled enough to actually be able to run a game with a GM as the GM, and sort of needs to have a GM's perspective on what is fun.... you know, nigh unto masochistic suffering and a touch of sadism. But, at least you don't have to do 20 hours of prep.

. . . a thing on EOnline about how some celebrity on the backside of his career plays D&D.
Badmouthed on the internet: heard, understood, and acknowledged. But part of the point here is that today's games are addressing the drawbacks of being a GM, and in the process, blurring the GM/PC line. Which is to say that yes, there are some GM-less games out there, but there are significantly more blurry GM/PC games. How are we feeling about some of those attempts (intentional or otherwise) at blurring the line?

And leave Vin Diesel out of this.

Oh, the distinction if vital for what we generally think of as TTRPGs - D&D & it's myriad imitators and the more obscure fringes of the hobby that have moved on from those beginnings. DMs don't just make up the world & the adventure, or they could be replaced with a module. They don't just make decisions for monsters or they could be replaced with a flowchart. DM's provide rules interpretations and judgement calls without which even the most meticulously designed TTRPG system would grind to a halt pretty quickly.

D&D-ish boardgames, like Castle Ravenloft point to how you might sideline the DM, mostly. You'd have a pre-packaged adventure, players would crawl through it like a pick-your-path adventure, and monsters would be controlled by an odd PC out in each combat (that is there'd be a mechanism for nominating a de-facto temporary DM).
See? Wouldn't be too satisfying an RPG experience, would it?
I would say that D&D 3.5 was, itself, an attack on the DM species, so I wonder how vital that distinction was. All of the significant rules were housed in the PHB, and things were codified (in tables) to the extent that players could, in many cases, provide their own adjudications based on die rolls and table results. 5e is a turn back toward preserving DMs, with the emphasis on rulings.

The popularity of Gloomhaven makes me think that yes, your example could be a satisfying RPG experience.

I only wish I had a relevant point. I thought someone said something about GM's becoming extinct. Or good GM's being rare. I'm not really sure at this point.
Take your pick. We're here to discuss, enlighten, and bond. At least, that's how I see it.
 

Celebrim

Legend
But part of the point here is that today's games are addressing the drawbacks of being a GM, and in the process, blurring the GM/PC line.
It's no secret that I'm not a fan of the "no myth" fad or the games created on the idea that an RPG profits from having "no myth" or having what myth it does have created during play. I've never seen any "no myth" play in a webcast where I feel I would have wanted to be a part of that. Most of them have been actually repellent to me, because being a GM with long experience, I have 15 ranks in GMing illusionism and can see through the curtains to what is really going on. This means when I play, I know the game that lies underneath the transcript, and if the transcript generator is busted I know it. One of the downsides I've found in being a DM is that it makes emersion harder, in the same since that being a writer you are all the time analyzing the techniques that other writers use to create the magic. When a technique is employed well, you appreciate it in the way that for example, only a person who plays a sport can really appreciate how skillful the most skilled persons in a sport are, or only the way a craftsman can truly appreciate the skills of another craftsman. But when something is made cheaply, you are aware of that as well and know how hollow it really is. Or it's like being a magician who knows the secrets of the art of prestidigitation. Sometimes you know just how impressive a trick is, and other times you know just how cheap, unimaginative and low the deception really was.

The problem fundamentally with "no myth" is that nothing can replace the craftsmanship of preparation. Yes, it is true that a GM ought to be good at extemporaneous creation for the same reason that they need to be good at on the fly rulesmithing - no myth and no rules set are ever complete. But there is a reason that almost all forms of literature and all forms of entertainment require practice, editing, planning, research, and so forth and that the extemporaneous forms of story-telling exist, but attract only a small audience as a novelty. Nothing can replace the depth you get from preparation, and nothing is more obvious to a player than when the substance of something is deep compared to when it is shallow (and often incoherent). Consider even the problem of this latest season of Game of Thrones. Nothing is more obvious than the difference in the quality of the story between when the episodes sprang from deep myth, and when the creators of the show were forced to become more or less extemporaneous. As long as the show was loosely based on the books, they seemed geniuses. And now the same creators seem idiots.

So in the long run, I don't think anything can replace the blood and sweat of the GM, except the blood and sweat of another more experience GM sharing his craft.

Which is to say that yes, there are some GM-less games out there, but there are significantly more blurry GM/PC games. How are we feeling about some of those attempts (intentional or otherwise) at blurring the line?
I really shouldn't condemn any of them until I've played them myself - which in some cases I really want to do. Maybe I'll take some time off this year and go to Origins or GenCon. But my sense is that while the better designed ones could be fun, they still might be more fun with a GM, and the pleasure that they offer is suited more to one offs and short collaborations than long running games. They also suffer from a problem which GMed games have found ways to avoid, which is the problem of discipleship or mentoring. In traditional RPGs, experienced players eventually mature to GMs and form tables of their own, using their experience to teach to new players the arts and skills of playing an RPG well. Learning this without example is difficult. My own attempts to play RPGs were fun, but I didn't really start understanding them until the summer a player's older cousin offered to run games for us munchkins, and his GMing art was a revelation that inspires me to this day.

My sense is that a GMed game only requires the GM to be high skill, but a GMless game requires the whole table to be high skill - essentially a table of players that each could be in a different situation a quality GM. Not only is that going to be a rarer situation, but its not clear how a new group would reach that point. Equally, there are likely to be skills of play that are unique to GM-less games, but I suspect that without an example of good play, those skills will be hard to acquire. So where as in a GMed game, one skilled participant can mentor all the others successfully, I suspect in a GM-less game at least the majority of participants need to already be skilled in order to mentor the few or the one that are not.

This is one of the reasons I really want to play these games at a Con, but it is also the reason I have a great fear that if I did, the games still wouldn't receive a fair shake. Because I'm more likely than not to be playing at a group were the rest of the players, and perhaps even the coordinator of the game who is supposed to serve as mentor (and yet is not the GM!), no more really understand how to play it than I do.
 
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I would say that D&D 3.5 was, itself, an attack on the DM species, so I wonder how vital that distinction was. All of the significant rules were housed in the PHB, and things were codified (in tables) to the extent that players could, in many cases, provide their own adjudications based on die rolls and table results.
Sure - not an attack with intent to render extinct, though, just shaving off some of the privileges of the DM role. 3.5 presented many more rules that applied across the board - to PCs, NPC, & Monster (& objects and IDK what else) - 'equalizing' the DM & player roles and making Player v DM and PvP modes of play more tenable. And, 3.x did leave wealth/level and magic items in the DMG.

4e sorta continued the trend, though it made DMing easier rather than harder, and could be played in a Players v DM mode (Lair Assault was exactly that, for instance), and it was also more transparent. Yet, in spite of that, it wasn't at all suited for PvP - the player & DM roles, though not a lot different in pretend 'power' from 3.x, were slightly more distinct, that way.

5e is a turn back toward preserving DMs, with the emphasis on rulings.
I don't think there was ever any risk to DMs, but yes, it's a return to DM-centric mechanics, that put more of the pretend 'power' on the DM side of the DM/Player dynamic. It's harder to DM than 4e was (though still arguably easier than 3.x), and requires a different style of DMing. The Player v DM would, a most be 'emulated' - that is, the DM would have to set some bounds for himself to 'let the players win.' PvP would be fine, but would really /need/ a DM supervising it.
 

DMMike

Game Masticator
Consider even the problem of this latest season of Game of Thrones. Nothing is more obvious than the difference in the quality of the story between when the episodes sprang from deep myth, and when the creators of the show were forced to become more or less extemporaneous. As long as the show was loosely based on the books, they seemed geniuses. And now the same creators seem idiots.

. . . My sense is that a GMed game only requires the GM to be high skill, but a GMless game requires the whole table to be high skill - essentially a table of players that each could be in a different situation a quality GM.
Ouch. Well, the HBO GoT writers do have a lot of wrapping up to do in a limited amount of time. But I'm with you on the GMed (George Martin-ed) part of the show being more...captivating.

The referee aspect of GMing is a pretty significant one to me. If a game is GM-less, my first concern is knowing that everyone gets treated fairly, and especially that no player is too domineering for the others. I'd be less concerned about general skill levels, because a robust set of rules could prop up the weakest of the storytellers at a table, or allow him to rely on another player as needed.
 

Celebrim

Legend
If a game is GM-less, my first concern is knowing that everyone gets treated fairly, and especially that no player is too domineering for the others.
I think that this is an important point. One of the problems I've noticed with cooperative board games is that in practice, they tend to devolve to a single more experienced, more domineering, or more tactical player playing all the roles and directing all the other participants. It's rare that you see one where everyone is getting equal input as to what the teams plan is, or even has full control of their character without censure from the other players. Having a GM at the table can help mitigate this if everyone has equal access to the GM and the GM is encouraging and validating their play as an individual. It doesn't go away completely in an RPG, but even if the GM isn't intentionally doing this, the GM's desires for the game to not be metagamed tend to coincide with validating each player's individual and uncensored play, and the GM can enforce this by setting rules regarding how propositions are offered or when advice can be given to other players (typically by restricting this to IC communication).
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Ouch. Well, the HBO GoT writers do have a lot of wrapping up to do in a limited amount of time. But I'm with you on the GMed (George Martin-ed) part of the show being more...captivating.
I've read some nice analysis of writing that puts it like this: It isn't that they are being "extemporaneous" - they are still following the outline G.R.R.M. gave them. It is that with a fixed number of episodes left, they had to allow the plot to drive events, rather than characterization. The show's problem is that now characters must get from A to B for the big finishes, whether doing so seems in-character for them or not.

So, not so much being extemporaneous, as it being heavily railroaded.
 

DMMike

Game Masticator
I don't think there was ever any risk to DMs, but yes, (5E is) a return to DM-centric mechanics, that put more of the pretend 'power' on the DM side of the DM/Player dynamic. It's harder to DM than 4e was (though still arguably easier than 3.x), and requires a different style of DMing. The Player v DM would, a most be 'emulated' - that is, the DM would have to set some bounds for himself to 'let the players win.' PvP would be fine, but would really /need/ a DM supervising it.
I'd actually like to see 6E pick up where 4E left off, where some other games currently are, and make the GM role more mechanical - putting more narration in the hands of the players. I would expect it to go well with today's Burger King have-it-your-way players. And with a nod to "game modes," it could either leash or unleash the more creative (gonzo) players.

Paizo would probably like that too. (Does Pathfinder have "GMs" or "DMs?")

Regarding an earlier comment from [MENTION=6799753]lowkey13[/MENTION] - that there are no good DMs (snark noted) - what are today's games doing to make GMing easier, and thus, allowing the GM population to flourish? Not in terms of enabling PCs to co-GM, but having a clear GM role that isn't intimidating.
 

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
Regarding an earlier comment from [MENTION=6799753]lowkey13[/MENTION] - that there are no good DMs (snark noted) - what are today's ga
In the midst of the word DMMike was trying to say,
In the midst of his laughter and glee,
The Good DMs softly and suddenly vanished away—
For the Snark was a Boojum, you see.
 
I'd actually like to see 6E pick up where 4E left off, where some other games currently are, and make the GM role more mechanical - putting more narration in the hands of the players. I would expect it to go well with today's Burger King have-it-your-way players. And with a nod to "game modes," it could either leash or unleash the more creative (gonzo) players.
While a 4e approach might have been as or more accessible to new players as 5e's, and might've become more so in the long run, it's failure with established fans and 5e's reversion to type means that a new generation of fans are being indoctrinated into the same expectations as the old generation. D&D as it was in the 80s, and is again today, is how it will remain for the foreseeable future. If there's a 6e - and that seems unlikely - it'll be at least as similar to 5e as 2e was to 1e.

Paizo would probably like that too. (Does Pathfinder have "GMs" or "DMs?")
"PMs?"

what are today's games doing to make GMing easier, and thus, allowing the GM population to flourish? Not in terms of enabling PCs to co-GM, but having a clear GM role that isn't intimidating.
IDK about other games, but the 5e/classic-D&D approach to helping GM's flourish to make it /hard/ to DM, making it a prestige position since fewer players can make the leap, and to incentivize it with built-in privileges (DM Empowerment ftw).

Besides, think about it in terms of buzz. A gaming community in which players are always looking for games and are excited to find one with an opening creates an impression of the game being very popular, while, even if you had the exact same number of equally-enthusiastic participants, if the ratio were skewed more towards GMs, you'd have a situation of games going begging for players, scheduled games not going off, and that would create an impression of crumbling popularity.

So keeping the bar for DMs high is a good idea, in that sense of image, too.
 

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