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D&D General How much control do DMs need?

Clint_L

Legend
Traditionally, the Dungeon Master assumes god-like powers in a game of D&D. They are the omniscient narrator with power over everything but character choices. They build and tell the story, they populate worlds, they interpret rules. They even have the power to set aside rules and rolls, at their discretion (this is a whole other thread). But lately I've been questioning how necessary this power dynamic is.

I recently ran a session of my 5e campaign using modified Fiasco rules, meaning that the game took place as a series of scenes, and each player, including me, was a co-equal narrator - one person either started or finished a scene, taking turns, and the rest did the opposite. I had some control in that I set up the original scenario and put locations, objects and NPCs into play before the game started, but during play the plot was wide open - it was a mystery and I didn't know who did or why any better than the other players. We worked it out together through the course of the game. It was fun!

I also encourage players to improvise plot details that they want for their character, trusting that they too have the best interest of the game at heart. Lately, I have told them that they can add not just suggestions but major plot points, only requesting that they give me time to prepare if the plot point will involve having to create a dungeon or something (a lot of things we can improvise on the fly).

I'm finding that the more control I give up, the more fun I am having at my games. And it is making me suspect that centralizing power in the DM is not as necessary as the rules presuppose. Depending on the group.
 
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It can work depending on player preference. I try to go full immersion and become my character, so me as a playing having any impact on the world, outside of the actions of my character, pull me out of that. So I personally would find that approach frustrating, as it would keep me from enjoying the specific thing that roleplaying brings to me as a hobby. But I know I am in the minority.

I do currently play Cypher, which has player intrusions and ways to have that impact not through my character but by "meta" points. So I am getting used to that... but while I really enjoy the system, I don't feel as connected to my character as otherwise.

Now - I make a point of building characters that have motivations to move within the world and act on it, good for teamwork and partnership and the like so when I am "Just playing my character" it helps the group and the GM, not interferes with them. To me that is just being a good player. :D
 

It's definitely not necessary at all to centralize power! Several great gaming systems are wonderfully designed to play off decentralized power, but as usual it's a player preference thing.

For example, I love exploring other people's imagination and worlds. When I'm not in the DM seat I want to explore YOUR world. That might include all the other players, but I don't want it to include MY world too because I'm actively surrendering the reins by choice.
 


Oofta

Legend
Traditionally, the Dungeon Master assumes god-like powers in a game of D&D. They are the omniscient narrator with power over everything but character choices. They build and tell the story, they populate worlds, they interpret rules. They even have the power to set aside rules and rolls, at their discretion (this is a whole other thread). But lately I've been questioning how necessary this power dynamic is.

I recently ran a session of my 5e campaign using modified Fiasco rules, meaning that the game took place as a series of scenes, and each player, including me, was a co-equal narrator - one person either started or finished a scene, taking turns, and the rest did the opposite. I had some control in that I set up the original scenario and put locations, objects and NPCs into play before the game started, but during play the plot was wide open - it was a mystery I didn't know who did or why any better than the other players. We worked it out together through the course of the game. It was fun!

I also encourage players to improvise plot details that they want for their character, trusting that they too have the best interest of the game at heart. Lately, I have told them that they can add not just suggestions but major plot points, only requesting that they give me time to prepare if the plot point will involve having to create a dungeon or something (a lot of things we can improvise on the fly).

I'm finding that the more control I give up, the more fun I am having at my games. And it is making me suspect that centralizing power in the DM is not as necessary as the rules presuppose. Depending on the group.

There's no one true way. For me, I retain control, or at least editorial control over what the characters add to the world. It's an ongoing, living campaign that I run for multiple groups and have used for decades, it would make no sense to make it story hour. It also largely depends on the group, I have players who would hate having to do creative world building, it's just not their thing.

If it works for you, great. Personally? I wouldn't want to even play in that game long term. Part of why I enjoy playing instead of DMing is because I want to explore the world and discover what secrets and reveals the DM has in mind. But different strokes for different folks, right?
 

Clint_L

Legend
To give an example of what I am talking about, a player might describe receiving a piece of mail from a childhood, begging for help back in their home village. And they may or may not give me more details about the village and their relationship, and what the problem might be, but more likely they will let me fill in the rest and enjoy the surprise.
 


Clint_L

Legend
There's no one true way. For me, I retain control, or at least editorial control over what the characters add to the world. It's an ongoing, living campaign that I run for multiple groups and have used for decades, it would make no sense to make it story hour. It also largely depends on the group, I have players who would hate having to do creative world building, it's just not their thing.

If it works for you, great. Personally? I wouldn't want to even play in that game long term. Part of why I enjoy playing instead of DMing is because I want to explore the world and discover what secrets and reveals the DM has in mind. But different strokes for different folks, right?
I should clarify that no one is required to do anything, and I keep merrily world-building on my own. So my spouse, for example, is perfectly happy to just inhabit her character and let the events of the world unfold.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
I do whatever the game tells me to do, by and large, in this regard. In D&D, I'm good with players improvising details that make sense as it relates to their characters (e.g. "Those orcs right there are the ones that killed my parents!"), but that's the extent of it. If some other game gives the players more authorial control, then I do that instead.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
It's definitely not necessary at all to centralize power! Several great gaming systems are wonderfully designed to play off decentralized power, but as usual it's a player preference thing.

For example, I love exploring other people's imagination and worlds. When I'm not in the DM seat I want to explore YOUR world. That might include all the other players, but I don't want it to include MY world too because I'm actively surrendering the reins by choice.

This. So much this. I am not a fan of the bus driver's holiday.

I rarely get to play IRL. When I do, I want to play, and explore what someone else has done. More importantly, I want to relax and not have to worry about seizing the narrative or creating the fiction.

I have run and enjoyed games (incl. Fiasco) with completely decentralized authority, and definitely enjoy it with the right group. But for the most part, when I get the chance to play, I don't want to DM.
 

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