D&D General How much control do DMs need?

Enrahim2

Adventurer
With a TTRPG group, it's exactly the opposite. You start out with no investment in the group at all, being invested solely in the one thing you know, your own character. You slowly grow attachments to the individuals who happen to adventure beside you, with the (as mentioned) "group self" notion only developing well after as a neat, desirable byproduct of becoming attached to the people who constitute that group.
This is indeed a very common pattern, but not an universal one. In Ars Magica it is for instance possible to flesh out the covenant quite in detail before even starting to create any magus. I ran a D&D 5ed oneshot, where players were not allowed to make characters before they had detailed the group context and purpose, and got positive feedback on that approach.

Also the assumption that you know your new character better than the party breaks down if you make a new character to join a group you have played in before. This could be a common state in long campaigns with character retirement and occasional deaths. In other words, your argument here is explicitely not applying to exactly the kind of game you seem to be critizising?
I'm not really sure what restrictions PbtA games put on "reading the table" that are so onerous. Nor any other system I've played (which would include, but may not be limited to, 3e/4e/5e/PF1, a couple of retroclones, 13A, Shadowrun 5, Werewolf 20th, and an interesting obscure one called Tavern Tales where I played as an orphan in a group of children.)
Those I had in mind as restrictive is mostly lesser known indie experiments from the forge times. Maybe the most fameous one I have played that had this kind of feel to me would be prime time adventures. All you mention there are in my eyes very traditional games with basically as strong DM control as there is.
 

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ad_hoc

(they/them)
I don't think avoiding a TPK at all costs, putting on the brakes as you say, is worth it. I've only had a couple TPKs over the years but I've had far, far more close calls. Depending on the scenario, those close calls can be important turning points in the campaign, or at the very least a reminder how deadly the game can be. But I don't adjust things to be easier once the encounter starts, I don't have sudden unplanned reinforcements arrive. People can tell when you do that, especially when you do it too often. For me it takes away from the game if I know the DM is holding back.

Lack of that failure state, having no chance of a TPK would mean the game looses a lot of tension for me. That tension can be a fun part of the game.

100% agree.

There have been enough TPKs in my group that they know they can happen.

So now they don't because they are careful.

Inevitably when we have a new player join they don't heed advice of the other players and get their character killed.

The greater the stakes the greater the victory.
 

EzekielRaiden

Follower of the Way
This is indeed a very common pattern, but not an universal one. In Ars Magica it is for instance possible to flesh out the covenant quite in detail before even starting to create any magus. I ran a D&D 5ed oneshot, where players were not allowed to make characters before they had detailed the group context and purpose, and got positive feedback on that approach.
You cannot have lived history with a (character) group you haven't played with before. You can have described history, sure. But described history does not produce anything like the kinds of connections that lived history does. It's the difference between "fire-forged friends" and "members of the same clan who have just met." The former will be far more invested in one another than the latter, even if it might be faster for the latter to become such a close friend once play (and thus lived history) begins.

Also the assumption that you know your new character better than the party breaks down if you make a new character to join a group you have played in before. This could be a common state in long campaigns with character retirement and occasional deaths. In other words, your argument here is explicitely not applying to exactly the kind of game you seem to be critizising?
The character cannot know the group better than she knows herself. Just because I know the group doesn't mean that I can roleplay that, any more than knowing that a particular villain exists means I can roleplay truly despising that villain.

Investing yourself in the character and their connections to other things (allies, enemies, places, ideas, items, etc.) is a very different thing from being aware, as a player, that certain things are true or false.

Those I had in mind as restrictive is mostly lesser known indie experiments from the forge times. Maybe the most fameous one I have played that had this kind of feel to me would be prime time adventures. All you mention there are in my eyes very traditional games with basically as strong DM control as there is.
Given how hard fans of "strong DM control" have pushed back against comparisons to DW (amongst others), I'm skeptical that the similarities are as strong as you claim.
 
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EzekielRaiden

Follower of the Way
Once AW became successful it began to occupy a liminal space in some quarters whereby it is simultaneously so close to trad RPGs as to be no big innovation and so far away as to be no relation at all, depending on the needs of the argument at the time.
A much more pithy (if perhaps a bit harsh) statement of a concern I brought up earlier in the thread: the flip between "this is a horrible affront to all we hold dear as D&D players" and "how is this any different at all from what we do?" It's not quite at-convenience, more like if you discuss it in the abstract it raises every hackle folks have available to raise, but then when you lay it out with concrete examples it's so unobjectionable, folks can't see how it contains any differences.

Which, for me anyway, is some pretty strong evidence that the amount of control DMs need isn't nearly as high as the amount they believe they need. DW--and most PbtA games--explicitly and officially put quite a bit of control in the players' hands, and more importantly, explicitly and officially bind the GM with several restrictions, both at the specific level (e.g. "you must answer honestly when the player uses this move" or "you must give the player an answer that is both interesting and useful when they roll well on that move") and the abstract level ("draw maps, leave blanks" etc.) The thing is, those restrictions have been put in place for the same reason that--for example--many of the rules of writing have been put into place. Writing is a tool of communication; its rules exist with the goal of facilitating communication. Breaking those rules for light or transient causes is deeply unwise. Indeed, in the vast majority of cases, you want to obey those rules fully, lest you fail to communicate, or communicate the wrong thing, or induce the recipient to turn away because of the inordinate effort required to understand you.
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
Once AW became successful it began to occupy a liminal space in some quarters whereby it is simultaneously so close to trad RPGs as to be no big innovation and so far away as to be no relation at all, depending on the needs of the argument at the time.
The concepts in PbtA are a valuable set of innovations; that other modes of play are able to learn from... adopting in ideas that work for those modes.

One example is emphasis on delivering momentum along the linkages between system and fiction.
 

hawkeyefan

Legend
Once AW became successful it began to occupy a liminal space in some quarters whereby it is simultaneously so close to trad RPGs as to be no big innovation and so far away as to be no relation at all, depending on the needs of the argument at the time.

This is funny, because I tend to advocate for PbtA and similar games a lot, but I kind of find myself being guilty of this, as well. I think it depends on the context of the discussion, but I've definitely argued that it's not as different as many think in some cases, and how different it is from more trad-based games in others.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
A serious problem with the jersey analogy: People essentially never start watching a sport by following one individual player and becoming attached to a team solely because that play happened to play for it, thus transferring allegiance from person to team. They become attached to teams from the word go, usually by that team being their "home" team, and as a result show fear or favor toward players exclusively because of the jersey—never having been attached to the individuals at all, or at least only in the most rudimentary way. Essentially nobody (ignoring the vanishing % of people who are their personal friends/family/loved ones) started engaging with basketball because they were invested in (say) Kobe Bryant or Shaquille O'Neal and only after a good long time of watching Shaq or Kobe play did they become attached to the team. Shaq is especially useful as an example because he switched teams a lot, having played for six different pro teams in his career (Magic, Lakers, Heat, Suns, Cavaliers, and Celtics)—and while he might have been a household name, people would essentially never switch team allegiance solely because he did, and would probably find the very notion bizarre. Instead, Shaq switching teams would be a cause for dislike toward him, having left the team to which one's loyalties had belonged from the beginning.
Probably worth mentioning here that in my campaigns, once they get nicely going, individual characters also can and do jump from party to party on a fairly common basis.
With a TTRPG group, it's exactly the opposite. You start out with no investment in the group at all, being invested solely in the one thing you know, your own character.
Well, if you're playing with friends (which is pretty much the only way I'd go, for anything long-term) one would think you've a bit invested in those out-of-character friendships, an investment made long before play even begins. So you've already got meta-ties to the group at the table, even if your characters in the fiction are shredding each other to bits.

Playing with strangers would be a different environment, I'll grant that.
You slowly grow attachments to the individuals who happen to adventure beside you, with the (as mentioned) "group self" notion only developing well after as a neat, desirable byproduct of becoming attached to the people who constitute that group. And if a player truly leaves a group, unless it's specifically on bad terms, it's a sadness, and the focus for everyone (leaving or staying) is still on the character(s, but usually singular) that they play(ed).
A player leaving and a character leaving/dying aren't the same thing in my view, assuming the player wants to keep playing.
For group consequences to have meaning, you must already value the group. Death ever waiting in the wings certainly reminds you that you should pick your choices carefully, but it also reminds you that, due to the vagaries of dice, it probably doesn't matter how careful you are, you'll just lose sooner or later.
Yes; and the goal then becomes to see how long you'll last before you die, revival effects notwithstanding. Very rogue-like.
That isn't what I said though. What I said was, if I know for certain that everyone will die quickly, unceremoniously, and frequently—if essentially total defeat is guaranteed, and statistically speaking it must be, especially in old-school contexts with low numbers and high lethality!—then there is no time nor opportunity for attachment to the group to form in the first place.

Attachment to the jersey can only form well after the group does. It requires becoming invested in the individual team members first, caring about who they are and why they are and what they want. It requires that the individual lines get woven together until the group has taken on transcendent meaning beyond just the individuals who comprise it: the bundle held together long enough, and through enough trials and tribulations, that the group-self identity can actually have meaning apart from the people who fill its roster.

Cut those threads early and often, and no group-self weaving can occur. You just have lots of disconnected individual threads; not a tapestry, but a pile of yarn. The group self supervenes on the bonds between the individual selves, and takes even more time to form than those bonds do.
The first adventure* of my current campaign had four players, often each running two characters at a time. In that one adventure (which lasted 20 sessions) a total of 30 characters appeared; of which 22 died, with some of those deaths being at the hands of others in that sometimes-murderous party. One character - somewhat incredibly given as he was one of the more gonzo among them - made it all the way through.

And the players - and I - loved it! Many was the time the game ground to a halt because we were all laughing too hard to talk, and it just don't get any better than that!

And that adventure set the tone and foundation for what's become a 15-year run. Players have come and gone now and then, characters have come and gone more often (though never as crazy as that first adventure!), but the game carries on in a multi-branched campaign.

* - a well-known canned module that I ran mostly because I'd never run or played it before: B2 Keep on the Borderlands.
Having 2-3 merely near-TPKs before session 40 prevents a scene like this from occurring for most groups. Both because Slappy probably died already, and because everyone else probably already died too. Some players' characters more than once. The jersey lives on, but I have no connection to it—because I never got the chance to build a connection to the people in it.
The way I see it, regardless of all else things are going right if the players want to come back for more next week.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I don't think avoiding a TPK at all costs, putting on the brakes as you say, is worth it. I've only had a couple TPKs over the years but I've had far, far more close calls.
Same here. In 39 years I've only ever DMed one true TPK, but there's been a few occasions where only one or two characters survived and numerous times where half or more of the party dropped. (our average party size is usually about 6-8 including adventuring NPCs and henches)
Depending on the scenario, those close calls can be important turning points in the campaign, or at the very least a reminder how deadly the game can be. But I don't adjust things to be easier once the encounter starts, I don't have sudden unplanned reinforcements arrive. People can tell when you do that, especially when you do it too often. For me it takes away from the game if I know the DM is holding back.

Lack of that failure state, having no chance of a TPK would mean the game looses a lot of tension for me. That tension can be a fun part of the game.
Agreed.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
While reading The Elusive Shift this morning, I noted "it does not appear that Arneson played by his own rules, but this was in keeping with remarks he made elsewhere that year about the insignificance of "rules" to the invention of role-playing games". An essay by Arneson is referenced where he characterised his attitude toward rules during his Blackmoor campaign as "Rules? What rules?" Arneson wrote that "applying a fantasy setting to RPG was merely another outgrowth of an already established tradition (abet one without any real rules) in various non-fantasy settings."

What I found interesting though was that - in reference to ongoing rules-free play - "by the end of the 1970s some referees had begun to remove themselves from this [rules-free] most versatile expression of the role-playing game." (Emphasis mine.) So here Peterson is laying out a history of not only FKR (a label I use for convenience) but additionally GM-less FKR.

I apologize for not responding to this earlier- partly because I have been unavailable recently, and partly because of, well, my repeated statements about the efficacy of these conversations. :)

As I'm sure you remember, I had a number of threads based on The Elusive Shift, which I think is pretty much required reading in terms of having a good understanding of the history of the development of RPGs. More importantly, it reinforces my belief that the majority of these conversations suffer from a lack of understanding of what came before as well as a desire to avoid the present; everyone is always reinventing the wheel, making assumptions that the people in the past had no idea about the "avant-garde" topics that they conjured up years ago, while refusing to engage in timely topics.

But all of this is par for the course; as for Arneson, he was famous (or infamous, depending on the context) for both his strength in conjuring up imaginative games, and his disdain for rule codification; if you were to look at Game Wizards as well, the constant theme running through that book, well, one of them, is that Arneson was singularly unable to translate his ideas into rules ... because that's not how he was operating.

Going to the second idea- I think that the book does a great job at showing the sheer diversity of playing styles that exploded in the 1970s. Not only the mainline debates ("golden hole" vs. "full-fledged campaign," or even whether there should be more narrative), but concepts that are beyond the pale- having D&D contain, within it, what we would now think of as "LARP freeform" sessions (for extended diplomacy) or, as you astutely note, questions as to whether the referee would exercise any authority at all (or even if there was a need for a referee).

It's interesting- I sometimes wonder about the double-edged sword that was the Egbert Explosion. On the one hand, the massive pop culture success of the game in the early 80s helped cement the success of TTRPGs as a hobby, and provided a generation of players and an explosion of commercial products. On the other hand, the massive influx of young players dramatically changed the nature of the hobby at the time, and calcified it during the 80s in a way that I think prevented the game from continuing to be as experimental as it was. That said, it's just an idea that I was frittering around with, and it's probably wrong.
 

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