D&D General How much control do DMs need?

Clint_L

Legend
Yeah, I'm not really doing this with my beginner campaigns. The other thing I will add is that when it comes to my home games, I am expected to DM about 95% of the time. So I don't feel bad letting those slackers chip in an idea or two. Spices things up for me.
 

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Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Supporter
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.

Well, there are entirely GM-less games, so sure, you can run a game without one, or without the centralized power.

But, the result is a different experience. Whether you can do without the GM isn't a question of possibility, but of desired play experience.
 

loverdrive

Prophet of the profane (She/Her)
Generally, I'm of the opinion that the existence of a GM is a stopgap measure. Game Master in pretty much every RPG that has one (except in maybe PbtA games) does the work of an in-situ game designer, closing gaps that should've never been there in the first place. That is the main reason I despise running most trad/midschool games -- they ask me to design a game, but if I wanted to design a game, I would do exactly that. What the hell I need their game for?

Overall, there's only two good options:
  • Completely remove the GM. In many cases, they just ain't needed.
  • If you want to have a GM, make them an actual damn player, who can and should try their hardest in every situation

Many games, most notably D&D, sit in this awkward position, where the GM is allowed to do anything she wants, but actually has a very limited pool of options that would be fun and then has to sort through all the infinite possibilities to distil a couple that will make the game better. That is the designer's job! The designer should've sat and handpicked only fun cool options, so you at the table could choose anything you want and be guaranteed to have a good time.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Supporter
Generally, I'm of the opinion that the existence of a GM is a stopgap measure. Game Master in pretty much every RPG that has one (except in maybe PbtA games) does the work of an in-situ game designer, closing gaps that should've never been there in the first place.

Gaps are inevitable when your play space is unbounded, but your rules non-trivial. You can cover them with a GM to handle them in situ, or by limiting the play space to areas where the gaps do not matter.
 

niklinna

satisfied?
Generally, I'm of the opinion that the existence of a GM is a stopgap measure. Game Master in pretty much every RPG that has one (except in maybe PbtA games) does the work of an in-situ game designer, closing gaps that should've never been there in the first place. That is the main reason I despise running most trad/midschool games -- they ask me to design a game, but if I wanted to design a game, I would do exactly that. What the hell I need their game for?

Overall, there's only two good options:
  • Completely remove the GM. In many cases, they just ain't needed.
  • If you want to have a GM, make them an actual damn player, who can and should try their hardest in every situation

Many games, most notably D&D, sit in this awkward position, where the GM is allowed to do anything she wants, but actually has a very limited pool of options that would be fun and then has to sort through all the infinite possibilities to distil a couple that will make the game better. That is the designer's job! The designer should've sat and handpicked only fun cool options, so you at the table could choose anything you want and be guaranteed to have a good time.
Totally this. "Game master" is so often a mashup of referee, judge, plot guardian, filler of gaps, antagonist, and portrayer of the rest of the world, roles that are inherently in conflct, and often in conflict with the very idea of a group activity meant to be fun. PbtA games largely remove the first three responsibilities from the Master of Ceremonies (as Apocalypse World calls it, and I'd argue that still isn't a great name for the job). This allows the MC to really push antagonism when appropriate, and portray the world with all of its antagonists, but also neutral parties and allies. Torchbearer is also pretty clear about that too, although its mechanics are rather baroque in comparison. Blades in the Dark comes close but does have a few chinks, in my limited experience. And then there's Ironsworn, which has full support for GMless play out of the proverbial box. I'm particularly itching to give that game a try sometime. But next up for my group is Stonetop, which is in the PbtA family of games. (It looks to have a Ranger that isn't a heartbreaker so I'm pretty eager to see if it lives up to the promise.)
 

I started with DnD as DM years ago and thought that I had to completely define the world, from all of the shops and NPCs to the entire geography of the kingdom. Over the years, I've been moving more and more toward collaborative worldbuilding and, by extension, storytelling,. I've had DMs that gave me a great amount of power as a player to create races and cultures to facilitate my PC's story and I've found that giving that power to my players is absolutely huge for game buy-in. I've moved over the past couple decades from thinking of the DM as the author of a world to a position where I recognize that the DM is a guy who facilitates game play experience for other humans who are all participants in story building.
 

Clint_L

Legend
The only PbtA game that I know well is Monsterhearts (super fun), but I've been meaning to give Dungeon World a try, so maybe it's time I get off my butt and do so.
 

Clint_L

Legend
I guess what I'm wondering is whether the D&D model of the omniscient narrator DM is a feature or a flaw. Is it a historical accident that the game evolved as it did, just because of the personalities involved and their origins in the wargaming world? Could a similar game but with cooperative narration have evolved and colonized our brains so that in an alternate universe we see that as the default paradigm, and see D&D-style games as the indie outliers?

This is tying back into my musings elsewhere on why D&D-style games are so dominant in the RPG sphere. Are they naturally more populist, or did they just get there first?
 


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