D&D General How much control do DMs need?

Clint_L

Legend
Thank you for breaking down my statement in much more understandable pieces! I think I adressed your second concern in my previous post. As for this - I think if you are looking game theoretically on what constitutes the start of a game when thinking of in on terms of a set of defined mechanical interactions, I agree that you might have a point. However in my statement I did not have in mind the need for having a trigger for a mechanical game machine. Rather it is the seed for getting the core conversation making up most of the rpg activity up and running I am of the impression most groups need.

For instance FIASCO has a lot if tables you roll on in the start to set up various parameters of the scenario you are going to play. These have as far as I can remember absolutely no mechanical effect on the game played after these rolls are made, but I think noone playing fiasco would claim that they are not incredible tools for getting the conversation and story flowing nonetheless.
That's correct. Fiasco is entirely narrative so all of the rules are in place to set up parameters for the role-play. There is no dice rolling or any other kind of randomization happening during play (the newest edition of the game does away with the initial dice rolls as well, using cards instead).
 

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clearstream

(He, Him)
Hit the Spellbooks
When you dedicate yourself to the study of a magical conundrum in order to produce a marvelous magical solution, roll+INT. If you have access to an excellent library or top-notch arcane laboratory, take an additional +1.
✴ On a 10+, choose three.
✴ On a 7-9, choose two.
✴ 6-, choose one, and ask the GM what complication you've gotten yourself embroiled in as a result of pushing the boundaries of knowledge a bit too far.
  • The spell does not take a long time to cast.
  • There are no expensive material components.
  • The effect is precise and easily controlled.
  • There are no unwanted secondary effects.
It's always possible to improve a spell you've designed through Hit the Spellbooks, but you'll need a special advantage you didn't have before. This could be hidden grimoires of the great masters, traveling to distant cities with state-of-the-art facilities, or (if you can stomach it) collaborating with someone else who knows the field like you do (because surely no one knows it better, right?)
[EDITED] Acknowledge that you dashed this off and are leaning on a motherlode of hand-wavium, to take a critical point of view I have no idea what that move could produce in play. What counts as a magical solution? Are marvelous solutions different from other magic solutions? Do I need to find the conundrum or can I just say that I have one? What can I do with a spell once I've designed one (assuming produce = design)? What are the limits if any on the spell effect?

We've been playing quite a bit of MotW. I enjoy playing the Spooky.
Use Magic
When you use magic, say what you’re trying to achieve and how you do the spell, then roll +Weird.
On a 10+, the magic works without issues: choose your effect.
On a 7-9, it works imperfectly: choose your effect and a glitch. The Keeper will decide what effect the glitch has.
Advanced: On a 12+ the Keeper will offer you some added benefit.

Effects
• Inflict harm (1-harm ignorearmour magic obvious).
• Enchant a weapon. It gets +1 harm and +magic.
• Do one thing that is beyond human limitations.
• Bar a place or portal to a specific person or a type of creature.
• Trap a specific person, minion, or monster.
• Banish a spirit or curse from the person, object, or place it inhabits.
• Summon a monster into the world.
• Communicate with something that you do not share a language with.
• Observe another place or time. • Heal 1-harm from an injury, or cure a disease, or neutralize a poison.

Glitches
• The effect is weakened.
• The effect is of short duration.
• You take 1-harm ignore-armour.
• The magic draws immediate, unwelcome attention.
• It has a problematic side effect. The Keeper may say that...
• The spell requires weird materials.
• The spell will take 10 seconds, 30 seconds, or 1 minute to cast.
• The spell requires ritual chanting and gestures.
• The spell requires you to draw arcane symbols.
• You need one or two people to help cast the spell.
• You need to refer to a tome of magic for the details

Use Magic is situated within a complete text. Your move can't exist outside much other game text. In 5e I can design a balanced new spell following advice in the DMG. That might take more than 14 seconds. I've designed class features on the spot, in play. Is adding a spell or a move the sort of flexibility at issue here? How much does time to execute the design matter (would it matter if it were 56 seconds instead of 14, really?) I think Use Magic took considerably more than 14 seconds to design. That's disregarding the contextual design that makes it work, and connected moves like Hex.

[I've deleted earlier text here on design process, which I think in the end wasn't relevant.]
 
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clearstream

(He, Him)
Overall I'm going to disengage from this thread. I have a proof of concept game that exploded into a giant art project to work on.

But yeah, I tend to resolve to hyperbole. I find it easier to think in extremes, it gives me ways to talk about things with burning passion rather than detached clinicality.
I hope your project goes well!

It's helpful to know that you consciously choose hyperbole. I didn't realise that.
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
D&D is also designed with a very specific goal - characters built with multiple bespoke abilities work as a team to defeat encounters of an appropriate level through a tactical combat minigame and thus gain experience, wealth, and more powers.

That is not a natural fit for a wide variety of different genres. A person who can drift D&D to play (say) a game of courtly intrigue could have drifted any number of other games just as easily, if not more easily.
Not if they also wanted a skirmish-level combat minigame to be part of their courtly intrigues!
 

Enrahim2

Adventurer
Do you have some sort of logic and observation by which you support this seemingly arbitrary assertion? Because I've played quite a few games which are not based on an all-powerful GM who masters all the fiction. I can see no reason whatsoever to assert that what you call 'traditional' RPGs are in any way shape or form easier to run different types of games with. I think its going to be incredibly hard to back up any assertion either way, so I am not really making one. If I WERE to make such an assertion I would say that the traditional GM role, particularly the GM's relationship to the fiction, is QUITE limiting and restricts such games to a fairly limited subset of the total space of possible interesting RPGs. I think what you assert is OFTEN asserted, but mostly by people who are simply not considering the true range of RPG design in its various dimensions of genre, agenda, tone, process of play, and other variables.
Your last sentence here made me realise another critical dimension to flexibility. That is flexibility according to which axes.

I would for instance say D&D is for instance very rigid compared to gurps or fate with regard to setting. This is due to the implied setting in the character building aspects of it. However this seem to be unrelated to the aspect of degree of DM control.

With regard to tone, genre and overall fictional flavor, I think most games mentioned here are similarly flexible, which again do indicate that this flexibility is somewhat unrelated to GM controll. However there are plenty of games out there that tightly clamps down these very tightly, and these also by necessity must have less GM control than what D&D provides - so in this case less GM controll might correlate with less flexibility.

It is in particular with regard to process of play I have had in mind when I have made my claim. Handing npc control to players, giving players xp tokens to grant as they see fit to others during session and having each player stating one thing that will happen during a session at session start is all exampes of procedural grips I have felt has been easy and natural to introduce in D&D mid campaign. None of these conflicts with any stated rules of the game as far as I can see, and the game explicitely encourages such in the text. It can also be mentioned that I did not impose any of these on the players. General social decency dictated that this was the kind of measures that should be tested for social acceptability. The critical observation I think is that there were never any question if this would be within the boundaries of the rules provided by the game to introduce such procedures, as the rules explicitely defer the decission power it would normally have over the matter to the DM.

It is this social dynamic I claim is altered in a game where the rules are claiming more complete procedural controll, without control delegation to the GM. Introducing procedural changes would of course still be possible, but would require the group to buy into actively going against the stated rules of the game they decided to play. For some groups that might still be trivial, but I expect most have no problem envisioning a player of the kind that would counter any such suggestion on the basis of it going against RAW - and the professional designer probably know better than us amateurs what is best for us ;)
 

pemerton

Legend
This is a bit mind boggling to me. The basis for all my statements regarding rule zero is based on the background that I have read a lot of criticisms of it as a sign of bad design, and that that was a very heavy deal in the advertisement of the early forge games. The argument was that the designer claiming full responsibility for the entire ruleset and conduction of the game made for a stronger design than ones clearly deferring rules control to one of the participants.

As such your questioning if rule zero is meaningful or not seem to be in direct contradiction to the cultural context in which my statements are made.
The criticism of rule zero as bad design is a normative proposition about game design. The advocacy for tight design likewise. Neither is a prediction about what sort of drifting of play or changes to rules tables will engage in and enjoy.

Thus, the point of (say) DitV is it will play perfectly well out of the box by doing what Vincent Baker tells you to do. This is regarded by proponents of DitV as a virtue. But nothing in the rules makes it hard to drift or change in a way that D&D is not - the rulebook itself discusses possible changes of setting, and I'm sure that over the post two decades some DitV playes have come up with possible changes of process too.

Handing npc control to players, giving players xp tokens to grant as they see fit to others during session and having each player stating one thing that will happen during a session at session start is all exampes of procedural grips I have felt has been easy and natural to introduce in D&D mid campaign. None of these conflicts with any stated rules of the game as far as I can see, and the game explicitely encourages such in the text.

<snip>

It is this social dynamic I claim is altered in a game where the rules are claiming more complete procedural controll, without control delegation to the GM. Introducing procedural changes would of course still be possible, but would require the group to buy into actively going against the stated rules of the game they decided to play.
Unless you have a significant amount of empirical evidence to support your sociological conjecture, I'm not buying it. I don't see any intuitive reason why it would be true. It doesn't fit with my own experience. And it is contradicted by the most famous and influential procedurally tight indie game of all time, namely, Apocalypse World, which has a whole chapter ("Advanced F***ery") on making changes of the sort you describe, and others too.
 

soviet

Hero
The criticism of rule zero as bad design is a normative proposition about game design. The advocacy for tight design likewise. Neither is a prediction about what sort of drifting of play or changes to rules tables will engage in and enjoy.

Thus, the point of (say) DitV is it will play perfectly well out of the box by doing what Vincent Baker tells you to do. This is regarded by proponents of DitV as a virtue. But nothing in the rules makes it hard to drift or change in a way that D&D is not - the rulebook itself discusses possible changes of setting, and I'm sure that over the post two decades some DitV playes have come up with possible changes of process too.
100% agree. 'No rule zero' is about i) this game works out of the box without needing to be changed, and ii) no one participant is empowered to make such changes unilaterally (and possibly in secret).

A group playing such a game that encounters a problem with the rules mid-session will most likely discuss it as a group - 'Hey, what if we changed rule X to be rule Y instead?' 'Yeah, cool'. They don't watch their game crash and burn because they are beholden to an indie RPG developer they've never met.

A group that wants to play such a game but in a different genre - say, Dogs in the Vineyard with Jedi - will simply agree to do so. Maybe the group collaborate on putting together a conversion or maybe the GM does it and then the rest of the group says 'Cool'. Maybe they just wing it. They certainly don't abandon the idea because 'Vincent Baker wouldn't like it' or 'It's not allowed'.
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
This is a bit mind boggling to me. The basis for all my statements regarding rule zero is based on the background that I have read a lot of criticisms of it as a sign of bad design, and that that was a very heavy deal in the advertisement of the early forge games. The argument was that the designer claiming full responsibility for the entire ruleset and conduction of the game made for a stronger design than ones clearly deferring rules control to one of the participants.

As such your questioning if rule zero is meaningful or not seem to be in direct contradiction to the cultural context in which my statements are made. It feels a bit like me making an argument christmas trees has benefits, and you reply with - is there even meaningful to talk about such a thing as Christmas?

But I can spend a bit of time indulging this higher meta questioning. It is completely true that any group performing an game can by consensus override any rules of that game. Hence if you allow for that indeed no game can be more flexible than another. It is theoretically possible to invite people over to a game of trivial pursuit, and end up playing something identical to D&D while your group still call the activity Trivial Pursuit (with some house rules).

For any discussions of the level of flexibility of games to be meaningfull one hence have to be more clear as to what level of strictness one assumes the group to be bound by the game. The standard minimum criteria for discussing properties of games is that the group indeed follow all the rules of the game, and consider it a new game if any changes to the rules are made. For most games this sets unproblematic boundaries that allow meaningful communication. However for games with a ruleset that explicitely (or implicitely) calls for one of the participants to introduce or override rules, this become a bit more problematic. What are the boundaries for communicating about that game? Some possibilities:

1: All changes to the game is acceptable and under examination. When discussing D&D, we should consider the possibility of the DM turning it into a trivial pursuit clone trough their authority.
2: All changes not actually overriding something stated as if a rule in a resource not nominally meant for only one participant is accepted, and under examination.
3: Only additions of rules covering situations where there are no suggestions in any of the core material is accepted. If there are a presented set of suggested options for handling a situation, one of those must be chosen.
4. We are disregarding the statement about GM rules control, as something fully external to the game we examine. We assume game will restrict itself to situations where there are clearly defined rules.

My impression is that most of those posting in this thread has been sonewhere close to 2 or 3. My arguments for D&D being flexible has been from a 2 standpoint, but I can recognize that this might not have been as obvious as I would have liked as I only tried to clarify that in some of my, now drowned out posts. If I were to use an understanding closer to 3 as basis, I would fully agree that D&D do not appear very flexible indeed.

I think also I have seen some arguments that appear to be close to basis 4 as well. This is the kind of basis where questions regarding if D&D is indeed a game at all, due to it's incompleteness very easily can manifest. However for the purposes of this thread, using this basis seem a bit weird, as in this case the premise of the thread - D&D dm having large control is not as obviously valid as with understanding 2 and 3.

As such I would have expected any potential argument for rule 0 not being relevant/meaningbearing to come from a 4 perspective. That you appear to raise the argument from a more extreme standpoint than 1 (arguing all changes to any game is under examination) is a bit baffeling. I am not saying it is invalid or wrong. I am just a bit concerned with how such a basis for comunication would be likely to provide any meaningful insight into the virtues of different degrees of GM control?
Based on this line of argument, one might say something like
  1. PbtA is flexible, because it is a design system for RPG
  2. Apocalypse World is inflexible, because it is (what I will call) an opinionated game: one with inflexible design intent.
Weirdly then, designers can't flex AW into another game even though they can use the PbtA design system to construct other games. (The point of this statement is to question what is meant by "flexibility". Especially in context of game text in AW such as Advanced F***ery.)
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
I guess I am not at all sure what it is exactly that 'rule 0' is good for. I mean, at any given table the participants in the game can decide to defer to the GM (or even someone else) as they see fit. Furthermore, the GM, regardless of what is written, can only exercise authority over the table which the other participants are willing to give them. Thus, IME, the concept of rule 0 is really kind of empty. It is more simply a fairly aggressive statement of an expected idea of how the designer imagines things working. Likewise the non-existence of a rule 0 in no way precludes the participants from deferring to the GM (or whomever) as they wish. Again, its non-existence is, perhaps, evidence of a certain orientation in the designer's mind (but maybe not, negative evidence being hard to interpret and all).
Are you saying that rule 0 isn't needed, because a table that wants to use it will count it among their exogenous rules?

That does feel like weasel-wording to get around the potential flexbility inclusion of rule 0 in a game text facilitates. It's like saying - don't worry about any of the rules because if we need them we will count them among our exogenous rules. Is that what you mean? If so, how can we judge which game text is the more flexible, given that the latent text is unlimited per your reasoning!?
 

pemerton

Legend
Based on this line of argument, one might say something like
  1. PbtA is flexible, because it is a design system for RPG
  2. Apocalypse World is inflexible, because it is (what I will call) an opinionated game: one with inflexible design intent.
Weirdly then, designers can't flex AW into another game even though they can use the PbtA design system to construct other games. (The point of this statement is to question what is meant by "flexibility". Especially in context of game text in AW such as Advanced F***ery.)
To me, the existence of the "Advanced F***ery" seems to show that you are wrong.

I mean, page 278 has the following:

NOT EVEN APOCALYPSE WORLD
So, yeah, based on Apocalypse World, but Apocalypse World no longer? F*** yeah.​

And then there are three pages of examples from various games: a parkour one by John Harper, a zombie one, a sci-fi one, and an early version of Dungeon World.

If the claim that D&D is distinctively flexible is nothing more than a semantic play about what counts as playing the same game, then as best I can tell it's of no interest to anyone.

But when I see it made, it's not that sort of semantic play. It's asserted as a meaningful claim. And I think it's false.
 

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