Is the DM the most important person at the table

I think GMing is different from playing, in ways that tend to make it more difficult (or at least more complex, which isn't exactly the same thing). The GM is, in many games, the final authority on the rules for that table, which implies an expectation to at least know the indices, if not the entire books. While the players are usually responsible for one character each (sometimes players run multiple characters), the GM is responsible for the world. Even in a published adventure, the GM needs to keep straight what is going on offstage, and know what a given NPC's motivations are, and where things are in the neighborhood and in the world. Some people will find the complexity more daunting than others, some will find it more difficult than others.
I think that knowing that you can craft a ruling in the moment instead of knowing all the intricacies of rules is key to success of a GM. And in 5E D&D, in particular, this is something that is brought up often. It's one of the big things that the DM should try and remember above all other things. Knowing this approach and relying on static elements like Character stats and DCs will get you pretty far as a DM.

I agree with you that the GM typically has more to do than a player. This is why I advocate offloading some of the non-DM-essential tasks to others.

The players do not typically have the same level of responsibility for the game as the GM does. However, I would certainly agree the players do have some responsibility and they're certainly important.
I understand the sentiment, but I think that framing it this way creates a dichotomy that's unnecessary. The role of player and GM are equally important, as the game cannot occur without either (except in games that have been crafted with that in mind, like Fiasco or similar games). The fact that there's almost always more than one player and almost always only one GM is what shifts that balance a bit.

Related, having a game with the best GM ever might still fall flat if the players are simply going through the motions and not bringing any creativity or energy to the game. Flipping that, all the energy and creativity in the world on the part of the players can only do so much if the GM is simply going through the motions.
 

MGibster

Adventurer
I understand the sentiment, but I think that framing it this way creates a dichotomy that's unnecessary. The role of player and GM are equally important, as the game cannot occur without either (except in games that have been crafted with that in mind, like Fiasco or similar games).
If I have a session where one player is unable to make it because of outside obligations we typically still play. If I can’t make it the session is cancelled. Yes, players are important. But the GM is the only person at the table whose absence guarantees the game does not get played. He or she is the lynchpin.
 
I guess I'm not sure is some let hubris in when they think that their game is the end all. I tend to think that when I used to homebrew my whole world I felt I needed to control some things and maybe some of that led me to think I was more 'right' in making the rules and being important. It may also have been that I was younger and some of that may have crept in.

Today we play with FR and I generally make my own adventures but use the shell they provide. While I do not think I have some of the same attitudes, I wonder if others have .
I suspect we'd find DMs who succumb to ego regardless of whether they're running modules or homebrew. I don't think bad DMing is restricted to one over the other.

When you homebrew, sure, in a sense you are more right because you created that world and decided what went into it. You presumably know it better than anyone. Even if the DM allows a player to contribute to the world (in the sense of creating things related to their backstory) it's still going to typically need to be approved by the DM. When you homebrew you typically have full authority of the setting, whereas if you run a published setting you share some authority with the established canon. Unless you change it, but if you don't make the players aware of such changes it can lead to serious problems when the players make assumptions based on information their characters should know, but it turns out the DM changed that fact without informing them and that therefore those assumptions were wrong. Not impossible to avoid, but certainly a potential pitfall.

Of course, none of that means that the DM should prioritize their own fun ahead of that of the players. Being the authority doesn't make you more 'important' in the truest sense. It just makes you the authority.
 

MGibster

Adventurer
This is an assumption, one that removes the effort from one group and adds to to another for no good reason other than tradition. Players have many responsibilities, it's just that the general zeitgeist is to not expect much from a player or hold them to account. The GM's job is vastly simpler if you remove the assumption that they have to police or entertain the players all on their lonesome. This is one of those persistent ideas that adds to the unnecessary burden of the GM and helps prevent entry.
It’s not an assumption. I’m basing my opinion on my experience, what I’ve heard from other people, and the many game books I’ve read. I can accept that you may disagree with my opinions but please do not refer to them as assumptions.

But I think we’re too far apart on this to have a meaningful dialogue. We can’t even agree on the definitions of words and concepts. And if we can’t agree on that there’s nowhere to go.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
I suspect we'd find DMs who succumb to ego regardless of whether they're running modules or homebrew. I don't think bad DMing is restricted to one over the other.
Agreed. I do kinda wonder if the Dunning-Kruger effect comes into play, here, though, in that maybe bad DMs tend to be more hubristic.

When you homebrew, sure, in a sense you are more right because you created that world and decided what went into it. You presumably know it better than anyone. Even if the DM allows a player to contribute to the world (in the sense of creating things related to their backstory) it's still going to typically need to be approved by the DM. When you homebrew you typically have full authority of the setting, whereas if you run a published setting you share some authority with the established canon.
Not having much interest in canon, and not wanting to argue about it if I change something (or get it wrong) are reasons I homebrew my setting. Not the top reasons, but reasons.

Of course, none of that means that the DM should prioritize their own fun ahead of that of the players. Being the authority doesn't make you more 'important' in the truest sense. It just makes you the authority.
Agreed. Everyone at the table should want everyone at the table to have fun. I do find it interesting how many rules options and suggestions for DMing that seem to say to the DM: "Have less fun." The things I do that I don't pass to the players (I run inits myself, and all NPCs, and I write the setting and adventures) I do because they are fun.
 
Maybe it would be more helpful to talk about roles rather than people. There are often several players and usually only one GM, and the numbers seem to be the focus for a lot of the discussion. The numbers aren't a index of importance though, but rather a reflection of the game system. Different game systems also allocate responsibility for defining the diagetic frame very differently. The role of the GM in a game like Houses of the Blooded, for example, is very different than the role of the DM in D&D. Beyond that, the role and authority of the DM varies significantly from table to table even within that single game system.

There is also a historical spectrum at work here - D&D is an old game, and some people play it using old the old school model and some people play it using a newer model to distribute authority.. Newer games tend to describe the role of GM a little differently, and many of them talk about 'players' as a collective noun that includes the GM, a fact that usually directly indexes a very different sort of power distribution and thus a different model of authority over the diagetic frame. Even in a conversation just about D&D we need to account for a wide range of play styles and table contracts.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
It’s not an assumption. I’m basing my opinion on my experience, what I’ve heard from other people, and the many game books I’ve read. I can accept that you may disagree with my opinions but please do not refer to them as assumptions.

But I think we’re too far apart on this to have a meaningful dialogue. We can’t even agree on the definitions of words and concepts. And if we can’t agree on that there’s nowhere to go.
Yeah, I'm confused about the pushback on assumption, as there's nothing to say that assumptions can't be based on experience or even that assumptions are bad things. After all, most of our daily lives operate around assumptions. If you prefer opinion, that's fine, the word replacement doesn't change my argument at all. But, if you feel you can't engage the ideas because of the words used, I can't gainsay you on that. Happy gaming!
 

Imaro

Adventurer
Maybe it would be more helpful to talk about roles rather than people. There are often several players and usually only one GM, and the numbers seem to be the focus for a lot of the discussion. The numbers aren't a index of importance though, but rather a reflection of the game system. Different game systems also allocate responsibility for defining the diagetic frame very differently. The role of the GM in a game like Houses of the Blooded, for example, is very different than the role of the DM in D&D. Beyond that, the role and authority of the DM varies significantly from table to table even within that single game system.
The numbers can definitely influence and inform importance. If my game cannot be played absent a GM but can be played absent a player (even if the reason is numbers) the GM role is of greater significance or importance than the role of player. If it's easier to find players than it is to find a GM ( again, even if the reason is... numbers) the GM role is of more significance or importance. In other words while not the only factor that determines or contributes to the role of GM being more important it certainly is a (major??) factor.
 
If I have a session where one player is unable to make it because of outside obligations we typically still play. If I can’t make it the session is cancelled. Yes, players are important. But the GM is the only person at the table whose absence guarantees the game does not get played. He or she is the lynchpin.
Right, but then that's about that specific game. In that case, sure, that makes sense. You need a GM and at least one player for sure. Or, in the case of GM-less games, then at least two participants.
 
The numbers can definitely influence and inform importance. If my game cannot be played absent a GM but can be played absent a player (even if the reason is numbers) the GM role is of greater significance or importance than the role of player.
The operative phrase there is your game. I think you've fairly described a type of game for sure. D&D and other games that still show pretty heavy simulationist roots tend to require a lot of prep and a pretty high degree of information control/mastery. That description doesn't hold for all RPGs though.

If it's easier to find players than it is to find a GM ( again, even if the reason is... numbers) the GM role is of more significance or importance. In other words while not the only factor that determines or contributes to the role of GM being more important it certainly is a (major??) factor.
I don't know how useful it is to rely on anecdotal experience for a general description. I've always found it hard to find players that are 'right' for the kind of game I want to run, but that doesn't inform my opinion of 'importance'. Finding players generally isn't hard of course, and even easier the more common the game you're looking for players for, but finding players isn't the same as finding the right players. So, again, you describes a certain subset of D&D style game well, but fall short when that description is pressed onto a wider selection of samples. I guess it depends on what you're trying to define. We're in the General Forums, so I was trying to spread a wider net than just D&D and games specifically like it.
 

Imaro

Adventurer
The operative phrase there is your game. I think you've fairly described a type of game for sure. D&D and other games that still show pretty heavy simulationist roots tend to require a lot of prep and a pretty high degree of information control/mastery. That description doesn't hold for all RPGs though.
I'm not talking about prep or information control/mastery. I'm speaking to numbers

I don't know how useful it is to rely on anecdotal experience for a general description. I've always found it hard to find players that are 'right' for the kind of game I want to run, but that doesn't inform my opinion of 'importance'. Finding players generally isn't hard of course, and even easier the more common the game you're looking for players for, but finding players isn't the same as finding the right players. So, again, you describes a certain subset of D&D style game well, but fall short when that description is pressed onto a wider selection of samples. I guess it depends on what you're trying to define. We're in the General Forums, so I was trying to spread a wider net than just D&D and games specifically like it.
I don't know how useful it is framing this discussion and roles in terms of games the vast majority of those in the hobby have never and will never play. BitD may be easier to run compared to D&D and yet D&D still produces magnitudes more people willing to run it than Blades does.

EDIT: In other words why are we entertaining the outliers (The sum of which together probably don't make up 5-10% of the player/GM base) as some sort of rebuttal or baseline for discussion?
 
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If you want to define the importance of the DM in a D&D game that's fine, I'm not forcing you. But D&D isn't all of roleplaying, regardless of what's popular or not. I'm not talking about niche games either - stuff like BitD, PbtA more generally, Dresden - these are all popular and award winning games.

Also, numbers don't define importance, the system defines numbers, and the game system sets the initial parameters for the division of authority at the table, along with the social contract governing that table. You example only covers one slice of the possibilities there, and no argument from popularity changes that.
 

MGibster

Adventurer
Yeah, I'm confused about the pushback on assumption, as there's nothing to say that assumptions can't be based on experience or even that assumptions are bad things.
Again, you’re using words in a manner that is isn’t typical. An assumption is accepting something as truth without evidence. I’ve provided at least one concrete reason why the GM is the most important person at the table. It wasn’t an assumption on my part.


But, if you feel you can't engage the ideas because of the words used, I can't gainsay you on that. Happy gaming!
Word choice is an important part of communication.
 

Imaro

Adventurer
If you want to define the importance of the DM in a D&D game that's fine, I'm not forcing you. But D&D isn't all of roleplaying, regardless of what's popular or not. I'm not talking about niche games either - stuff like BitD, PbtA more generally, Dresden - these are all popular and award winning games.
Those are niche games...

Also, numbers don't define importance, the system defines numbers, and the game system sets the initial parameters for the division of authority at the table, along with the social contract governing that table. You example only covers one slice of the possibilities there, and no argument from popularity changes that.
I feel like those beating this drum are akin to someone claiming that everything we know and use to classify a mammal is only a slice of the possibilities because... platypus.

There has to be a baseline in any discussion and sorry but D&D is the baseline for the hobby through sheer dominance. It's great to note these exceptions but ultimately if 99% of the hobby goes one way it's probably alot more relevant to examine that and use it as your baseline vs claiming a game that accounts for 1% or less of the hobby's playerbase means that baseline is faulty.
 
Oookay. You've made it clear where you're at with the hobby. Cool. You can continue defining role playing just in terms of D&D if that's what gives you feels. Hyperbole isn't a great tool when it's that obvious though, just a parting rhetorical gift from me to you.
 

Imaro

Adventurer
Oookay. You've made it clear where you're at with the hobby. Cool. You can continue defining role playing just in terms of D&D if that's what gives you feels. Hyperbole isn't a great tool when it's that obvious though, just a parting rhetorical gift from me to you.
Nope as I stated earlier I'm playing BitD right now but if someone asked me to explain or give an example of how a roleplaying game works... I'm going to lean on more popular fare for my explanation because it makes more sense.... In other words I just realize we've been going in circles because there's almost always an exception to anything.
 
A whole range of different games isn't 'an exception', and D&D, popular as it is, isn't 'the rule'. I don't suspect we're going to agree though, and that's fine.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Again, you’re using words in a manner that is isn’t typical. An assumption is accepting something as truth without evidence. I’ve provided at least one concrete reason why the GM is the most important person at the table. It wasn’t an assumption on my part.




Word choice is an important part of communication.
Assumption is treating simething as if true without proof, not withoit evidence. Your definition equates assumption to wild guess, which isn't true as assumptions are often built on incomplete evidence and function quite nicely everyday. For instance, one assumes that crossing traffic is stopped when your light is green. We have no evidence this will remain true unless we observe crossing traffic through the entire light, at which point we've lost our opportunity to go. It's also a reasonable assumption, in that we.have lots of prior evidence that it most often true, and maybe immediate evidence that traffic we can see has, indeed, stopped. But, no proof until the light is done or we cross. This occurres every day among myriad assumptions that are evidence or experience based.

I mean, Google is right there, if you don't believe me.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I think a lot of that list comes from the unstated belief that it's the GM's job to police the players -- that the players will not be acting in a disciplined fashion and will present action declarations that require extra work on the GM's part to vet and untangle from abuse. But, that's a player problem, not a GM duty.
Player problem, or player mandate?

A player is there to advocate for his/her PC; part of that advocation naturally includes trying to push the borders of the rules in favour of said PC. It's the GM's duty to make sure the rule borders remain intact - the GM is among other things a referee.

And, having to be the one that knows the rules best at the table is also part of the assumption that it's the GM's job to police players. You need to know the rules so that you can make sure the players follow them properly. But, that's a player problem, again, not a GM required duty.
See above.

I, personally, have a cleric in the group I run for and I couldn't tell you at all how Turn Undead works, or what things that PC has that might interact with that. I know she can Turn Undead, but that's it, and I really don't think about it at all. If it comes up in a session, like it did a few months ago, I'm often surprised, because I forgot about it. My player knows her rules, and follows them, and I don't have to think about it at all.
Nice in theory, and if it works in practice for you all's good. But in many situations this would or could eventually lead to trouble via the player misinterpreting a rule in such a way as to favour the PC; and the GM has to be on top of this.

If a question comes up, I'll tell the player to read the rule and report back while I move on to other things. OR, I'll make a ruling, and we'll address it later. I don't need to know these rules to run a game -- those rules are player facing, it's their job to know them and apply them through their action declarations. I'm there to frame the scenes and adjudicate the actions. Those rules I know very well. Luckily for me, even in 5e, they're pretty straightforward.
This comes down to personal preference: I know as a player the fewer player-facing rules and mechanics I have to deal with the better I like it.

The worst part of running D&D is running the monsters, especially if they have a ton of special abilities. But, again, as GM, I pick the monsters, so that's entirely under my control as GM as to how much difficulty I add to myself. Same with campaign design, or adventure design. I pick my workload. If I ever feel like my players are dictating my workload, it's time to have a serious discussion with the group. If players are just there to do the minimum effort show up and toss dice and be taught/led through the rules by me, or constantly declare actions that require my vetting, we have a problem, and it's not that GMing is hard.
Campaign's gonna get mighty boring if all they ever fight are Orcs and Goblins because the GM doesn't want to add more difficulty to his/her workload by pulling out a greater variety of foes.

And part of being a good player is to declare actions that force the GM to do some vetting: it's called thinking outside the box.

Part of the issue in this thread is the assumption that players have very little responsibility to the game and that it's the GM's job to compensate for this. Nope. That's on you if your take that burden up, it's not a task inherent to GMing.
Players have a responsibility to the game as regards their PC(s), including the required bookkeeping, coming up with characterizations, etc., and of finding ways to interact with the setting.

The GM's responsibility is to give them a setting to play in and, at most tables, some things to do there. Part of the setting piece is the rules that govern said setting, while most of the things-to-do piece usually consists of designing (homebrew) or obtaining and learning (published) adventures. IMO these responsibilities considerably outweigh those of the players; though fulfillment of both sets is required in order for the game to function.

All involved have a responsibility to show up to the games and not be asshats. And bring beer.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
If you want to define the importance of the DM in a D&D game that's fine, I'm not forcing you. But D&D isn't all of roleplaying
No; but it's most of it, which means if discussions like these don't largely revolve around it they're not much use for the vast majority in the hobby.
 

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