Is the DM the most important person at the table

Nagol

Unimportant
If the game doesn't happen, the other people, individually or as a group, will go find something else to do. There's a ton of other things for folks to do these days. Heck, they could also just find or play another game! This somewhat puts a hole in the idea of "no game" without the GM.

There won't be the particular GM's game if the GM isn't there. But there will be something else. There will be no unfilled void in anyone's life.

Go to the library (or, maybe your own bookshelf), and pull any one book off the shelf. The author is important because without them, that book would not exist? Now, look at all the other books in the library. There are tend of thousands of them! If the author/GM is only as important as the book/story they told... how important is it, really?
Important enough I seek them out to spend time with their works.

Does time continue to tick if something doesn't happen? Yes. Does that make my choice of what to do with my time less valuable? No. It makes it more valuable. Opportunity cost is a thing. If I seek out a game to play in and the game doesn't happen (especially with little notice whereby I am afforded no chance to reschedule), am I disappointed? I better be or I've done myself a disservice scheduling to be in the game.

Which participant is most responsible for that activity moving forward? The DM. Which participant is most responsible for me agreeing to play that particular game out of all the games available? The DM. Which participant has the greatest chance of driving me away from that game? The DM. Which participant is most important to that activiy? The DM.
 

S'mon

Legend
Another thread has me thinking about this. On one hand the DM tends to be the person who arranges the game and puts in the most work. He plans things and runs the game. On the other hand everyone is there to have fun and most times these people are your friends and family. Everyone is giving up time to play and social norms tend to make things 'fair' to everyone.

I tend to think that everyone needs to be having fun at the table. I also think that the table needs to be a partner in making the fun. This means that players should help the DM and play PCs that are part of the campaign that the DM is making. Nobody wants to play with the player that is trying to disrupt the game and derail the plot. Now if that person is your brother or best friend, things become harder.

Not sure if you all are going to have vastly different opinions, but thank you.
The GM is the most important single person at the table.
Everyone should play to have fun and so that the others have fun too.
 

Hussar

Legend
IME this is pretty rare. More commonly there is no group anymore.
And a GM who cancels at short notice wrecks everyone's day. A player can usually cancel with minimal disruption, only if several cancel at once is it game-wrecking.
Dunno how common it is.

I've almost never, even from day 1 at the tender age of about 10, played in a group with only one DM. It's totally outside my realm of experience.
 

pemerton

Legend
The DM is even more important in those cases, as he has to be able to adapt on the fly. It requires a greater familiarity with the rules and setting than even the usual high standards expected of a DM, and an ability to apply that knowledge quickly and well.
The players also have to adapt on the fly, picking up on whatever material the GM is offering them. They may also need to know the rules so they know how they can meaningfully react. As far as the setting is concerned, the players may be helping with that as much as the GM.

I don't think I'm as strong down the @FrogReaver, @hawkeyefan path as those two - the GM does have a distinctive and in some ways demanding role - but I agree with them that there's no need to exaggerate it, or to build into a whole lot of stuff that is not inherent to it.

a GM who cancels at short notice wrecks everyone's day. A player can usually cancel with minimal disruption, only if several cancel at once is it game-wrecking.
Which participant is most responsible for that activity moving forward? The DM. Which participant is most responsible for me agreeing to play that particular game out of all the games available? The DM. Which participant has the greatest chance of driving me away from that game? The DM. Which participant is most important to that activiy? The DM.
I think this is why I don't quite go all the way with FrogReaver and hawkeyefan. The structure of (traditional) RPGing is such that one person plays a special/distindtive role in coordinating the shared fiction and the group's interaction with it, and it's a role that often benefits from some advance prep. So once a groiup has allocated this role to a particular person, that person takes on a key function that is not trivially displaced.

I don't think this makes the GM the most important person at the table, though - it's more of a precondition aspect than a run-time aspect.
 

MGibster

Adventurer
If the game doesn't happen, the other people, individually or as a group, will go find something else to do. There's a ton of other things for folks to do these days. Heck, they could also just find or play another game! This somewhat puts a hole in the idea of "no game" without the GM.
This thread isn't about how important the GM is in the grand scheme of the greater cosmos. It doesn't matter if the absence of the GM means the players will find something else to hold their interest. Maybe they'll go to a movie, finally take the time to learn ballroom dancing, or even start another game with a different GM. The point is that particular game does not happen in the absence of the GM. We can often continue to play the game in the absence of one or two players, but we cannot continue the game in the absence of the GM.

This doesn't mean the players are unimportant; after all, there's no game without the players. And I've had to delay games from time-to-time because we ended the last session on a cliffhanger and the player whose character was pivotal to the resolution could not make it. Nor does it mean the DM should rule with an iron fist not taking into account the desires of the players or allowing them input. I may be running the game and I may have even created the setting but it's not my game alone.
 

macd21

Explorer
The players also have to adapt on the fly, picking up on whatever material the GM is offering them. They may also need to know the rules so they know how they can meaningfully react.
The player’s reactions are a lot less complex than that of the GM. The player only needs to account for their own character, the GM deals with everything other than the PCs. The player only needs to know enough rules to play their own character, the GM needs to have a good grounding in everything.
 

pemerton

Legend
The player’s reactions are a lot less complex than that of the GM. The player only needs to account for their own character, the GM deals with everything other than the PCs. The player only needs to know enough rules to play their own character, the GM needs to have a good grounding in everything.
If the system is (say) Apocalypse World it's the players more than the GM who need to know the intricacies of their "playbooks". The GM has to have a handle on the fiction. But so does the player or his/her PC will be hosed!

I'm not sure what sort of system or methods you have in mind - maybe some sort of intricate sandbox? I'm thinking of a more "indie" sort of approach than that.
 
Nope, not ridiculous. I'm utterly sick and tired of players who figure that simply turning up every week and throwing a handful of dice is actually contributing to the game. Look, if all you (the general you, not you specifically) want to do is throw some dice, I have a whole shelf full of board games that we can break out, have a great time at and it doesn't entail me doing any extra work outside of the table. Fantastic. Love to do that.

But, no, as DM, I'm not here to entertain you. Pitch in an do your part and contribute or GTFO. These passive players who figure that throwing a die roll every few minutes is "contributing" to the game are some of the most energy sucking vampires at the table. Give me power gamers, munchkins and rules lawyers over these wastes of space any day of the week. At least those others are actually engaged in the game.

You can tell those who never DM at character generation. Those who DM who get to play almost always make characters with an eye towards how this will play out in the group, complete with connections to the campaign and probably a few solid hooks for the DM to latch onto. These passive players come to the table with cipher, man with no name characters, whose parents are long dead and have zero connection to the game. Dance for us Mr. DM, we are here to be entertained! they cry.

I'm just utterly sick and tired of players like that. Either pitch in and do your part of get lost. You don't deserve to be in the hobby.
Depends. Now we're getting into the issue of player motivations. Some people play d&d exactly for the reason that they can practically turn their brain off and just relax or they're only interested in one part like combat or such. There's nothing inherently wrong with any reason why somebody might want to play the game but it's important to know what these motivations are to make sure that everybody's overlaps a little bit an individual gaming environment. Most tables have a range of player motivations to consider and fluctuate gameplay 2 cover as many of them as possible. Sometimes they can put too much to nobody's fault but it happened. What's important is knowing how to recognize that and address it.
Most of the games that I run call for very deep player /character engagement and development. I also run a bi-weekly beer and pretzel game for the players who just want to show up roll dice and blow off steam.
Same system two entirely different games.
 
I think this is why I don't quite go all the way with FrogReaver and hawkeyefan. The structure of (traditional) RPGing is such that one person plays a special/distindtive role in coordinating the shared fiction and the group's interaction with it, and it's a role that often benefits from some advance prep. So once a groiup has allocated this role to a particular person, that person takes on a key function that is not trivially displaced.

I don't think this makes the GM the most important person at the table, though - it's more of a precondition aspect than a run-time aspect.
My comments in this thread aren't aimed so much at diminishing the importance of the GM to a game so much as pointing out that it's not significantly harder to GM. The role is more central to the game, so in that sense it is important....but a game can't happen without players, either.

I've more been commenting on the difficulty of the role. I think there's a common perception that DMing or GMing is significantly harder than playing, and I don't think that must always be the case. I don't think anything the GM is required to do is inherently more difficult than what players have to do....as you point out, they also need to be able to adapt on the fly....it's just that there tends to be more of it.
 

Sadras

Hero
The role is more central to the game, so in that sense it is important....but a game can't happen without players, either.
No one is arguing that the game cannot happen with out players.
The question is, Is the DM the most important at the table

Let us take a RPG table of 5
DM, Player A, Player B, Player C, Player D

Using Basic Maths
If you lose 1 or 2 or 3 players, the game can still continue, but the game does not continue if you lose the DM. Thus the DM > x players, where (x+1) players are the number of players at a table.

My comments in this thread aren't aimed so much at diminishing the importance of the GM to a game so much as pointing out that it's not significantly harder to GM.
That is subjective, perhaps even game dependent and does not take into account all the various types of players (casual, passive or otherwise). Furthermore, more often than not, the GM is the one usually rated on the success of the session not the player. It is true your statement speaks nothing about GMing well, only GMing - but this as well as learning enough of the rules as well as in most cases prep work required leads the perception that GM is significantly harder. I'd say the learning curve for being a GM is much more than that of a player.

EDIT: Are there exceptions to the rule, friendlier-GMing games, sure, but I'm not convinced it is helpful or meaningful referring to those games in this conversation.
 
IME this is pretty rare. More commonly there is no group anymore.
And a GM who cancels at short notice wrecks everyone's day. A player can usually cancel with minimal disruption, only if several cancel at once is it game-wrecking.
IME whether the GM leaving breaks the group depends a lot on the game and how much of a load the game places on the DM. A D&D group almost alway breaks, a WoD group normally breaks - and a Fate, Apocalypse World, or similar group normally has three other people lining up to GM.
 
No one is arguing that the game cannot happen with out players.
The question is, Is the DM the most important at the table

Let us take a RPG table of 5
DM, Player A, Player B, Player C, Player D

Using Basic Maths
If you lose 1 or 2 or 3 players, the game can still continue, but the game does not continue if you lose the DM. Thus the DM > x players, where (x+1) players are the number of players at a table.
But what does "important at the table" mean? Are we talking "important to this specific instance of game" or "important to this specific gaming group"? What does "table" equal?

In my weekly game, a few weeks ago the GM didn't show up. We didn't play Star Trek that night....instead we played a one shot of Mothership.

So, for our table....if by table we mean gaming group.....the answer was clearly "No, because we have other games and GMs."

Ultimately, the answer to this question is just as subjective as to the one about difficulty.

That is subjective, perhaps even game dependent and does not take into account all the various types of players (casual, passive or otherwise). Furthermore, more often than not, the GM is the one usually rated on the success of the session not the player. It is true your statement speaks nothing about GMing well, only GMing - but this as well as learning enough of the rules as well as in most cases prep work required leads the perception that GM is significantly harder. I'd say the learning curve for being a GM is much more than that of a player.

EDIT: Are there exceptions to the rule, friendlier-GMing games, sure, but I'm not convinced it is helpful or meaningful referring to those games in this conversation.
Yes, this is subjective for sure. Plenty of people think GMing is super hard. That's fine. I don't think that it must be so, and I hope that anyone who's considering trying it out and sees a discussion like this will see more than one opinion on the matter.

I do think that there are techniques and practices that are perhaps present in other games that can help lessen the burden on a DM in D&D, or a GM in any other game. Different things work for different people, so I think including those techniques can be quite helpful.

For instance, in my recently resumed 5E campaign, we've adopted the initiative method used in Modiphius's Star Trek Adventures. Basically, you alternate turns in combat for each side, deciding who specifcally goes on any turn until all have acted. This is a little easier to track, but also adds all kinds of tactical decisions for the players (and with the DM for the enemies) that we find promote teamwork in a way that linear initiative doesn't quite do.
 

Nebulous

Hero
IME this is pretty rare. More commonly there is no group anymore.
And a GM who cancels at short notice wrecks everyone's day. A player can usually cancel with minimal disruption, only if several cancel at once is it game-wrecking.
Of the five people I game with none of them could run a game, or would want to. Four are extremely casual and the power gamer would make a god awful mess of it if he tried. My long term 5 year game was at another guy's house over an hour away. I kept all my stuff in his closet. For years, because it was too much hassle shuffling it back and forth every week. But he would cancel all the time, usually day of, and ruin the game for the rest of us.
 

Nebulous

Hero
For instance, in my recently resumed 5E campaign, we've adopted the initiative method used in Modiphius's Star Trek Adventures. Basically, you alternate turns in combat for each side, deciding who specifcally goes on any turn until all have acted. This is a little easier to track, but also adds all kinds of tactical decisions for the players (and with the DM for the enemies) that we find promote teamwork in a way that linear initiative doesn't quite do.
That's what I want, tactical aspect to initiative. I really hate the default system.
 
That's what I want, tactical aspect to initiative. I really hate the default system.
We've found this new way of doing it to be a bit simpler (not drastically so) but definitely more meaningful. It also involves each player on every turn as they have to decide which character will go when it's the PCs' turn to go. It allows them to use some teamwork in the form of spells and other abilities that can be used earlier in a round that will benefit the actions taken later in the round.

So far, it's been mostly beneficial in that it engages them more, folks are less likely to be distracted when they have to discuss and decide exactly who will go.

The only thing that's a little sticky is duration of spells and the like. If one character goes first in one round and casts a spell that lasts till the end of his next turn, going last in the next round extends that spell duration. So this may be a concern for some, but we actually find it kind of interesting.
 
The example of one DM and four players misses the point IMO. Setting aside solo play for the moment, the basic, simplest unit of 'play' for almost any RPG is GM/player - you need one of each. Sure, you can add more players but that doesn't change the dualistic nature of the basic unit of exchange. So if the basic unit is 1-1 I think it's tough to make an argument that one in more important than the other.

Obviously you can get immensely granular about the difference between the two roles, and spend a lot of time talking about the compared difficulty or workload, but neither of those really addresses the issue of importance. It doesn't even matter what system we're talking about, since that indexes difficulty, not importance. I would agree that DMing is, in many cases, more work that playing, at least when it comes to prep and time spent, but that's neither here nor there when it comes to 'importance'.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Additionally, a player who sits at the table to "turn their brains off" is basically just a waste of space. They are passive consumers who contribute nothing to the game that you couldn't get from an automated die roller.
Turning my brain off and being a passive consumer are most assuredly not the same thing.

I turn my brain off as a player (most of the time, and depending on specific PC I'm running) but that in no way means my contribution is any the less.

It does mean there's times when my PC might do things without my fully thinking them through, which is why I usually make Wisdom the dump stat. :)

Never mind I almost invariably am or become the party treasurer in any game I play in.

Not sure that's true. I certainly saw a huge uptick people willing to run games in 4e where DMing was so much easier than in earlier editions. Given the MASSIVE growth of the hobby in the 5e era, the notion that "most" players just don't want to DM can't be true. Someone is running all those new games.
If 5 people new to the hobby want to play and one of them becomes the DM, that's still only a 20-80% ratio.

Then again, I'm fortunate in that our group is full of people who run games. Makes those who just want to play stand out so much worse to be honest because it becomes so blindingly obvious that the "passive consumer" players aren't driving anything and the campaigns inevitably revolve around the active players, all of whom have DMing experience.
We have different experiences.

Some of our most active and involved players are just that: players, who've maybe DMed one or two sessions in their decades-long gaming careers before deciding DMing wasn't for them.
 

Sadras

Hero
The example of one DM and four players misses the point IMO. Setting aside solo play for the moment, the basic, simplest unit of 'play' for almost any RPG is GM/player - you need one of each. Sure, you can add more players but that doesn't change the dualistic nature of the basic unit of exchange. So if the basic unit is 1-1 I think it's tough to make an argument that one in more important than the other.
And yet the question is Is the DM the most important person at the table not Is the DM more important than all the players. Out of those 5 people at the table, who can you not do without? Pick one.
 

Sadras

Hero
But what does "important at the table" mean? Are we talking "important to this specific instance of game" or "important to this specific gaming group"? What does "table" equal?

In my weekly game, a few weeks ago the GM didn't show up. We didn't play Star Trek that night....instead we played a one shot of Mothership.

So, for our table....if by table we mean gaming group.....the answer was clearly "No, because we have other games and GMs."

Ultimately, the answer to this question is just as subjective as to the one about difficulty.
I believe @MGibster answers this upthread

MGibster said:
This thread isn't about how important the GM is in the grand scheme of the greater cosmos. It doesn't matter if the absence of the GM means the players will find something else to hold their interest. Maybe they'll go to a movie, finally take the time to learn ballroom dancing, or even start another game with a different GM. The point is that particular game does not happen in the absence of the GM. We can often continue to play the game in the absence of one or two players, but we cannot continue the game in the absence of the GM.
 

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