log in or register to remove this ad

 

On GMing Advice

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Rob Donoghue is a roleplaying game designer who helped create Fate (in general, and several of the specific variants) and Cortex systems. Recently, he made some observations on GM advice, leaning heavily into one point - it is very difficult to test whether the advice actually works or not.

Say you are given a piece of advice, and you try it out. The session you first use it in goes really well, or really badly, or somewhere in between. So, did the advice work? How do you tell? Did the session go well, or badly, because of that advice, or in spite of it? Even with a particular group, RPG sessions are not really repeatable events, and there's a slew of things that can go wrong or well - you cannot really focus on one variable to test, because the players each carry with them variables that change from day to day, week to week.

So, you have to try advice several times over before you can assess its value. But many of us only game every week or two - it can be months before you can really say that you've given a bit of advice a fair shake.

Which is not to say advice is useless, but given the long time you have to work at it to determine if it helps, it pays to vet the advice first, and that includes some things that often get lost in our discussions - who is the advice supposed to help, and the reason you want to do the advised thing

We've got a couple of threads now that touch on railroading, for instance, and if history is a guide, very quickly they'll include a lot of "You should do X!" - detailing the action to be taken, but not detailing who that action is supposed to help, or why.

Like, advising people on making their games "less railroady" - before we listen to that advice, we should ask - who at my table is having issues, and is reducing railroadyness really going to fix their problem?
 

log in or register to remove this ad

Hussar

Legend
I think that's a very fair point. And, always something to keep in mind when diving into these online discussions. ((And, yes, I know how guilty I am of this)) I find that a lot of discussions tend to get lost in the weeds during examinations of examples. "Oh, but you didn't account for this! Your idea won't work!" doesn't really help a whole lot. Examples are there for illustration, not for points of debate.

Add to that the fact that so many people are working from different definitions because of their own play experience, and it becomes even easier to talk past each other. Again, talking about rail roading, I know how I define railroading (railroading - when a DM is acting in bad faith to ensure an outcome pre-determined by the DM), but, I also know that others don't share that definition. Which means that it's very, very important to be explicitly clear about your definitions before you try to make a point. If you take the view that railroading=any linear adventure then your advice will be very, very different from mine and any discussion between us becomes very difficult as we're approaching from such different viewpoints.

((Note, I mean the royal "you" here, not the you reading this))
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
There's the other, separate difficulty: Aside from some abstract idea of objective value, does this advice have any subjective value? That is, does it work for you? Advice for running the sandboxiest of sandboxes, or the dungeoncrawliest of dungeoncrawls, really isn't going to help me run my game, which is neither of those.
 


Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Aside from some abstract idea of objective value, does this advice have any subjective value?

That can fit in a couple of places...

While I know someone here will pitch a nutty over this, Donoghue borrows an idea from software development to describe this - the User Story. It has the form:

"As [A PERSON]. I want to [DO A THING] for [REASON]."

In order to provide the thing, you have to know who it is for, and why they want it. We often abbreviate this to, "I want to do a thing" (or even, "You should do a thing") and leave out who or for what reason. We can show how this fails when someone says, "I want to play basketball" and we hand them a full sized ball and a ten-foot hoop, before realizing that it is for a 3' tall first grade kid...

Go look in the railroading or authority threads, and you'll see this abounding - different kinds of players and GMs want things for different reasons, and they won't agree on how to accomplish anything!
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
I'm not really a fan of "GM Advice". I think you need to have a coherent approach to running a game and become specifically skilled in that approach. Generic advice that is devoid of a coherent framework is unlikely to have a positive long term impact. I would be especially wary about trying any given technique for just a couple sessions before evaluating it. Any new skill is going to take time to develop.
 

Hussar

Legend
I'm not really a fan of "GM Advice". I think you need to have a coherent approach to running a game and become specifically skilled in that approach. Generic advice that is devoid of a coherent framework is unlikely to have a positive long term impact. I would be especially wary about trying any given technique for just a couple sessions before evaluating it. Any new skill is going to take time to develop.
Well, I'm not sure I'd go that far. There are some pieces of advice that seem pretty obvious now, that newbie DM me could have really, really used. As in "don't be a douche" being probably the primary one. But, also, the different frameworks for describing games I find to have value. If a game is described as "gamist" or "Nar" or whatever, while I realize that like all generalizations, they're only true to a point, it does give me a fairly decent starting point.

I think so long as the advice is given complete with some context, it can be helpful. Without context though, a lot of advice tends to swim into trouble as it can be very easily interpreted in a way that wasn't intended.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Generic advice that is devoid of a coherent framework is unlikely to have a positive long term impact.

Well, most of the advice we see does come from a coherent framework - however, we don't usually take much effort to check if the frameworks of advice givers and receivers match closely enough for the advice to be relevant.

We also have a tendency to think that OUR framework is awesome, and good for everybody.
 

TheAlkaizer

Game Designer
You're right that all learnings as a DM take a long time because of the frequency of play. Some things are just internalized through trial and error while playing. You develop experience and a sense.

When it comes to concrete advice (from someone, or from a media source) I agree that it's a bit hard to really seize it up, test it and learn it. But it's something I do frequently. I'll read a play report, or watch an actual play series and go "oh, that's a real cool idea, I think I should do that more often". Then I focus on this one element for a couple of sessions and if it yields positive results, I generally tend to internalize it pretty well. But yeah, I play once every two weeks, so if it takes for or five sessions it means almost three months for one thing. So pick your learnings.

Also, maybe that's me, but advices that are "don't do this" fall pretty flat with me. It's hard to be focused doing things and also keeping in mind to not do something. I also think positive advice (do this) is much more easily applicable to a lot of people than negative advice (don't do this). There's also a tendency for people to explain why doing something is beneficial, "do this, it'll make your combat faster"; and to simply state doing something is bad without explaining why, "don't do this one thing, it's really bad".
 

payn

Legend
I go to the forums to discuss advice and its implementation in my games. It's very useful for understanding the concept behind the advice and not just the face value of it. Its good to understand what concepts work for you, and which dont. More importantly, that your perspective is not universal, and thus, not a gaming commandment.

For example, I dont like DMPCs on a concept level. I recognize there are techniques that make DMPCs work for some people. I'm cool with that, and limit my participation based on why folks might not like DMPCs and what other options are at DM's disposal. There will, however, be a batch of folks who come at it as a position in which you should cut a DM for even thinking about adding a DMPC.

Replace DMPC with "railroad", "using XP", or whatever gaming methods are being discussed. Expect some folks to be new, some old, and some just ridiculously bullheaded. I tend to just ignore the onetrueway warriors. The lessons are in the journeys, not the destinations.
 

aco175

Legend
Maybe small changes are best. My group recently introduced the option of using healing potions as a bonus action and roll the healing, or you can use an action and get full healing from the potion. It is a small change and has been used a couple times to good use and no disruptions, but eventually it starts to open other ideas like a bonus action on a potion of flying to only fly for 1 round or 1d4 rounds instead of the whole hour. This example changes greatly once you start using other advice like removing HP above 10th level and not thinking about how this affects things like spells and monsters.

Isn't there some saying about, "The bigger the stone, the bigger the ripples."
 

nedjer

Adventurer
I've been guilty of flogging ttrpg tips for quite a while. That has involved sampling widely across gamers' experience, considering what's been put out before and taking account of what education has to say on a range of topics. Education is the social science that offers the best fit for new and young players. More experienced players tend to be working on their own set of tips to apply to their games. They know a GM declaring my system, my world, my plot is unlikely to get a whole lot of investment from the players.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
There is a sub-category of GM advice that provides it's own context - ones about the rule system chosen.

For example, in D&D 5e you could say that solo encounters without Legendary and/or Lair Actions (to balance the action economy) and Legendary Saves (to allow them to take those actions) are short and boring. Or in PF2 that encounter balance generally assumes full HPs recovery between encounters, not HP attrition like D&D.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
There is a sub-category of GM advice that provides it's own context - ones about the rule system chosen.

For example, in D&D 5e you could say that solo encounters without Legendary and/or Lair Actions (to balance the action economy) and Legendary Saves (to allow them to take those actions) are short and boring.

So, this is still missing the context of the type of players involved, which is terribly important. It also doesn't give the reason the encounter exists - we don't know the role the encounter is playing in the adventure, what experience the GM is trying to elicit with that encounter.

I expect you (or others) may exasperatedly say to this, "Oh, you know what they mean! You're being pedantic!" But, I'm pointing out where assumptions lie - if "you know what they mean" is the response, everything that I am supposed to already know is an assumption!

And, the whole point to the OP is that you need to check your assumptions when giving advice, or your advice isn't about their problem, it is about your general approaches.
 
Last edited:

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
As a teacher, I feel the same way about pedagogy. The productiveness of any pedagogical approach is shaped and colored by a variety of classroom factors that cannot always be accounted for and that can range widely from class to class and even from day to day in the course of a semester.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
So, this is still missing the context of the type of players involved, which is terribly important. It also doesn't give the reason the encounter exists - we don't know the role the encounter is playing in the adventure, what experience the GM is trying to elicit with that encounter.

I expect you (or others) may exasperatedly say to this, "Oh, you know what they mean! You're being pedantic!" But, I'm pointing out where assumptions lie - if "you know what they mean" is the response, everything that I am supposed to already know is an assumption!

And, the whole point to the OP is that you need to check your assumptions when giving advice, or your advice isn't about their problem, it is about your general approaches.
In cases like these, it seems the primary assumption that needs to be checked is the system being used, and that is baked into the part of the advice "If you are playing XX, then YY".

Regardless of the players, pitfalls in the mechanics such as 5e doing poorly with solo encounters are true - maybe to a lesser extend based on your group but still true.

We can come up with corner cases, but trying to say that advice is not generally and commonly useful just because one can imagine nonstandard play is not an argument against it.

I think you have a generally valid stance, but it feels to me like this is taking it to absolutionist levels.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Regardless of the players, pitfalls in the mechanics such as 5e doing poorly with solo encounters are true - maybe to a lesser extend based on your group but still true.

That you continue to assert that is, in fact, an example of the issue I am talking about, and an example of how we tend to read to respond, rather than to learn. For any fact you want to assert, for some cases it may not be true or relevant. That you find it is generally true isn't helpful until you know the person you are talking to fits the general pattern.

For example - if that solo monster isn't intended as a combat challenge, but as a social one, your point ceases to be relevant.

This thread is not an argument about what things are or are not true. It is a discussion about listening first, to be sure, and asking questions when things aren't being said, to make sure your truth is, in fact, relevant. Because giving advice shouldn't be about you, and what you know to be true. It should be about helping a fellow gamer, and you fundamentally can't do that unless you listen first.

In that context, are you going to demonstrate listening, or are you going to repeat assertions?
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
That you continue to assert that is, in fact, an example of the issue I am talking about, and an example of how we tend to read to respond, rather than to learn. For any fact you want to assert, for some cases it may not be true or relevant. That you find it is generally true isn't helpful until you know the person you are talking to fits the general pattern.

For example - if that solo monster isn't intended as a combat challenge, but as a social one, your point ceases to be relevant.

This thread is not an argument about what things are or are not true. It is a discussion about listening first, to be sure, and asking questions when things aren't being said, to make sure your truth is, in fact, relevant. Because giving advice shouldn't be about you, and what you know to be true. It should be about helping a fellow gamer, and you fundamentally can't do that unless you listen first.

In that context, are you going to demonstrate listening, or are you going to repeat assertions?
I am going to demonstrate listening in the "respond to your points" way.

Advice is not always given to specific individuals, such that the context of whom it is being given can be judged. Yes that does not automatically invalidate the advice. Therefore it is a fallacy to say that advice can only be true if the giver is listening to whom the advice should be given. It's an absolute position that does not cover many common cases. The consumer may understand their own context and be able to apply, modify or discard advice regardless if it is not tailored to them specifically.

Sure, it can be beneficial to know the exact situation of the listener. But many, many Robin D. Laws books (to name one author) about DMing show that you can successfully give advice that is generally true without knowing the specifics of the target.
 

Zaukrie

New Publisher
I'm curious.....not judging....asking

Are we supposed to write long posts about our every assumption, target audience, and other things to offer better advice? That seems unlikely to work, as posts will get super long, and, frankly, people won't read them. Threads and advice will get super pedantic. People will argue about every word in every assumption, target audience, etc. rather than the actual point being made. IMO.
 

Dausuul

Legend
In cases like these, it seems the primary assumption that needs to be checked is the system being used, and that is baked into the part of the advice "If you are playing XX, then YY".

Regardless of the players, pitfalls in the mechanics such as 5e doing poorly with solo encounters are true - maybe to a lesser extend based on your group but still true.
You are starting with a mechanical observation which is indisputably true: In 5E, solo encounters without legendary actions can easily result in the PCs overwhelming the monster with action economy.

But then you go from there to a value judgment, that this means 5E "does poorly" with solo encounters. And that absolutely is based on your assumptions. In a "combat as sport" game where cinematic set-piece battles are desired, yes, you probably want legendary actions for solos. But in a "combat as war" game, where the real battle takes place before initiative is ever rolled, legendary actions are in no way beneficial. If the PCs succeed in engineering a solo battle, they are supposed to curb stomp the villain. The challenge is setting up that battle in the first place.

Does that mean you can't advise providing legendary actions to solos? Of course not. But it does make it important to explain why you think solos should have legendary actions, so that the reader can decide whether you are coming from the same place they are.
 

Level Up!

An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top