log in or register to remove this ad

 

D&D 5E Respect Mah Authoritah: Thoughts on DM and Player Authority in 5e

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
This.

As a relevant topic related to this, there are (assumed) limits on the DM's authority within D&D. In every group I've played with, it is a big no-no for the DM to usurp player character agency outside of defined effects (typically supernatural or spell) that have rules governing their usage and resistance. The DM is not allowed to dictate what player characters think, feel, or do outside of these special circumstances.
Heh, I almost posted an example where the Rule 0 explanation for why you must trust the GM breaks completely even with the strongest supporters the moment you point out that Rule 0 means that GMs can usurp control of PC from players -- that's just a rule, after all, that players have PC authority.
 

log in or register to remove this ad

I find this confusing. Why cannot the damage of eldritch blast be settled by consensus?
It can be! But, per the PHB, it is the role of the DM to make a ruling, using the rules as a guideline. If player A says it should be d4, player B says it should be d12, and the DM says it should be d8, either all will consult the rules, or the dm will make a ruling, even if as part of that ruling, they consult the players or try to reach consensus.


What is there fuzzy about what an illusion spell does?
The fuzziness is in how the world reacts to the illusion, which will have to do with how the DM decides to play the NPCs, in line with setting assumptions (e.g. high magic or medium magic?), against the declaration of the PC. If a PC creates an illusion of a unicorn in the middle of waterdeep, there's a lot of things that the DM has to resolve in a short amount of time.

When I play 5e, it do it from the textbook position -- the GM has almost all of the authority in the game. I do this because the game is designed to work under this assumption, and I've found that at my table this works out. I also very rarely make changes to the rules of the game as written, and then I am 100% transparent about the change and 99% of the time seek consensus on the change. That's me, and I mention it because I have no problem with GM authority as presented in 5e. I am not challenging your post on the basis that I disagree with, or dislike strong GM authority. I am challenging your post because I find the reasoning provided for why GMs must have deference to not hold up very well. Essentially, I see it as trying to justify out of game responses (you must trust the GM to use their authority wisely) with in game reasons (because the GM is granted authority to change rules). The former does not follow from the latter. I also do not think that this creates a better game -- as I note, I tend to seek table consensus for any changes because I view my authority to change rules in 5e to be entirely based on making the game work better at the table, for the table, and me being the GM doesn't provide any extra or special insight to that process over a player. Just because I've agreed to be the GM doesn't mean I'm wiser, more knowledgeable, or am better able to make choices to the point that player input is unnecessary.

I think I DM 5e along similar lines. But one sees here that there is a gap opened up between just-any-DM and a good DM, a gap that is filled by voluminous youtube videos, supplementary products, and forum advice (and not the dmg, which no on reads because it's garbage). And maybe by extension there are ok players, "problem" players, and good players. "Good" here can have innumerable meanings, and you mention some best practices. But there is nothing hard set in the rules to ensure that a DM is good.
 

loverdrive

Makin' cool stuff (She/Her)
Good example.

To me, it shows the difference in focus people have. Is it a ROLEPLAYING game or a roleplaying GAME. The people who want to run through their character searching this cupboard or that tend to focus on the roleplaying aspect, whereas the people who want to throw dice and have the document appear where they happen to be looking tend to focus on the game aspect. Neither is wrong, of course, but it is a divide that explains a lot of things gamers butt heads about.
Is there really any difference between pixel hunting and glossing over unimportant details when it comes to portraying, exploring and developing a character? I can't see any.
 

Mort

Legend
This.

As a relevant topic related to this, there are (assumed) limits on the DM's authority within D&D. In every group I've played with, it is a big no-no for the DM to usurp player character agency outside of defined effects (typically supernatural or spell) that have rules governing their usage and resistance. The DM is not allowed to dictate what player characters think, feel, or do outside of these special circumstances.

I agree here.

Though I've seen players take this "nonintervention" prohibition to IMO absurd lengths. Still remember a 2e session where the DM had a foe break a character's magic weapon (can't remember the exact circumstances). The player threw a MASSIVE fit. He kept arguing that the weapon was an extension of him and the DM had no right to interfere with it (frankly none of us saw it that way, it's an exterior object! but he sure did).
 

loverdrive

Makin' cool stuff (She/Her)
Me personally, my blood freaking boils every time I encounter a player who doesn't think outside their character, doesn't add details and doesn't seize narrative control. Like, dude, wtf are you doing here, you're taking place of someone who could actually contribute to the game!
 

Spells step very far outside the realm of most other character abilities in that many create entirely new situations. Instead of fireball, take Banishment, or Illusion spells, or Charm Person. These radically alter the fictional situation and some force continued narration according to the binding resolution on the GM.

The points about anit-magic zones are still rule-0 Force but by more roundabout means. Here the GM is imposing Force through prep decisions rather than in-resolution decisions. This can be better, and even move away from Force, if there's a fictional reason that facing the players and a way to manipulate this available to the players. Most of my experience with anti-magic is just the GM shutting down magic, usually for plot reasons, because otherwise the narrative control that spells allow can derail prep. The reality is that the GM has to be obvious about using Force if they are disallowing spells to function. I'm on record that Force isn't inherently bad, and good play most certainly exists alongside it (else all published adventures would fail), I'm just being explicit about the fact the any ruling disallowing or altering spell resolutions is obvious GM Force. Doesn't mean it's bad.
How is Force applied differently when a spell is being adjudicated compared to a Feat?
 

I agree here.

Though I've seen players take this "nonintervention" prohibition to IMO absurd lengths. Still remember a 2e session where the DM had a foe break a character's magic weapon (can't remember the exact circumstances). The player threw a MASSIVE fit. He kept arguing that the weapon was an extension of him and the DM had no right to interfere with it (frankly none of us saw it that way, it's an exterior object! but he sure did).
I tend to be open with my method of DMing.
  1. Telegraph danger and potential consequences upfront.
  2. Call for skill checks sparingly.
  3. Communicate relative difficulty.
  4. Narrate what happens after a skill check.
That last one is a big one. When the dice are resolved, there's not an opportunity for another character to step in and do XYZ before I narrate the outcome of the roll. That's a pet peeve of mine, just like it's a pet peeve of mine when the DM makes the player character seem like bungling idiots out of Home Alone rather than competent adventurers in a fantasy world.

To elaborate:

Outside of strict combat rules, failed skill checks allow me (the DM) to take control of the scene and describe something that the character (not necessarily player) won't like. I'm pretty blunt about this: if there's a roll involved, your character agency is on the line. On a failure, your character will not die, he will not be imperiled beyond survival, and he won't be made to look like a fool, but those are the limits. Your character might be beguiled, charmed, impassioned, or otherwise briefly rendered out of your control, but (a) you'll regain control soon enough, and (b) trust me, I'm not here to screw ya. We're all here to play a game and have fun, so chill.

I am rather authoritarian as DM, at least in D&D and other traditional games. That doesn't mean I'm a powertripping doodie head, nor does it mean I disregard concepts like player agency or table consensus. Sometimes, I will defer narrative authority to the players, especially on natural 1s and 20s. But, if I may be blunt, there's a lot more mental overhead for me as DM than the players. There's a lot more work involved on my side of the screen, so while I'm omnibenevolent when I'm playing D&D God, I'm also omnipotent. (Still working on omniscience, haven't mastered that trick yet.)
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
It can be! But, per the PHB, it is the role of the DM to make a ruling, using the rules as a guideline. If player A says it should be d4, player B says it should be d12, and the DM says it should be d8, either all will consult the rules, or the dm will make a ruling, even if as part of that ruling, they consult the players or try to reach consensus.
We don't have the PHB, though, do we? We've agreed to play a game we don't have rules for. It's fine if we pick to play "as close to D&D as we remember and, if in doubt, Bob Says" but we cannot leverage actual rules to support the idea that absent the rules the GM must and should lead in all cases. You're starting from the premise that the GM retains these authorities merely because. Your thought experiment, though, doesn't support your conclusion that absent rules the GM is in charge. I don't think this is the foundation of D&D. Elsewise, the GM usurping PC control from players by citing rule zero is also just as much D&D.

Further, I think "rulings not rules" gets twisted out of intended shape. 5e rules are written to be loose and often require GM adjudication of the rule to fit the circumstance. This is the intent of rulings not rules. This gets twisted, though, when it's taken as the GM should just issue arbitrary or fiat rulings on outcomes when the rules exist for those things. Take Stealth as an example. The GM determines when you can hide is an example of the ruling part of this rule -- this is the GM's judgement. If the GM so decides, though, the rule this takes place -- DEX(stealth) vs WIS(perception), either active or passive as needed, and then the hidden rules. This is a rule that requires rulings -- there's not a rule for when you can hide, there's a ruling. But, once that happens, the rules do exist and rulings not rules don't remove those rules. That's Rule 0 territory, and is a separate thing. 5e does not give GM's carte blanche to do whatever with rulings not rules, and, I'd argue, not even with Rule 0 as this is to be deployed only in certain circumstances.
The fuzziness is in how the world reacts to the illusion, which will have to do with how the DM decides to play the NPCs, in line with setting assumptions (e.g. high magic or medium magic?), against the declaration of the PC. If a PC creates an illusion of a unicorn in the middle of waterdeep, there's a lot of things that the DM has to resolve in a short amount of time.
This is the bits where we get into GM Force, though. If the illusion is clearly what the player intends, and within the scope of their declaration, but the GM then negates this through other ways, like saying that this NPC wouldn't be fooled by such an illusion, then we're at the point that the GM is using Force -- they are forcing an outcome against established fictions. Do they have this authority? Questionable. I do not think that rule 0 is there to support this, and I don't think rulings not rules means that the GM should be subverting a rule used because they'd rather have it elsewise. And then there the bits where this kind of thing goes directly to the "trust" issues with regard to the GM.

But, all of this aside, the fact that the illusion exists is still narrative control by the player -- the illusion is there. If the GM chooses to subvert this by playing contrary to player intent for whatever reason they have, this doesn't remove the fact that the illusion exists.

I think that your argument also runs into even more problems if we step outside the long running quagmire of illusions and into Charm Person or Banishment or Wall of Stone. I mean, you can continue to pick examples that fall into those grey areas or negotiations that I mentioned in my post, but that doesn't remove the strong examples like these from still being there. In other words, my point isn't invalidated by an example that shows it incorrect -- it's only invalidated if there's a majority of such examples such that the point becomes an exception. I do not think you can make this case.
I think I DM 5e along similar lines. But one sees here that there is a gap opened up between just-any-DM and a good DM, a gap that is filled by voluminous youtube videos, supplementary products, and forum advice (and not the dmg, which no on reads because it's garbage). And maybe by extension there are ok players, "problem" players, and good players. "Good" here can have innumerable meanings, and you mention some best practices. But there is nothing hard set in the rules to ensure that a DM is good.
So why should there be trust blindly issued to GMs? Even good ones? I think I'm a pretty good GM, and I would not ever lean on "trust me" for anything in that role. I have to earn trust, even now with friends, because it takes very little to break trust. I have friends that I will play with but would never, ever let GM for me. They aren't breaking rule 0 when they game, either (I mean, how can you?), but I don't trust them to do the job. I'm sure others would be just fine in their games.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
Is there really any difference between pixel hunting and glossing over unimportant details when it comes to portraying, exploring and developing a character? I can't see any.
Those things are literally opposites so we must be defining these things entirely differently. Flesh this out and try to explain more of what you mean.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
How is Force applied differently when a spell is being adjudicated compared to a Feat?
I don't understand your question? Generally, feats do not allow for narrative control the same way spells do, but rather enhance or specially enable an existing ability. If Opportunity Attacks are not narrative control Sentinel granting you one and specially empowering it doesn't either. On the other hand, spells can do things like turn an enemy into an ally, or create a wall of stone, or alter reality to specification. The scope to change the narrative with spells far exceeds what feats can do.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Those things are literally opposites so we must be defining these things entirely differently. Flesh this out and try to explain more of what you mean.
Yes, they are opposite things, and neither has anything to do with portraying, developing, or exploring a character. So neither of them go to roleplaying. Therefore, if I search a house but have to find the right place according to the GM's notes for where I can find the notebook, that's not any more or less conducive to roleplaying than if I find the notebook where ever I roll high enough.
 

I don't understand your question? Generally, feats do not allow for narrative control the same way spells do, but rather enhance or specially enable an existing ability. If Opportunity Attacks are not narrative control Sentinel granting you one and specially empowering it doesn't either. On the other hand, spells can do things like turn an enemy into an ally, or create a wall of stone, or alter reality to specification. The scope to change the narrative with spells far exceeds what feats can do.
How are opportunity attacks not narrative control? You're imposing a thing (taking control) that your character can do on the narrative (because the rules say you can). Scope isn't changing any of this - the rules are still applied the same way.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
Yes, they are opposite things, and neither has anything to do with portraying, developing, or exploring a character. So neither of them go to roleplaying. Therefore, if I search a house but have to find the right place according to the GM's notes for where I can find the notebook, that's not any more or less conducive to roleplaying than if I find the notebook where ever I roll high enough.
Except that just rolling completely skips over the roleplaying. A lengthy description of you poking at prodding at places and things in a space is roleplaying...you're inhabiting your character and through that character interacting with the fictional world. Roleplaying. "I search the room. I got a 27." Not roleplaying.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
Wow. The level of "DMs who believe they have final authority to make rulings are all dictatorial a**holes" is a bit extreme here.

Are there bad DMs? Sure. But when I sit down at someone's table to play, I'm agreeing to the fact that they make the calls. If my PC puts up an illusionary wall but the guards know it's fake because they just walked down this corridor 15 minutes ago and the wall wasn't there, then they know it's fake. I'm not going to second guess or challenge it.

It's one thing to ask for clarification or mention something if I think the DM just forgot something, but in the middle of a game the DM making a call is just common courtesy. We can always discuss after the game. Even then the DM makes the final call, even if I disagree with it.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
How are opportunity attacks not narrative control? You're imposing a thing (taking control) that your character can do on the narrative (because the rules say you can). Scope isn't changing any of this - the rules are still applied the same way.
Yes, it appears we have a different idea of what narrative control is. Let me try to reframe this.

When I take an opportunity attack, this is part of the normal play loop -- I have the authority to declare this action for my PC, the GM has the authority to determine it's likelihood of success, and the GM has the authority to narrate the outcome. I, as a player, do not get to say that my attack is successful or what the result is -- this is outside my authority. I will normally have more agency here, in 5e, because of how the combat rules codify how the GM is expected to determine success, but the resolution of the action -- does my attack kill or dissuade the enemy? -- is still the GM's purview.

Now look at Wall of Stone. Here the spell says what it does. The only way the GM can gainsay this is to break the expectation of the game and introduce some arbitrary reason the spell doesn't function. So, the spell functions and the result is what I, the player, say it is with the scope of the spell. The GM is pretty hamstrung in determining this.

A better example would be something similar -- let's look at a declared action to befriend an NPC vs Charm Person. The former is entirely up to the GM in all ways -- I have no ability to control the outcome here as a player, I have zero authority. But, if I cast Charm Person, suddenly the GM is faced with having to come up with a reason that it can't work if they want to stop it (assuming we haven't hit any of the issues described in the spell (or other spells)). They have to go to the saving throw, and abide by this. On a success, I have the authority to say that that NPC is now friendly with my PC. There is no GM authority to narrate a different outcome.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Except that just rolling completely skips over the roleplaying. A lengthy description of you poking at prodding at places and things in a space is roleplaying...you're inhabiting your character and through that character interacting with the fictional world. Roleplaying. "I search the room. I got a 27." Not roleplaying.
It did? Let's say that your GM notes say that the notebook is hidden in the kitchen cabinet and a DC 15 check will find it. The players declare their PCs search the cabinet, roll a 16, and find the notebook! Roleplaying! Now, let's say your GM notes say the players will find the notebook wherever they roll a 15+ on a search check. The players declare their PCs search the kitchen cabinents, roll a 16, and find the notebook. NO Roleplaying! But... um... the same things happened, right? Both sets of players did the same stuff.

You are confusing "the players have to figure out my puzzle as to where the notebook is to be found" with roleplaying. Sure, the players discussing this in character might have some fun moments, and is roleplaying (so many things are, and this is one of those many things), but if they get lucky right off the bat and find the notebook, they didn't do any less roleplaying. The method for finding a thing has almost nothing to do with roleplaying. Unless, of course, you're defining roleplaying as solving the GM's puzzles.
 



We don't have the PHB, though, do we? We've agreed to play a game we don't have rules for. It's fine if we pick to play "as close to D&D as we remember and, if in doubt, Bob Says" but we cannot leverage actual rules to support the idea that absent the rules the GM must and should lead in all cases. You're starting from the premise that the GM retains these authorities merely because. Your thought experiment, though, doesn't support your conclusion that absent rules the GM is in charge. I don't think this is the foundation of D&D. Elsewise, the GM usurping PC control from players by citing rule zero is also just as much D&D.

Further, I think "rulings not rules" gets twisted out of intended shape. 5e rules are written to be loose and often require GM adjudication of the rule to fit the circumstance. This is the intent of rulings not rules. This gets twisted, though, when it's taken as the GM should just issue arbitrary or fiat rulings on outcomes when the rules exist for those things. Take Stealth as an example. The GM determines when you can hide is an example of the ruling part of this rule -- this is the GM's judgement. If the GM so decides, though, the rule this takes place -- DEX(stealth) vs WIS(perception), either active or passive as needed, and then the hidden rules. This is a rule that requires rulings -- there's not a rule for when you can hide, there's a ruling. But, once that happens, the rules do exist and rulings not rules don't remove those rules. That's Rule 0 territory, and is a separate thing. 5e does not give GM's carte blanche to do whatever with rulings not rules, and, I'd argue, not even with Rule 0 as this is to be deployed only in certain circumstances.

This is the bits where we get into GM Force, though. If the illusion is clearly what the player intends, and within the scope of their declaration, but the GM then negates this through other ways, like saying that this NPC wouldn't be fooled by such an illusion, then we're at the point that the GM is using Force -- they are forcing an outcome against established fictions. Do they have this authority? Questionable. I do not think that rule 0 is there to support this, and I don't think rulings not rules means that the GM should be subverting a rule used because they'd rather have it elsewise. And then there the bits where this kind of thing goes directly to the "trust" issues with regard to the GM.

But, all of this aside, the fact that the illusion exists is still narrative control by the player -- the illusion is there. If the GM chooses to subvert this by playing contrary to player intent for whatever reason they have, this doesn't remove the fact that the illusion exists.

I think that your argument also runs into even more problems if we step outside the long running quagmire of illusions and into Charm Person or Banishment or Wall of Stone. I mean, you can continue to pick examples that fall into those grey areas or negotiations that I mentioned in my post, but that doesn't remove the strong examples like these from still being there. In other words, my point isn't invalidated by an example that shows it incorrect -- it's only invalidated if there's a majority of such examples such that the point becomes an exception. I do not think you can make this case.

So why should there be trust blindly issued to GMs? Even good ones? I think I'm a pretty good GM, and I would not ever lean on "trust me" for anything in that role. I have to earn trust, even now with friends, because it takes very little to break trust. I have friends that I will play with but would never, ever let GM for me. They aren't breaking rule 0 when they game, either (I mean, how can you?), but I don't trust them to do the job. I'm sure others would be just fine in their games.

I think we actually agree about how 5e works in practice. In practice, anything from the rulebooks that is player facing are things that the players can expect to work as written. If they have misty step, a spot they can see within 30 feet, they should be able to get there, and would rightfully be annoyed if a DM seemed to invent a reason for it not to work. But the interpretation of the natural language of the rules, the presentation of the situation they are playing in (the dm determines what the character is able to see to begin with), and the adjudication of everything not specified in the rules is up to the DM.

So to that extent, Misty Step and other spells/abilities give players authority over the fiction. That authority exists within the basic loop that @Snarf Zagyg described in the OP


How to Play
The play of the Dungeons & Dragons game unfolds according to this basic pattern.

1. The DM describes the environment. The DM
tells the players where their adventurers are and what’s around them, presenting the basic scope of options that present themselves (how many doors lead out of a room, what’s on a table, who’s in the tavern, and so on).

2. The players describe what they want to do. Some- times one player speaks for the whole party, saying, “We’ll take the east door,” for example. Other times, different adventurers do different things: one adventurer might search a treasure chest while a second examines an esoteric symbol engraved on a wall and a third keeps watch for monsters. The players don’t need to take turns, but the DM listens to every player and decides how to re- solve those actions.

Sometimes, resolving a task is easy. If an adventurer wants to walk across a room and open a door, the DM might just say that the door opens and describe what lies beyond. But the door might be locked, the floor might hide a deadly trap, or some other circumstance might make it challenging for an adventurer to complete a task. In those cases, the DM decides what happens, often relying on the roll of a die to determine the results of an action.
3. The DM narrates the results of the adventurers’ actions. Describing the results often leads to another decision point, which brings the flow of the game right back to step 1.

And even though it's a trash book, I hunted around for some relevant paragraphs from the dmg

The D&D rules help you and the other players have a good time, but the rules aren't in charge. You're theDM, and you are in charge of the game. That said, your goal isn't to slaughter the adventurers but to create a campaign world that revolves around their actions and decisions, and to keep your players coming back for more! If you're lucky, the events of your campaign will echo in the memories of your players long after the final game session is concluded.

...
Remember that dice don't run your game- you do. Dice are like rules. They're
tools to help keep the action moving. At any time, you can decide that a player's action is automatically successful. You can also grant the player advantage on any ability check, reducing the chance of a bad die roll foiling the character's plans. By the same token, a bad plan or unfortunate circumstances can transform the easiest task into an impossibility, or at least impose disadvantage.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
Yes, it appears we have a different idea of what narrative control is. Let me try to reframe this.

When I take an opportunity attack, this is part of the normal play loop -- I have the authority to declare this action for my PC, the GM has the authority to determine it's likelihood of success, and the GM has the authority to narrate the outcome. I, as a player, do not get to say that my attack is successful or what the result is -- this is outside my authority. I will normally have more agency here, in 5e, because of how the combat rules codify how the GM is expected to determine success, but the resolution of the action -- does my attack kill or dissuade the enemy? -- is still the GM's purview.

Now look at Wall of Stone. Here the spell says what it does. The only way the GM can gainsay this is to break the expectation of the game and introduce some arbitrary reason the spell doesn't function. So, the spell functions and the result is what I, the player, say it is with the scope of the spell. The GM is pretty hamstrung in determining this.

A better example would be something similar -- let's look at a declared action to befriend an NPC vs Charm Person. The former is entirely up to the GM in all ways -- I have no ability to control the outcome here as a player, I have zero authority. But, if I cast Charm Person, suddenly the GM is faced with having to come up with a reason that it can't work if they want to stop it (assuming we haven't hit any of the issues described in the spell (or other spells)). They have to go to the saving throw, and abide by this. On a success, I have the authority to say that that NPC is now friendly with my PC. There is no GM authority to narrate a different outcome.

First, why are you assuming the worst of every DM? Good grief.

Second, Charm Person does not make someone else the caster's mental slave. All it does is "The charmed creature regards you as a friendly acquaintance. " So there's still quite a bit of leeway there. A friendly acquaintance is someone I work with that I have a decent relationship with. I may or may not tell them something I know or agree to assist. That's all. It's not the Dominate Person spell.
 

Level Up!

An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top