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D&D General Survivor Dungeon Masters -- discussion


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Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
re: "D&D Survivor - Dungeon Masters!"

What style of dming, contemporary or not, is ideal for you?
For me it's a mix of improv and prep. I prepare a basic outline of the adventure, have an idea of where the plot arc is going, and prep specific things that the players have chosen to pursue. The rest is improvised and the players sometimes go in directions I never saw coming.
 

CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
My ideal style of DMing is probably "contemporary." It's the style that goes something like:

* The players have limited control over the world. The DM sets the main elements in place, then allows the players to flesh them out as appropriate.
DM: Sir Huxley opens the chest. Inside, he sees a glittering weapon! Sir Huxley, describe the weapon to us.​
Player: It's a battleaxe, with a double-edged blade.​
DM: (writes "battleaxe +1" down on a slip of paper and passes it to the player)​

* The DM uses theater of the mind to describe dungeons, corridors, rooms, and other scenery, and only resorts to using battle-mats, minis, and 3D terrain when absolutely necessary (cinematic battle scenes that are expected to last for more than an hour, for example). You don't need to draw and build out every single tunnel and door if they're only going to be background scenery.

* The DM talks to the players regularly between games and gets feedback about their characters, the game world, and their goals. Is a player satisfied with their character? Would it be okay to make a few changes? The next chapter of the story is going to focus on the warlock for a little while, is it okay if I bring in some of your bard's backstory as well? Are there any topics or subject matters that are off-limits for you? That sort of thing.

* The DM relies less on math and more on imagination when it comes to encounter balance. The DM trusts that the players will have the sense to flee from hopeless battles, and the players trust the DM to make escape possible (if also difficult and expensive).

* The DM isn't afraid to change or scuttle an entire adventure ("kill your darlings") and adapt the story if the dice or the players aren't cooperating. Sometimes the players don't want to go into the haunted house, and you're not going to make anyone happy by forcing them to do so. Move on!

* The DM doesn't just arbitrate the rules, but pays attention to the players as well. A good DM can "read the room" and notice if someone at the table is getting bored, angry, or uncomfortable, and will make course-corrections on the fly to ensure that everyone is having a good time. A good DM will take player complaints seriously and make adjustments.

Not sure if "contemporary" is the right word, now that I think about it. I mean, Dungeon Masters have probably been doing this for years, decades even, but this style of play didn't really become popular until the advent of live-play shows on the Internet became a thing. Maybe "modern" is a better word?
 
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overgeeked

B/X Known World
Player agency is primary. If the players don't have the ability to make meaningful, impactful choices, there's literally no point for them being at the table. Linear adventures are fine, sandboxes are my preference, but they're not everyone's favorite.

I prefer something that tries to emulate the rough structure of a story, but I'm far more interested in emergent story. The game is a collaboration between the DM and the players. Whatever story there is should be a result of the DM putting obstacles in front of the characters and seeing what happens as a result. Prescripted endings or railroading is anathema to RPGs.

The DM is in charge but shouldn't be a jerk about it. They should be somewhere between neutral referee and fan of the players.

And if a DM ever gets to the point of insulting their players, they can screw. That burns infinite goodwill from me.

So removing player agency, railroading, playing favorites, singling out and punishing players, forcing specific outcomes, being a jerk DM, insulting the players, etc are all things that are terrible DM/GM habits. Any DM/GM that does those things shouldn't be running games.
 
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I mentioned this in the other thread, but this kind of dming is increasingly distasteful to me. I think especially non-dnd games helped me realize this. The premise here is that it is the job of the dm to curate an experience for the players and create the illusion of a deep, complicated world. To this end the dm fudges die rolls to make encounters more dramatic, pretends that their improvisation is actually something written down in their notes (or in the module), and basically guides players along a more or less linear path (which, to my mind, is a kind of soft railroading).

This seems to be kind of the default style of dnd? And as someone who came up in the 2e era, it has long roots. But I find it exhausting and unfun to dm in this way. It makes the dm an entertainer rather than just another player at the table.



 

KS_Collector

Villager
re: "D&D Survivor - Dungeon Masters!"

What style of dming, contemporary or not, is ideal for you?
I believe my style is the "extreme reader". Acquire a lot of knowledge to adapt the plot to as many directions as possible, I love it when my group is creative and for that reason, I think it's essential to be creative, and for that, it's necessary to have a repertoire.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
My preferred style of DMing is neutral, fair, prepared, committed, and without regard for the particular PCs being played. By this last, I mean that a DM shouldn't be adjusting challenges or adventures because the party does or doesn't have a particular class or ability in its current lineup. The adventure or challenge is what it is and it's on us to either sort it out with what we have or go and find what we need.

Neutral includes letting the players do what they want (even including battle each other in character) and simply refereeing and-or adjudicating things when needed. It also includes being ready willing and able to hit whatever curveballs the players might throw, and this can sometimes include abandoning the prepped adventure if the players/PCs go elsewhere or can't find it or decide it's not for them. Further, it includes a willingness to let the PCs sail themselves into disaster if they ignore warnings and-or if the dice just horribly turn against them.

Fair includes neither playing favourites nor picking on one PC or player; and also includes presenting fair - even if sometimes harsh - challenges for the players/PCs to overcome.

By prepared I mean I want there to be a setting for us to explore that isn't being made up on the fly, that has enough sense of history and background to it to give the impression of being in a living breathing world, and where the NPCs have character and quirks. Having the here-and-now adventure prepped is also useful but I don't care much if a DM is winging it.

Committed is simple: I greatly prefer a DM to be committed to running the game for as long as people want to play in it, however long that might be.

Above all else, the DM is doing most of the talking thus if the DM isn't intrinsically entertaining that's a big hurdle to overcome.

Unlike @overgeeked , I'm happy enough to accept a bit of railroading once in a while (but not constantly!) as long as the results are entertaining; in that some good adventures and-or adventure series simply don't and can't work without a bit of lead-'em-by-the-nose.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I mentioned this in the other thread, but this kind of dming is increasingly distasteful to me. I think especially non-dnd games helped me realize this. The premise here is that it is the job of the dm to curate an experience for the players and create the illusion of a deep, complicated world. To this end the dm fudges die rolls to make encounters more dramatic, pretends that their improvisation is actually something written down in their notes (or in the module), and basically guides players along a more or less linear path (which, to my mind, is a kind of soft railroading).

This seems to be kind of the default style of dnd? And as someone who came up in the 2e era, it has long roots. But I find it exhausting and unfun to dm in this way. It makes the dm an entertainer rather than just another player at the table.
I think all players should try to be entertainers. And given that the DM is almost certainly going to be doing most of the talking in any given session I think it's on the DM to be as entertaining as she can while doing it. :)

And a DM can absolutely create a deep complicated world without having to resort to fudged rolls and-or guiding players/PCs along a linear path; never mind that these are different issues anyway. The roll-fudging and player-guiding are nothing to do with the creation of the setting; instead they are poor attempts to control how that setting is interacted with by the players.
 

CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
Re: fudging rolls and 'soft' railroading:

A few years ago, I stopped hiding my rolls behind the DM screen. I put my dice tray in front of the screen so the players can see it, and I roll my dice out in the open. At the time, I did it for dramatic effect. I thought it would just a simple means of letting the players know that I'm willing to surrender a bit of control of the narrative during a crucial part of the adventure. You know, a way to demonstrate that I was going to be completely impartial to the outcome of the scene, that they would "own" some of the risk.

It turned out to be a huge change, with a profound impact on the feel and the pacing of the game.

My players seemed to prefer it, so I kept doing it. And now, after years of rolling my dice out in the open, it feels weird to roll my dice in secret. Not like I'm cheating or whatever, but more like...it feels like I'm trying to take more than my fair share of the story, or something. It's hard to describe.

Do any other DMs roll their dice in the open?
 
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Mort

Legend
Supporter
Re: fudging rolls and 'soft' railroading:

A few years ago, I stopped hiding my rolls behind the DM screen. I put my dice tray in front of the screen so the players can see it, and I roll my dice out in the open. At the time, I did it for dramatic effect. I thought it would just a simple means of letting the players know that I'm willing to surrender a bit of control of the narrative during a crucial part of the adventure. You know, a way to demonstrate that I was going to be completely impartial to the outcome of the scene, that they would "own" some of the risk.

My players seemed to prefer it, so I kept doing it. And now, after years of rolling my dice out in the open, it feels weird to roll my dice in secret. Not like I'm cheating or whatever, but more like...it feels like I'm trying to take more than my fair share of the story or something. It's hard to describe.

Do any other DMs roll their dice in the open?
I made the decision, long ago, to roll out in the open.

It's helped with my DMing (and adventure design) to not have to even think about fudging.

And Frankly, I've played with plenty of GMs who fudged rolls - I have yet to play with one who's as good about hiding it as they think they are - it's A LOT more obvious than most GMs think! That lessens the play experience for me.
 

Bolares

Hero
Do any other DMs roll their dice in the open?
I don't but just because of logistics, or to hide the ocasional roll that gives players (but not characters) information.

As I use a screen and DM mostly seated, rolling over the screen all the time seems like a hassle. Also, sometimes I need to roll something without the players knowing it, or without them seeing the result. Not because I don't trust them, or because I'm worried about meta stuff. I just feel that sometimes knowing the result of the dice will lessen their experience.

I can think of one example, in Tomb of Anihilation not only I made the navigation roll for the players, but hid it from them to, so they had no idea if their characters were lost or not. That gave them the idea of how vast and troublesome chult was to navigate. When they were leaving Firefinger (something like a lighthouse in the middle of the jungle) they almost immediately got lost, and began walking in circles for days. Until one day they doubled back to firefinger, making it a full circle. I ended the session describing them breaking through the foliage, just to see they were just were they left a week before. The players laughed out loud and we still comment on this happening. I feel like that would never happen if they as players new their characters were lost.
 


OB1

Jedi Master
For me, good DMing means mastery of the interplay of Fate, Choice and Chance during play, allowing the story to emerge.

Fate - The story the DM tells. Everything the DM decides fits in here, from the structure of the world to the creation of encounters. DMs have immense latitude to decide what the players experience in the game and should strive to create fun and memorable moments for the players to interact within the structure of a consistent, rational world.

Choice - The story the Players tell. Players have absolute control over what their characters try to do, and how they respond to the Fate that the DM has put before them. If players are choosing not to engage in the Fate that the DM has laid before them, it is up to the DM to either give the players a compelling reason to engage with it, accept the choice and move on to something else, or, in the case of uncertainty about the choice the player has made, allow Chance to decide the outcome.

Chance - The story the Dice tell. When Choice comes into conflict with Fate and can't be resolved, the dice, not the DM or Players, should decide the outcome. DMs and Players both need to be ready to accept the result of the dice, and adapt their stories to the result.

The use of these three elements are pursued in two modes of gameplay.

Discovery - Players interact with the world, discovering opportunities for adventure in the form of opportunities to achieve the goals of their PCs. DMs should provide plot hooks, but also respond rationally to the players creating their own goals and to the repercussions of previous missions.

Missions - Once players have decided on a specific course of action to achieve a goal, the DM creates a challenging series of encounters using the three pillars of play (Combat, Social, Exploration) where the outcome is not pre-determined. Whether players succeed or fail at the particular mission, there will be reverberations in the next Discovery phase.
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
Re: fudging rolls and 'soft' railroading:

A few years ago, I stopped hiding my rolls behind the DM screen. I put my dice tray in front of the screen so the players can see it, and I roll my dice out in the open. At the time, I did it for dramatic effect. I thought it would just a simple means of letting the players know that I'm willing to surrender a bit of control of the narrative during a crucial part of the adventure. You know, a way to demonstrate that I was going to be completely impartial to the outcome of the scene, that they would "own" some of the risk.

It turned out to be a huge change, with a profound impact on the feel and the pacing of the game.

My players seemed to prefer it, so I kept doing it. And now, after years of rolling my dice out in the open, it feels weird to roll my dice in secret. Not like I'm cheating or whatever, but more like...it feels like I'm trying to take more than my fair share of the story, or something. It's hard to describe.

Do any other DMs roll their dice in the open?

When I started our longest and most successful campaign to date, a massive multi-DMs campaign that lasted almost 10 years, with 350+ sessions and at least 50 different players out of which about 10 were "core", I did like you said, I switched off my "Neutral Good" DM behaviour which was extremely story orientated to what I call my "Lawful Neutral" DM behaviour, where everything is set as per the rules and the initial DM decisions. This was at the time of 3e, so the system was appropriate.

The intent was to teach the players that the world was a dangerous place, that stupidity had consequences, and that adventurers should think before starting a fight and should always be ready to run.

To this effect, it was actually even more brutal than the DM rolling, it was a variant which I called "players roll all the dice", in which basically, players were rolling for the attacks made by monsters against them as if it was their "defense rolls", and they were rolling the monsters saves as if it was their attack rolls. This option, by the way, later appeared somewhere in the 3e books, possibly in the unearthed arcana (but it was sort of funny because I think they computed wrongly how the attack roll of a monster against AC translated to a "save" for the PC, I think they used 10 instead of 12 and had to errata it).

Anyway, it was brutal, there were about 20-25 deaths, most of them gruesome, but very funny. Towards the end of the campaign, it became epic again, and the other DMs and I switched back to Neutral Good DMing, story oriented, but the lesson had been learned and since then our groups have enjoyed the game a lot more, approaching fights, death and especially fleeing as an option, which makes the games, even in story mode, much more enjoyable.
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
I mentioned this in the other thread, but this kind of dming is increasingly distasteful to me. I think especially non-dnd games helped me realize this. The premise here is that it is the job of the dm to curate an experience for the players and create the illusion of a deep, complicated world. To this end the dm fudges die rolls to make encounters more dramatic, pretends that their improvisation is actually something written down in their notes (or in the module), and basically guides players along a more or less linear path (which, to my mind, is a kind of soft railroading).

I think you are mixing a lot of things here. Fudging is one thing, improvisation vs. preparation is something else, and (soft) railroading is something else again. The fact that Matt (who has a lot of good things to say nonetheless) does the three of them does not mean that all DMs who do one of them necessarily do the three.

This seems to be kind of the default style of dnd? And as someone who came up in the 2e era, it has long roots. But I find it exhausting and unfun to dm in this way. It makes the dm an entertainer rather than just another player at the table.

The DM has never been just another player at the table. This was one of the huge mistakes of 3e, making players believe that it was the case, that the game was player-centric. Thank the gods, this has been corrected in 5e. The roles are not symmetrical at all, and if anything, the players should respect the work that the DM does in preparing and running the game so that they can have fun.
 

Gradine

Final Form (they/them)
For me, being the DM means being equal parts the PC partys' cheerleader but also their worst nightmare. I'm there to provide them individual and collaborative moments to shine and overcome tremendous obstacles. I'm unlikely to fudge things in the party's favor unless I've drastically misunderstood the deadliness of the encounter I've designed for them, but that's very rare, as I tend to stack encounters in the players' favor (in such that, when there are cool things to do apart from hitting each other, they're usually there for the players to use on their enemies).

I'm a strong believer that the game must be fun. Now, that could mean many different things; major setbacks, seemingly overwhelming obstacles, significant loss... these can both be and lead to great fun. But if the session isn't fun because the dice majorly screwed them, or the encounter was poorly designed, or the players failed to take whatever bait and simply wander aimlessly? That's not fun for anybody*, and there is nobody better positioned to fix those issues and bring back the fun than the DM. It's their job to do it.

Typically though, I'll only fudge rolls or stats in order to move along a combat that has passed its expiration date, and even then only for creatures that fight to the death (since there are better ways to end stale combat against creatures who will, for instance, flee or surrender). Once again, keeping up the fun means keeping up the pace.

As for "soft" railroading, well, there are ways around and/or through that. My players somehow miss the call to adventure? Well, it just so happens that The Call Knows Where They Live. Tactics like this and others, such as Schrodinger's plots, can help avoid or at least conceal the rails.

This is just of course the playstyle that works best for me and the players that I've encountered and had the privilege of DMing. Stuff like sandbox campaigns require a different framework altogether, which is why I do not run sandbox campaigns. And of course *there are always going to different strokes from different folks, and that certainly older traditions of DMing lean more on the gamified aspect and in general the more deadly nature of earlier editions.

But as a DM myself, I have to walk that tight line between wanting my players to succeed while also making it as difficult as possible to succeed while still not being impossible. I root my for players. And if I'm a player at a table where the DM does not root for my character, then I'm probably not returning to that table.
 

Liane the Wayfarer

Frumious Flumph
I generally don't have a preferred style of DMing. I am happy to adapt my style to fit the table. I had a table of roleplay-heavy good-guy kids for 2 hours every Wednesday, and was happy to extensively customize a module and do a lot of prep work. I ran a campaign for a different group of older friends on Tuesdays, and ran encounter-heavy roguish-types off-the-cuff with published adventures with little-to-no prep. Sure, I am lazy and prefer not to do any work that I can avoid. But the payback in joyful exposition from normally-reserved kids was reward enough.

That said, I am totally unfamiliar with the DMing style of most of the DMs in the Survivor list. I have heard the second-hand bad-mouthing Gary Gygax has gotten, but I've never seen him run. I know Matt Mercer has run a very popular stream for a long time, but I haven't watched a single episode. I have run hundreds of games at hobby stores and conventions, and the idea of watching somebody else run a game and a bunch of people play is mentally draining just to think about. That said, I used to watch College Humor episodes and once let the playlist run and caught an episode of Brennan Lee Mulligan running a session, and he was really good. And once for a charity thing I watched a stream of Satine Phoenix running a group of women, and she was really good. I learned something from watching those two episodes. But I've not sought them out for more; see the aforementioned laziness.
 

I think you are mixing a lot of things here. Fudging is one thing, improvisation vs. preparation is something else, and (soft) railroading is something else again. The fact that Matt (who has a lot of good things to say nonetheless) does the three of them does not mean that all DMs who do one of them necessarily do the three.
The issue of fudging itself can tell one a lot about a DM's style and what they think their role is.


The DM has never been just another player at the table. This was one of the huge mistakes of 3e, making players believe that it was the case, that the game was player-centric. Thank the gods, this has been corrected in 5e. The roles are not symmetrical at all, and if anything, the players should respect the work that the DM does in preparing and running the game so that they can have fun.

As a DM, I'd rather be more just another player at the table. Rather than being some mastermind that has all of these secrets and plot threads and reveals laid out for the players to discover. My style has become much more improv-heavy and the game feels more emergent and more fun for it.
 



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