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D&D General Survivor Dungeon Masters -- discussion

What I was confused about though is how a DM who does as Matt Colville suggests and improvises things but endeavors to create the illusion that it was all planned out in advance, could be seen as running a linear game. Isn't it kind of nonlinear by definition if it's being improvised?
If the entire play session is mostly or entirely improv in conversation with the players, as in story-now type games, then yes, I would think that is non linear. However of a "trad" style game that Colville appears to be advocating in these videos, improvised details come in the context of a linear, plotted adventure. So for example he says that a linear adventure can still be a sandbox, because the sandbox part applies to how players will solve the scenario, not in choosing which scenario they want to address. Basically the dm gives the players a mission, and there is a social contract at the table that the pcs will go and do the adventure that the dm has prepared, but how they approach the mission (combat, stealth, social) is up to them. So in that context, the PCs could try something unexpected, and the dm would have to improvise details. Maybe they try to sneak in through the kitchen and the DM has to come up with a cook on the spot. He seems to be implying that it is important not to let the players know that the cook, maybe even the entire kitchen, is made up on the spot, because it would spoil the illusion of a richly detailed location.

I get the appeal of this kind of dynamic between DM and player, and is probably what I'm most used to. But as a DM, I find the burden of maintaining this illusionism leads to burnout and is not fun, and as a player, I can see where a DM is trying to guide us towards their planned content, and it reduces the sense of player agency.
 

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Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/They)
If the entire play session is mostly or entirely improv in conversation with the players, as in story-now type games, then yes, I would think that is non linear. However of a "trad" style game that Colville appears to be advocating in these videos, improvised details come in the context of a linear, plotted adventure. So for example he says that a linear adventure can still be a sandbox, because the sandbox part applies to how players will solve the scenario, not in choosing which scenario they want to address. Basically the dm gives the players a mission, and there is a social contract at the table that the pcs will go and do the adventure that the dm has prepared, but how they approach the mission (combat, stealth, social) is up to them. So in that context, the PCs could try something unexpected, and the dm would have to improvise details. Maybe they try to sneak in through the kitchen and the DM has to come up with a cook on the spot. He seems to be implying that it is important not to let the players know that the cook, maybe even the entire kitchen, is made up on the spot, because it would spoil the illusion of a richly detailed location.
Ok, I see what you’re saying. I think, though, that these things are not connected - running a mostly linear story and maintaining the illusion that improvised elements of the adventure were planned in advance are both things that Matt Colville likes. But you can have either without the other.
I get the appeal of this kind of dynamic between DM and player, and is probably what I'm most used to. But as a DM, I find the burden of maintaining this illusionism leads to burnout and is not fun, and as a player, I can see where a DM is trying to guide us towards their planned content, and it reduces the sense of player agency.
Honestly, I think the idea of trying to create an illusion that improvised content was actually pre-planned kind of… strange? Like, who cares whether it was pre-planned or improvised? Improvising is just planning and executing in a single step anyway. If it’s richly detailed, it shouldn’t matter if those details were made up on the spot or made up last weekend when the DM was doing their prep or made up a year and a half ago when someone was writing the module. The detail itself is what matters, not when it was made up.

I suspect that what Matt might be trying to express here is that, when you are improvising details, you should try to present them with as much richness as you would if it was pre-planned content. If the players can easily tell the difference between the stuff you had planned ahead of time and the stuff you pulled out of your butt in the moment, it can make for a jarring experience - it becomes obvious when you’ve wandered outside the scripted bounds, which can be pretty immersion-breaking. So, ideally, you want the quality of the content to be up to the same level whether it’s scripted or improvised, and Matt, as a DM who likes linear, scripted stories, is framing that in terms of making your improv seem like it was scripted.
 

Gradine

Final Form (they/them)
I would argue that the hallmark of a bad DM is one who insists there's only one true way to do it. Not that they can't still run great games for their players; no one approach is bad if you and your players enjoy it. But being stuck in your ways is antithetical to the kinds of adaptability that make the best DMs truly great; the ones who can tailor their approach to what their players most want. A DM who cannot or will not be receptive to what their players are looking for out of the game will always be limited by that fact.
 

TheSword

Legend
what determines whether someone is a great dm, if you are a player in their game?
I think the traits of a good DM are a similar to the traits of a good people Manager.
  • Be a good coach. Help the players to do things they didn’t think they could by challenging, supporting and setting good examples.
  • Empowering the players and not micromanaging. Giving them the tools and then letting them come to their own decisions.
  • Expressing interest in players’ success and personal goals.
  • Be very game-orientated. Passionate about the game and keep the focus on the game.
  • Be a good communicator – listen and share information
  • Help the players with character decelopment
  • Have a clear vision for the game world the players have access to. The DM must bring that to light in a way that makes sense.
  • Have the important rules knowledge that help adjudicate the game.
I think creativity is useful, but I know a couple of acceptable DMs and who could be amazing DMs if they were more willing to included pre-published work.

I think a reputation for transparency is useful, but it doesn’t mean you have to share everything. Not every roll needs to be open and I could care less about an occasional fudged dice, or nudged hp/AC.
/damage roll. It doesn’t make you a great or terrible DM.

Things that would make someone a lousy DM in my opinion.
  • Micromanaging the party’s path - otherwise known as excessive railroading.
  • Taking on unrealistic expectations and therefore burning out.
  • Unprofessional or behavior that makes people feel uncomfortable at the table.
  • Poor communication or an inability to express yourself or vision of the game.
  • Demanding authority… “because I’m the DM” is not a good answer to a question. (Not the same as a DM setting their conditions of DMing out)
  • Unprepared. This for me is the single biggest sin. If you’re not ready to run, don’t run. I don’t want a half-arsed effort at an advanture.
  • Unapproachable or doesn’t listen to players input or suggestions.
  • Treating the game as their personal story rather than the players story. Vanity or overprotectiveness over characters or places. Exemplified by the dreaded DMPC snowflake.
Funny enough these are also the negative traits of bad people managers. I don’t find it a coincidence that good managers of people and good coaches make good DMs and my best DM was also a very proficient Head Teacher.
 
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GuyBoy

Adventurer
Totally agree with The Sword’s points.
I’d add one more positive trait, which is dedication to the hard work of preparation, including resources, visual aids etc, all of which serves to add to the immersive experience as a player in that DM’s campaign.
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
what determines whether someone is a great dm, if you are a player in their game?
Easy, for me it is whether I can feel my character really having adventures in their world. There is no "one-size fits all" way of doing this, it's a combination of many factors, great NPCs, great description, great stories, ignoring the system enough so that the strings are not too visible, so many factors...

Honestly, even after more than 40 years, it's still part of the magic of the game, I can never point things that make it happen. I can certainly point out things that prevent me from getting there, like heavy railroading, bland situations and NPCs, technical rules-heavy system, ruleslawyers, powergaming, but even avoiding all these elements is not a guarantee that the magic will happen.

We did that exercise with LARPs and our whole team at the time, because some games went incredibly well in terms of immersion whereas others, despite being objectively better in terms of organisation (when you run games for more than 200 people, it has to be really organised), completely failed, and we never could find out the recipes for success. We knew what to avoid, but not how to make games great.

Our conclusion, just as is mine for TTRPGs, is that it's not completely up to the DM, as the PH says "Playing D&D is an exercise in collaborative creation". So it's a question of the synergies emerging between all the players and the DM, even though there might still be some hiccups here and there. So, in the end, the greatest quality of a DM might be his capability to create this synergy with his players with the game that he proposes.
 

CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
Another question for everyone, regarding the Survivor: Dungeon Masters thread.

We are always going to vote for the names that we recognize, that's fairly obvious. But are you more likely to vote for a DM you recognize from a livestream or recorded gaming session? or a DM that you recognize from reputation or print?

Case in point, Gary Gygax vs. Dave Arneson. There aren't any recorded gaming sessions of these fellows, so it's probably rare for anyone to have seen them actually perform as Dungeon Masters. Now, Gary Gygax is arguably the most recognizable name in the hobby, but he didn't even make it into the top ten--which suggests that name recognition alone might not be the biggest driving factor. But on the other hand, Dave Arneson is the second-most recognizable name in the hobby, and he's the highest-scoring DM in the contest, and that suggests that name recognition really is the biggest driving factor, even if it's recognized as "the guy who wasn't Gary."

So how about you, gentle voter: are you most likely to upvote a DM from having seen their name printed in and upon your favorite D&D books? or are you most likely to upvote a DM from having watched their performances on a livestream or podcast?

And what of the few Dungeon Masters that can walk in both circles, who are both published authors and accomplished livestreamers, like Matt Colville and Matt Mercer? Does the ability to do both work in their favor, or against them?
 
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overgeeked

B/X Known World
Another question for everyone, regarding the Survivor: Dungeon Masters thread.

We are always going to vote for the names that we recognize, that's fairly obvious. But are you more likely to vote for a DM you recognize from a livestream or recorded gaming session? or a DM that you recognize from reputation or print?

Case in point, Gary Gygax vs. Dave Arneson. There aren't any recorded gaming sessions of these fellows, so it's probably rare for anyone to have seen them actually perform as Dungeon Masters. Now, Gary Gygax is arguably the most recognizable name in the hobby, but he didn't even make it into the top ten--which suggests that name recognition alone might not be the biggest driving factor. But on the other hand, Dave Arneson is the second-most recognizable name in the hobby, and he's the highest-scoring DM in the contest, and that suggests that name recognition really is the biggest driving factor, even if it's recognized as "the guy who wasn't Gary."

So how about you, gentle voter: are you most likely to upvote a DM from having seen their name printed in and upon your favorite D&D books? or are you most likely to upvote a DM from having watched their performances on a livestream or podcast?

And what of the few Dungeon Masters that can walk in both circles, who are both published authors and accomplished livestreamers, like Matt Colville and Matt Mercer? Between their writing cred and their live performance chops, which is most likely to influence your vote?
Depends on what they're recognized for and the opinions of the people voting on the merits of that recognition.

For me, I only know Aabria from EXU...where she's a flatly terrible DM, so I voted against her.

I know Arneson as one of the founders of the hobby. A few years ago I knew him as "that other guy with Gygax" but a bit of research, watching the Blackmoor docu, etc and it's more "holy crap that's Arneson, the dude who invented D&D, and that other guy wrote it down and marketed it."

I know Ed Greenwood from FR. I don't particularly like FR. But I recognize he's quite popular.
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
I just decided I would only vote for or against names I recognize and whose work I am at least somewhat familiar with even if I have never seen them DM. I also think seeing someone DM is always gonna feel different than actually playing in the game and how that GM engages with how you play. But this is just a dumb message board game, so I don't take it very seriously.

As such, I vote for Colville because despite not agree with a some of his viewsand methods, in general his approach to DMing as described in his videos is one that resonates with my way of running D&D and being run in it. I vote against Mercer because in the (admittedly) very little CR I have watched he has never said or done anything that really grabbed me and made me want to steal it for my own game or have a desire to play in his.

For the record, I have played in a session DMed by Gary Gygax and had a heckalot of fun, but I was playing at a table of fellow ENworld moderators at GEN CON, I would have had to have been a real curmudgeon to not get into it under those circumstances. I also knew that for a one-shot and in general, Gary wasn't going to be running the type of D&D game I prefer, but I met him where he was at and a great time was had by all.
 

Another question for everyone, regarding the Survivor: Dungeon Masters thread.

We are always going to vote for the names that we recognize, that's fairly obvious. But are you more likely to vote for a DM you recognize from a livestream or recorded gaming session? or a DM that you recognize from reputation or print?

Case in point, Gary Gygax vs. Dave Arneson. There aren't any recorded gaming sessions of these fellows, so it's probably rare for anyone to have seen them actually perform as Dungeon Masters. Now, Gary Gygax is arguably the most recognizable name in the hobby, but he didn't even make it into the top ten--which suggests that name recognition alone might not be the biggest driving factor. But on the other hand, Dave Arneson is the second-most recognizable name in the hobby, and he's the highest-scoring DM in the contest, and that suggests that name recognition really is the biggest driving factor, even if it's recognized as "the guy who wasn't Gary."

So how about you, gentle voter: are you most likely to upvote a DM from having seen their name printed in and upon your favorite D&D books? or are you most likely to upvote a DM from having watched their performances on a livestream or podcast?

And what of the few Dungeon Masters that can walk in both circles, who are both published authors and accomplished livestreamers, like Matt Colville and Matt Mercer? Does the ability to do both work in their favor, or against them?
I react to Gygax, Arneson, and Greenwood based on their works, what I've read of their DM style, and their history in the game vs the live streamers. Gygax and Arneson are kind of like the Jobs and Wozniak of dnd, and Arneson cuts a more sympathetic figure in that regard, even if Gygax turned the game into a product. You could have included Hickman, Niles, Zeb Cook, etc and they would each have certain connotations for me in terms of the kinds of adventures they wrote and what I've read of what interested them about the game.

I have tried to follow actual plays but usually don't get past a few episodes, or I watch something and skip around a lot. I can't really tell if all the live streaming dms really have fundamentally different styles or approaches to the game. A lot of actual plays, it feels like everyone is trying to hard, whereas in others people aren't trying hard enough. I enjoyed the earlier acquisitions incorporated with chris perkins, because it seemed like it was just a group of charismatic friends chatting
 


overgeeked

B/X Known World
Huh. I was the polar opposite: until I watched her work Exandria Unlimited, I had never even heard of her. But I was so impressed by her DM skills after EXU ended that I went back and watched her episodes on Dimension 20. I think she's one of the best I've watched.
Weird. So railroading, blatantly playing favorites, blatantly targeting characters, and insulting the players are good DM habits according to you?

ETA: Look at my first post in the thread. Post #4. That entire list of negative things at the end is stuff I watched Aabria do on EXU.

Here’s a review of EXU and her DMing style from a long-time DM...

 
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CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
Weird. So railroading, blatantly playing favorites, blatantly targeting characters, and insulting the players are good DM habits according to you?
Take it easy, we're all friends here.

Maybe we should all take a moment to go back and re-read the first post in the thread, about how the folks we are discussing are real people and are to be treated with respect.
 
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Bolares

Hero
So how about you, gentle voter: are you most likely to upvote a DM from having seen their name printed in and upon your favorite D&D books? or are you most likely to upvote a DM from having watched their performances on a livestream or podcast?
As you said on the OP of the survivor... this is a popularity contest. Recongizeable names go vor up or downvoting. Gygax is way more recognizeable than Arneson, but has his fair share of infamy too. Either as a businessman, or as a DM, with his weird and out of touch comments, or in morality (with some really bad posts about how the woman brain works, even in 2000), so he will be a good target for people who are less influenced by him. We have to remember, the game has existed for more time whitout Gygax at this point that it has existed under him, so a lot of people don't have the same reverence to him.
 

Bolares

Hero
Weird. So railroading, blatantly playing favorites, blatantly targeting characters, and insulting the players are good DM habits according to you?
woow, that's a take... I didn't read that at all. They were all game there for some ruder jokes and rough play. EXU isn't a workshop on how to DM, it was a show. Even the players she "insulted" came to her defense saying it was all ok for them in the moment.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Another question for everyone, regarding the Survivor: Dungeon Masters thread.

We are always going to vote for the names that we recognize, that's fairly obvious. But are you more likely to vote for a DM you recognize from a livestream or recorded gaming session? or a DM that you recognize from reputation or print?

Threads like that don't measure true overall ranked quality; for that, it's better for an individual to use a bracket system. In other words, they would have to choose, each round, between two alternatives. While you might not necessarily get the absolute correct result, you are more likely to get an individual's preference given that each time they would have to consider their choice in comparison to another choice (the reason that you don't always get the absolute preference is that there will be times when A > B > C > A).

Instead, you run into a certain issues:

1. Game theory problem because people are also downvoting. Imagine your favorite DM is ... I don't know, Greenwood. You know that Gygax has a certain amount of popularity so in addition to upvoting your favored DM, you will downvote individuals you think are good DMs that are competition for your choice.

2. Expressive votes. If you don't like "old school" play, or maybe you don't like what namesake did recently w/r/t TSR(cubed), then you will downvote Gygax. Not because you have any real knowledge of how his games ran, but in order to express an opinion about other things.

It would appear from looking at your thread that Gygax was eliminated early despite also receiving the most upvotes prior to being eliminated. This is a reflection of the game theory aspect of the thread (which I assume is intentional). Otherwise, it would be bizarre that one of the first DMs, one of the people (along with Arneson*) who invented the concept, and the person most responsible for evangeliing the concept would be eliminated before, inter alia, Aram Vartian, Satine Phoenix, Dale Friesen, Dave Walters, and Montgomery Martin. All of whom are (or may be) great DMs, but none of whom are Gygax. Yet.


*I say "along with" but Arneson showed and taught Gygax how to DM an RPG to begin with.
 


overgeeked

B/X Known World
woow, that's a take... I didn't read that at all.
Well, the person I quoted said Aabria was a great DM. And those are all things she did on EXU as the DM, so...
They were all game there for some ruder jokes and rough play.
They didn’t stop the game. Doesn’t mean they were okay with it. They were getting paid to be there and it was two of the players’ first time. Watch for all the times the OG cast looks around at each other when Aabria makes a bad call or gets nasty.
EXU isn't a workshop on how to DM
It’s a workshop in how not to DM.
Even the players she "insulted" came to her defense saying it was all ok for them in the moment.
You’re an actor hired to do a job and you hope to work for a production company again only some other new hire was a jerk to you. Do you publicly talk crap or do you be nice and polite?
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Another question for everyone, regarding the Survivor: Dungeon Masters thread.

We are always going to vote for the names that we recognize, that's fairly obvious. But are you more likely to vote for a DM you recognize from a livestream or recorded gaming session? or a DM that you recognize from reputation or print?

Case in point, Gary Gygax vs. Dave Arneson. There aren't any recorded gaming sessions of these fellows, so it's probably rare for anyone to have seen them actually perform as Dungeon Masters. Now, Gary Gygax is arguably the most recognizable name in the hobby, but he didn't even make it into the top ten--which suggests that name recognition alone might not be the biggest driving factor. But on the other hand, Dave Arneson is the second-most recognizable name in the hobby, and he's the highest-scoring DM in the contest, and that suggests that name recognition really is the biggest driving factor, even if it's recognized as "the guy who wasn't Gary."

So how about you, gentle voter: are you most likely to upvote a DM from having seen their name printed in and upon your favorite D&D books? or are you most likely to upvote a DM from having watched their performances on a livestream or podcast?

And what of the few Dungeon Masters that can walk in both circles, who are both published authors and accomplished livestreamers, like Matt Colville and Matt Mercer? Does the ability to do both work in their favor, or against them?
Both?

For Gygax and Arneson, they're the pioneers and without them there are no other DMs to vote for. That elevates them in my opinion. For the rest, I go by the names that I know and have seen in action first, then ones I know by reputation.
 
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