D&D 5E The 5e DMG Part 2- The Purpose of the DMG

billd91

Not your screen monkey (he/him)
Easy now with the Mercer jabs. That's a real person you're talking about, not a game mechanic or imaginary elf.

His show is definitely an acquired taste, but from what I hear he's a decent fellow.
Not just a decent fellow, he's also got a some really good DMing skills that can be worth emulating even if your style isn't exactly like his. I've been DMing about as long as Mercer has been alive and watching him still helps me up my game.
 

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Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
The purpose of the Dungeon Master's Guide is to guide the Dungeon Master. There's a clue in the name, you see.

So, in line with the thesis and the OP, and this post, I reviewed the introduction to the 4e DMG that many people have said is a great introduction to being a DM.

Here's the thing- they are right, in part. It's a great guide to DMing 4e. I would quibble with the idea that this written advice is actually the best way to on-board new DMs (as I have repeatedly stated that I think that other methods are better), but I think that this is quite good in terms of giving new DMs ... DMing advice. Some parts (such as player motivations) are even borrowed and put into the 5e DMG.

Here's the thing, though- that's not the purpose of the 5e DMG (the thesis above). When I read the 4e DMG, I am immediately turned off. Why? Because at the very beginning, it is prescriptive. It is telling me how to do things. It tells me that I can't run ToTM (it says that in order to play, I must use a Battle Grid and miniatures). It's cross-merchandising (specifying the Dungeon tiles and D&D Miniatures and D&D Insider) and vaguely insistent (stating that every player needs their own copy of the PHB). It's reminding me of the primacy of combat by explaining that I need to make sure that the PCs have the different roles covered in the game. That's right at the beginning!

When someone like me reads that, they bounce right off it. Some things get walked back a little (there is a section on what to do if roles aren't covered, but it states that the players should agree to cover all roles), others don't (the insistence on miniatures and the use of them in all combat examples). None of this is wrong, by the way- just choices that are made and passed on as advice. The 4e DMG is truly excellent- for certain styles of play within 4e.

Essentially, that's the thesis above- when you are being prescriptive, it can be a lot easier to tell someone what to do. 5e's strength and weakness is that it doesn't hold on to any position strongly ... as I wrote, it just tries to affirm everyone.

I also think that there might be a divide between two different ideas that people aren't articulating fully.

The first is that the DMG should be useful for teaching new DMs, who have never DMd before, how to DM.
The second is that the DMG should be useful as a resource for new DMs.

Those statements are similar, but not the same.
 

pointofyou

Adventurer
There seems to be enough overlap between "useful for teaching new DMs how to DM" and "useful as a resource for new DMs" that there's little profit in arguing over the difference. While they aren't exactly the same I have a hard time imagining a book managing to be entirely the one and not at all the other.
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
I like that the 5e DMG is unnecessary to learn and run the game. How to play the game should be covered in the PHB and efforts to ease new players into it should be addressed there. And, you don't even need the PHB to get started with DnD. You can get many hours of play out of just using the free Basic rules. Even the PHB is mostly a smorgasbord of more options.

The DMG should be a tool kit and resource for DMs. It should assume that you've learned the basics and want more options. Tools for building your own campaigns, adventure locations, monsters, and magic items. Rule variants you might want to add into your game. I think that the current DMG is a great resource, but poorly organized.
 

Oofta

Legend
So, in line with the thesis and the OP, and this post, I reviewed the introduction to the 4e DMG that many people have said is a great introduction to being a DM.

Here's the thing- they are right, in part. It's a great guide to DMing 4e. I would quibble with the idea that this written advice is actually the best way to on-board new DMs (as I have repeatedly stated that I think that other methods are better), but I think that this is quite good in terms of giving new DMs ... DMing advice. Some parts (such as player motivations) are even borrowed and put into the 5e DMG.

Here's the thing, though- that's not the purpose of the 5e DMG (the thesis above). When I read the 4e DMG, I am immediately turned off. Why? Because at the very beginning, it is prescriptive. It is telling me how to do things. It tells me that I can't run ToTM (it says that in order to play, I must use a Battle Grid and miniatures). It's cross-merchandising (specifying the Dungeon tiles and D&D Miniatures and D&D Insider) and vaguely insistent (stating that every player needs their own copy of the PHB). It's reminding me of the primacy of combat by explaining that I need to make sure that the PCs have the different roles covered in the game. That's right at the beginning!

When someone like me reads that, they bounce right off it. Some things get walked back a little (there is a section on what to do if roles aren't covered, but it states that the players should agree to cover all roles), others don't (the insistence on miniatures and the use of them in all combat examples). None of this is wrong, by the way- just choices that are made and passed on as advice. The 4e DMG is truly excellent- for certain styles of play within 4e.

Essentially, that's the thesis above- when you are being prescriptive, it can be a lot easier to tell someone what to do. 5e's strength and weakness is that it doesn't hold on to any position strongly ... as I wrote, it just tries to affirm everyone.

I also think that there might be a divide between two different ideas that people aren't articulating fully.

The first is that the DMG should be useful for teaching new DMs, who have never DMd before, how to DM.
The second is that the DMG should be useful as a resource for new DMs.

Those statements are similar, but not the same.

To be fair, 4E in general was very prescriptive and in large part felt like they were pushing one true way of playing D&D throughout all the books (even more so than 3.x). I understood the logic behind it and it's not necessarily a bad thing, but 5E has taken a very different approach.

So it's kind of like comparing apples and oranges, or at least different varieties of apples. If you happen to like 4E's approach, it may well have been a better DMG. But it rarely gave options, it gave directions.
 

Oofta

Legend
That was a lot of words to make a mostly circular argument.

"The DMG isn't supposed to teach people to play because the DMG isn't supposed to teach people to play."

You've made the assertion. The only even moderately meaningful argument you've made that it is true is that D&D is special because it's big, and being big means it doesn't have to teach people anything, it can rely on others to do that for it. This is a rather poor argument, and there's a lovely demonstration of exactly why this is a flawed approach in a parallel medium: MMORPGs.

See, for a long time, there wasn't a single biggest MMO. Many contenders lay claim to the title of "first MMO," including Neverwinter Nights, Ultima Online, EverQuest, and even Meridian 59 (a game most folks have never heard of today.) But in those wild and wooly early years, each game was catering to some subset of interested gamers. EverQuest and Ultima Online could exist simultaneously because they offered qualitatively different experiences without strictly stepping on one another's toes. This left a metastable environment where new options could arise and try to corner a new niche in the space.

Then everything changed when the World of Warcraft Nation attacked.

WoW took the MMO community and the wider gaming landscape by storm. A big game from a respected company, with big money. It conquered the MMO space. To succeed as an MMO, you had to either beat WoW at its own game (make a "WoW killer"), or you had to reinvent the wheel...and investors were leery of risky experiments on something as expensive as an MMO. Everything became WoW clones, and WoW reigned supreme.

Compared to the games of its day, WoW made some steps to ease onboarding...but has done very little since then. For a while, yes, its sheer weight could overcome this issue. But this forced players to rely on third-party addons, and created a culture of elitism and even snobbery; it is worth noting that the current game director, Ion Hazzikostas, got his start with WoW as the raid leader of a guild...called "Elitist Jerks." It may have been tongue-in-cheek, but the irony has worn off and a rather sad sincerity has replaced it.

Creating a DMG that is only and exclusively a "reference" manual, that has and wants no part of actually teaching, is setting yourself up for failure. It is making the exact same presumptions that have led to numerous failures throughout history: it is the presumption that your work is too big to fail.

It can work. WoW was king of the hill for over a decade. But it never works forever. It is much, much better--a long-term investment, rather than a short-term convenience--to prioritize the onboarding process and providing help to the new blood. Forcing the new blood to jump through extra hoops and pay extra money for the privilege of getting to actually be taught how to do things is not only a poor growth strategy, it is a poor maintenance strategy even if you want to just idle in place. Financial success is a Red Queen's race: you must run as fast as you can just to keep up; if you want to advance, you must run at least twice as fast as that.

Yeah, the DMG is so terrible D&D as we know it will soon cease to exist! I mean, it's not like we have starter sets, free PDFs, streamed games, more free advice and blogs than we've had in the history of the game. Nor are they starting to add free encounters with associated videos that walk you through them. Poor new DMs only have more advice than anyone has ever had, they need even more!

The current has been working quite well for nearly a decade, even if there is always room for improvement. Eventually D&D will cease to see double digit growth because the market is only so big. We haven't seen it yet though and I doubt that the DMG has much impact on the growth and health of the game one way or another.
 

Yeah, the DMG is so terrible D&D as we know it will soon cease to exist!
It's almost like I didn't argue that. Oh wait...I didn't.

I mean, it's not like we have starter sets,
Which you must pay money for...exactly as I said...

free PDFs,
Which don't do any better about teaching than the book does...

streamed games,
Which shouldn't be required to learn how to play...and come from third parties, to boot! (Indeed, how many people have explicitly said that trying to imitate Matt Mercer is actually doing a disservice to the community?)

more free advice and blogs than we've had in the history of the game.
Because you never ever get crappy free advice. Ever. That would be impossible! Free advice is always super valuable and effective and never ever needs to be heavily filtered in ways that only an experienced person would know how to do.

I, too, can do sarcasm. It doesn't help make your position more compelling. Quite the opposite, in fact--it generally makes the person you're talking to dig in their heels purely out of resentment.

My core point: Free advice is often worth less than what you paid for it. Separating good free advice from bad free advice usually requires being at least as knowledgeable as the people giving the advice in the first place.

Nor are they starting to add free encounters with associated videos that walk you through them.
No idea what those are, haven't heard the first thing about them. Even if I had, eight years after publication is something of a fault all on its own, wouldn't you say?

Poor new DMs only have more advice than anyone has ever had, they need even more!
Yes. I genuinely 100% believe that new DMs do need more help, and that the foundational books upon which the game is built should contribute to that. You saying it sarcastically does not mean it's incorrect.

The current has been working quite well for nearly a decade, even if there is always room for improvement.
Given literally all I'm asking for IS improvement, your scathing, hostile tone seems unwarranted and extremely counter-productive, as noted.

Eventually D&D will cease to see double digit growth because the market is only so big. We haven't seen it yet though and I doubt that the DMG has much impact on the growth and health of the game one way or another.
Whereas I 100% believe it is having that. Unless you have some data to back up that assertion--which I doubt you have any more than I do, aka, none--raising this line of response advances the discussion exactly not at all. Wouldn't it be better, more useful, more productive, to instead say, "Alright. I can see you aren't happy with the way things are. Personally, I am, and I haven't seen any evidence that there's a major issue. What kind of changes are you talking about, then? How much effect do you think these changes will have?" rather than being rude, dismissive, and sarcastic?
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Mod Note:
It looks like folks are already getting testy on page 2.

Maybe reconsider how you are going to approach this discussion.
 

Oofta

Legend
It's almost like I didn't argue that. Oh wait...I didn't.


Which you must pay money for...exactly as I said...


Which don't do any better about teaching than the book does...


Which shouldn't be required to learn how to play...and come from third parties, to boot! (Indeed, how many people have explicitly said that trying to imitate Matt Mercer is actually doing a disservice to the community?)


Because you never ever get crappy free advice. Ever. That would be impossible! Free advice is always super valuable and effective and never ever needs to be heavily filtered in ways that only an experienced person would know how to do.

I, too, can do sarcasm. It doesn't help make your position more compelling. Quite the opposite, in fact--it generally makes the person you're talking to dig in their heels purely out of resentment.

My core point: Free advice is often worth less than what you paid for it. Separating good free advice from bad free advice usually requires being at least as knowledgeable as the people giving the advice in the first place.


No idea what those are, haven't heard the first thing about them. Even if I had, eight years after publication is something of a fault all on its own, wouldn't you say?


Yes. I genuinely 100% believe that new DMs do need more help, and that the foundational books upon which the game is built should contribute to that. You saying it sarcastically does not mean it's incorrect.


Given literally all I'm asking for IS improvement, your scathing, hostile tone seems unwarranted and extremely counter-productive, as noted.


Whereas I 100% believe it is having that. Unless you have some data to back up that assertion--which I doubt you have any more than I do, aka, none--raising this line of response advances the discussion exactly not at all. Wouldn't it be better, more useful, more productive, to instead say, "Alright. I can see you aren't happy with the way things are. Personally, I am, and I haven't seen any evidence that there's a major issue. What kind of changes are you talking about, then? How much effect do you think these changes will have?" rather than being rude, dismissive, and sarcastic?

First, I apologize that I let my sarcasm get too harsh.

Second, I disagree. D&D does not live in some void, independent of all other sources of information and advice. This thread is about what the DMG's goals should be, not it's format or presentation. I don't think it needs to be a resource for brand new DMs. Ignoring the ecosystem of support that has grown up around D&D culture is something that companies simply don't do. There's no reason for WOTC to fund live streams, there are hundreds out there already. Countless blogs exist whether or not the company supports them.

Anyone starting to DM now has grown up with the internet, looking up hints for various video games, parsing through mountains of online resources and opinions. Many industries rely on third parties to support their product while they focus on their core proficiencies. Long ago some companies that developed video games would also publish books that gave hints and tips for some of their AAA games. They don't do that any more because they know that the same material is a quick search away, there's no profit in publishing them any more.

Should WOTC take a look at improvements to the DMG? Of course. Anything can be improved, they've had several years of feedback and the hobby has grown beyond all expectations. Does the DMG need to be a starter set? I don't think so. We already have multiple starter sets. A free encounter with explanation? They just published one with a video companion piece. The DMG is a toolbox. One that can be better organized perhaps, but it's never going to tell you exactly what to build.

In my opinion the barrier of entry of the hobby has never been lower which has been reflected in year after year double digit growth. Some day that growth will end, but I don't think it will be because people can't figure out how to play the game due to the DMG not including a starter set.
 
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MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
I agree with @Oofta in that we have a wealth of resources to learn to play, but that in itself can be daunting for a new player. That said, now that D&D Beyond is WotC owned there is a lot of free learn-to-play resources there and it really can be a one-stop shot to get started with the game. But @EzekielRaiden has a point that when you buy a game you should not need to go to a website to learn how to play it. For example, for some board games I will go and watch learn-to-play videos, but those always feel like homework and usually are only needed because the rules are not clearly written and organized.

Have more options is better. Some learn better from watching in addition to reading the rules. But everything needed to play the game should be in the core rules.

But I think that needs to be in the PHB. The DMG should not be required to play or even run the game. A DM should be able to run a WotC-published adventure with no more than the PHB and the Monster Manual--though I would prefer for the monster stats to be in the adventure, making even the MM and a discretionary purchase. But in the interest of keeping adventure page counts down and in the interest of selling more book, I don't see them changing there current practice.

The DMG should be a tool box to help you build your own adventures and campaigns and to create your own actors, locations, and items in the game. Plus rule variants to emulate/support different genres and play styles. But basic how-to-play onboarding material should be in the DMG.

Lastly, I don't think 5e is really all that terrible for new players. You can learn to play from the free basic rules. The PHB could benefit from better use of cross referencing, side bars, and a "if you want to ... go to page" style rules index than just a traditional word index. Better use of charts and visuals would help as would narrative example of how a game may run in play that is interspersed with the rules to demonstrate, e.g., combat, exploration, skill checks and contests, etc.
 

Oofta

Legend
I agree with @Oofta in that we have a wealth of resources to learn to play, but that in itself can be daunting for a new player. That said, now that D&D Beyond is WotC owned there is a lot of free learn-to-play resources there and it really can be a one-stop shot to get started with the game. But @EzekielRaiden has a point that when you buy a game you should not need to go to a website to learn how to play it. For example, for some board games I will go and watch learn-to-play videos, but those always feel like homework and usually are only needed because the rules are not clearly written and organized.

Have more options is better. Some learn better from watching in addition to reading the rules. But everything needed to play the game should be in the core rules.

But I think that needs to be in the PHB. The DMG should not be required to play or even run the game. A DM should be able to run a WotC-published adventure with no more than the PHB and the Monster Manual--though I would prefer for the monster stats to be in the adventure, making even the MM and a discretionary purchase. But in the interest of keeping adventure page counts down and in the interest of selling more book, I don't see them changing there current practice.

The DMG should be a tool box to help you build your own adventures and campaigns and to create your own actors, locations, and items in the game. Plus rule variants to emulate/support different genres and play styles. But basic how-to-play onboarding material should be in the DMG.

Lastly, I don't think 5e is really all that terrible for new players. You can learn to play from the free basic rules. The PHB could benefit from better use of cross referencing, side bars, and a "if you want to ... go to page" style rules index than just a traditional word index. Better use of charts and visuals would help as would narrative example of how a game may run in play that is interspersed with the rules to demonstrate, e.g., combat, exploration, skill checks and contests, etc.

I'm kind of surprised they didn't include a bit more actual play examples in the PHB, seems like they would only add a few pages. A quick example of initiative, attacks and saving throws in the combat chapter would go a long way. I also think that the vast majority of people that pick up the game already found a live stream or how-to video before the plonked down actual cash. As you said, they can also download the basic rules free of charge.

I pretty much assume that most people that start playing D&D either have someone to teach them or learned about the game from watching streams like CR. I doubt very few people nowadays walk into a bookstore or game shop and just pick up a book. Times have changed, assumptions about how people learn the game should change as well.
 

I'm kind of surprised they didn't include a bit more actual play examples in the PHB, seems like they would only add a few pages.
That would certainly help, but (at least for me) both the DMG and PHB should be updated. E.g. for the PHB:
1. In the Race(/Ancestry/Whatever We're Calling This Now) chapter, talk about how DM curation is important for setting the tone and style of a setting. Spend a page or so giving examples of different worlds and how limiting or not limiting races gives them their flavor, e.g. Athas vs Eberron. Possibly include oblique references to popular video game franchises like Elder Scrolls or Warcraft.
2. Ditto for the Classes chapter. A world without Clerics or Paladins (Athas) is very different from a world totally without arcane magic (no Artificer, Bard, EK Fighter, AT Rogue, Sorcerer, Warlock, or Wizard!) A world where Artificers, Monks, and Rangers are commonplace but Wizards, Clerics, and Druids are nearly unknown will feel very different from a more "typical" Tolkienesque world.
3. Discuss the benefits, and costs, of permitting feats. Present options like allowing feats as a special reward for completing major personal stories or for unique experiences (e.g. drinking from the Vernal Queen's spring might grant the Eldritch Adept feat, as you are now bestowed a portion of her power in a way analogous to a Warlock.)
4. Actually give an example of creating a complete custom background, including a homebrew ribbon feature at its center, ideally from whole cloth but if necessary as a riff off of an existing background. This would be huge for helping players understand how to appropriately discuss areas where they'd like something the system just doesn't currently provide, but that its systems could provide if tweaked.
5. Fix the equipment chapter, for goodness' sake. The trident either shouldn't exist or should do something the spear doesn't, just to name a prominent example.

I pretty much assume that most people that start playing D&D either have someone to teach them or learned about the game from watching streams like CR. I doubt very few people nowadays walk into a bookstore or game shop and just pick up a book. Times have changed, assumptions about how people learn the game should change as well.
The latter is my primary concern, and also what I consider to be the significantly more likely situation. Keep in mind, if the numbers we've seen are to be believed, D&D has experienced something like tenfold growth. I really don't think the majority of that tenfold growth is people who were already friends of someone who could teach them...and watching something like The Adventure Zone or Critical Role is not a good guide for how to play or run D&D! Not even slightly! It would be like watching Iron Chef and thinking of it as a good instruction on how to cook for yourself--meaning, not at all. That doesn't mean there aren't things that can be done to learn how to cook (nor do those things imply that experience isn't important.) What it means is, there are now a lot more things that give people a reason to check out D&D, and a significant fraction of them--I would argue a majority of the newcomers!--are ones who don't have a friend group that can teach them well.

Hence, expanding what the DMG and PHB do, so that they give useful, productive advice that is style-agnostic (that is, "useful for all styles") or that is multi-style (that is, "advice for style A, and related styles B and C, and style D" etc.), seems like a top priority to me. Going beyond maintenance and toward sustainable continuing growth means being supportive of the plethora of ways players approach the game, and I mean that both in the sense of "gameplay styles" and in the sense of "how people get introduced to, involved in, and (hopefully) hooked on D&D."

Completely leaving the onboarding process to other people seems like a pretty great way to get caught with your pants down sooner or later. I mean, what do you do if CR decides that "One D&D" is to them what 4e was to Paizo, and thus pulls up sticks and makes their own competing edition? Suddenly, the people who handled a huge chunk of your onboarding are now onboarding for their own game, not your own, and you can't just re-issue your PHB and DMG to compensate for the loss because it will piss off your existing fans.
 

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