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.
 

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.
 

EzekielRaiden

Follower of the Way
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
Supporter
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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