The GM is Not There to Entertain You

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Lets put social contract aside for the sake of conversation.

The hit points listed in the MM are the average, therefore one could technically increase them.
I took you to be saying adding hitpoints during a combat. If you mean rolling hitpoints, or selecting a different value from the average (and including this choice in encounter design), then sure, that's within the set of choices the GM is allowed to make under the rules.
If you (as a player) had not read the MM, and fought a creature, and the DM played it differently (additional Legendary Action) and you would only discover this while reading the stats of the creature post game, would you then accuse the DM of cheating or breaking the rules?
Depends, were such changes included in encounter design? Did the GM follow the rules for making changes to or creating new monsters? The GM has many things they can do under the rules, but there's still rules for those.
Do you never amend monsters as DM?
You seem to be on a kick of pointing out things there are rules for as a defense for not following the rules.
To be clear I'm not talking about Adventure League games. In that constructed game format you play the rules down to the T.
There seems to be quite a lot of leeway in AL games as well. 5e is a poorly constructed ruleset for providing clear rules of play, even with AL guidelines, and quite often just plugs the GM in as the rules. To be clear, this is within the rules -- how stealth works is up to your GM, per the rules. The GM being a total jerk about stealth and denying it in most all cases is by the rules of the game. That's a different problem. Here we're talking about if the GM is actually beholden to the rules or if they're special with regard to not having any rules apply to them.
 

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Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Apocalypse World is absolutely dependent on GM judgement in terms of framing the situation, resolving consequences, shifting the spotlight from player to player, what sort of GM move is appropriate to keep the situation moving forward that both follows the fiction and puts the appropriate level of pressure on the appropriate player's character. In general when running Apocalypse World I am making judgement calls approximately every minute of play. They're just different ones.
With different constraints from D&D.
 


Thomas Shey

Legend
I believe the frequency with which the GM obeys the rules (whether RAW or Homebrewed) plays a major role.
Also we may have differing view on what disobeying rules is.

For me it would have to be a pretty big infraction and & which made no in-game sense.
Increasing a monster's health by 20hp or giving it an additional Legendary Action or advantage on an attack for something in game is not breaking the rules in my book.

Usually the most disruptive cases I've seen are GMs deciding a rule doesn't apply for reasons that are either only in his head or only matter to him.
 

Thomas Shey

Legend
I think intent matters. If the Gm does those things to make the game more fun, it is a positive. If they do it because they are mad that the PCs are winning, it is bad. As someone who is CONSTANTLY out played (tactically) by my players (I'm just not a great tactician), I am always trying to do the former without doing it because of the latter.

The problem is there's a middle case; where the GM thinks it makes the game better but the players far from agree. Or as I put it "Failures of motivation are a reason to walk away from a GM; failures of judgment have to be extended more slack, however."
 

Reynard

Legend
The problem is there's a middle case; where the GM thinks it makes the game better but the players far from agree. Or as I put it "Failures of motivation are a reason to walk away from a GM; failures of judgment have to be extended more slack, however."
Yeah. it is easy, even for experienced GMs, to err in trying to make something cool or fun or whatever. Luckily, the game is a conversation, so we can talk about it when things don't go quite right.
 

Thomas Shey

Legend
Sure. But whether it's more satisfying from a play perspective to stop and play out each little step or to swish cut ahead past the smaller details to the next potential or actual crisis point is kind of a matter of taste.

Yup. Its one of the issues with conflict versus task resolution. People who prefer the latter often do want to sweat the details, but that doesn't make it intrinsically superior. The alternative is a case of removing things the people involved don't care about (which I can respect) and improving speed of resolution (which I'm intrinsically less sympathetic to, because its often used as an excuse to cut out parts of what I often consider the interesting parts of the play loop).
 


Thomas Shey

Legend
Yeah. it is easy, even for experienced GMs, to err in trying to make something cool or fun or whatever. Luckily, the game is a conversation, so we can talk about it when things don't go quite right.

Or, honestly, just be in a hurry or have a blindspot.

You're correct that talking about it can solve a lot of this--if people were only more consistently good about doing that (and of course it gets back to the thing that some people have such a fixation on speed that anything that slows the game is considered close to a cardinal sin).
 

Depends, were such changes included in encounter design? Did the GM follow the rules for making changes to or creating new monsters? The GM has many things they can do under the rules, but there's still rules for those.
Fair enough. To be honest, I do not bother with that given that encounter design is predominantly eye-balled based on my experience of the power level of the group which is significant given our house-rules and secondly I have dropped the xp and milestone awarding of XP for our current campaign favouring to level up at specific parts in the multi-AP.

EDIT: Not that I never use the encounter design rules, but likely for the most critical of fights - closing a chapter or module.

You seem to be on a kick of pointing out things there are rules for as a defense for not following the rules.
That wasn't done on purpose. It was just a misunderstanding on my part.

There seems to be quite a lot of leeway in AL games as well. 5e is a poorly constructed ruleset for providing clear rules of play, even with AL guidelines, and quite often just plugs the GM in as the rules. To be clear, this is within the rules -- how stealth works is up to your GM, per the rules. The GM being a total jerk about stealth and denying it in most all cases is by the rules of the game. That's a different problem. Here we're talking about if the GM is actually beholden to the rules or if they're special with regard to not having any rules apply to them.
As relevant as all that is and although I have never experienced AL play, I would consider myself as DM to be far more reserved during an AL game. Our own game has a lot of home-brewery, hence my questioning of breaking rules, given how fluid I design and run encounters.
 
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Usually the most disruptive cases I've seen are GMs deciding a rule doesn't apply for reasons that are either only in his head or only matter to him.
Does something come to mind? Is it possible for you to provide an example that is considered disruptive?

EDIT: Like if a DM ignores a success or a failure on a die roll that would be disruptive for our table.
 
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hawkeyefan

Legend
That's not actually the argument. The rules do matter. System does matter. Absolutely. Clearly the rules matter, otherwise this wouldn't be such a contentious topic. The rules and system 100% limit and constrain everyone's imagination and focus it into certain areas. The rules define the limits and boundaries of the play. With a lot of wiggle room, of course. It's an RPG with a referee there to adjudicate things when the rules don't cover something...or to change the rules when they feel the need.

The argument is that there's no authority above the referee to force the referee to comply. Appeal to the rules? That's not going to end well, as we'll get to in a moment. It's a social situation. One person is the referee. The players can appeal to the same referee who's already decided that they want to change some rule or ignore it. What recourse do they have? Write a strongly worded email to WotC? Jump on twitter? Make a reddit post? A post here? What does that accomplish, exactly? Generally nothing. But, what they can do is...

Exactly. The people involved can discuss it. And they can come to an agreement. But there's basically five options here. 1) The referee relents. 2) The referee is adamant, the players accept it, and everyone keeps playing together. 3) The referee is adamant, the players don't accept it, and everyone quits playing together. 4) Everyone reaches a compromise. 5) Split result of some players staying and some players walking.

So we've gone from one recourse to several. How was I wrong to say there was more than two options?

"But the rules!?" you say. The referee is in charge of the rules. It's in the rules that the referee is in charge of the rules. The players accepting that the referee is in charge of the rules is literally the players following the rules. So appealing to the rules about how the referee needs to follow the rules is not a winning argument.

"The rules don't say the DM's in charge of the rules!"

Yes, they explicitly do.

"A Dungeon Master gets to wear many hats. As the architect of a campaign, the DM creates adventures by placing monsters, traps, and treasures for the other players' characters (the adventurers) to discover. As a storyteller, the DM helps the other players visualize what's happening around them, improvising when the adventurers do something or go somewhere unexpected. As an actor, the DM plays the roles of the monsters and supporting characters, breathing life into them. And as a referee, the DM interprets the rules and decides when to abide by them and when to change them." DMG, p4.

So, we're back to one. The referee can change the rules. The players can accept any given change or walk. There is no appeal to a higher authority, like say the rules...because the rules explicitly give the referee this power. WotC staffers are not standing by to come to your referee's house and take their DMG away.

A few things on this.

You've created a chicken/egg situation by citing the DM's authority as described by the rules. If the DM gets their authority from the rules, then I don't think we can accept that the rules are not the source of authority.

The rules do give the DM the authority to revise rules as needed. I don't think that the intention is for the DM to simply start ignoring rules and doing anything he feels like. No, such authority is given with the expectation of being exercised responsibly. How is such responsible use to be determined? By the participants as a collective, with the text as their guide.

If the DM overturns a rule, and a player questions it, I think we can all agree that the DM should have a justification for it. The bit from the DMG you've cited is not an invitation to just ditch all the rules and do things however you want. Otherwise the DMG would be one page long and all that it would say would be the bit you've quoted.

Anyone sitting down at a new table should have the expectation that play will go according to the rules. That changes can be made to these rules does not invalidate them.

Finally, and perhaps most relevantly, we're not only talking about D&D here. You've quoted the DMG. I could quote other games where there is no equivalent "rule zero" type of text. This is simply not true of all RPGs. I don't think it's true of D&D, but with other games there's not even a doubt.

The argument about trusting the referee is utterly bizarre. So...you trust this person enough to invest your time, energy, and creativity with them...spend hours talking, laughing, enjoying each other's company (hopefully)...share meals, if you're friends outside the game you might work through good times and bad...and generally become really close with each other over years of playing together. In meatspace, in the before times, I've heard tell that people actually met up...went to each others' houses...met each others' spouses, kids, and pets. So this other human being that you're letting into a significant part of your life, literally your dreams and imagination, into your home, or they're letting you into their home...that same person can be trusted with all that...can be trusted to I dunno, not steal from you, not harm you, etc...can be trusted to not shout "rocks fall, everyone dies!" and mean it...can be trusted to provide some level of gaming entertainment, interesting description and storytelling...to do or not do the laundry list of most gamers' basic expectations, such as fairness, not playing favorites, etc...but that same person absolutely cannot and never should be trusted to decide on a rule change in an elfgame.

Honestly. If you don't trust the referee, why are you playing with them? You put all that trust in them, generally without batting an eye. Yet the rules is a line too far? Come on.

You've flat out stated you trust no players, so I don't know why all of a sudden trust is so important to you. According to what you've said, you trust no one you game with.

People aren't perfect, so all this stuff about trust is just a distraction. Like, I have people who I'd trust my life with....but I would not let them pick the movie for movie night because their taste in movies sucks. One has nothing to do with the other.

The kind of "I needs all teh power" GMs that you're describing don't seem to be the kind of "I don't mind relinquishing my authority to the dice and/or the players" that I'd prefer to game with. When I GM I don't want or need all that authority. I absolutely enjoy finding out what happens as a result of play not as a result of my decisions as GM.

I'll go one step further. I think GMing with constraints actually requires more skill to do than GMing without constraints. I like the creative challenge that it offers me as a GM.

The rules matter. Whether the GM obeys them or not doesn’t.

It clearly does.
 

Thomas Shey

Legend
Does something come to mind? Is it possible for you to provide an example that is considered disruptive?

EDIT: Like if a DM ignores a success or a failure on a die roll that would be disruptive for our table.

Its usually about concepts of how the setting works rather than anything about the game-play cycle; that in that context, Rule X shouldn't apply because of setting-based reasons. The alternate is because the rule seems to violate something that is the GM's understanding of how something works in the real world (and where nothing in the setting says it should work otherwise, so...).

As I noted, sometimes you don't even know why a GM does something like this; its only going on in the GM's head and he doesn't chose to share.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
You've created a chicken/egg situation by citing the DM's authority as described by the rules. If the DM gets their authority from the rules, then I don't think we can accept that the rules are not the source of authority...

Finally, and perhaps most relevantly, we're not only talking about D&D here. You've quoted the DMG. I could quote other games where there is no equivalent "rule zero" type of text. This is simply not true of all RPGs. I don't think it's true of D&D, but with other games there's not even a doubt.
You seem to place primacy on the rules as written in the book. So I pointed out that the rules as written in the book give the referee authority over the rules, including interpretation and changing thereof. Many other games have similar explicitly stated text. Some don't, sure. Most traditional games and even some non-traditional games have similar text. It's mostly in the indie scene where this norm is broken. So while technically true that not every game has this setup, it's basically irrelevant as the vast majority of games as written and games that are actually played do.

The referee's authority derives from the social contract. Everyone agrees that this person will be in charge of the game. They trust the referee to run the game, provide interesting experiences, etc. Some players insist that trust goes only so far as following the rules to the letter, reducing the referee to some kind of wetware to run the software of the rules. Others are a bit more...open minded about things.

The point of having a person run the game instead of a computer is that freedom of choice. The ability to go off the map. To zig when the module thinks you can only zag. To create and run unique adventures molded to the PCs at the table instead of a generic party. To be creative and make rulings that suit the table. So why lessen that flexibility? Why would you? Just run a solo game at that point or play a video game.
I don't think that the intention is for the DM to simply start ignoring rules and doing anything he feels like.
That's what you assume they will do. Literally no one's said that's what they will do or even want to do. I certainly haven't.

You keep saying things like this as if without the rules as written being followed perfectly, only, and precisely it's inevitable anarchy and chaos. I get that exaggerated rhetoric is just a thing on the internet, but come on. Which is why I quoted chapter and verse earlier. You really seem to be into the RAW as authority above everything else. I'm pointing out that's simply not true.

The point of contention seems to be ultimate authority (as in final say). At the end of the conversation it comes down to the referee and players hashing things out or no longer playing together. But at no point can the players demand and expect the referee to do something a particular way. Nor can the referee demand same. But, as the referee, with all the power and responsibility that goes with it, they can and often do step up to that line. Quite often, the players ask them to. Each and every single time the players do something that's not precisely covered by the rules. They trust the referee to make the call. If the players cannot convince the referee to do it how they want, the players have one choice: stay or go. There's no appeal to authority to be made. That's my point. At the end of the conversation, the referee makes the call. The players can stay or walk. But there's no appeals.

You do trust the referee to improvise and make up rules to cover the things you want to do, but, paradoxically, you also don't trust the referee to improvise and make up rules to cover the things you want to do. Seriously. Pick one. Either it's referee as wetware-automaton entirely beholden to the rules, or it's referee as thinking person able to make a call.
No, such authority is given with the expectation of being exercised responsibly.
How is responsibility defined here? Can you recognize that there are different types of responsibility and that what one thinks is being responsible another would think is irresponsible? Once you acknowledge that, this very quickly goes back to trusting each other.
How is such responsible use to be determined? By the participants as a collective, with the text as their guide.
Rules as guidelines, yes. Not written in stone.
If the DM overturns a rule, and a player questions it, I think we can all agree that the DM should have a justification for it.
Absolutely. Now, what happens if/when the players do not accept that justification?

They go back to having one choice: stay or walk.
The bit from the DMG you've cited is not an invitation to just ditch all the rules and do things however you want. Otherwise the DMG would be one page long and all that it would say would be the bit you've quoted.
Again, you instantly jump to anarchy and chaos. No one's said that but you. The fact is the referee can change and interpret the rules. Even without the book making that explicit.
You've flat out stated you trust no players, so I don't know why all of a sudden trust is so important to you. According to what you've said, you trust no one you game with.
Trust is always important. Without trust we can't do anything. Assume people won't break your trust, and when they do, don't trust them after. I've refereed more than played in the nearly 40 years I've been engaged with the hobby. Referees need a whole lot more trust than players do. Players need to be trusted to honestly create a character and honestly engage with the game. The referee has to be trusted with...literally everything else that goes into an RPG. Something that you'd expect your referee to do, like fudging a number on a monster statblock is something you'd bounce a player for doing, i.e. giving themselves extra hit points, spells, spell slots, attacks, levels, gold, etc. The roles are not the same. The expectations are not the same. Pretending they are is not...wise.
People aren't perfect...
Exactly. So why is the imperfect designer who's never met you in your life more trustworthy to make a rule than the referee sitting across from you who's played with you for years? The person at your table knows you infinitely better than some rando on the far side of the country. The rule some designer wrote down is not sacrosanct. The ruling your referee made is not immediately suspicious.
Like, I have people who I'd trust my life with...but I would not let them pick the movie for movie night because their taste in movies sucks. One has nothing to do with the other.
Note how "would not let" in that sentence is you stating you don't trust them. So this person you trust with your life, you don't trust with your entertainment. That's pointing out there are different categories of trust. I'm not talking about trusting someone with your life. I'm talking about trusting the person you already trust with your entertainment...to keep being trustworthy with your entertainment. You already trust the referee with your entertainment, otherwise you wouldn't be sitting at their table. But you, for some reason, don't trust them with your entertainment...despite sitting at their table...explicitly giving them trust with your entertainment. Either you can trust the person with your entertainment or you can't. Pick one.
The kind of "I needs all teh power" GMs that you're describing...
You're mistaking your assumptions about what I'm saying for what I'm actually saying. This is more of the "anarchy and chaos" assumptions you're making rather than what I'm actually saying.
"I don't mind relinquishing my authority to the dice and/or the players" that I'd prefer to game with.
You're wrongly assuming it's perfectly one extreme or the other. There's a vast, vast excluded middle you're leaping right over.
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
Some games do not have referees. They may have a GM or a Watcher or a Master of Ceremonies, but those roles are not the same. The Master of Ceremonies in Apocalypse World is not a referee. They are a player of the game with a different set of responsibilities than the other players, but one that is also fundamentally different from a B/X referee. B/X and Apocalypse World have different structures of play.

In Apocalypse World players cannot go wherever they want and do whatever they want in the sense of exploring a fictional setting. The player's responsibility is to respond the situations presented by the GM and play their character with integrity while addressing the situation in some way. The reason we have a human MC is to frame vivid scenes that are fundamentally about the player characters, apply pressure to the players through their characters and respond to the actions players take to keep things in motion and centered around the characters. The structural restrictions in place are there so the MC can focus on providing that adversity in a safe and fair way.

The reason we need those restrictions in place is because the game explicitly breaks from convention and grants the GM express powers that would be extremely fraught in the hands of a traditional GM because they do things like allow a GM to decide things like a character's emotional state or separate them from other characters without recourse. These sorts of broad powers require a more restricted view of GM authority in other places.

Let's please take this discussion elsewhere. This tangent has taken over this thread.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Sure. I think granting the role of GM such a privileged position where the very rules of the game are subject to GM approval is advice that should be ignored. I realize that there are some folks for whom it works or is enjoyable. That’s fine.

But as widespread advice or as a kind of default expectation? I think it’s terrible advice.
It's both good advice and bad at the same time, dependent on context.

If it's given in the context of before play begins, i.e. to encourage kitbashing the system to make of it what you want, then "the rules of the game are subject to GM approval" (and, by extension, review and-or alteration) is excellent advice.

If it's given in the context of during the run of play, then as you say that is terrible advice. Once play begins, ideally the rules are pretty much locked in.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
You seem to place primacy on the rules as written in the book. So I pointed out that the rules as written in the book give the referee authority over the rules, including interpretation and changing thereof. Many other games have similar explicitly stated text. Some don't, sure. Most traditional games and even some non-traditional games have similar text. It's mostly in the indie scene where this norm is broken. So while technically true that not every game has this setup, it's basically irrelevant as the vast majority of games as written and games that are actually played do.

The referee's authority derives from the social contract. Everyone agrees that this person will be in charge of the game. They trust the referee to run the game, provide interesting experiences, etc. Some players insist that trust goes only so far as following the rules to the letter, reducing the referee to some kind of wetware to run the software of the rules. Others are a bit more...open minded about things.

The point of having a person run the game instead of a computer is that freedom of choice. The ability to go off the map. To zig when the module thinks you can only zag. To create and run unique adventures molded to the PCs at the table instead of a generic party. To be creative and make rulings that suit the table. So why lessen that flexibility? Why would you? Just run a solo game at that point or play a video game.

That's what you assume they will do. Literally no one's said that's what they will do or even want to do. I certainly haven't.

You keep saying things like this as if without the rules as written being followed perfectly, only, and precisely it's inevitable anarchy and chaos. I get that exaggerated rhetoric is just a thing on the internet, but come on. Which is why I quoted chapter and verse earlier. You really seem to be into the RAW as authority above everything else. I'm pointing out that's simply not true.

The point of contention seems to be ultimate authority (as in final say). At the end of the conversation it comes down to the referee and players hashing things out or no longer playing together. But at no point can the players demand and expect the referee to do something a particular way. Nor can the referee demand same. But, as the referee, with all the power and responsibility that goes with it, they can and often do step up to that line. Quite often, the players ask them to. Each and every single time the players do something that's not precisely covered by the rules. They trust the referee to make the call. If the players cannot convince the referee to do it how they want, the players have one choice: stay or go. There's no appeal to authority to be made. That's my point. At the end of the conversation, the referee makes the call. The players can stay or walk. But there's no appeals.

You do trust the referee to improvise and make up rules to cover the things you want to do, but, paradoxically, you also don't trust the referee to improvise and make up rules to cover the things you want to do. Seriously. Pick one. Either it's referee as wetware-automaton entirely beholden to the rules, or it's referee as thinking person able to make a call.

How is responsibility defined here? Can you recognize that there are different types of responsibility and that what one thinks is being responsible another would think is irresponsible? Once you acknowledge that, this very quickly goes back to trusting each other.

Rules as guidelines, yes. Not written in stone.

Absolutely. Now, what happens if/when the players do not accept that justification?

They go back to having one choice: stay or walk.

Again, you instantly jump to anarchy and chaos. No one's said that but you. The fact is the referee can change and interpret the rules. Even without the book making that explicit.

Trust is always important. Without trust we can't do anything. Assume people won't break your trust, and when they do, don't trust them after. I've refereed more than played in the nearly 40 years I've been engaged with the hobby. Referees need a whole lot more trust than players do. Players need to be trusted to honestly create a character and honestly engage with the game. The referee has to be trusted with...literally everything else that goes into an RPG. Something that you'd expect your referee to do, like fudging a number on a monster statblock is something you'd bounce a player for doing, i.e. giving themselves extra hit points, spells, spell slots, attacks, levels, gold, etc. The roles are not the same. The expectations are not the same. Pretending they are is not...wise.

Exactly. So why is the imperfect designer who's never met you in your life more trustworthy to make a rule than the referee sitting across from you who's played with you for years? The person at your table knows you infinitely better than some rando on the far side of the country. The rule some designer wrote down is not sacrosanct. The ruling your referee made is not immediately suspicious.

Note how "would not let" in that sentence is you stating you don't trust them. So this person you trust with your life, you don't trust with your entertainment. That's pointing out there are different categories of trust. I'm not talking about trusting someone with your life. I'm talking about trusting the person you already trust with your entertainment...to keep being trustworthy with your entertainment. You already trust the referee with your entertainment, otherwise you wouldn't be sitting at their table. But you, for some reason, don't trust them with your entertainment...despite sitting at their table...explicitly giving them trust with your entertainment. Either you can trust the person with your entertainment or you can't. Pick one.

You're mistaking your assumptions about what I'm saying for what I'm actually saying. This is more of the "anarchy and chaos" assumptions you're making rather than what I'm actually saying.

You're wrongly assuming it's perfectly one extreme or the other. There's a vast, vast excluded middle you're leaping right over.
Can the GM tell players what their characters do, think, and feel?
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
No. Disinterested is precisely the exact term that I mean. In many games, and I would argue most games, the GM should have no preference for what the players do, and whether their actions are successful or not. The GM should not be inclined to bend things in the players' favor or against it. Simply look at the situation objectively and proceed with the results of rolls as they fell.

Apocalypse World is one prominent example of games where that is not the case. But most games are designed with the GM meant to be objective with no preferences, so that any accomolishments and failures of the players are their own work and not the GM's whim.
I get - and agree with - what you're saying but "disinterested" still isn't the best term for it, in that a DM can be very interested in what's going on (in fact, I'd hope she is!) and yet still dispassionate and-or neutral in her running of the game.
 


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