The GM is Not There to Entertain You


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Yora

Legend
That's interesting. I have never heard it explained that way. I don't think it makes it any more for me, but I think I understand it a little better. Thank you.
Apocalypse World spells out specifically and goes into further detail "Be a fan of the characters" and "Make the characters' lives not boring."

It's instructing to leave the disinterested attitude of GMs in many other unplotted RPGs behind.
 

Reynard

Legend
Apocalypse World spells out specifically and goes into further detail "Be a fan of the characters" and "Make the characters' lives not boring."

It's instructing to leave the disinterested attitude of GMs in many other unplotted RPGs behind.
Emphasis mine.

That is a strange word choice. Maybe "dispassionate" is better? Or just "fair"? I am a fan of my players and usually their PCs, but I also play the world like the worl -- NPCs act like I imagine they would, and nature doesn't care one way or the other.
 

Thomas Shey

Legend
Emphasis mine.

That is a strange word choice. Maybe "dispassionate" is better? Or just "fair"? I am a fan of my players and usually their PCs, but I also play the world like the worl -- NPCs act like I imagine they would, and nature doesn't care one way or the other.

Dispassionate seems reasonable; I wouldn't use "fair" because there's too much semantic loading there that I think begs disagreement.
 

hawkeyefan

Legend
It's such an odd impulse. Like the words on the page can somehow protect you from a bad referee. Hint: they can't. At most the bad referee will look at those and reject them and run the game however they want anyway. The players can either put up with it or point to the text and object. If the referee persists, the players can either continue to put up with it or walk. But the words on the page don't constrain the referee.

This is a very strange take. Like, imagine if the dealer in a card game just got to ignore the rules of the game on a whim. Or the banker in Monopoly. These are roles that have some amount of authority, but not carte blanche to just ignore or reinterpret the rules.

In some RPGs, when a GM ignores the rules, it’s incredibly obvious. Like, a lot of times you simply can’t get away with it. Other RPGs have a lot of fuzzy areas, and so the GM may be able to exercise their judgment without disturbing the expectations of the players.

But to just assume absolute authority for the GM? As I said…it’s strange.

But again, those are designated as such by whom? I'll leave it to the viewer as to who is usually expected to do that in a trad game.

The GM will be involved. But so may the players. I bring things like this to the GM in my 5e game all the time. “The rules donmt really say it for sure, so I think you’ll have to decide.” Recognizing such edge cases would seem to me to be everyone’s job.

Very many traditional GMs and players either don't agree with you, or don't even think your opinion matters in such cases unless you are the GM.

We should round such folks up and launch them into the sun.

Basically, I think you're presenting this from of POV that is anything but typical in the hobby as a whole.

In the hobby as a whole? I doubt that.

But even if so, I’d be all right with it.
 

Thomas Shey

Legend
The GM will be involved. But so may the players. I bring things like this to the GM in my 5e game all the time. “The rules donmt really say it for sure, so I think you’ll have to decide.” Recognizing such edge cases would seem to me to be everyone’s job.

But that's it; I don't think with the majority of people's expectations in most trad games, that the players are routinely involved. The GM may or may not pay attention to them, but there's not a lot of expectation that they have any formal say. As I said, if it was otherwise there wouldn't be so much hostility to a player making an issue out of it.

In the hobby as a whole? I doubt that.

As you wish. But I think assuming otherwise has to ignore a pretty fair amount of commonly presented evidence.

But even if so, I’d be all right with it.

As you should be. But that doesn't mean convincing yourself its not true does your ability to discuss the issues with others any favors.
 

hawkeyefan

Legend
But that's it; I don't think with the majority of people's expectations in most trad games, that the players are routinely involved. The GM may or may not pay attention to them, but there's not a lot of expectation that they have any formal say. As I said, if it was otherwise there wouldn't be so much hostility to a player making an issue out of it.

So we started off with talking about “defining edge cases” and that’s what my comments have been about.

You seem to have moved on to “adjudicating edge cases”.


As you wish. But I think assuming otherwise has to ignore a pretty fair amount of commonly presented evidence.

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.

As you should be. But that doesn't mean convincing yourself its not true does your ability to discuss the issues with others any favors.

There are significant numbers of games where that’s not the case, and significant numbers of folks I know who, even when playing traditional games, hold the social contract above the GM’s authority.

Is it most? I don’t know, but I didn’t claim that it was.
 

bloodtide

Adventurer
In games like D&D, a GM technically follows the rules, but it does not really matter because the GM is outside the rules.

The big thing is that a GM can just say things, make up and add whatever they want to a game world on a whim.

A new, inexperienced, clumsy, bad or a GM lacking any game mastery might just say "yuk yuk, the goblin is immune to your spells" and not have anything to back that up with.

A good, skilled, smooth, experienced or a GM with game mastery can with EASE make a "goblin with immunity to magic" by USING the rules. The GM just says the goblin has x, that makes it immune to spells.

And sure, hostile players can watch every number, but it's a bit meaningless. To say goblin Bob was hit with a roll of 12, so for some reason a roll of 12 must always hit is just silly. The players hit Bob with a 12 on Monday, but when encountered again on Friday he has X to improve his defense....but the players would not know....but "suddenly" a 12 does not hit Bob anymore.
 

Thomas Shey

Legend
So we started off with talking about “defining edge cases” and that’s what my comments have been about.

You seem to have moved on to “adjudicating edge cases”.

Not really. When it turns into a question of whether a GM can intervene, it can very easily turn into a "The rules say..." "They don't apply here." argument. That's absolutely about whether its an edge case or not.

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.

I don't disagree with you. I've been arguing against the Divine Right of GMs now for at least 25 years. But that doesn't mean I doubt its an extremely common expectation. Its been carried over from the earliest days of D&D, and barring games specifically designed with power-sharing assumptions, fairly few games even try to move away from it that hard its so baked into assumptions in the hobby as a whole.


There are significant numbers of games where that’s not the case, and significant numbers of folks I know who, even when playing traditional games, hold the social contract above the GM’s authority.

Significant /= majority. Even if you pulled out the D&D-sphere I seriously doubt that would be true.

Is it most? I don’t know, but I didn’t claim that it was.

When talking about things in a general sense, having an idea how most people are doing things is kind of important, though, and I'll note this thread is a general thread on the topic.
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
In games like D&D, a GM technically follows the rules, but it does not really matter because the GM is outside the rules.

The big thing is that a GM can just say things, make up and add whatever they want to a game world on a whim.

A new, inexperienced, clumsy, bad or a GM lacking any game mastery might just say "yuk yuk, the goblin is immune to your spells" and not have anything to back that up with.

A good, skilled, smooth, experienced or a GM with game mastery can with EASE make a "goblin with immunity to magic" by USING the rules. The GM just says the goblin has x, that makes it immune to spells.

And sure, hostile players can watch every number, but it's a bit meaningless. To say goblin Bob was hit with a roll of 12, so for some reason a roll of 12 must always hit is just silly. The players hit Bob with a 12 on Monday, but when encountered again on Friday he has X to improve his defense....but the players would not know....but "suddenly" a 12 does not hit Bob anymore.
The type of rules you are speaking to here are not the constraints I'm speaking to. GM facing mechanics are basically pixie dust* (much of the time). They make us feel better, but they aren't really all that binding. The type of things players hold GMs accountable for in more traditional games are structural in nature. What sort of scenes are you allowed to frame? How do you treat space and time? Do things hold up to inspection? If I have a conversation with this NPC do they seem like a real person? If I gain leverage over the setting with information I have discovered is it effective?

You can only be accountable for things players can actually observe and care about enough. In terms of most traditional play that includes respecting fictional positioning, giving players a chance to suss out the information they need to succeed, the setting holding up under extended scrutiny, providing chances for characters to shine and players to feel awesome, giving players time to plan, etc.

* I'm not saying they never matter. GMs can exercise a great deal of self discipline to use them. I do when I run traditional games (which is quite often) I treat them very seriously, but as a player I never depend on them.
 
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hawkeyefan

Legend
Not really. When it turns into a question of whether a GM can intervene, it can very easily turn into a "The rules say..." "They don't apply here." argument. That's absolutely about whether its an edge case or not.

Right, but I'm not denying the GM will be involved. They certainly will render decisions about what's an edge case or not. I just was saying that the players will, also (or should, in cases where that's not true). It should be a group activity.

I don't disagree with you. I've been arguing against the Divine Right of GMs now for at least 25 years. But that doesn't mean I doubt its an extremely common expectation. Its been carried over from the earliest days of D&D, and barring games specifically designed with power-sharing assumptions, fairly few games even try to move away from it that hard its so baked into assumptions in the hobby as a whole.

Sure, I recognize that. I think it should change.

Significant /= majority. Even if you pulled out the D&D-sphere I seriously doubt that would be true.

I don't know. I'm aware there's a significant portion of the DM population, and passive players who go along with it, who feel this way. It may be the majority.

When talking about things in a general sense, having an idea how most people are doing things is kind of important, though, and I'll note this thread is a general thread on the topic.

I think perhaps I was unclear. I don't think most instances of the text actually mean for this to be the case. I don't think a common sense reading of the text (meaning, reading it as you would any other game instruction book) would lead to the conclusions that are often drawn from a few passages in the books.

Such is the drawback of natural language, though. It has benefits, but the 5e books certainly have many areas which are ambiguous, where other games are explicit.

Those fuzzy areas are used as justification for something that I don't think is intended.

I hope that is clearer. My point was not about how such passages often are interpreted, but rather how they should be.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
In games like D&D, a GM technically follows the rules, but it does not really matter because the GM is outside the rules.
In all games with referees the referee is outside the rules. The referee changes the rules and the players have no recourse but to put up with it or walk. What can they do? Appeal to the rules? The referee is already ignoring the rules. Appeal to the referee? They already made up their mind.

The rules cannot protect players from the referee.
The big thing is that a GM can just say things, make up and add whatever they want to a game world on a whim.
Exactly.
A new, inexperienced, clumsy, bad or a GM lacking any game mastery might just say "yuk yuk, the goblin is immune to your spells" and not have anything to back that up with.

A good, skilled, smooth, experienced or a GM with game mastery can with EASE make a "goblin with immunity to magic" by USING the rules. The GM just says the goblin has x, that makes it immune to spells.
And the only difference is in how it’s presented to the players. The players can’t demand to see the stat block. They can. But the referee will likely laugh.
And sure, hostile players can watch every number, but it's a bit meaningless. To say goblin Bob was hit with a roll of 12, so for some reason a roll of 12 must always hit is just silly. The players hit Bob with a 12 on Monday, but when encountered again on Friday he has X to improve his defense...but the players would not know...but "suddenly" a 12 does not hit Bob anymore.
Yeah. It’s such a weird mindset. Players looking for gotchas or wanting to thump a rulebook and tut tut the referee for making something up…when that’s literally their job.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
In all games with referees the referee is outside the rules. The referee changes the rules and the players have no recourse but to put up with it or walk. What can they do? Appeal to the rules? The referee is already ignoring the rules. Appeal to the referee? They already made up their mind.

The rules cannot protect players from the referee.

Exactly.

And the only difference is in how it’s presented to the players. The players can’t demand to see the stat block. They can. But the referee will likely laugh.

Yeah. It’s such a weird mindset. Players looking for gotchas or wanting to thump a rulebook and tut tut the referee for making something up…when that’s literally their job.
Interesting argument. Rules don't matter because people can break the rules. GM are special because they're above the rules, and there is no recourse.

Rules that constrain what the GM is supposed to do in the game are pointless because the GM is above the rules and there is no recourse.

Rules that attempt to constrain the GM are only there to prevent the GM from breaking the rules, which is pointless because the GM is above the rules and there is no recourse.

Players just need to accept that they are at the mercy of the GM, that the game they think they're playing isn't anything at all, because the GM is above the rules and there is no recourse.

Of course, we need to close with the important reiteration of the mantra that you should trust your GM. Because they are above the rules and there is no recourse, so, really, what other choice do you really have?
 


macd21

Adventurer
Interesting argument. Rules don't matter because people can break the rules. GM are special because they're above the rules, and there is no recourse.

Rules that constrain what the GM is supposed to do in the game are pointless because the GM is above the rules and there is no recourse.

Rules that attempt to constrain the GM are only there to prevent the GM from breaking the rules, which is pointless because the GM is above the rules and there is no recourse.

Players just need to accept that they are at the mercy of the GM, that the game they think they're playing isn't anything at all, because the GM is above the rules and there is no recourse.

Of course, we need to close with the important reiteration of the mantra that you should trust your GM. Because they are above the rules and there is no recourse, so, really, what other choice do you really have?

The other choice you have is to not play the game. If you don’t like what the GM is doing, don’t play with that GM. That's your recourse.

I’ve been in plenty of games where the GM has broken the rules. It never had any bearing on whether the game was fun or not. Conversely I had a GM who was often a total ass, and yet who was a stickler for the rules. We stopped playing with him because he occasionally liked to make certain players' lives miserable - but he didn't have to break a single rule to do so.
 

hawkeyefan

Legend
The other choice you have is to not play the game. If you don’t like what the GM is doing, don’t play with that GM. That's your recourse.

I’ve been in plenty of games where the GM has broken the rules. It never had any bearing on whether the game was fun or not. Conversely I had a GM who was often a total ass, and yet who was a stickler for the rules. We stopped playing with him because he occasionally liked to make certain players' lives miserable - but he didn't have to break a single rule to do so.

I’ve been in games where the GM disregarded the rules and it did impact our fun. And we talked it out, and came to a resolution to avoid it in the future. And the game improved.

I’ve also, as a GM, solicited feedback from my players and then actually taken it into consideration. And our game improved as a result.

This idea that rules don’t matter just seems so alien to me. They absolutely matter.

And of course there’s recourse other than some all or nothing approach. Simply behave like adults and have a discussion and sort it out.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
Interesting argument. Rules don't matter because people can break the rules. GM are special because they're above the rules, and there is no recourse...
This idea that rules don’t matter just seems so alien to me. They absolutely matter.
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...
And of course there’s recourse other than some all or nothing approach. Simply behave like adults and have a discussion and sort it out.
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.

"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.

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.
 

macd21

Adventurer
I’ve been in games where the GM disregarded the rules and it did impact our fun. And we talked it out, and came to a resolution to avoid it in the future. And the game improved.

I’ve also, as a GM, solicited feedback from my players and then actually taken it into consideration. And our game improved as a result.

This idea that rules don’t matter just seems so alien to me. They absolutely matter.

And of course there’s recourse other than some all or nothing approach. Simply behave like adults and have a discussion and sort it out.
The rules matter. Whether the GM obeys them or not doesn’t.

Certainly if it bothers you, you can talk to your GM about it. And they’ll either agree with you, or they won’t — at which point you can continue playing with them, or stop. But a GM deciding to ignore the rules can still be a great GM. And a GM who obeys every rule can be terrible. It’s something that bothers some players, but it isn’t really an important factor in determining whether a GM is good or not. If anything, I think knowing when to ignore the rules is a valuable GM skill. I’d rather play with a GM who’ll ditch the rules on occasion than one who never does so.
 

Yora

Legend
Emphasis mine.

That is a strange word choice. Maybe "dispassionate" is better? Or just "fair"? I am a fan of my players and usually their PCs, but I also play the world like the worl -- NPCs act like I imagine they would, and nature doesn't care one way or the other.
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.
 

Reynard

Legend
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.
"We try and sneak along the wall, staying hidden while the ritual goes on, until we can get to the prisoner cages and release them before the sacrifice begins."
"Whatever."
 

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