The reason why I am pushing back is because I don't think you are comprehending what the term means. I got your elaboration in your original post.You cut out important bits in what you quoted that addresses exactly that.
I am fair and consistent in my rulings, and provide real tensions and fear of death without fudging so that rewards are well earned and they have epic stories because that's what gives fun to my players. It also provides fun for me. Providing that real challenge to the characters is one of the ways that I provide fun to the players. If I was teaching young children to play, I would have different parameters, since that is what would be the most fun around that table. There is only one team - the people sitting around the table (which includes the DM). They all want to make that team win (everyone around the table have fun).
It is only by falsely conflating character success with player success that the misguided idea that a DM should be impartial has any traction. DMs fell for it as well, with the old adversarial DM idea. The DM should NEVER be impartial - they should be actively working for more fun at the table for everyone (including themselves). By the flip side, the players should never be impartial either. They should also be actively working for more fun at the table for everyone (including themselves).
In a game with multiple sides, it provides fun to have a neutral arbiter to provide fairness. The idea that the players are a side, the DM is a neutral arbiter, then leaves who to oppose the players? (Note: not to oppose the characters.) No one. Without that, the idea of a neutral person makes no sense. I know it's been one of those ideas that's been around for ages, but it really needs to be reexamined instead of just accepted.
Just like players and characters are different, the challenges, setting and foes the DM sets up and controls in the world are separate from the DM themself. The DM and players are on the same side. The characters and the challenges are not. Or maybe, through clever play, they are.
You say the same things I said, but your skewed weighting misses the point by a country mile. You trivialize the point of playing and somehow just assume "fun will happen", without realizing it's the absolute most important thing about the game and it needs to be a DM's first priority.The reason why I am pushing back is because I don't think you are comprehending what the term means. I got your elaboration in your original post.
A neutral DM does these sorts of things....
1. He makes his NPC/Monster plans in advance so as not to be influenced by PC planning.
2. He doesn't change things midstream because things are going too good or too bad for the PCs
3. He lets the dice fall where they fall.
Yes he plays the roll of the bad guys. And given their knowledge AND PERSONALITIES, he plays them to the best of his ability. If though they are cowardly, he must play them cowardly and not as super brave fight to the death types.
That is all that being neutral means. It's not fudging. It's being fair and making impartial rulings. Impartial means ruling according to the rules and the world concept.
It does not have anything to do with being impartial about having fun. Everyone wants to have fun. Being neutral and impartial helps promote more fun for everyone. The neutrality part is ABOUT rulings inside the game.
You say the same things I said, but your skewed weighting misses the point by a country mile. You trivialize the point of playing and somehow just assume "fun will happen", without realizing it's the absolute most important thing about the game and it needs to be a DM's first priority.
Answer me this. Which situation would you rather be in?
Playing with a scrupulously neutral DM who puts together a technically adept world but does not prioritize enjoyment at the table, just assumes it's going to happen. It's fair, dry, and not tailored to the specific characters or players, instead they must find what they like in the world - or not. If they want intrigue and that's not what the DM wanted, too bad. This describes what you have above.
Playing with a DM who is actively working to make sure all of the players are having fun - crafting personal character arcs, making sure that over time all of the characters have equal time in the spotlight, making sure little used character features, quirks, backstory etc come up occasionally. Pays attention to player interests (they liked that organization, or they enjoy RP challenges more than dungeon crawls) when crafting future adventures. Oh, and is just as fair and consistent in application of the rules and plots in motion as the first one, because being fair also adds to the player fun.
BTW, I don't say this to degrade your style of play - I honestly believe that if you listed out everythign about how you DM it would be a heck of a lot more player-centric then what you put above without sacrificing what you wrote. I just put it like this because the parts not listed are the most important parts.
Every bit of what you say is for naught though if the DM is not impartial and fair. So I will say that I will always prefer an impartial and fair DM to one that is not. Now you do make a good point that creativity and campaign construction are important and go on the list for sure. I tend to build campaigns independent of a group as it takes me a while and typically when I ask if people want to play they think "next week". So I get things ready and then seek players.Playing with a scrupulously neutral DM who puts together a technically adept world but does not prioritize enjoyment at the table, just assumes it's going to happen. It's fair, dry, and not tailored to the specific characters or players, instead they must find what they like in the world - or not. If they want intrigue and that's not what the DM wanted, too bad. This describes what you have above.
Well, I emphasized fair, so we both agree on that.Every bit of what you say is for naught though if the DM is not impartial and fair. So I will say that I will always prefer an impartial and fair DM to one that is not.
I'm currently running two games with no overlap in players, both of which have been at similar character levels to each other.Now you do make a good point that creativity and campaign construction are important and go on the list for sure. I tend to build campaigns independent of a group as it takes me a while and typically when I ask if people want to play they think "next week". So I get things ready and then seek players. I think I make a pretty darned interesting world for anyone. I have a ton of plot threads involving villainous types and a lot of gray types in between. I am of the living world philosophy so the world is not boring. I do not mean to lessen that but the most creative most awesome creator of adventures and worlds will fall short if not a neutral and fair arbiter.
This is showing great DMing. If you're not sensitive to the groups you're playing with, then it's like a director who doesn't bother to get to know his actors and what they're good at. He may still end up with a good result, or he may have big problems a result, but he's certainly not going to end up with as good as result as the one who does understand his actors is going to have.Well, I emphasized fair, so we both agree on that.
Impartial though is a definite negative. Impartial in applying the rules is already covered under "fair and consistant" which I've championed. Impartial in terms of the rest makes for a worse game. Let me give a real life example.
I'm currently running two games with no overlap in players, both of which have been at similar character levels to each other.
One is full of veteran RPG players, mostly couples, aged 30s and 40s. They have a high degree of system mastery as well as tactical ability and I need to make sure that for their level the encounters are a lot tougher then the other group in order to keep it interesting. We have several players who really enjoy knotty RP and seeking allies or convincing people to help them, so I make sure that is a regular occurance. They like to "stay on plot", disregard side quests and aim for the big changes to the world, which I take into consideration when preparing adventures, but also like a good degree of autonomy in how they resolve them.
The other group is all full of new players. They are very attached to their characters and regularly do art and other things about their characters, including having longer backstories that they flesh out over time, including just hanging around and chatting about their characters. They get a little overwhelmed with too many plot hooks (I tried), and are better when there is at most two different hooks to follow. They enjoy down time, and some "slice of life" in addition to plot advancement, and also like a mix of important and side quest type things, as well as some deep and some light adventures in tone, unlike the hard-driving first group. After doing a number of exploration sessions, the player of the eladrin bard specifically requested some urban time she envisions a lot of scenes there for her character. They are very attached to their characters, with some getting distraught while at negatives, and did not have the system mastery or interest to build as strong combat-focus in characters or party synergy as the first group, and as such would not have fun with the amped up encounters as the first group, and it would likely lead to TPKs. They have all build characters with intentional flaws that they greatly enjoy RPing. They do regularly get themselves into trouble with those flaw, and that needs to be considered in adventure planning - they'd rather they have fun then their characters always succeed. Sometimes they also did not realize the mechanical effect of the flaws when building (even when advised), such as one person wanting to play an impulsive rogue with little common sense having a penalty WIS and failing a lot of perception checks that would be useful as a rogue. Or another multiclassing for a concept even though how they are doing it is leaving them weaker for a number of levels. Because building "maximum effectiveness" characters is not even on their radar as a priority.
Adventure building, session planning, and what to do next are highly based around the players in terms of skill levels, what they are interested in, and what they can handle. Fundamentally, they what they enjoy from D&D is weighted very differently and a one-size-fits-all approach would ill suit either group. In both cases I've changed focus on how I run for them since the campaign start, such as amping up the deadliness of encounters so they feel challenged, less sidequests, and big, important goings on for the main plot for the first group, and less hooks but more tonal changes in adventures including varying pressure, extensive down time, an urban homebase that they return to regularly and have some urban adventures, plenty of recurring NPC they develop relationships with, and scenario design around their play style.
Treating them the same would under the guise of impartiality or because I had a single vision of the world and campaign that didn't adjust to fit the players would be an active detriment to both groups.
I blame D&D and its multifarious definitions of neutral, frankly!I also find it interesting that some say the neutral arbiter cannot be a cheerleader or somehow, is at a disadvantage when it comes to creativity.
I don't think I quite agree. You can WANT to be a fan but sometimes you have to take an actively positive interpretation of things to genuinely be one. And I think 3.XE was really good for showing how this is the case. 3.XE, RAW, absolutely destroyed player attempts to so stunts and called shots and so on, by providing elaborate rules that amounted to calling for multiple rolls, often with high DCs, or serious penalties, if you wanted to "try anything clever". If you stuck to absolute RAW, and always gave the DC that seemed most correct (which was often pretty high), you would create a situation where it really didn't SEEM like you were actually a fan. Where it seemed, actually, like you were trying, by ruthlessly enforcing these "fair" (but let's be real - kinda crap for heroic adventuring) rules, to just really severely limit what players could do. And this exaggerated LFQW too, because magic didn't face the strictures, the same multiple tests, the same penalties to hit and so on. You cast a spell, it said what it does, so the imagination of the player was often the only limit, and very often there was no check at all (esp. out of combat).You can be a fan of the players, and their characters, while still being neutral in terms of action adjudication and consequences.
Well we differ on this point then but at least we now know what we differ on. I don't change the world to fit the characters. The characters though play in a sandbox when playing in my campaigns and it is the case they can throttle up or down a good bit by the choices they make. If they fear death, they make play it safer before going after something harder. The hard charging group might choose to go straight for a tougher challenge. That is player controlled though in my approach and not something I am manipulating behind the scenes. DM manipulation is not a good thing in my book.Treating them the same would under the guise of impartiality or because I had a single vision of the world and campaign that didn't adjust to fit the players would be an active detriment to both groups.
This is a statement so vague as to be meaningless though. What on earth is "DM manipulation"? If it's merely a dysphemism for "illusionism", it's clearly and demonstrably NOT a bad thing for most groups, at least in moderation.DM manipulation is not a good thing in my book.
This is a statement so vague as to be meaningless though. What on earth is "DM manipulation"? If it's merely a dysphemism for "illusionism", it's clearly and demonstrably NOT a bad thing for most groups, at least in moderation.
Sure and it's impossible to see that as a bad thing from your description, unless the players are like, literally reading your notes, or you altered it so far that it was beyond the bounds of plausibility. And it's very easy to see how not ever altering things will produce a game that is more likely to end in boredom or dead ends for all involved.Pretty sure "DM manipulation" means changing the encounter/situation based on the players participating, especially after it's already been set - correct @Emerikol?
So for example @Blue has both groups going to the stronghold of the death cultists of Ralishaz.
It's the same temple and the same CR 8 encounter as the "big bad."
He knows group A (the tactically minded experienced group) would turn it into a cake walk so changes it to a CR 10-12 encounter that he hopes will challenge the group.
He knows group B (the newbie group that still has trouble with tough fights) will likely get creamed by the CR 8 encounter so pushes it down to a CR 6 - still a challenge for this group.
Such manipulation is common - but, I suspect, would be completely anathema to @Emerikol 's Sandbox style.
I'm presuming you speak for the entire group you play with here lol because otherwise this might be a little bold. "Yeah, kill us all!" "Um... maybe don't kill my PC..." "I SAID KILL US ALL!!!".I would be furious if I found out that my DM had been 'dumbing down' encounters or manipulating dice rolls to go easy on me or my group. I've explained this to my DM, explicitly asked them not to do that, to let dice fall where they will and if we die, we die.
Ruin,I blame D&D and its multifarious definitions of neutral, frankly!
This brings to light a lot of the difference between DMs.The completely demented "true neutral" of early editions, where you have bizarre concept of someone trying to prevent "Good" being too successful (itself a senselessly symmetrical extrapolation from the Law-Chaos struggle of Moorcock) has sort of permanently warped the concept of a "neutral arbiter" for a lot of players, I think.
That plus the adversarial DMing of decades past. I mean, when I started, in 1989, adversarial DMing was almost seen as the default mode of D&D, well, maybe that and Monty Haul (which isn't even really the opposite, because I've seen adversarial Monty Haul before!). It's weird that in 2021, it's virtually a given that "be a fan of the characters" is the right way to do things, barely anyone would disagree. Because in the 1990s, they sure as hell would have disagreed (esp. in D&D - less so in other TT RPGs).
And there are certainly some "neutral arbiters" who are going to find it extremely hard to be a "fan of the characters", even based on what some people say in this thread. But like, you can let the dice fall where they may whilst being a fan of the characters, say. It's harder to honestly say that writing adventures whilst ignoring that the players and characters even exist is really doing that.