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D&D General The mentality of being a DM


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p_johnston

Explorer
I view my job as a GM in a few different ways

I am a mad scientist: I like to experiment with changing rules, monsters, settings, character creation methods, etc. I make stuff up that I think will make the game fun and interesting and then test it out. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. When it doesn't I get rid of it, apologize, and explain why I tried it if the players are frustrated.

I am a sheepdog: I try and keep my group of players together, focused on the adventure and moving forward. I will also try and point them towards the path I expect but I won't force them to take it. I will however force them to keep moving forward in a direction so that they don't get bogged down.

I am a watcher and listener: I take note of what my players say and do to try and know what they want from the game and whether or not they are having fun. Often more importantly I take note of what they don't say and do, which often involves noticing when one player is not participating or having fun. When I notice a player being unusually silent or not having a chance to participate I can swivel the game to try and include them more.

I am a judge: I will interpret the rules and make rulings on the players actions. If I am unsure I will make something up that applies for now and look up the actual rule later.

I am transparent: I will let the players know the why of my rulings, rules, and actions especially if they are getting frustrated. I may not explain immediately but I will explain my thought process so that they can understand even if they don't agree. Another part of this is admitting when I make a mistake that needs to be retconned.

I am a storyteller: I either come up with the world/story or interpret one (a pre built campaign). This means that I am responsible for letting the players know everything they need to know about that world in a way that is interesting. This also means taking the things my players give me in both their actions and backstories and finding ways to integrate them into the world.
 

ad_hoc

Hero
I don't view it as MY job for everyone to have fun. Everyone at the table has that job and all should contribute equally.

It is a huge peeve of mine of DMs who don't allow character death. There is no 'coming close' because the possiblity isn't there in the first place. When I DM the players know that they can fail, sometimes catastrophically. It creates tension and excitement.
 

Emerikol

Adventurer
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.
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.
 

Democratus

Explorer
It depends on the style of campaign.

I'm running an old-school B/X hex crawl/west marches campaign. In that one I am neutral arbitrator and referee. All actions are driven by the players and the map. It's my job to represent the world in an authentic way and let the dice fall where they may. I assign one player as the 'caller', one as the 'mapper', and stick strictly to the rules.

I'm also running an Adventures in Middle Earth(tm) game. Here I am a storyteller, weaving the players into something that feels as much like the original author as possible. My job is to be evocative and present the literary magic of the world and its themes.
 

A DM wears 3 hats: author, judge, and storyteller.

Before the session I work as an author, designing challenges for the party to overcome. I'm personally a bit on the "evil" side, often designing challenges with no obvious solutions. I used to ignore CR, but I've started looking at XGtE's charts lately to gauge strength. Logic outweighs encounter balance, however, so if it makes sense for there to be 50 orcs, then I'm not going to tone it down to 12 just because. I always assume my players are going to outwit me, because 95% of the time, they do.

During the session, I'm a judge: I try to impartially interpret the actions of the player by the rules. If they find and exploit a weakness I didn't intend, well good for them. If they miss something obvious, well that sucks. The dice are the final arbiter of anything in question, and they will kill PCs. Enemies in combat will act according to their intelligence and motivations listed in the adventure (or added by me).

Being a storyteller takes place both before and during the session. I not only design challenges beforehand, but I also design story elements to motivate and affect the PCs. Sometimes these challenges draw upon the backstory, personality, bonds, and flaws of a character, and I try to focus upon the character development that might occur. During the session, I try to describe the world and events in a way to give the players the feeling of being in the world. Just as my encounter design is considered a bit "evil," I do have a tendency to do this with my storytelling as well, but my players are aware that I run a mature game with adult themes.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
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.
 


S'mon

Legend
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.

I guess I like something in between these two, but closer to #1. #2 sounds too much like The Truman Show. The GM should be prepared to accommodate a decently wide range of play styles within the genre of the game, and the more they can accommodate, the better. I didn't much like playing with a GM who was literally unable to play NPCs, though he had some positive qualities. But if it's a setting where intrigue would have limited relevance, eg a West Marches style campaign, that seems fine to me.
 

Emerikol

Adventurer
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.
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.

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.

So sure we are prioritizing the fun absolutely. For me, number one on that list is a DM who knows the rules and is fair and impartial. Arbitration is his primary "in session" job.
 

I find it interesting that two people disagree, even though they say the same thing. ;) One just has one section prioritized higher on the list.

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.

Fun naturally happens when one follows the rules that their table is comfortable with.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
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.
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.

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.
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.
 

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.
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.
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 blame D&D and its multifarious definitions of neutral, frankly!

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. It's not hard-antithetical to it but it's at least mildly adverse. Also I'm not sure this is completely true:

You can be a fan of the players, and their characters, while still being neutral in terms of action adjudication and consequences.
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).

But equally you could often ignored a few rules, or lowered a DC, or not made the penalty as extreme as some poorly-drafted and clearly unplaytested table said, and had a better effect. Would that make you "neutral in terms of action adjudication and consequences", though? I'd say clearly not.

Or look at 5E - you often have situations where you could potentially call for multiple rolls, when a stunt is being done (again this primarily impacts non-casters), or you could just make it, say, an Attack roll at Disadvantage, or one check and that (increasing failure chance of course but not as high as multiple rolls). And consequences are often in the DM's purview and pretending neutrality feels very fake. There's no rule as to what happens when the PCs try to con their way past the guards and totally fail. Someone who is genuinely a fan of the PCs and the players is likely to make something interesting happen, or re-direct the PCs, but not blow things up, whereas I've seen people trying to be neutral absolutely metaphorically crash the van into the wall there, because they felt it was "realistic". There's no rule to fail forwards, for example - but if you're really being "neutral in terms of action adjudication and consequences", without absolutely stellar design, you're fairly frequently going to hit places where, realistically, neutrally, the PCs would be somewhat stuffed - they couldn't go any further - they'd be at a loss. But if your adjudication was a little more generous, perhaps a tiny bit less "neutral" or "realistic", you might be able to provide a direction for them to go in.

So I really question this. I think you're kidding yourself if you think you can both be a fan, and completely neutral, esp. when it comes to action adjudication, where you control how difficult/easy something is, and consequences, which are often entirely DM fiat.
 
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Emerikol

Adventurer
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.
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.
 


Mort

Legend
Supporter
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.

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.
 

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.
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.
 

HJFudge

Explorer
There are two types of manipulation being discussed here.

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.

However, if my DM isn't tailoring what happens in the adventure to the choices and decisions we at the table are making that is also infuriating. "But we went out of our way to save the dragon from the princess even though it wasn't on the list of tasks. Surely that would help the king of dragons be more amicable to our asking his help to save the pirates from the evil maurading villagers!"

"No, he just says no, cause thats what it said in my script"

Yeah I'd be mad then too.
 

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.
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!!!".

But basically you're discussing on-the-fly modifications for the sake of the DM's desired outcome vs. pre-planned tailoring or adapting to PC choices which might be outside what he'd assumed would happen. I've met DMs who basically said the latter - i.e. "He says no because I wrote down that he would say no yesterday", and it's like, that latter is kind of sad.

I've done on the fly mods and fudging myself in older editions, because some of them were just not well-designed and I saw results which would simply make things extremely boring or annoying, but I haven't felt like I had to fudge anything since early 4E, and the only on-the-fly stuff has been for the sake of sessions ending on time, like deciding some monsters ran away maybe a couple of rounds before they definitely would have.
 

I blame D&D and its multifarious definitions of neutral, frankly!
Ruin,
This could not be said as funny and with clarity as you just stated. (y)
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.
This brings to light a lot of the difference between DMs.
 

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