D&D 5E The Neutral Referee, Monty Haul, and the Killer DM: History of the GM and Application to 5e


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Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
So do spells. And subclasses. And monsters. Crunch sells books, and that's not going to change.
Exactly. That’s why bloat is inevitable. 5e managed to avoid the problem for a while by releasing books at a snail’s pace, and it’s still not nearly as bloated as 3e or 4e were by the end of their runs, but even so people are starting to feel it.
 

Micah Sweet

Legend
Exactly. That’s why bloat is inevitable. 5e managed to avoid the problem for a while by releasing books at a snail’s pace, and it’s still not nearly as bloated as 3e or 4e were by the end of their runs, but even so people are starting to feel it.
And even then, the move to release so slowly was divisive, with a number of folks wanting more almost from the beginning.

I do object to more material just being called "bloat". Bloat is very subjective. I know I would have been much happier if WotC had produced at a faster pace early on (before the corporate policy changes of the last couple years).
 

I don't think it's revisionism or inaccurate at all. What I think is that we all saw Monty Haul games for a variety of reasons and perhaps didn't see all of them.

I personally saw games like @Snarf Zagyg mentioned in his OP, and I heard about games like you describe in this post, but didn't personally encounter those. However, I also know of two more types.

First, I played a lot with one of those killer DMs. He delighted in save or die traps and monsters with save or die abilities. He put monsters that were very hard to defeat and you died if you didn't, but he also gave them powerful magic items including powerful artifacts of his own making or god weapons from the deities and demigods, so we got Monty Haul treasure to use for as long as it took until we eventually TPKd. At one point I had a +6 spear that did 6-60 damage from some god or another.

Second, there was a period of time in the '80's where I was Monty Haul. Not because I was a fan of the players, or because I was playing favorites, or even because I was the killer DM who thought killer encounters should have powerful rewards. I was Monty Haul because I thought it was boring for encounters to just have some gold and gems, or maybe some potions and scrolls. It was more fun to roll up real magic items. So I dutifully prepared everything in advance, randomly rolled dungeon levels, dressing, encounters, etc., but put in a ton of real magic items to make things more interesting. It didn't take all that long for me to realize that too many magic items made the game too easy and I stopped being Monty Haul, but I was yet another type that existed in the '80s.
I think it's inaccurate/revisionist to characterize Monty Haul as extremely narrowly as @Snarf Zagyg has (and unless I've missed a post he hasn't expanded that definition), and comparing it to modern gaming seems really inaccurate because if there are say "four kinds" of Monty Haul it only even slightly resembles a kind I neither saw nor heard of, and which certainly wasn't a kind that was much discussed.

With your two kinds, yup, absolutely saw both - I was talking about the first kind you mention when I said not all Monty Haul was "low fatality" like 5E (and 4E, and to some extent 3E) - indeed most of the Monty Haul I saw or heard first-hand accounts of leaned more towards the "high risk, high reward" kind you describe there.

Re: handing out magic items because normal treasure was boring, I think I'd have gone that route too when I was new if it wasn't for books like Forgotten Realms Adventures and its amazing art objects, special currencies, gems and so on, which served to make treasure interesting a different way.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
I fundamentally disagree. All you have to do to avoid the pitfalls you talk about, and yet remain a storyteller, is to make sure that you tell stories about what the "monsters" are doing, and what's happening in the world, and let your players tell the stories of their characters interacting with it. You have to be a collaborative storyteller, is all.

It's not that hard if you're not control-obsessed.
It comes up later in the thread than the post you're quoting, but we're using story to mean different things.

I use story closer to the standard definition of the word. A full and complete plot with a beginning, middle, and end. An AP is a story, for example. To achieve that in an RPG requires the DM force decisions on the players. When I object to story, that's what I'm objecting to.

To me, story is not a faction with a goal, a planned event, a monster, a town, or any other small thing the referee preps and puts into the game. As the Alexandrian would say, "prep situations, not plots."

What I want is emergent story. Emergent story is whatever happens as a result of PCs with complete agency interacting with the referee's world and prep. No railroads or forced story in sight. Emergent story is the only kind of story I'm after when running or playing RPGs.
 
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FitzTheRuke

Legend
It comes up later in the thread than the post you're quoting, but we're using story to mean different things.

I use story closer to the standard definition of the word. A full and complete plot with a beginning, middle, and end. An AP is a story, for example. To achieve that in an RPG requires the DM force decisions on the players. When I object to story, that's what I'm objecting to.

To me, story is not a faction with a goal, a planned event, a monster, a town, or any other small thing the referee preps and puts into the game. As the Alexandrian would say, "prep situations, not plots."

What I want is emergent story. Emergent story is whatever happens as a result of PCs with complete agency interacting with the referee's world and prep. No railroads or forced story in sight. Emergent story is the only kind of story I'm after when running or playing RPGs.

Then we agree.

Other than in defining "storyteller" (which is the term you used that I objected to, not just "story"). You're using it more like "novelist". Whereas telling stories has often, throughout history (and in other cultures), been more collaborative than writing a book usually is.

But we agree on the role of the DM, you just made it sound to me like it's impossible to DM from a storyteller's perspective without the pitfalls.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Re: handing out magic items because normal treasure was boring, I think I'd have gone that route too when I was new if it wasn't for books like Forgotten Realms Adventures and its amazing art objects, special currencies, gems and so on, which served to make treasure interesting a different way.
Yes! That book helped me out on that front as well. Once I got it, mundane treasures became much more interesting.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
Then we agree.
Cool.
Other than in defining "storyteller" (which is the term you used that I objected to, not just "story"). You're using it more like "novelist". Whereas telling stories has often, throughout history (and in other cultures), been more collaborative than writing a book usually is.
We disagree about that, then. A storyteller (in the most common, general use of the word) tells a story to a (largely) passive audience. Story time at a library, for example. The person reads a story to the kids. The kids might interact with the storyteller, but the story generally doesn't change based on the kids' interactions with the storyteller. Or stand-up comedians. Their stories and jokes generally don't involve audience participation. Except for hecklers and crowd work. Stand-ups have memorized large portions of their act and being interrupted will knock them out of their flow. So they tend to respond rather harshly to hecklers. They almost constantly work and re-work their material so there's always little changes over time, but they tend to not want the audience to be involved other than laughing...or unless specifically called on to respond. And of course novelists, short-story writers, poets, playwrights, screenwriters, etc are also storytellers in that sense.

If you mean storyteller in the more narrow and limited sense of "adds interesting description to things" or "makes a scene pop in an RPG" or "makes an NPC come to life," then yes, I agree. It's great to have a referee who does that. But that's not generally what the word means.

We generally expect the referee to be a storyteller in that second, more limited sense. I personally want nothing to do with a referee who's a storyteller in the more common, general sense. That kind of referee can write a novel and if I'm interested I'll read it.
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
And even then, the move to release so slowly was divisive, with a number of folks wanting more almost from the beginning.

I do object to more material just being called "bloat". Bloat is very subjective. I know I would have been much happier if WotC had produced at a faster pace early on (before the corporate policy changes of the last couple years).
Wanting more options for your game system is only natural, and I think should be a design goal. What you need to avoid is niche filling for the sake of niche filling, or reinventing the wheel.

If we have, say, a subclass or spell in the PHB, releasing more subclasses or spells that are strictly better than those is somewhat suspect. If those things were subpar, just fix them, don't try to sell us "newer and better"!

I realize game companies live or die on book sales, but bloat occurs when bad options and good options coexist, IMO. If you decide an option is bad, fix it!

And for the love of Gygax, don't replace good options with mediocre ones!
 

Micah Sweet

Legend
Wanting more options for your game system is only natural, and I think should be a design goal. What you need to avoid is niche filling for the sake of niche filling, or reinventing the wheel.

If we have, say, a subclass or spell in the PHB, releasing more subclasses or spells that are strictly better than those is somewhat suspect. If those things were subpar, just fix them, don't try to sell us "newer and better"!

I realize game companies live or die on book sales, but bloat occurs when bad options and good options coexist, IMO. If you decide an option is bad, fix it!

And for the love of Gygax, don't replace good options with mediocre ones!
I agree. WotC in 5e clearly feared changing their own books back in the day. Of course, now they are, IMO, changing them too much, so what do I know?
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
I agree. WotC in 5e clearly feared changing their own books back in the day. Of course, now they are, IMO, changing them too much, so what do I know?
The changing nature of the fanbase. Sales are in a slump, so now is the time to make more, more, more!

Every time we get a new edition, there's a paucity for sourcebooks early on, but the instant sales start to slump, it's time to crank out more options! More settings!

Don't let players realize they can build their own things, or heaven forbid, use old settings and lore!

TSR did it with 2e, and WotC has always followed a similar model. And even if they didn't want to, Hasbro is sticking their hand out saying "hey kid, gimme your lunch money!" at every turn.
 

Micah Sweet

Legend
The changing nature of the fanbase. Sales are in a slump, so now is the time to make more, more, more!

Every time we get a new edition, there's a paucity for sourcebooks early on, but the instant sales start to slump, it's time to crank out more options! More settings!

Don't let players realize they can build their own things, or heaven forbid, use old settings and lore!

TSR did it with 2e, and WotC has always followed a similar model. And even if they didn't want to, Hasbro is sticking their hand out saying "hey kid, gimme your lunch money!" at every turn.
You can use old settings and lore, but using old mechanics requires a bit more work. And sometimes, you do need those updated mechanics to make the setting feel right.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
You can use old settings and lore...
Exactly. The settings and lore don't change, unless you want them to.
but using old mechanics requires a bit more work. And sometimes, you do need those updated mechanics to make the setting feel right.
To feel right with the new edition, yes. But sometimes, the old mechanics feel right because that's what you're used to from playing the setting back-in-the-day.

I'll never quite grok why people think they need WotC to sell them mechanics.
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
Exactly. The settings and lore don't change, unless you want them to.

To feel right with the new edition, yes. But sometimes, the old mechanics feel right because that's what you're used to from playing the setting back-in-the-day.

I'll never quite grok why people think they need WotC to sell them mechanics.
That new book smell, probably. I mean, if the old books were any good, there wouldn't be a new shiny edition, would there?
 

Fanaelialae

Legend
Exactly. The settings and lore don't change, unless you want them to.

To feel right with the new edition, yes. But sometimes, the old mechanics feel right because that's what you're used to from playing the setting back-in-the-day.

I'll never quite grok why people think they need WotC to sell them mechanics.
I don't NEED WotC to sell me mechanics.

I can and do homebrew things as I see fit. Ideally, because I'm inspired to do so.

However, I have a good full-time job, so if someone comes up with something I can use, it's far more convenient for me to fork over a few dollars than for me to spend my limited free time reinventing the wheel.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
I don't NEED WotC to sell me mechanics.

I can and do homebrew things as I see fit. Ideally, because I'm inspired to do so.

However, I have a good full-time job, so if someone comes up with something I can use, it's far more convenient for me to fork over a few dollars than for me to spend my limited free time reinventing the wheel.
Sure, but that presupposes we need mechanics to play RPGs in the first place. We don't. That's maybe a better way to say what I was trying to express. The imagination is limitless. Mechanics are limited and limiting. The heavier the mechanics the more limiting they are. RPGs exist in a weird Venn diagram space between limitless imagination and limited mechanics. But we don't need more mechanics than basic task/conflict resolution. For some weird reason the hobby has bought into the idea that we must have lots of bespoke mechanics to play, when we really don't.
 

Fanaelialae

Legend
Sure, but that presupposes we need mechanics to play RPGs in the first place. We don't. That's maybe a better way to say what I was trying to express. The imagination is limitless. Mechanics are limited and limiting. The heavier the mechanics the more limiting they are. RPGs exist in a weird Venn diagram space between limitless imagination and limited mechanics. But we don't need more mechanics than basic task/conflict resolution. For some weird reason the hobby has bought into the idea that we must have lots of bespoke mechanics to play, when we really don't.
I think of it akin to how a writing prompt can help you write something. Hypothetically speaking, being able to write about anything should be easier. For many people, however, it isn't.

If you want to play a free form RPG, I don't think the WotC ninjas will show up at your house and stop you. Personally, I prefer D&D.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
Sure, but that presupposes we need mechanics to play RPGs in the first place. We don't. That's maybe a better way to say what I was trying to express. The imagination is limitless. Mechanics are limited and limiting. The heavier the mechanics the more limiting they are. RPGs exist in a weird Venn diagram space between limitless imagination and limited mechanics. But we don't need more mechanics than basic task/conflict resolution.
Limitations breed creativity. Of course, it’s always a trade-off, and everyone will have different thresholds for how much restriction is too much. Sorry current D&D is over that line for you, though it seems to be in a pretty good spot for most folks.
For some weird reason the hobby has bought into the idea that we must have lots of bespoke mechanics to play, when we really don't.
Again, the reason is simple: bespoke mechanics sell books.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
I think of it akin to how a writing prompt can help you write something. Hypothetically speaking, being able to write about anything should be easier. For many people, however, it isn't.
I take your meaning, but I don't think that's the right comparison, at least not in the right place. By that I mean, a writing prompt in an RPG context would be more like a genre pitch or a setting pitch or a theme pitch. "We're going to play space pirates...with magic!" is a writing prompt. But 300+ pages of intricate rules and mechanics is more like...what...Mad Libs. The bulk of the text is already there and spelled out for you. You have options, but they are quite limited. You only get to pick which verb or noun to drop into the predefined blank space.
If you want to play a free form RPG, I don't think the WotC ninjas will show up at your house and stop you.
I'm not necessarily talking about free-form roleplay. But sure.
Personally, I prefer D&D.
To each their own.
 
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Fanaelialae

Legend
I take your meaning, but I don't think that's the right comparison, at least not in the right place. By that I mean, a writing prompt in an RPG context would be more like a genre pitch or a setting pitch or a theme pitch. "We're going to play space pirates...with magic!" is a writing prompt. But 300+ pages of intricate rules and mechanics is more like...what...Mad Libs. The bulk of the text is already there and spelled out for you. You have options, but they are quite limited. You only get to pick which verb or noun to drop into the predefined blank space.

I'm not necessarily talking about free-form roleplay. But sure.

To each their own.
@Charlaquin expressed my meaning more eloquently. "Limitations breed creativity."

Additionally, there's also the mini-game aspect of it (the game within the game). Combat, in particular, is essentially its own mini-game that is encapsulated within the larger role playing game. I really enjoy the puzzle solving aspect of figuring out how to best "solve" a combat encounter. Whether that be figuring out the best resource expenditure for optimal outcome, or (particularly) when it's a looming TPK and I need to find some way to ensure my party's survival.
 

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