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


B/X Known World
@Charlaquin expressed my meaning more eloquently. "Limitations breed creativity."
Limitations can breed creativity or they just limit you. In this context that’s still not an argument for 300+ pages of intricate, bespoke rules, rather an argument for the referee deciding on the genre and theme that limits the available options and the players being creative within those limits. “You can pick any color you want as long as it’s black” isn’t what I’d call having real options.

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I disagree with the bolded part. 5e is a system that places a great deal of trust in the DM.

A counterpoint to this would be, for example, 3e. 3e is a system that explicitly does not trust the DM. Arguably, 5e reversed the 3e/4e trend when it came to "trust" and went back to the TSR model- that's the whole "rulings, not rules."

The difference is that you are viewing "more options" as something that is trusting of a referee; that is not true. This is a divide as old as Kriegsspiel and Free Kriegsspiel; the more rules you have, the less trust you have in the referee to adjudicate based on their own individual experience or preferences.

That's why many OSR rules-lite (or FKR games) are necessarily "high trust." The lack of explicit rules or options requires high trust in the DM.

Now, games like 3e that are high complexity might require more knowledge and/or more system mastery by the DM (and/or players), but that's not the same as trust. IMO, YMMV, etc.
except that it effectively took away magic items except for a few. I'd say that's pretty strongly not trusting DM's to manage thier own games.

In terms of neutrality, when I was describing it (and I actually went through my own post history to recall it), it was mainly in the context of self assesment.

You do your best impression of neutrality and strive for it. The goal is essentially, to lie via telling the truth, to convince yourself and the players that you are neutral by putting in the effort to invoke a neutral mindset. When I do it, its a lot like roleplaying, I make choices and seek to embody the concept. By evoking this mindset I make different decisions than I might otherwise and it impacts the game, ideally positively, it produces a different game feel. Sometimes I wince a little as I do something or risk something, that if i werent trying to be neutral, i would err on the side of pleasing the players in the moment, rather than building them up.

This makes sense in the context of another drum ive been beating lately: the winning and losing of dnd-esque RPG games is actually passing and failing, the GM is constrained by goal to produce solvable problems (though they may not have 'intended' solutions.) The players seek victory by overcoming these tests of skill in the same way a student seeks victory by passing a test in demonstrations of knowledge and cleverness. This does call to mind kriegspiel, where the object was training, it is here as well, but the object of the training is fun.

So the neutrality allows me to pose those questions, and create stakes: because it is possible to fail, success requires you to flex your good player muscles and show me what you can do. This allows you to feel whatever degree of pride is appropriate to success in a game-- and the invication of neutrality prevents that from being challenged. You're not trying to beat the GM, but the test of skill they have designed. It builds you up to feel a sense of accomplishment to know it was your good choices that determined the outcome.

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