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

overgeeked

B/X Known World
With regard to using 2d6 (which generates a curve that will generate certain values more frequently than others). I think it's worthwhile to note that a curve is better for consistency, while a linear progression (ie, 1d12) will provide greater variety. There's nothing wrong with either approach (it's a subjective preference) but worthwhile to think about if you haven't given it previous consideration.
As long as you understand that 2d6 yields more reaults in the middle than at the edges, it’s a great tool. Just put things that should be more common in the middle and less common at the edges.
 

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Fanaelialae

Legend
Yeah. Tome of Adventure Design is great. There’s also r/d100.

If anyone uses Excel, you'll want to know this bit of code:

This tells Excel to reference Sheet2, column B, cells 2-856, and return with one random selection. The $ are to keep the columns and cells from shifting when you copy & paste.

Change the name of the sheet you're referencing, the column, and the cells to match wherever you're pulling from. If there’s an empty cell in your range it will error out.

These start with cell 2 instead of cell 1 because there's too much to remember so I have headers labelling all the columns.

My NPC generator has 855 occupations, 48 races, and the complete 5E DMG NPC generator. The occupations are pulled from WFRP, DCC, D&D, and a few other sources. Races from the PC races plus some others I like to use as common in civilization. With the press of a button I can return 100 random NPCs that I can then tailor if necessary.

I also have most of Worlds Without Number, Stars Without Number, and various Spelljammer books’ random charts in spreadsheets. Yes, I love random generators.
Yeah, I wrote a random NPC generator based on Crawford's Persons of Interest supplement, with a few additions like race and name. I generate about 100 NPCs at the start of a campaign, print them out, and then I have a list of random NPCs that are nice and distinctive whenever I need one on the fly. Just grab the next NPC on the list and go. It has become one of the most useful tools in my kit.
 

In general, I find "neutral" and "fair" to be...not quite antonyms, but generally incompatible. I very much prefer to be a fair DM over being a neutral Referee.

I also, generally, prefer a world where the PCs are beset by difficulties, but success is always achievable....if you can figure out what's really going on and approach the problem(s) from effective angle(s). Originally I wrote "correct" instead of "effective," but I prefer it when there isn't one right path, just a starting point, one or more destinations, and tools to connect the dots. As a result, fairness is much more important than neutrality at my table. I am, as the DW rules say, a "fan" of the characters. That means I want to see them struggle and grow, and that requires difficulty and handling failure.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
Yeah, I wrote a random NPC generator based on Crawford's Persons of Interest supplement, with a few additions like race and name. I generate about 100 NPCs at the start of a campaign, print them out, and then I have a list of random NPCs that are nice and distinctive whenever I need one on the fly. Just grab the next NPC on the list and go. It has become one of the most useful tools in my kit.
Exactly. It’s why I love random generators. I can put in a little more work creating a generator than a single bespoke NPC…and have as many NPCs generated from that as I will ever need. Find a list of baby names or a fantasy name generator and you’re done.

WFRP2E Tome of Corruption is great for d10,000 random mutations. And the Net Libram of Random Magical Effects. Those are great.
 


James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
That's where everything else 5e does to remove trust from the GM comes into play. A tool is presented to players that appears as if the GM can wield it
With a cursory glance it seems like the italicized bit is somehow going to be a really cool puzzles involving color, but really how hard is it to perform simple inventory management for even the most mentally dump statted PC. Those kinds of puzzles might be neat once or twice but over the span of a campaign they will get old fast & the resulting annoyance will be blamed on the GM. That leaves the bold part

Wow sez the player knowing full well they can trivially see at night with a full moon (a true statement nearly everywhere people live in the world) but again the mechanical bit is that section I bolded

That has almost no impact beyond the most bland gotcha traps unless they are actually DCC funnel type instagib traps because PCs are so safe with the reduction of resource attrition/depletion being dialed to near total removal & safety of PCs in combat. Given the rarity of wisdom(perception) checks in combat it doesn't even impact one of the few areas it might pose a minor hurdle.

Much of 5e's design is rooted in that sort of "Here's this tool your GM might use" paired with a low hanging "and here's this reason(s) why it won't matter if they do unless they are a killerdm", that's the opposite of a system that trusts the GM. Unlike 3.x's "yea the merchant says he sold you the last wand of CLW & doesn't know when more will be in stock" neutral GM option 5e sets up a nontrivial cascading problem to unwind that & fill the holes that result from trying to that makes for the appearance of a non-neutral GM.
Not only does this impose disadvantage on Perception checks, but it also lowers Passive Perception by 5. This can seriously matter if there are enemies attempting to sneak up on the party or simply hide from them. I watched this in action when I started to run 5e; previously, everyone had basically assumed this was darkvision that let you see in the dark, and my entire party was full of darkvision users who thought this would make them the ultimate sneaky party- if they don't need light, then enemies can't see them coming.

Never mind that almost every enemy you would encounter also has darkvision, I looked at the ability a little closer, did my due diligence, and applied the actual rules. Fortunately, the kobolds they were up against had set enough traps, that it only took about three of them before someone decided to cast dancing lights for the Rogue.
 

tomBitonti

Adventurer
Part of the problem is that a lot of thief skills are easily taken up by casters and fighters. A locked door has at least four ways of being opened. The thief can only do one. Fighter can kick it open. Wizard can use knock. The smart player can describe taking it off the hinges if the hinges happen to be facing the group. And a lot of early DMs simply didn't run the thief skills as written, so their utility is way less than it should be. Plus they suck in fights, generally. So if you can get away with not having a thief, a lot of parties will.

A nit: Taking the door off its hinges should be a disable device roll, with disadvantage if no tools are available. I'd say that's a part of a thief's shtick, although, other classes should probably be able to do this, too.

A door which is designed to be secure ought not to be easily disabled in this fashion.

TomB
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
It seems so.


It seems to me that some people are seriously downplaying the amount of subjective judgement calls a GM must make. To me it seems far better to be acknowledge that these cannot eliminated and are intended part of the game, and the GM takes responsibility of them.
I think everyone here acknowledges that these cannot be eliminated. Some people just enjoy gameplay where they are avoided as much as possible.
Furthermore, I don't understand how a style where the GM is basically just a random chart manager is desirable state of affairs anyway. I want the GM to actually have creative input, that's why we have a human being in there.
The “neutral referee” style GM isn’t just a random chart manager and does have creative input. It’s just that, in this style of play, their creative input is preferred to be in setting up the initial conditions, after which it’s preferred that they avoid giving creative input during actual gameplay as much as possible.
 

I think everyone here acknowledges that these cannot be eliminated. Some people just enjoy gameplay where they are avoided as much as possible.
You remember the responses to your comments about improvisation?

The “neutral referee” style GM isn’t just a random chart manager and does have creative input. It’s just that, in this style of play, their creative input is preferred to be in setting up the initial conditions, after which it’s preferred that they avoid giving creative input during actual gameplay as much as possible.
Again, this is not what some people seem to think.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
You remember the responses to your comments about improvisation?
I remember a lot of Likes and one guy who seems to think what “makes sense” is not a subjective evaluation?
Again, this is not what some people seem to think.
Some people seem to think the earth is flat, that doesn’t negate the general consensus that it’s round.
 

MGibster

Legend
I think it's very misleading, even a little bit silly to see it as a case of "weak/strong". A DM who rarely/never compromises may well be doing so because he's a pig-headed idiot who is afraid of "looking weak" (I definitely met this guy as a teenager), for example, not because he's actually strong/confident as a DM, just stubborn and a unable to accept it when he's wrong (I would say anyone who never played with a DM like that is lucky - weirdly often the same people are fine as players). Equally a DM who compromises frequently, may seem to some casual observer with macho ideas to be "weak", but in actuality well may well be just extremely good at improvising and doing "Yes and...", and well end actually convincing the players that a lot of stuff is "their own ideas" when it's actually the DM.

I wasn't really thinking of strong/weak in terms of macho. And whenever I hear macho I immediately think of the most heterosexual video filmed for the most manly heterosexual song ever.

 

You remember the responses to your comments about improvisation?


Again, this is not what some people seem to think.
I think random encounter tables are a tool to spark creativity, especially when used in combination with each other. "You spot... (rolls) 2 ogres at a distance of... (rolls) 80 feet who are...(rolls) arguing over a piece of food." A simple encounter, but a surprise to the DM and now the players have several meaningful choices. This is a meaningfully different experience than the DM thinking up a scene of two ogres arguing over food ahead of time, and placing that in front of the players no matter what they do. (I would disagree, along those lines, that prep is the most important thing; it's prepping the right things).
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
I wasn't really thinking of strong/weak in terms of macho. And whenever I hear macho I immediately think of the most heterosexual video filmed for the most manly heterosexual song ever.

Or…

0CF965F3-0A0D-4F90-B398-D832BDADD999.gif
 

tetrasodium

Legend
Supporter
Not only does this impose disadvantage on Perception checks, but it also lowers Passive Perception by 5. This can seriously matter if there are enemies attempting to sneak up on the party or simply hide from them. I watched this in action when I started to run 5e; previously, everyone had basically assumed this was darkvision that let you see in the dark, and my entire party was full of darkvision users who thought this would make them the ultimate sneaky party- if they don't need light, then enemies can't see them coming.

Never mind that almost every enemy you would encounter also has darkvision, I looked at the ability a little closer, did my due diligence, and applied the actual rules. Fortunately, the kobolds they were up against had set enough traps, that it only took about three of them before someone decided to cast dancing lights for the Rogue.
That's not a serious risk though. Players are almost guaranteed to roflstomp any encounter even going into double & triple lethal ones and even if it taxes them the long/short rest class split +near guaranteed eventual success of rests with almost zero possibility of interrupted rests resulting in meaningful backslide being spotted is not a serious problem until the DM throws an impossible rocks fall type combat situation at them. If theGM throws out rocks fall the threat is the GM choosing to kill the monsters party not any combat choices.

Yes being spotted & not noticing should matter but in actual play the system is setup with the assumption that the GM can't be trusted to have it matter because any result is trivially handled by the players
 
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FitzTheRuke

Legend
Forcing story requires limiting player agency and railroading. Which are bad refereeing, though it's exactly what you have to do for the GM to be a storyteller.
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.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Ah I think this is attractive but ultimately is modernist revisionism and thus inaccurate.

I think you're back-projecting a 2020s take on to something that's been around vastly longer

I think this because have very clear memories of discussing and witnessing Monty Haul playstyles from 1990 to about 2000. Monty Haul DMs did not, back then, in the 1980s and early 1990s, "want the players to be happy" in at all the same sense as "be a fan of the characters". This was trivially obvious if you met or talked to an actual Monty Haul DM. It was actually something much weirder, which was more like, he wants to cheat the system, and hand reward to his friends, which is not the same thing. You often saw this dynamic in Monty Haul groups. The DM was not a fan of the characters, but rather his friends and played favourites hugely. PCs in these sort of groups weren't invulnerable unless the DM was mates with that player right then. There was basically no such thing, back the '80s and early '90s, as a Monty Haul DM who just handed out loads of good loot to everyone (I mean, I'm sure at least one existed, but they were the exception, not the rule). Rather Monty Haul was about favouritism and sometimes an adversarial approach the rules (rather than the players) on the part of the DM.
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.
 

Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
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.
Indeed. My (limited) experience of Monty Haul was much as you describe it, and as Jim Ward described it in his story of Gary coining the term. DMs who enjoyed magic items and liked seeing the players win and use powerful toys.

DM favoritism was a separate issue, though certainly some such bad DMs expressed favoritism by excessive generosity only to their favorites.

IME, though, by the time I was getting seriously into AD&D in the late 80s, Monty Haul games seemed to be pretty infrequently encountered, as Gary's inveighing against them in the 1E DMG had been taken to heart by a lot of gamers. Perhaps this is why Ruin Explorer's recollection is so different? That he's remembering a later period when the only excessive generosity from DMs in his circles was by DMs playing favorites?

I remember attending an epic double session high level game at Dragonflight (a convention at University of Washington, in Seattle) in '91 or '92, which IIRC was for characters of levels 15 and up. Neither my brother or I had a character that high level, so we created them for the occasion. The DM remarked on how little magic and equipment they had, because we really didn't know what was appropriate, and erred on the side of caution.
 
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I have always seen my role as the one presenting the game and adjucating action with the help of the rules. Always trying to be as neutral as possible, always happy when the players win by beating my challenge. Probably I am leaning toward neutral good as referee...
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
I never understood why D&D always warned you about giving out magic items, then printed books, and books, and books, and books full of the darned things. Some, like Ed Greenwood's, were very specialized, with often odd abilities (like the shield that turns into a bridge, or the utilitarian (and sometimes odd) ones in the Tome of Magic (like liquid road), presumably to have more conservative options, but then they were tossed in with everything else with no real guidance on how/when/why to add them to your campaign.

Then 3e and 4e gave you that guidance, but DM's balked at players being entitled to the darned things, and now we have a system where magic items are not only optional, but the optional rule to use them has limitations on top of it (attunements), yet they still keep printing new items...
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
I never understood why D&D always warned you about giving out magic items, then printed books, and books, and books, and books full of the darned things. Some, like Ed Greenwood's, were very specialized, with often odd abilities (like the shield that turns into a bridge, or the utilitarian (and sometimes odd) ones in the Tome of Magic (like liquid road), presumably to have more conservative options, but then they were tossed in with everything else with no real guidance on how/when/why to add them to your campaign.

Then 3e and 4e gave you that guidance, but DM's balked at players being entitled to the darned things, and now we have a system where magic items are not only optional, but the optional rule to use them has limitations on top of it (attunements), yet they still keep printing new items...
Simple. Magic items sell books.
 

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