D&D General The Power of Creation


log in or register to remove this ad

dave2008

Legend
This just slips into meaningless jargon to me. Ok, it's "everybodies" world...so the players are happy. But it means nothing. So what does it mean to you? As DM I'm still creating anything I want at any time on a whim....and ok, the players sit there and say 'it's the groups world". So what changes?
What I mean is that we all play in a shared world. Some DM's like to have complete control of that world, but that is not how we play. We make up house rules together, and we literally build elements of the world together. There is no need for me to make up everything, 6 minds are better than 1. During play I am the master of adjudication, but how the characters act and what they do is up to the creativity and description of the players. In that process, the can and do invent aspects of the game world I didn't think of.
 

Reynard

Legend
This is a very weird thread. But, I'm feeling weird this morning, so:

The GM has absolute power. Sure. But if they abuse that power, they are going to weild it over an empty table. So they should probably dial it back a smidge.

I have noticed a return of an antagonistic relationship between players and GMs lately, but only online. So I can't be sure if it actually exists or it's just memery.
 

Yora

Legend
Letting players define the setting their characters are interacting with only seem useful and practical to me to a very limited scale.

It can work for some games where nothing needs to have stats prepared in advance and the fun of the game comes from exciting action in the moment without much long term planning ahead by either the PCs or NPCs.

But in most games and most campaigns, the players are trying to understand and solve a complicated problem. Giving the players the information they need to be able to solve the problem becomes really difficult to outright impossible when the exact nature of that problem is not fully defined yet. You can't set up a long term logic puzzle if at some point down the line a player introduces a new technology or magic that means there never was a problem in the first place.

Players making things up as they go can work and can be fun, but only in campaigns where the GM makes things up and changes things on the fly as well.
 

Oofta

Legend
This is a very weird thread. But, I'm feeling weird this morning, so:

The GM has absolute power. Sure. But if they abuse that power, they are going to weild it over an empty table. So they should probably dial it back a smidge.

I have noticed a return of an antagonistic relationship between players and GMs lately, but only online. So I can't be sure if it actually exists or it's just memery.
I think there needs to be a healthy balance. As DM I occasionally have to say "no" even if I try to include "but here's what you can do" or "what are you trying to accomplish?" On the other hand I'll never have a giant hand come out of a wall that kills a random PC just because I can.

Whether there is a change in antagonistic DM behavior I couldn't say. I think it's always varied from DM to DM.
 

Reynard

Legend
Whether there is a change in antagonistic DM behavior I couldn't say. I think it's always varied from DM to DM.
I am talking about antagonism between the GM and the players. I see it a lot in reddit threads (which I read mostly to stay current with the younger folks [insert "How do you do fellow kids" meme], so, again, I don't know if it is something real people are worried about at the table or something folks like to post about online.
 

Celebrim

Legend
The power to determine the game fiction is such an extraordinarily complete power that it is ultimate power.

As such, if you the GM have any intention of all of being fair, of empowering the PCs, of protagonizing the players, and not railroading the players then you do have to decide not to add anything to your creation in an improvisational manner except in the blank spaces that your players probe into. And even then, you need to have some sort of guidelines in your head as to how those blank spaces are filled in.

I do this not because my players demand it, but because I demand it of myself. Rule zero for me as a GM isn't, "I can do whatever I want", because while that's true it's not fundamental. Rule zero for me as a GM is, "Be the GM you would want to have if you were a player."

One of the reasons I am so picky about my rules is that if I show the rules to the players, then I consider that a contract between me and the players. I can amend it unilaterally if we find problems, but if I do I generally talk about why with the players and it's usually because the rules are failing in everyone's eyes.

So many times when I run a new system and I have problems with rulings and how to rule or run the system, I'll get in a discussion with a more experienced GM about rules issues (sometimes even the creator of the system!) and there answer to me about the problem is to just circumstantially ignore the rules if it makes the game more fun. After a bit of discussion with them, it generally becomes clear that the way they GM is pure illusionism. They are fudging everything in order to achieve their desired results and the results system exists - even in the eyes of the creator of the system - as a way to pull the wool over the eyes of the player and trick them into thinking that their decisions really matter. It's basically giving the player a fancy console full of controls and buttons to push, but secretly underneath the console nothing is really wired up and in fact you are controlling everything. It's like putting a small child in your lap on the tractor and pretending to let him drive, knowing that if he doesn't actually drive the tractor where you are happy to have it go, you can put your thumb or knee on the wheel and they'll be none the wiser.

In fact, it's become clear to me that some even particularly famous game creators have this relationship to the rules and the players, and as GMs are very very unhappy indeed if the players really have the slightest real control at all over what happens. Sometimes fantasy heartbreakers are really motivated because a game like D&D allows too much real narrative currency to the players.

Likewise, the reason I say that while it's not possible to run a game without some improv, it's not possible to run a lengthy improv game in that all improv games are pure railroads of this sort. You the player only think you are driving the tractor. Your actually only making inconsequential micro decisions. All the real controls are kept away from you by the infinite and regularly exercised power of the GM's fictional creation. In a very real sense, only if you prep can anything ever happen in the game that isn't what you wanted to happen. And as GM that has been doing this for nearly 40 years, I can tell the difference in the depth of play very very quickly between a game that has some real depth because the fiction actually exists, and a world where the fiction is entirely malleable to what the GM wants to happen at that moment. It takes me out of investment in the game really fast when I realize it doesn't matter what I do really, that I'm only adding a little color to a determined narrative.
 
Last edited:

Reynard

Legend
Likewise, the reason I say that while it's not possible to run a game without some improv, it's not possible to run a lengthy improv game in that all improv games are pure railroads of this sort. You the player only think you are driving the tractor. Your actually only making inconsequential micro decisions. All the real controls are kept away from you by the infinite and regularly exercised power of the GM's fictional creation.
While this is possible, it is hardly a truism. I run full improv games on occasion and when I do they are driven as much by random die rolls and player input as they are my whim. Unless you define "GM's fictional creation" so broadly as to include giving players input and allowing dice to dictate results, in which case it has lost all meaning.
 

Celebrim

Legend
While this is possible, it is hardly a truism. I run full improv games on occasion and when I do they are driven as much by random die rolls and player input as they are my whim. Unless you define "GM's fictional creation" so broadly as to include giving players input and allowing dice to dictate results, in which case it has lost all meaning.

So quite often I will make a comment on the board and someone will run off in an unexpected direction because in their sole experience what I said was a red flag and every time it has happened in their experience they got burned. It's entirely possible that the reverse is happening here. I'm speaking only from my experience. It could be that out there outside my experience is some GM capable of full improv on a lengthy basis who isn't running a full railroad consciously or unconsciously, and I've just never met the GM.

Being generous, the only way I can imagine this to be true is if the GM knows there setting so well after years of running it, years of research, years of thinking about the culture and demographics of the setting, that they have built in their head what amounts to hundreds of pages of meta strictures that shape their creation so that that improv is no different than what they would have written down beforehand if they had time to think about it. This is what I'm trying to do when I improv when the players "go off the map" (literally or figuratively). It's possibly that some GMs are like that when they say they are "improv GMs". They aren't really improvising so much as they are drawing from their well of understanding about how the setting has to work if it is to be consistent.

But, the very fact that you think taking player input and rolling the dice and letting dice dictate results means the players have any real narrative control makes me highly suspicious. The thing about high illusionism is quite often the GM is also allowing themselves to be deceived. Because in my essay on How to Railroad, I covered techniques that let you take player input, roll the dice, and let the dice dictate results while still fully railroading the players. It's not enough to do those things if you don't have something in your mind other than how you want the game to go or what you think would be good for the game limiting what you rule and create and improvise.
 

Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
I have already say for joking that Wotc should provide a secure site where the DM can post his prep notes in case of contest by the players!
As an amusing side note, the notorious RPG The World of Synnibarr actually had this as a mechanic. Players were entitled to challenge the GM (Fate) if they thought he was fudging/changing stuff, and he had to show them his written notes. As I recall, if they caught him in such changes, they got double xp for the adventure. :)
 

Reynard

Legend
But, the very fact that you think taking player input and rolling the dice and letting dice dictate results means the players have any real narrative control makes me highly suspicious. The thing about high illusionism is quite often the GM is also allowing themselves to be deceived. Because in my essay on How to Railroad, I covered techniques that let you take player input, roll the dice, and let the dice dictate results while still fully railroading the players. It's not enough to do those things if you don't have something in your mind other than how you want the game to go or what you think would be good for the game limiting what you rule and create and improvise.
That is completely counter to both my experience and my intuition, but it's probably not worth debating since you've established your philosophy on the subject.
 

Immoralkickass

Explorer
The DM can do whatever he wants, as long as its in good faith.

There's only 1 thing that is a big no for me: Fudging. You do it, you a bad DM. Respect the dice, if you dont want a probability of success, don't ask for a roll.
 


Celebrim

Legend
The DM can do whatever he wants, as long as its in good faith.

There's only 1 thing that is a big no for me: Fudging. You do it, you a bad DM. Respect the dice, if you dont want a probability of success, don't ask for a roll.

I had started to answer this, and changed my mind but since @Reynard wants a show, I'll do my best to provoke a conversation.

I don't agree that Fudging is the sinq qua non of bad GMing. I do think that in general it's a sign of low skill GMing, and that the better the GM the less they find they need to fudge. In general, the number times that I've fudged and regretted it is much higher than the number of times I've not fudged and regretted it. The problem with fudging is that it is almost always railroading, and almost all railroading is bad. Further, it has a particular problem in that most of the time you are tempted to fudge in response to a streak of bad luck, and you don't actually know what the future is going to hold. The party may have rolled really well for two rounds and the BBEG rolls badly, and you fudge to try to make the fight more exciting, and then the party will start rolling badly, and now all the sudden you find yourself having to fudge to keep from killing PC's that are only threatened because you fudged the rolls in an earlier round. It's just better to prep better and then let the dice fall where they may.

However, there is good railroading. In my essay on Railroading I noted that Railroading is bad because it takes away player agency, but that it could be justified in cases where Railroading actually created player agency or at least didn't harm it. This is true because the players often are in situations where they don't have enough information to make an informed choice, and if by railroading you can put the party into situations that they can make informed choices their agency actually improves.

An example of harmless fudging is refusing the result of a random encounter roll or random magic item roll. No player agency is lost in this, and refusing the result of the roll is often good for the campaign. For example, I had a party that was traversing a jungle and had already encountered two random warbands of (juju) zombie warriors. I then randomly rolled a third such encounter. That encounter would have served no purpose. It would have been redundant, and the two prior encounters had already established the fiction "there are a bunch of zombies roaming around these parts". The party by this point even had some vague understanding of why the jungle had a bunch of more intelligent than usual zombies trying to keep people out of it. So I refused the dice roll, and rolled again to try to find a more interesting encounter. The random encounter table only existed as an aid to my imagination in having diverse encounters in the jungle. Selecting something off of it didn't represent railroading. I just find that often randomness gives me more interesting ideas than I would have come up with otherwise while reducing prep time because I don't have to prep thousands of encounters for a whole region. And the same is true of needing to improvise treasure placement. If a random treasure results in a cursed item that would derail the game at this level, or some other item that doesn't add to the fun, roll again or pick something else.

But there are times even railroading is better than not railroading. One of the mistakes I've made as a GM I most regret happened while I was running weekly 3e D&D open tables one summer at a local gaming store. I had started out running Trad mini-adventures with varying success (some were very well received, some were inherently linear because of time constraints and weren't), but was getting burned out over the 20 or so hours required to prep 4 hour sessions. So I switched to Old School delve format in a massive megadungeon which let me get prep time down to like 1:1. These were hugely popular and I started getting 12+ players showing up each week, which really stretched my ability to stay in control of the game beyond its limit. I had new players each week. I had very little idea what character they were playing (you were allowed to show up with a prior character or a 5th level RAW legal character including wealth by level). I was overwhelmed by requests and just managing in my head the fictional space that has more than 12 PCs in it.

Anyway, one week in this chaos we got started playing and the regulars wanted to continue exploration where they had left off the week before. The first room they went into had a large treasure chest at the rear of it and a summoning trap that brought in a pretty easy (diversionary) encounter that brought in IRC like 12 manes and a 5th level imp bard. The won the fight easily in like 15 minutes of play and then the party thieves started checking the chest. "Is it a mimic?" "I poke it." "I check it for traps." "Is it locked?" etc. while table talk is going on in the background by those not immediately involved with the chest. They get the chest opened, and inscribed on the inside lid of the chest is a symbol of fear - everyone in the room panic, no save. This trap was not designed to be lethal. It was designed to split the party and create a few tense moments. So I started rolling for where everyone that is panicking ends up. A few end up back the way they came. A few go down a new corridor and end up in a fight with some kobolds and a 5th level kobold sorcerer. However, purely randomly and unexpectedly, two end up going down a corridor with a rolling boulder trap, which in their panicked state they trigger. So for those two I decide to resolve the situation first, and one of them makes his save and takes half damage and the other doesn't and takes full damage. So I roll something like 6d10 damage and describe to them how they are smashed to the floor or wall in the darkness by an unseen force, and that they wake up from their panicked in a darkened room battered and bleeding.

The one that failed the save apparently was playing a brand new 5th level wizard, and he looks up at me and says, "I'm at -10, I'm dead." Now this guy it turns out had been invited by a friend who drove in from 90 minutes away and he'd gotten like 20 minutes of gaming in which he made basically no choices and his character was dead as a result of something he didn't do for which he didn't really even get a saving throw for - and he was going to be out of the nights session for most of it. In my defense, were this a normal session with six players I knew this probably would have never happened. I would have taken more care to find everyone's fictional positioning and made sure everyone understood what was happening and what their involvement was and I probably wouldn't have had to fudge. But in this situation, I should have fudged. And if I wasn't running a game for like 12 people on a 4 hour clock, I probably would have thought to fudge just enough to make sure the PC did die a stupid pointless undeserved death like that was possibly partially my fault for not managing the players in the background better.

Amazingly after that unfair treatment, he came back and became a regular, but his successful PC multi-classed into fighter for the sake of not being so darn squishy even if it meant giving up spell-levels. (I told him afterwards that no pure wizard had ever survived more than a few sessions and he took the advice.)
 

Yora

Legend
Fudging is not railroading. Railroading is making decisions for the players what their characters do, though typically by just saying that nothing happens to everything they try until they do what the GM wants them to.

There's also a somewhat common paradigm of "Fudge to fix your own mistake, not to fix the mistakes of the players". Which means fixing errors in your preparation, when what you have prepared has consequences that are not what you intended.
 


Stormonu

Legend
With 5e, there's a lot of talk about "DM empowerment", as if somehow, the DM never had the power to dictate the rules of the game, or manifest circumstances of their choosing. What people fail to realize isn't that the game changed, to take power away from the DM- it's that the players grew weary of DM's who abused their their power over the game and it's narrative. As a result, players lost faith in the Dungeon Master, and demanded fair play.

Don't think it won't happen again.

As much as I liked 3/3.5E, it did try to sell itself as insulating the players from bad DMs. The rules construct was very much a "show your work" edition where the DM was expected to essentially follow the same constraints as the players - a rule for everything and for everything a rule. This is really evident in monster design, where many things were derived from formulas, tables or outright by using player rules, and the idea of not building this out beforehand was anathema to designer expectations. I mean, I remember taking a test on minute rules knowledge to DM RPGA events - that's pretty bad. 5E has a lot more cases of "it works this way, because" and few constraints that it has to follow the same rules as the players.
 

Celebrim

Legend
@Yora: I invite you to read my essay on the art of railroading: Techniques for Railroading

I define railroading as ways of limiting player agency in order to achieve the outcome you the GM desire. Fudging fits into that definition. Moreover, I think if you reread what you wrote, you'll realize that fudging fits even into your own definition of railroading:

Fudging is not railroading. Railroading is making decisions for the players what their characters do, though typically by just saying that nothing happens to everything they try until they do what the GM wants them to.

Railroading has a lot of techniques, but even under your own definition there is very little difference between saying "no" and "you failed".

Many GMs, including me often make secret perception checks on behalf of the players in order to avoid giving the players meta information. That is if you let the player make their own perception checks and they roll poorly, then they know their character fumbled and will proceed more cautiously than if they roll well and thus can guess (generally correctly) that if there was anything to find they would have found it. And quite often fortune tests are contested and therefore you can always say that the NPCs rolled really well. This isn't really any different than setting the DC arbitrarily high or saying "no".
 


Celebrim

Legend
If I were playing or running a game where fudging happened frequently, I would start to ask whether we were even using the right system. If it’s not generating results we want, then that suggests not (or at least some changes should be in order).

A lot of times it's an indication of poor system mastery by the GM, in that they don't know the system well enough to know how to prepare appropriate challenges for players in that system, with the result that they find they have to fudge to make the encounter more or less challenging.
 

Dungeon Delver's Guide

An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top