D&D General The Power of Creation

James Gasik

We don't talk about Pun-Pun
Of course the DM can change things on the fly, or introduce new plot elements. But you do have to use these tools responsibly, or you lose the player's trust. Once your players realize that you will, at any time, adjust numbers or add things to the game to increase the challenge of your encounters, they will realize their die rolls don't matter, and their decisions won't matter, and they will stop having as much fun.

I had to deal with a lot of DM's who didn't care about this in the old days, as, for whatever reason, everyone just assumed that this is what the DM's job was. It was DM vs. those dirty, dirty players, and no tactic was too dirty or underhanded to eke out a victory!

But one day I just got tired of it. By refusing to let players challenge them, many DM's got lazy, and their games began to feel oppressive. I started to run my own games differently, allowing the players to win on their own merits. I rolled dice openly, had no problems sharing information about monsters with knowledge checks, and took pains to explain what was going on as much as possible- I stopped looking to take cheap shots or use "gotcha" monsters and traps- it was a harder path to take, and sometimes I just looked at my encounters being dismantled in disgust, but I know the players were having fun, and making the game enjoyable is, I feel, the ultimate expression of the DM's craft.

That isn't to say I don't still fudge, but I'm careful about it, and take steps to show that I'm not the enemy of the players. Once, when I was having a hot streak on die rolls, I about murdered a character through no fault of their own. I rolled a natural 20 which would surely have finished them off, glared at the die and openly said "no, that didn't happen" and rerolled it on the spot. The players laughed about it. I'm usually "let the dice fall where they may" but watching them get defeated, not by my encounter, but die rolls, just wasn't satisfying to me.

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.

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That merely means deliberately being selective in your use of power.
Power is not doing things, but being able to chose what you do.
Correct. Not just deliberate, or selective though, but not doing things which ruin the suspension of disbelief.

Can a DM do anything? Do they have that ultimate 'god like' creative power?


It still doesnt mean that they should do x, y or z, as it will ruin the game for everyone. Not many like Calvinball. People want to feel they are playing the same system, with the same rules, same expectations.


So, what says you?

My view is:

The players play a player character.

The DM plays the setting.

The setting, the world and everything in it, is a kind of character with mood, themes, personality, imagery, even eventful actions. The setting can include locale, region, world, plane, multiverse. It depends on the adventure.

As much as possible, the DM needs to let the players decide for themselves who their characters are and what they do.

Oppositely, the players need to let the DM have fun too. The DM decides what the setting is and does.

There is some overlap. For example, if a player wants to play a certain race, that race needs to be part of the DMs setting. So negotiation sometimes happens.

Nevertheless, the creation of the world is what the DM is supposed to do.

Worldbuilding is a DM style.


With regard to a DM "fixing" an encounter on the fly, I find I no longer need to do anything like that.

I no longer use experience points - nor milestones.

Instead, I simply count the numbers of encounters to advance to the next level. (The number of encounters depends on the level. For example, from 1 to 2 is about four encounters; from 5 to 6 about sixteen encounters.)

If an encounter turns out to have been difficult, it is worth 1½ encounters (or even 2 if a near TPK). If an encounter turns out to have been easy, it is worth ½ an encounter.

So, it just doesnt matter if an encounter was easy or difficult. Whatever way an encounter actually turns out, advancement proceeds accordingly.

Whether an encounter was difficult because I planned to be, or it unexpectedly turned out to be, doesnt matter. Either way, it is worth 1½ encounters.

So, there is nothing to "fix".

Even before switching to advancement by encounter number, I intentionally mixed in encounters that were too difficult that required players to avoid or flee. Oppositely, I mixed in super-easy cake-walk encounters, where players could feel powerful. I mixed it up for the sake of a world with verisimilitude.

So here too. It just doesnt matter if an encounter turns easy or difficult.

There is no need for a DM to "fix" an encounter.

(Heh. The only things I regret is giving out a magic item, as treasure, that turns out to be way more powerful than I intended. I dont have a foolproof plan for that yet. But even so, if it makes an encounter easy, that in itself is no problem.)
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Players who take too long to decide what to do frustrates me as well.

But 3 seconds?

That's a bit too short.
Yea, I get that all the time. But I like a FAST game.
This issue I see in your post is that you seem to think the game is your world. That is certainly an approach some DMs take, but I would suggest you try to look at it as the group's world. Then you might
understand the player's frustration a bit.

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?

The DM can't think of everything up front, they are people too.

I don't have a problem with tweaking things in game, so long as it isn't malicious towards the party or invalidates what should have been a viable action on the player's part.

Also, I find its relatively bad to tell players if you modified something. It if caused them grief, they'll blame you for their woes and if it benefitted them they'll complain you're making it too easy. So, I generally just do my thing and the players are no wiser that I tweaked something to create a "better" experience.
I never tell my players anything. They just "guess" every time they don't like something.

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