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What is the GM's Job?

pemerton

Legend
TI meant being fair as in even-handed with how I treat players - no favoritism. I would lump problems and situations in with challenges, but your points are well made and better crafted than mine.
Very generous of you!

Riffing off your idea of even-handedness, here's a question: if the GM is coming up with a dungeon, or a scenario, or a situation, should s/he have regard to the details of the players' PCs?

I want to say that in classic dungeon-crawling D&D the default answer is "no". Part of the challenge for players in that game is to use the resources they bring to help "beat" the dungeon, and also to recruit into the party (as extra PCs, as NPCs/henchmen, or whatever) the skill sets that they need but don't have.

I'm not saying that you should never have a deliberately PC-targetted dungeon in classic D&D play, but it's not the default.

But to go to a different end of this particular spectrum, setting up a situation in my Prince Valiant game, or my Burning Wheel game, is all about knowing who the PCs are and how they fit into the gameworld. In Prinve Valiant - which is pretty lighthearted - this is about broad tropes/stereotypes: eg in our last session two new PCs, an itinerant entertainer and a squire who is the sone of an urban merchant family joined with the two estabished PC knights, who were themselves down on their luck. So the initial scene was established so that it made sense for the two knights to come to a town's market square where they could cross paths with the entertainer and, in due course, the squire.

Burning Wheel is more gritty and intense than Prince Valiant, and the degree of "personalisation" is correspondingly higher: it's all about pushing these PCs (as they read on the sheet and as they are played by the character) in these ways.

To start a session of one of these games with something that was devised "neutrally" or independently of the GM's knowledge of the PCs would be a wrong move.

I think our RPGing community, and our conversations about RPGing, will become more vibrant and more robust when we really think about the diversity of our games (across tables, but also at tables as we rotate through different systems and different sorts of approach) rather than trying to fit everything into really narrow and doctrinaire compartments.
 

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pogre

Legend
Riffing off your idea of even-handedness, here's a question: if the GM is coming up with a dungeon, or a scenario, or a situation, should s/he have regard to the details of the players' PCs?

I entirely agree with your analysis. To extend the discussion further what does that mean for D&D 5 edition? I would suggest that PCs and their abilities are a consideration for 5e. I would place it closer to say Prince Valiant than 1e D&D.

I'm not trying to gatekeep with right wayism, but I do think rpg rules sets do lead to a DM style/role.

To use a popular example, and this may be unpopular, I think the Critical Role folks would be better served by using a different set of rpg rules for their preferred style of play.
 

pming

Legend
Hiya!

The GM's job is to answer the 5 W's of the players, plus the H. ;) (Who, What, Where, When, Why, How?). That's pretty much it.

There are a number of ways to do this equal to the number of GM's out there. None are technically "wrong", but many are significantly less effective and providing the answers to the questions the players are asking (via their PC's, usually).

Oh, and of course, to keep track of the TPK's as some sick means of personal honour. But that goes without saying, right? Right guys? Right...? ;)

^_^

Paul L. Ming
 

Reynard

Legend
Oh, and of course, to keep track of the TPK's as some sick means of personal honour. But that goes without saying, right? Right guys? Right...? ;)

Goes without saying. We did character generation for a new Eberron campaign last night and I cautioned players to make their second favorite concept, just in case...
 

jgsugden

Legend
The job of a GM/DM has nothing to do with role playing. GM/DMing is not a job.

The role of the GM/DM is to create a world in which the GM/DM and the players can work together to tell a heck of a story. Then, they adjudicate the rules and role play the NPCs and monsters. They do so in a manner that follows the rules, but in such a way that it tells a great story.

The GM/DM does not work for the players, but instead works with them.

This is all spelled out in this Guide Book for DMs....
 

pemerton

Legend
I entirely agree with your analysis. To extend the discussion further what does that mean for D&D 5 edition? I would suggest that PCs and their abilities are a consideration for 5e. I would place it closer to say Prince Valiant than 1e D&D.

I'm not trying to gatekeep with right wayism, but I do think rpg rules sets do lead to a DM style/role.

To use a popular example, and this may be unpopular, I think the Critical Role folks would be better served by using a different set of rpg rules for their preferred style of play.
I don't know Critical Role other than by reputation - can you say a bit more?

I think 5e is marketed as being "flexible" in approach, and it's interesting that you see it as more at one end of this spectrum than the other. My 5e-fu is not superstrong, but one thing I think of that might affect situation/scenario design is the relationship between long and short rest-based PCs.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Riffing off your idea of even-handedness, here's a question: if the GM is coming up with a dungeon, or a scenario, or a situation, should s/he have regard to the details of the players' PCs?

I want to say that in classic dungeon-crawling D&D the default answer is "no". Part of the challenge for players in that game is to use the resources they bring to help "beat" the dungeon, and also to recruit into the party (as extra PCs, as NPCs/henchmen, or whatever) the skill sets that they need but don't have.
Agreed, with the minor caveat that if a player has a PC who's a fifth wheel in one adventure (e.g. an Illusionist in a dungeon full of undead) the DM might want to consider having the next adventure being one where the Illusionist can shine...assuming she survives the undead. :)

I'm not saying that you should never have a deliberately PC-targetted dungeon in classic D&D play, but it's not the default.
And it involves one very big hazard, see below.

But to go to a different end of this particular spectrum, setting up a situation in my Prince Valiant game, or my Burning Wheel game, is all about knowing who the PCs are and how they fit into the gameworld. In Prinve Valiant - which is pretty lighthearted - this is about broad tropes/stereotypes: eg in our last session two new PCs, an itinerant entertainer and a squire who is the sone of an urban merchant family joined with the two estabished PC knights, who were themselves down on their luck. So the initial scene was established so that it made sense for the two knights to come to a town's market square where they could cross paths with the entertainer and, in due course, the squire.

Burning Wheel is more gritty and intense than Prince Valiant, and the degree of "personalisation" is correspondingly higher: it's all about pushing these PCs (as they read on the sheet and as they are played by the character) in these ways.

To start a session of one of these games with something that was devised "neutrally" or independently of the GM's knowledge of the PCs would be a wrong move.
All likely true provided the DM can assume or ensure PC survival, which for any number of reasons not all DMs are willing to do regardless of system being used.

Going to all the effort of designing an adventure - or worse, a campaign! - around one or more particular PCs only to have said PC(s) die* at the first opportunity is kind of a waste - this the hazard I alluded to above - but if you're putting the PCs at real risk (think war vs sport here) then bad luck can always have its say. Hence, the lesson learned: don't design around specific characters.

* - or be otherwise rendered long-term or permanently unplayable.
 

pogre

Legend
I don't know Critical Role other than by reputation - can you say a bit more?

I think 5e is marketed as being "flexible" in approach, and it's interesting that you see it as more at one end of this spectrum than the other. My 5e-fu is not superstrong, but one thing I think of that might affect situation/scenario design is the relationship between long and short rest-based PCs.

I do think it is more flexible. Critical Role is a game where they delve deeply into the PCs' narratives and backgrounds. There are lots of player secrets. It is all brought together by a solid GM who lets the players riff off each other nicely. All of the folks at the table are professional Hollywood voice actors as I recall.

I watched a few episodes and kept thinking these folks would really love X, Y, and Z games that really cater to this play style. They are making D&D work for what they want and it is the most popular rpg stream on the planet - so what do I know?! ;)
 

pemerton

Legend
I do think it is more flexible. Critical Role is a game where they delve deeply into the PCs' narratives and backgrounds. There are lots of player secrets. It is all brought together by a solid GM who lets the players riff off each other nicely. All of the folks at the table are professional Hollywood voice actors as I recall.

I watched a few episodes and kept thinking these folks would really love X, Y, and Z games that really cater to this play style. They are making D&D work for what they want and it is the most popular rpg stream on the planet - so what do I know?! ;)
From what you describe, D&D probably isn't the game I'd choose to do that. I'm not sure which ones you had in mind, but the two I think of are HeroQuest Revised and some version of FATE.
 

pemerton

Legend
All likely true provided the DM can assume or ensure PC survival, which for any number of reasons not all DMs are willing to do regardless of system being used.

Going to all the effort of designing an adventure - or worse, a campaign! - around one or more particular PCs only to have said PC(s) die* at the first opportunity is kind of a waste - this the hazard I alluded to above - but if you're putting the PCs at real risk (think war vs sport here) then bad luck can always have its say. Hence, the lesson learned: don't design around specific characters.

* - or be otherwise rendered long-term or permanently unplayable.
Which goes back to the idea that there is no universal job of the GM. The games that I mentioned in this context - Prince Valiant and Burning Wheel - don't involve "an adventure" or "a campaign" as something prepared in advance in the way that (say) a CoC game, or a DL D&D game, does.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Just thought of another rather significant aspect of the GM's job that nobody has really hit yet: to reliably show up for her own games.

A game can almost always sail if a player no-shows, but it can never sail if the GM no-shows.

I've been lucky in that I've always had reliable GMs who give lots of warning if a session is going to sink due to their own unavailability; and I try to do likewise myself. I've known others who weren't so lucky.....
 

Aenghus

Explorer
Lots of good responses in the thread so far. I certainly don't agree with everything said, but I don't expect to.

Some of my thoughts:
  • A GM needs to enjoy the game as well as the players
  • The GM and players need to constantly win each other's trust. The GM needs to set a good example.
  • Run the game for the players you actually have, not the players you would like to have
  • Learn the range of risk-taking your players will appreciate to inform the level of risk in your game.
  • Lower PC casualty rates and a stable player base allows more personal plots to be run. Some players want personal plots
  • Tone deaf GMs scare a bunch of new players from the hobby. Talk to your players, try and find out what they want from the game first.

Sometimes GM and players want different games. Compromise may work, or it might be time for a different GM or different players. Sometimes a GM can play in a gamestyle they can't run well.
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
Just thought of another rather significant aspect of the GM's job that nobody has really hit yet: to reliably show up for her own games.

A game can almost always sail if a player no-shows, but it can never sail if the GM no-shows.

I've been lucky in that I've always had reliable GMs who give lots of warning if a session is going to sink due to their own unavailability; and I try to do likewise myself. I've known others who weren't so lucky.....

The games I run are at my own home, so that's not an issue.

Now, be up and awake by the time the first player arrives after cramming most of the night for the 8-hour session...well, that's a challenge.
 

Do you think it's the job of the GM to make interesting things happen to your character, because that's a protagonist? Or are orcs no more likely to raid your own castle, than they are to target the identical castle nearby?

One of my major pet peeves (as a player) is a GM who treats the party like they are the protagonists of a novel, and try to contrive interesting things to happen to them for the sake of plot. It really damages my immersion in this other persona, when it feels like the whole world is just a narrative construct.

eh, it's all elf games, I want lots of action and fun. :p
 

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