D&D 5E Who Picks the Campaign? DMs, Players, and Choice


Limit Break Dancing
I always poll my players about the upcoming campaign. I set up and maintain a SurveyMonkey account for this very reason! But it's not entirely democratic...

In each survey, I'll present the players with a list of questions. Then give each question a selection of multiple-choice answers. Then I'll send out the survey, and we will go with the option(s) that get the most votes. But here's the thing: I only put options on the survey that I would want to run as a DM. I have absolutely zero interest in running an evil campaign, for example, so that option never appears on any of my surveys.

So yes, my players get to pick the campaign setting...but they pick it from a carefully curated list of options that I've already vetted.
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No flips for you!
I'd strongly recommend Other Worlds, which has a great chapter on group worldbuilding and campaign design, but then I did write it so I might be slightly biased.

To answer the earlier question, I think generic games (like mine) can cover anything, not just in genre but also in tone, but some things will come easier than others. Mine's a story now/conflict resolution system so it can do swashbuckly cinematic stuff very easily. It can also do gritty, brutal stuff pretty easily as long as you don't hold back in the stakes of conflicts. I guess resource management would be more difficult; it can give a simulation of that, again in terms of conflict stakes and also fictional positioning, but it can't literally do it one-for-one because it isn't trying to count ammo, money, etc.
Right, it couldn't give me a tactical depth like, say, Twilight 2020. No system is truly generic and capable of anything. Any claim to such is carrying a load of assumptions.

I'll take a look at Other Worlds, though. Thanks for the recommendation.


No flips for you!
Well, to counter the ridiculous claim that "Generic systems...aren't actually generic. They are at best semi-generic. Any finite ruleset will still be notably better at supporting some themes than others" requires only that one (1) of the sum total of every generic system be actually generic and without bias. I haven't read or played every generic system, so I can only work from what I know, but ridiculous claim is ridiculous.

Risus is close, but it has an obvious comedic bent due to the bonus dice for using your cliches in absurd ways. Though you can remove that with officially supported optional rules. Or that is the optional rules, I can't remember. So Risus without the comedy bias would be truly generic.

Over the Edge 3rd Edition comes close as a system. The setting is obviously geared toward a particular style. But the system itself can be used as a generic universal system. The bias there is in pro-active PCs succeed on a 7+/2d6 whereas reactive PCs succeed on an 8+/2d6. While I recognize that as a bias, I'm not sure how meaningful that is. I mean it's 16.67% more likely to succeed, to it's meaningful, but I'm not sure how meaningful that is re: whether that's enough bias to not count as "truly generic". You could easily remove that distinction, thus removing that bias, so OtE3E without that pro-active bias would be truly generic.

Fate has an inherent bias towards actively emulating stories and it also rewards active rather than passive play, so the Fate point economy, etc. I'm not sure you could dig that out without destroying what makes it tick. But again, that's a bias towards emulating story structure...so maybe, maybe not. Its mechanics emulate stories, so it's generic in that regard, but then the counter claim will be that in emulating stories it's not generic. Which is fair.

Cthulhu Dark is a horror game but there are optional rules to make it run other genres. Simply removing the horror genre rules and not replacing them with rules for another genre would make it an unbiased generic system.

Simple World is a generic Powered by the Apocalypse game that gives you the tools (simple as they are) to make your own PbtA game for any genre. So that’s a truly generic system.

There’s also MAR Barker’s generic system for Empire of the Petal Throne, which uses “Roll 1d100. 01-10 is good. 90-100 is bad. Use common sense for the rest.” That’s the entire system.

There’s also Bob Meyer’s system he uses/used for the annual Blackmoor game. “Roll opposed 2d6. Higher roll wins. Negotiate if you’re close.” That’s the whole thing.
Right, so none of these are actually truly generic, which was the claim made. Is there a planned second post that contains the actual rebuttal?

I've sometimes seen people discuss how they choose to start a campaign in D&D- not to mention seen it many times in my own life. And while I've seen a lot of different ways to make this initial decision, I've seen one comment that stuck with me- it was the idea of a DM polling the players to determine what setting to run their campaign in. And I thought to myself, "That is precisely the opposite of what I would do. In fact, if a DM polled my table to determine the campaign setting I would run away faster than if the DM said, 'Hey guys, how would you feel about an all-Bard campaign with the goal of helping the elves take over the world?'"
First, are you as funny in person as you are in your writing? :) Just saying, thanks for making us smile.
I get the impulse. Tables are necessarily collaborative. This isn't an issue of DM fiat, or a DM saying, "My way or the highway." People can, and should, discuss the type of game they want to play as well as their expectations for the campaign in 5e. There should be reasonable tradeoffs - maybe try X this time, and agree to try Y next time.
For this, I say, step up and DM. As long as you don't have a DM that needs to DM, then the the next time we try Y, someone else take the wheel. I feel certain many DMs would be happy without the hours of prep. (I know there are other POVs, but for many this is true.)
That said, for my personal preference, give me a DM with a point of view any day of the week. At the majority of tables, the amount of work that the DM puts in to the game is greater than that put in by the players, which means that I want the DM to be invested in what she is doing, and to be knowledgeable about her campaign; is there anything worse than a DM who is uncaring about the campaign setting, and less knowledgeable about the lore of her campaign than the players? Having a player that isn't invested in the campaign can be a tragedy, but when the DM isn't invested, that's a campaign-killer.

When I play, I want the DM to take ownership of the setting. To be honest, it doesn't even matter what the DM is running; it could be Greyhawk, Ravnica, Exandria, Theros, Eberron, Dark Sun, or some random homebrew where a Mindflayer/Flumph alliance has enslaved humanity. Heck, even things that sound absolutely terrible ("All my vampires are sparkly!" or "Forgotten Realms, but with even more Elminster!") will probably work out okay if the DM cares about the game they are running.
This. ☝️
It is so well stated, concise, and poignant.
I think it behooves us all to think back to a campaign we didn't DM and see what we liked (if it was good) or what we didn't (if it was bad). My gut says if it was good, it was because the DM had a clear point of view on the campaign. And if it was bad or boring, it was because the DM didn't have clear direction for the story, their world, or what they wanted.

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