Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Brave New Thawed Out World.

DM David is wondering about different styles of DMing, and he’s especially interested in the dichotomy between the “classic” impartial referee and the more modern “collaborative storyteller.” On Twitter (seriously, that’s still a thing?) he posed the question:

How do you feel about GMs who eavesdrop on your conversations, and then incorporate your speculations in the game?

  • Love it. Let’s tell stories together.
  • Hate it. The DM shouldn’t steal my ideas to complicate my character’s life.

And, to his surprise, the lovers far outnumbered the haters. He thinks the lovers might not be thinking it all the way through, however:

…my sense of the answers is that folks don’t often imagine their DM overhearing a worst-case scenario, and then wielding it against characters. If players only wanted compelling stories, DMs should sometimes adopt players’ cruelest ideas and use them. Stories feature characters facing obstacles. Countless sources of writing advice tell writers to torture their beloved characters. But how many players want to participate in the torture of their alter egos?

There are more folks like that than I suspect DM David realizes. There are players who love random character generation because they enjoy compensating for the handicaps, or playing those handicaps. There are players out there that relish getting their characters into trouble and (hopefully) getting them back out again. There are players who love to toss the dice and see what happens, daring a carousing table, a table of Death & Dismemberment, or a Deck of Many Things to do its worst. There are players out there who love it when their character collects a cool scar. Hell, the warlock class is basically built around the idea that something horrible has already happened to a character before the game even starts!

Now, in my (extremely limited and unscientific) experience, these players do want an interesting story around the tortures a sadistic DM tosses at their PCs. They don’t want an endless parade of misery and degradation. But they do want to know that the bad can happen. They want either the challenge that comes with knowing that failure is, in fact, an option, or the drama that comes with both highs and lows. Sometimes both.

And then there are the true masochists… But that’s a tale for another day.

Suffice it to say, there are lots of ways to play RPGs, and nearly as many ways to play D&D. Getting the right mix of players is paramount, as is not assuming you know what everyone at the table is after. Asking and knowing beats guessing and being wrong.

Art by John Martin.


Drain said...

Interesting post, dodging past the split between "lovers" and "haters", which I find to be somewhat loaded terminology.

I'm an "impartialist" through and through.

Establish the objective facts for a scene beforehand and stick to the guns (or to the randomly rolled results). By all means, adapt them to dynamically suit the situation and gameworld (or even genre conventions) but never allow overheard player banter or other 'tells' to twist an event's existence, details or thrust. Allowing players to influence the running without the mediation of their respective characters feels too much like opening the door to referee manipulation (and sets down the slippage tracks into player-sanctioned pandering).

trollsmyth said...

Drain: yeah, that's a classic way to DM, both time-proven and easy once you've committed yourself. And I say "easy" mostly because it's the best way not to create problems for yourself.

I've been going with a theme-based style, where I take player suggestions when they promote the theme we've all agreed upon ahead of time. So long as folks remain open to the theme, and we all understand what the theme is, I've found it an excellent way to run games. But it requires a lot of trust around the table.