Saturday, June 28, 2014

Should we design Roleplaying Games like Dungeons and Dragons for bad Game Masters?

We do indeed need good Game Masters. We should absolutely not design a game system to protect players from bad Game Masters. Every rule written should be as desirable for a good Game Master as it is for a bad one. It is ok for rules to be optional and to exist from game to game based on player interests and desires. Rules for variety and flavor are not in question here. Rules that exist because it is believed they can rein in a bad Game Master are bad and harmful to the game.

So what is a good Game Master? A good Game Master is someone who is devoted to the fun of his group. This one trait and the will to learn is all it will take to be a good Game Master. He has his creativity and his energy to offer to provide a campaign that his players will enjoy. A good Game Master will know his own strengths and weaknesses and seek out players whose interests resonate with his own. A good Game Master should want to learn and to get better. He should be flexible when possible and strong when not. He should make sure that all players are having fun including himself. A Game Master has to always realize he can make a mistake and he is allowed to fix it and learn from it.

A good Game Master can be unskilled. You can pick up the game for the first time and be a good Game Master. Your intent will triumph ultimately. You will make mistakes when you first start. You will also make mistakes when you've been at it for thirty years. Hopefully not as many. If your players have faith that you are in fairness striving for the game to be fun and trying hard to be fair, they will be understanding. There should never be enmity or rivalry between the Game Master and the players. If you have players that don't respect your efforts and can't accept your work as an unbiased gift of fun then you should find some new players. Not every Game Master is good for every group of players. When a Game Master finds a group that he can have fun with then he is fulfilling his mission. The mission is fun.

A bad Game Master is someone not devoted to fun for the entire group. His own fun is all that matters and ruining others fun is fine so long as his own is not lessened. If such GM's acquire any skill it is only in grieving their players and causing them to curse the game.  I've met a few lost souls along the way who've been abused by such Game Masters. These kinds of people do not help the game and are better off out of it. They should either be confronted and forced to reform by their players or they should be ousted as Game Master.

The game designers will fail to protect a group of players from their Game Master. Rules designed to prevent abusive Game Masters are wasted space. Game Masters can change anything. They can create any circumstance. They are unstoppable by rules. Rule 0, the best rule in the book by the way if used benevolently, is impossible to resist if used for harm. So protecting players from their Game Masters is a fools errand.

Instead the game designers should focus on helping good Game Masters to become more skilled. Help those Game Masters, who want to make their players happy, be more effective at doing so. The Game Masters guide should absolutely tell Game Masters that they can change anything at any time in the name of fun. There is no wrong way to role-play using the  rules. If you use them to have fun then you are winning. So I call out to the games designers to know the difference. Know that good Game Masters want help and bad one's aren't listening anyway. Give us clear rules that are easy to use and easy to adjudicate because good Game Masters still need help. Help good Game Masters to avoid mistakes and continually improve.

When the game designers spend time lessening the fun for good Game Masters and their groups in a vain attempt to make bad Game Masters behave is a wasted day. There is no right way. There are only many disparate fun ways for many disparate groups. Help those groups and their Game Master to prosper and have fun and they will not forget you.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I think you're confusing what the rules you are talking about are there for.

    For example, what is the point of having 10 RPG's if a group goes and plays each one in exactly the same way? Maybe they are cat people in one or robots in another, but when they all play out the exact same way as each other, what's the point of thos RPG's?

    If you see that as a problem, then rules (if you get over rule zero fetishes) can help you play in a way you would not otherwise play in.

    The rules you think are there to stop bad GM's are more likely for breaking a groups status quo and having them actually play differently than in other RPG's.

    Edit: Had to change something so I deleted my previous post to do that.

  3. No problem. Thanks for stopping by. Perhaps I should have made it clearer but I am not against different games and different rules. At least not in the abstract. Obviously I have my preferences. I'm talking about rules specifically designed with the goal of stopping a bad DM.

    Also I don't consider it a valid argument if someone says we can't leave this spell as open ended as it is because bad DMs will abuse it. Bad DMs will find a way. Just write rules as if we all had good DMs. Not highly trained DMs but good ones. And stop playing with bad ones!

  4. If we're talking about something like the charm spell, I think possibly everyone's arguing it on the wrong axis. It's a question of how much the rules speak into play - clearly with A: a game where the GM just decides whether you hit Vs B: A game where you roll dice to hit, in such a comparison B speaks into play far more than A does.

    Sometimes the developers don't understand their rules are hardly speaking into play at all - in such a case they need to understand their rules are mumbling!

    However the D&D developers seem reasonably skilled so they probably have charm person speaking into play about as much as they want it to.

  5. All rules though have to eventually go from precise results to DM adjudication. The nature of some rules are better served being more open ended. No one is arguing an attack shouldn't be a roll to hit. Things like charm person or the outcome of any persuasion skill check should not be absolute. No DM should make an NPC do something completely against his nature because of a skill roll. In the case of charm, I like the notion of adjusting the base reaction and then letting the skill system take over. It makes for a nice 1st level spell that is not overpowered.