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Airk
2014-02-06, 11:07 AM
Putting the ol' airquotes around "difficult" in the topic, because honestly, I don't think it is. What I really mean is "why do so many people do it so badly?"

We've got threads and threads and threads here, ranging from "Tell me about your worst DM" mutual venting/sympathy to posts full of people desperately trying to save someone who has bad-DM'd themselves into a corner.

So. What is it about running a game that causes so many people to fail at it? (Both their first time and, in an appalling number of cases, over and over.) Is there a lack of good information in games on HOW to do this? It seems possible, especially when talking about older games, which in many cases included advice that was actually actively bad (Lookin' at you, World of Darkness!). Is it just that some people are incapable of thinking "how will this look from the other side of the GM screen?" Obviously, there's some sort of 'skill' involved here, but you'd expect things to be more "Well, that wasn't that good, but I see what went wrong." rather than the various horror stories we get around here.

Rhynn
2014-02-06, 11:29 AM
I think a lot of people have misconceptions or specific ideas about what it is to run a game, and they try to put these into practice in ways that don't work out.

Specifically, I think a lot of people get their ideas about how the game should run from reading novels, watching movies, and playing video games.

Those are great sources for bits and pieces to put in your game - inspiration for characters, setpieces, locations, and set-ups.

But - in the majority of RPGs - any time you go into the game with a firm idea of what will or should happen (as GM or player), you're going to run into a fundamental problem: there are other people involved, and they have (and deserve to have) agency, and you can't control what they do, and that changes how things happen.

Frequently, problems arise from GMs trying to mitigate the effect the players have on events. They change rules, they railroad players, they abuse their power and behave badly, they panic, they scramble. Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold, and mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.


So. What is it about running a game that causes so many people to fail at it? (Both their first time and, in an appalling number of cases, over and over.) Is there a lack of good information in games on HOW to do this? It seems possible, especially when talking about older games, which in many cases included advice that was actually actively bad (Lookin' at you, World of Darkness!).

Yes, there is a lack of good information. Many RPGs don't explicitly address how to run a game at all, and many more (like AD&D 2E and D&D 3.5, which have had a major influence on the hobby in general) give actively bad advice, both explicitly and implicitly by setting bad examples.

Now, what actually constitutes a good game (as in, an event and experience, not a system) is obviously going to vary, but I feel that the most obnoxiously bad GMs are the ones who are trying to control things they shouldn't.

There are other types of bad GMs, like the ones who have no grasp on the game at all, and it just sort of flails around. Hey, I was like that as a kid. (Then I became the above kind as a teen, and then I got better.) This is mostly a problem of planning and organizing. It doesn't take a lot of either, IMO, to run a great game, but it does take a little, and that requires awareness and intent.

A lot of the issue is with self-awareness. I think it can be hard for people who do possess the capacity for metacognition (assessing and observing your own thinking and decision-making with something resembling objectivity) to understand, but some people just plain can't look objectively at what they're doing and why. If you can't assess how you're running a game, you are only going to run a good game by chance. Some people certainly get lucky and find a method that works for them and their group purely by chance, but others just stumble around, doing the wrong things. Or, as you put it:


some people are incapable of thinking "how will this look from the other side of the GM screen?"

I'm honestly not sure how well these self-observing skills can be taught and learned, even. Certainly, people aren't born with them, and develop them over their childhood especially, but it may be that at a certain point, probably as a young adult, you're kinda stuck with what you've got. Who knows?

obryn
2014-02-06, 11:29 AM
I'd say that if you combine immaturity (assuming a lot of these are from either teens or adults who never grew up) with a frequent lack of social skills, and then impose a power structure on top of it where not everyone is equal and one player is in control, you are almost begging for bad situations to arise. :smallsmile:

But I think it's also a lack of good examples, bad habits passed down over "generations," and a lack of actual advice about the social parts of running a game. (You see a lot about the rules for stuff like village populations in various DMGs, but not a lot about how to manage your players, keep the game fun, and keep things moving.)

CarpeGuitarrem
2014-02-06, 11:41 AM
There's a few reasons I can think of.

GM instruction is terrible. Some games have advice on building challenging encounters. Some games have outlines of settings and some ideas on how to make locations interesting. Games that teach you how to run a game are far less common, and the closest that RPGs get to proper GMing instruction is a sort of oral tradition, where you learn GMing techniques from those who GM you.

The GM role is complex. You are a voice of authority, a nexus for social problems, the face of a world, the one who ties plot threads together, the one who plays the opposition to a team of heroes, and the one expected to have an exhaustive knowledge of the rules and the setting. To reinforce the first point, games in general do not teach you the skills for this.

Players' needs are complex. Players need/want to be challenged, to have the freedom to choose their path, to find an engaging story, to believe in the world, to have an experience, to be entertained.

The mainstream game, D&D, is limited in its scope. You can do things other than "heroes face a series of challenges on their way to the endgame", but that requires harder work. D&D doesn't give a GM tools for the tone or style of many types of stories--they have to make it work themself. There's little support for other types of stories.

The problem of power. Hardly anyone has the same idea of what the authority of a GM means, and it's easy for that authority to go to a GM's head.

Is that an exhaustive list? Nah. But I think it's a great overview of a number of reasons why the GM's role is problematic. What it distills to, I think, is that there is a mainstream expectation of the GM that's not quite fair: the one player who organizes everything, puts in all of the prep-work, arbitrates any at-the-table conflicts, puts up with the players' ridiculousness, and in exchange gets absolute power (as opposed to the players, whose primary rule is "just show up"). It's a mindset that has an imbalance of power--it might technically be equal(ish), but it's not equitable.

EDIT: an addendum point I just thought of: I suspect that not enough GMs swap out with players, which hinders their ability to empathize with players and understand that perspective. And that flows both ways. In a group where all of the players take turns running games, I suspect that problems are greatly lessened.

Rhynn
2014-02-06, 11:48 AM
I don't think it is.

Anecdote:

Early on, as a 9-12 -year-old GMing for friends, I rarely found the role of GM difficult. (The most difficult aspect was trying to keep a bunch of little kids focused on an activity when you're a little kid yourself!) 12-16 was sort of a golden period, with countless hours of great fun and little difficulty.

Later on, around 16-21, when my ambitions and aspirations for "telling stories" through games had grown, it often felt difficult: I couldn't keep my games "on point," I felt I failed to present something just right, I had too many threads to weave together, and so on.

Then, I gradually grew and worked out of those ideas, consciously changed how I ran games, and it's easy again! It may not be complete coincidence that I have also returned to retroclones of the first games I played and draw from the well of modules I did back then (although, honestly, I rarely actually ran modules then, more just read them). But, on the side, there are many other, newer systems, too.

Of course, it helps that my players are great people and friends and not giant jerks and bungholes like the players many other people seem to be saddled with.

kailkay
2014-02-06, 11:52 AM
In my experience, the 'bad GMs' are the ones who don't realize that roleplaying games are best served as a group story-telling thing, with some crazy awesome action sequences.

They want the story to be about their BAMF DMPC, or they want the story to be about how the PCs die against this group of enemies, or they want the story to evolve in exactly one direction, inorganically, without input from other people.

Airk
2014-02-06, 11:58 AM
In my experience, the 'bad GMs' are the ones who don't realize that roleplaying games are best served as a group story-telling thing, with some crazy awesome action sequences.

They want the story to be about their BAMF DMPC, or they want the story to be about how the PCs die against this group of enemies, or they want the story to evolve in exactly one direction, inorganically, without input from other people.

Sure, but where do these people get this idea? I suppose there's just a lack of information in the rulebooks about what the GM is supposed to do?

But then, it seems like some people don't even care what the 'book says' (This seems to be a problem for the GM in the much-derailed "Story Heavy, Rules Light" thread.) so how do you approach the problem?

Rhynn
2014-02-06, 12:01 PM
Sure, but where do these people get this idea? I suppose there's just a lack of information in the rulebooks about what the GM is supposed to do?

I think a lot of it just is the idea that "RPGs = video games & novels & movies" and that they should be able to tell those same stories in the same way through RPGs. But of those, only video games have any player agency, and even that's usually enormously limited - especially in the tightly-plotted RPGs they usually look to for inspiration and imitate. (Yeah, yeah, Choose Your Own Adventure, etc., special cases.)

DMSabre
2014-02-06, 12:02 PM
I would surmise that many of us started GMing/DMing with little or no experience in gaming, so we had no basis for what was possible or allowable other than the rulesets. Few people get exposure to many different GM styles other than what is in their gaming group, and that group is likely to have been influenced by the player's style, so it's a bit circular.

As a result, my own style was very classical. It wasn't until I had a chance to be exposed to completely new and different styles of GMing that I had my world expanded to what include not only what the words 'said' but also what the words 'meant'.

In today's world of gaming podcasts and sites like these, that barrier has fallen down quite a bit and made it easier for people to transfer their knowledge about how they think and implement the rules in creative ways.

But, if all you have to go on is the printed rulebooks, there's a lot of learning about the art of GMing yet to do.

NichG
2014-02-06, 12:29 PM
I think there's roughly three categories of DMs. I'll label them -1, 0, and 1.

Category -1: These DMs basically have internal goals that are inherently somewhat in conflict with the game actually being (stably) fun. A DM who really wants to tell a cool story they came up with to a captive audience, for example. The issue here is, no matter how much instructional material or advice or whatever you give, it is actually against their interest to improve. These 'category -1' DMs are basically the source of most of the horror stories you hear.

I'd also include DMs with particular personality issues that they fail to or cannot control in this category, so long as those issues actively prevent them from being a good DM.

Category 0: These are DMs who want to improve, but just aren't there yet. Learning to DM well takes time, and as long as new people are taking up the DM chair there will always be lots of people who haven't really honed their art yet. Also, the line between Category 0 and Category 1 is very much a matter of personal opinion.

I would say the key characteristic of 'Category 0' DMing is that the DM does things because they've seen it done in other games, or they have some idea that 'this is what the game is', but there is an incoherency between what they want from the game and what they do to make it happen. This is where you often see, e.g., someone deciding to run a 'low magic' campaign in D&D because their last D&D got dominated by casters; or someone who accidentally TPKs the party because they don't understand how encounter difficulty, action economy, etc all connect together.

These DMs (and their games) will be generally okay, but may have issues keeping steam all the way to the conclusion, may have player/DM/rules conflicts that sour the game, or have other problematic moments. You hear stories about these moments, but in general the problem is specific things, not the game as a whole.

Category 1: These DMs have been doing it long enough that they have some idea how to produce the game they want to run. This game may not be for everyone, so that can actually lead to some 'horror story' like reactions, but the main distinction is that they do things 'intentionally' or 'purposefully'.

I think at this point, the DM's personal style and tastes start to come through more clearly. While a Category 0 DM might angle things in ways that they personally like, they don't necessarily how to make it work (especially if the system doesn't quite match their personal tastes). At Category 1, the DM basically has the experience to work around that.

Category 1 is not necessarily 'better' than category 0 for all players (though I would say Category 1 DMs are capable of producing gaming experiences that are more polished than Category 0 DMs). I would rather say that the biases of the system will shine through more with category 0 DMs, and the biases of the DM will shine through more with category 1 DMs.

Anyhow, the point of all this is, the horror stories are mostly coming from DMs who are not actively trying to make the experience fun for everyone, but are just trying to do something for their own sake. Which, actually, is very common at gaming tables in players as well (the guy who plays a rogue that always steals from party members just because he can, or the guy who plays a character who just doesn't fit into the setting or storyline or party dynamics or power level of the campaign). Information about 'how to be a good X' is all well and good, if people actually want to follow it. But some just don't.

Airk
2014-02-06, 12:35 PM
I'm not sure the category system works because:

A) I think there are "category -1" GMs who only do it that way because they don't know better.
B) I think not all category 0 GMs "want to improve" - which is not the say they aren't willing to improve, but 'want' to improve implies they are exerting some effort.

And even after all that, I don't think you've meaningfully addressed why people fall into these categories.

CarpeGuitarrem
2014-02-06, 12:39 PM
I think a lot of it just is the idea that "RPGs = video games & novels & movies" and that they should be able to tell those same stories in the same way through RPGs. But of those, only video games have any player agency, and even that's usually enormously limited - especially in the tightly-plotted RPGs they usually look to for inspiration and imitate. (Yeah, yeah, Choose Your Own Adventure, etc., special cases.)
This is a great point; RPGs are a very different medium for story, and GMs don't really account for that, especially when the ruleset they use is calibrated to giving the characters problems to solve, and nothing else. (No framework for building a narrative, nothing.)

Dungeon World and associated games do a much better job of leveraging game-as-story-medium, because they teach a model of "the GM draws on the players for content, then ties things together, building on their answers".

valadil
2014-02-06, 12:40 PM
1. GMing requires work.
2. As a GM you will be more invested in your game than all the players combined. This is frustrating.
3. GMing is a skill that requires practice. Many people ragequit before they can get good.
4. The GM is a single point of failure for the entire game.
5. The GM is in the spotlight. Some of us get stage fright. (I've GMed for 11 years and my pre-game random encounter still includes stomach butterflies from time to time.) This can be detrimental to your performance.

AMFV
2014-02-06, 12:53 PM
Putting the ol' airquotes around "difficult" in the topic, because honestly, I don't think it is. What I really mean is "why do so many people do it so badly?"

We've got threads and threads and threads here, ranging from "Tell me about your worst DM" mutual venting/sympathy to posts full of people desperately trying to save someone who has bad-DM'd themselves into a corner.

So. What is it about running a game that causes so many people to fail at it? (Both their first time and, in an appalling number of cases, over and over.) Is there a lack of good information in games on HOW to do this? It seems possible, especially when talking about older games, which in many cases included advice that was actually actively bad (Lookin' at you, World of Darkness!). Is it just that some people are incapable of thinking "how will this look from the other side of the GM screen?" Obviously, there's some sort of 'skill' involved here, but you'd expect things to be more "Well, that wasn't that good, but I see what went wrong." rather than the various horror stories we get around here.

Well there are a variety of problems many of which have been covered, but there is also a question of divergent tastes. If a DM would like to play a different style of game, then he can't understand why it's a problem, because even if he could put himself on the other side, he would enjoy the game. Since people's tastes in roleplaying games vary so dramatically, this kind of taste disparity can create a bad experience for everybody. It's why being up-front about tastes is a really important part of forming a group.

Rhynn
2014-02-06, 12:59 PM
It's why being up-front about tastes is a really important part of forming a group.

I think this can be expanded into a broader area of potential trouble: communication, and communicating poorly.

Many players, GMs or not, won't even think that there might be such a thing as "sitting down together and figuring what we want to play and how." Working together to choose the system, the genre, the style, the premise, and agreeing on rules and conventions for playing (the "meta-rules") can be very helpful, but they are often not addressed at all by RPG sourcebooks. If everyone is coming into the game with different assumptions (not to mention different tastes), trouble can result.

Some GMs further exacerbate this by wielding what power and authority they have to force everyone else to play things their way.

obryn
2014-02-06, 01:15 PM
Many players, GMs or not, won't even think that there might be such a thing as "sitting down together and figuring what we want to play and how." ...
Some GMs further exacerbate this by wielding what power and authority they have to force everyone else to play things their way.
It's stunning to me how often people post here (for some reason, here more than any other board I'm on) about a problem like, "My player is being disruptive and causing everyone else to have less fun," and get answers like, "Kill his character with a lightning bolt!" instead of "Why not sit down and talk like people?"

So, for all the DMs out there who haven't learned this yet: Almost all in-game problems have, as their root causes, out-of-game issues. Handle out-of-game issues with out-of-game solutions.

NichG
2014-02-06, 01:21 PM
I'm not sure the category system works because:

A) I think there are "category -1" GMs who only do it that way because they don't know better.
B) I think not all category 0 GMs "want to improve" - which is not the say they aren't willing to improve, but 'want' to improve implies they are exerting some effort.

And even after all that, I don't think you've meaningfully addressed why people fall into these categories.

Well, in the formal sense, the Category -1 GMs who only do it that way because they don't know better are actually Category 0. The intent was to reserve Category -1 for GMs who specifically are actively trying to produce something that in general is going to be considered a bad game by the players.

Basically 'actively malign/selfish GMing', 'GMing reflexively', 'GMing with purpose'.

I'll accept that this may not be a useful way to categorize, but I think it is important to make the point 'existence of material on how to be a good DM does nothing if the person doesn't want to be a good DM'.

As to 'why' people might fall into this or that category, that hardly seems like a topic that would fit into a single forum thread. In short, there are tons of reasons why people do things that are self-gratifying. It shouldn't actually be a surprise that this extends to DMing too. Basically the question is 'why do people have desires?' and 'why are some of those desires harmful to others?', which I think is pretty broad.

Airk
2014-02-06, 01:25 PM
I think this can be expanded into a broader area of potential trouble: communication, and communicating poorly.

Many players, GMs or not, won't even think that there might be such a thing as "sitting down together and figuring what we want to play and how." Working together to choose the system, the genre, the style, the premise, and agreeing on rules and conventions for playing (the "meta-rules") can be very helpful, but they are often not addressed at all by RPG sourcebooks. If everyone is coming into the game with different assumptions (not to mention different tastes), trouble can result.

Some GMs further exacerbate this by wielding what power and authority they have to force everyone else to play things their way.

Super good point, and probably one of the biggest issues with the hobby right now. No one runs into this sort of thing when they sit down to play poker, because poker has clearly defined rules and expectations, but for better or worse, RPGs are all over the map in terms of what people think they are, and even when you are playing a game with relatively defined objectives (Like D&D) many people insist on using it for something else.

Silus
2014-02-06, 01:29 PM
For me as a new DM, the problems are:

1) Player management.
2) Loot distribution.
3) Trying to prep for every eventuality so there's no bogging down as the DM scrambles to try and come up with something plausible for what the PCs just did.
4) NOT railroading and actually allowing the players to do things their own way, even if (and especially if) that thing is not going along with the plot you've carefully crafted for the last half year.
5) Players being jerks and taking advantage of common screwups that a new DM will make.

SiuiS
2014-02-06, 01:32 PM
For the same reason writing is so difficult. It's not just a matter of having an idea, you've got to convey it artfully (the method of conveyance being an art itself), with a full grasp of nuance, fully aware of what details are only obvious because you invented them versus being apparent from writing, etc.

The number of people who couldn't spell, couldn't explain beyond basic grammar and who couldn't keep past and present tense in line who insisted they were gifted writers because they had stories to tell escapes my count, because it is very large. DMing is similar. Couple it with the fact that it's much easier to know when something sucks than to make something my suck... Yeah.

Jay R
2014-02-06, 02:09 PM
Nobody assumes that because they've read several books, they can now write one. Lots of people assume that because they have played lots of games, they can now GM one.

An essential skill to be a good GM is to care about what other people think, and how other people feel. Lots of perfectly good people aren't very good at this.

Another crucial GM skill is to shift back and forth between advanced planning and improvisation. Each can be a difficult skill; shifting between them is a third difficult skill.

A GM must be able to make a ruling quickly and fairly. Lots of people cannot do that.

Finally, all complex tasks require practice. If players have no patience with a poor GM, how can she get the practice it will take to get good?

Concrete
2014-02-06, 02:31 PM
The main reason for my personal failings as a GM is that I like to write stories. I like things to have a certain structure, I want things to have a certain tone, and I want a certain development arc.
I am used to having full control over the protagonists, and when I need them to be frightened, they get frightened. When I need them to get angry, they get angry. I know what they think, and I know what would make them react in certain ways.

Then, when I try to GM, the protagonists are both co-authors and audience. I can give a villain a grand entrance, but no one is gonna let that guy speak, when they can put an arrow in his face whe his guard is down. I can try to make a chase scene, but there will always be someone who won't run. I have to give five radically different characteers room to develop, but if I misjudge one of their motivations by even a smidge, they will walk right past a plothook meant for them just to jump on someone elses, or they will notice the one put out for them, but be offended that I misjudged them.

I have to give them room to act as individuals, but the rules makes one of them the face and the others meat. I have to find things for each one to do, while not making each encounter and problem a case of "insert key A into lock A"

A group needs conflicts and resolution, but I have no control over their chemistry.

Even with the best possible group of players (even if they can get a bit silly at times), I just end up either losing all control, or giving them none.
I simply don't have the flexibility to do it well, but no one else wants to do it! Add to that a whole host of issues, a fear of letting people down, or influencing their relationship to me IRL. I'm simply too small for my shoes, and as I notice them getting more bored for every session that passes, I just get more and more desperate, more and more stressed, and just generally worse.

I am a writer, and what a dm needs to be is a director, negotiator and a mastermind. And that is why I fail.

Lorsa
2014-02-06, 02:31 PM
I actually find playing to be more difficult than GMing. Maybe that's just me?

The one important things to keep in mind is that proper GMing is a skill. A skill needs to be learnt. You can learn in various ways but eventually you reach a point where you need practice.

I consider myself to be a good GM, not by my own standard but by the reactions I get from the variety of players I have had. By my own standard I still need to get better and see faults with almost any campaign I run (and try to avoid doing the same again).

However, I have been GMing for 20 years. Before I started GMing I had made a character and played for about 40 minutes. I didn't even have any rulebook when I started, I wrote down what I remembered and then we just completely winged the rest. Looking back I have no idea how we found that acceptable but it was so fun that one of the players that had to be home every day at a specific time to eat dinner actually RAN 2 km and back (he didn't have a bike) to get back to the session faster.

So I really think the problem is that many people haven't been GMing enough. Maybe they've been playing for 10 years and are just now trying it out. Maybe they are new to the hobby and compare themselves with people who've been doing it for 20 years. It takes practice. Much practice. Many many long hours. Lots of mistakes that you have to learn from.

To be perfectly honest, I think everyone should start out GMing as early as possible in their roleplaying career. The moment you've been introduced to the hobby, you should sit down and start running your own game. If you've been roleplaying for a year but never been GM you've waited for too long. It should be a session or two before you start yourself. That's the best way to get better and where I think most people fail. They simply don't practice enough.

Rhynn
2014-02-06, 02:32 PM
plot you've carefully crafted for the last half year

I know this can be a crushingly depressingly idea - I know, I've been in the mindset you are - but don't do that. Just don't.

Spend half a year crafting a setting, a world, instead. That pays off over and over, if you keep developing it over the years. People have run decades of games in a single setting, created entire game systems around their settings, and even sold both to thousands of other people to play with and in.

The most carefully-crafted plot only lasts a while. A decently-crafted setting keeps on going.


Nobody assumes that because they've read several books, they can now write one. Lots of people assume that because they have played lots of games, they can now GM one.

Worse yet, they assume that because they've read several books, they can now GM a book.


Finally, all complex tasks require practice. If players have no patience with a poor GM, how can she get the practice it will take to get good?

This is absolutely true. For more than half of the time I've been playing and GMing, I ran embarrassingly bad games. Horribly, horribly bad. But we had more fun than not, and I steadily got better.

Scow2
2014-02-06, 02:44 PM
\ I didn't even have any rulebook when I started, I wrote down what I remembered and then we just completely winged the rest. Looking back I have no idea how we found that acceptable but it was so fun that one of the players that had to be home every day at a specific time to eat dinner actually RAN 2 km and back (he didn't have a bike) to get back to the session faster.Why wouldn't you find that acceptable?

obryn
2014-02-06, 02:48 PM
Worse yet, they assume that because they've read several books, they can now GM a book.
I um... tried that back when I was in 6th grade or so.

It didn't happen, thank god.

Axinian
2014-02-06, 03:03 PM
Well, as others have pointed out, GMing is a complex skill... or rather a large group of ALREADY complex skills that all have to be reconciled with each other, often on the fly. Of the top of my head, there's:

1) Good planning/time management

2) Improvisation

3) Understanding of narrative structure

4) Understanding of narratives OTHER than a linear story

5) Communication/Listening skills

6) Accurate Self-Assessment

7) Working rules knowledge of basically the entire game (regardless of system)


And more. All of these are difficult to master in and of themselves, and you need to be alright in most of them to be a really effective GM. Not all of them necessarily, but that's still a lot.

Lorsa
2014-02-06, 03:16 PM
Why wouldn't you find that acceptable?

Because having actual rules helps everyone, especially the GM. :smallsmile:

Maybe I would find it acceptable, but I am quite certain most groups would find it weird if I turned up with a bunch of scribbles and said "this is what I remember of the system, let's play!". Also, we didn't have a d100, which is what you were supposed to roll, so we used d6's instead.

First roll tells you if you're between 1-50 or 51-100, second which interval of ten you're in (with sixes being re-rolls), the third roll if you're between 1-5 or 6-10 in that interval and the fourth roll which number you end up on (again sixes being re-rolls).

So to get 100 you would need to roll 4/5/6 + 5 + 4/5/6 + 5. For 32 you would need 1/2/3 + 4 + 1/2/3 + 2. I have no idea how that works with statistics but that's how we did it back when we had only d6s from old family boardgame boxes. I even remember one time when me and a friend was on a beach and wanted to do a bit of roleplaying and I figured we could use a coin as die.

That's really how I started roleplaying back when I was 13. I worked with the tools that was availible. Guess that's how I got good at improvisation and also where I got my idea that roleplaying really shouldn't be all that complicated. If you're a bunch of people sitting down one evening and feel you want to play then just start playing damnit! It's meant to be fun and not necessarily require months of planning before the first session can take place.

shadow_archmagi
2014-02-06, 03:23 PM
GMing is generally done poorly because there's no coherent guide to doing it right, and the fact that two GMs can be fantastic but radically different means that a GM who is incredibly awful will just think of his flaws as parts of his style.

"Of course I shoot down everything that interferes with the plotline I wrote. That's the only way to get anything done! My games always proceed forward very quickly and smoothly."

Lorsa
2014-02-06, 03:37 PM
"Of course I shoot down everything that interferes with the plotline I wrote. That's the only way to get anything done! My games always proceed forward very quickly and smoothly."

Which completely ignores the only metric that matters. How much fun are people having? Games moving forward quickly and smoothly has no value in itself.

ElenionAncalima
2014-02-06, 04:02 PM
An essential skill to be a good GM is to care about what other people think, and how other people feel. Lots of perfectly good people aren't very good at this.

Another crucial GM skill is to shift back and forth between advanced planning and improvisation. Each can be a difficult skill; shifting between them is a third difficult skill.

A GM must be able to make a ruling quickly and fairly. Lots of people cannot do that.



These are excellent points. I think the first one is particularly challenging. Its not just caring what other people think and feel, but also understanding them. I think a lot of people fall into the trap of assuming that if they like something, others will like it too.

A self-absorbed GM creates only the world that he/she wants to play in, full of characters that act and think like they do. They also won't realize what they are doing, because they assume people think the same way as them.

AMFV
2014-02-06, 04:08 PM
Which completely ignores the only metric that matters. How much fun are people having? Games moving forward quickly and smoothly has no value in itself.

While this is true, I find logjammed games less fun than those where I lose out on agency, which I can still find fun, as a result, I prefer quick moving over having agency when that causes the game to drag. Naturally this sort of thing will vary by group.

Silus
2014-02-06, 04:37 PM
I know this can be a crushingly depressingly idea - I know, I've been in the mindset you are - but don't do that. Just don't.

Spend half a year crafting a setting, a world, instead. That pays off over and over, if you keep developing it over the years. People have run decades of games in a single setting, created entire game systems around their settings, and even sold both to thousands of other people to play with and in.

The most carefully-crafted plot only lasts a while. A decently-crafted setting keeps on going.


The problems come when you design the setting, work hard on it, then the PCs start poking holes in it. Start asking questions to which you either have no answers because you didn't think of anything for it, or that your answer is insufficient to their liking.

What's worse is when you can't give an answer or an answer is insufficient to the player's liking (on a meta level, not a "my character can't work with this" level) that the players don't bother offering alternative answers.

Airk
2014-02-06, 04:42 PM
The problems come when you design the setting, work hard on it, then the PCs start poking holes in it. Start asking questions to which you either have no answers because you didn't think of anything for it, or that your answer is insufficient to their liking.

This is not really a problem that is specific to a "setting" though. It is as much, or even LARGER a problem with a "plot".



What's worse is when you can't give an answer or an answer is insufficient to the player's liking (on a meta level, not a "my character can't work with this" level) that the players don't bother offering alternative answers.

Challenge that BS. "Well, how do YOU think it would work? <Mr. Smart Guy>"; If they give an answer you like, use as much or as little as you want. If they try getting "clever", it might just not work exactly like they thought after all.

Silus
2014-02-06, 04:49 PM
This is not really a problem that is specific to a "setting" though. It is as much, or even LARGER a problem with a "plot".



Challenge that BS. "Well, how do YOU think it would work? <Mr. Smart Guy>"; If they give an answer you like, use as much or as little as you want. If they try getting "clever", it might just not work exactly like they thought after all.

Well an example: Had the players stumble upon a downed spacecraft deep underground. One of the players, a Fighter with an Adamantine greatsword, wanted to hack the entrance doors apart and haul them around to turn into other stuff. Now, a previous major blunder of mine (18 Adamantine doors. Shut up, I thought it was a good idea at the time) made me VERY leery of PCs going the "Take everything that's not nailed down and pry up anything that is" route, so I ruled that the Adamantine Greatsword couldn't cut through the ship hull, even though the Fighter was hitting 40's and 50's for damage.

The players called me on the snap decision to keep them from dismantling the spacecraft instead of going on with the hunting down of the BBEG. They dubbed the material "Bull****ium", though I later ruled that a/the force field was still active and was responsible for protecting the ship from harm.

No suggestions at the time were given, and they still bring up the "Bull****ium" doors, much to my great annoyance.

AMFV
2014-02-06, 04:51 PM
Well an example: Had the players stumble upon a downed spacecraft deep underground. One of the players, a Fighter with an Adamantine greatsword, wanted to hack the entrance doors apart and haul them around to turn into other stuff. Now, a previous major blunder of mine (18 Adamantine doors. Shut up, I thought it was a good idea at the time) made me VERY leery of PCs going the "Take everything that's not nailed down and pry up anything that is" route, so I ruled that the Adamantine Greatsword couldn't cut through the ship hull, even though the Fighter was hitting 40's and 50's for damage.

The players called me on the snap decision to keep them from dismantling the spacecraft instead of going on with the hunting down of the BBEG. They dubbed the material "Bull****ium", though I later ruled that a/the force field was still active and was responsible for protecting the ship from harm.

No suggestions at the time were given, and they still bring up the "Bull****ium" doors, much to my great annoyance.

Well switch to AD&D, tell them that's its privileged DM info and they don't get to know why the forcefield works. If you are playing on a non-level playing field, then get a system that supports it. Maybe work the Bull****ium into the system, have enemies start being protected by it, make it a part of the system, then they have no excuse anymore, it's now a part of the world.

Note: This is a solution after the fact, I would have just let them take the doors, since it seems like the wealth is their primary motivator, then had the BBEG mug them and steal the doors, giving them a reason to chase him(or her) and a financial incentive (recovering the doors).

Lorsa
2014-02-06, 05:09 PM
While this is true, I find logjammed games less fun than those where I lose out on agency, which I can still find fun, as a result, I prefer quick moving over having agency when that causes the game to drag. Naturally this sort of thing will vary by group.

Yes. Important here though is that "fun" is the metric we're both after. When you're a GM that's what you should work.

Besides, it's not like increased agency makes your game logjammed. They're not mutually exclusive. Still, you can prefer one over the other and that's perfectly fine.


Well an example: Had the players stumble upon a downed spacecraft deep underground. One of the players, a Fighter with an Adamantine greatsword, wanted to hack the entrance doors apart and haul them around to turn into other stuff. Now, a previous major blunder of mine (18 Adamantine doors. Shut up, I thought it was a good idea at the time) made me VERY leery of PCs going the "Take everything that's not nailed down and pry up anything that is" route, so I ruled that the Adamantine Greatsword couldn't cut through the ship hull, even though the Fighter was hitting 40's and 50's for damage.

The players called me on the snap decision to keep them from dismantling the spacecraft instead of going on with the hunting down of the BBEG. They dubbed the material "Bull****ium", though I later ruled that a/the force field was still active and was responsible for protecting the ship from harm.

No suggestions at the time were given, and they still bring up the "Bull****ium" doors, much to my great annoyance.

One of the important lessons of GMing. Never put anything in front of the players that you don't want them to have.

A question though. How did they carry 18 adamantine doors?

Rhynn
2014-02-06, 05:13 PM
18 Adamantine doors. Shut up, I thought it was a good idea at the time

Literally every DM makes this mistake. :smallbiggrin: I only had two, and the PCs went back for them (they were enormous) months of real time and many levels later, when they had the magic to get them.

The module DL1 Dragons of Despair makes sort of an ironic reference to this, back in 1984: the ruins of Xak Tsaroth contain two sets of enormous solid gold doors, but the gold is worth next to nothing (certainly not the trouble of taking the doors).


The problems come when you design the setting, work hard on it, then the PCs start poking holes in it. Start asking questions to which you either have no answers because you didn't think of anything for it, or that your answer is insufficient to their liking.

The great thing with settings is that you can keep developing them. Just don't make them too gimmicky or "special" - start straightforward. Simple isn't necessarily boring.


What's worse is when you can't give an answer or an answer is insufficient to the player's liking (on a meta level, not a "my character can't work with this" level) that the players don't bother offering alternative answers.

Put them on the spot: "What do you think?" "You tell me!"

Some of the coolest setting stuff (like the elves and dwarves of Grognardia's Dwimmermount setting) I know came about this way.


so I ruled that the Adamantine Greatsword couldn't cut through the ship hull, even though the Fighter was hitting 40's and 50's for damage.

The players called me on the snap decision to keep them from dismantling the spacecraft instead of going on with the hunting down of the BBEG. They dubbed the material "Bull****ium", though I later ruled that a/the force field was still active and was responsible for protecting the ship from harm.

You goofed up, didn't see it coming, and scrambled to fix it. That happens. You gotta make mistakes to learn. I'm sure I've done worse and don't even remembe anymore.

FWIW, I think it makes perfect sense that the outer hull of a spaceship would be impervious to PC attacks... it might be made to endure collisions with small objects at incredible velocities.

Edit: My solution after 2 minutes of thinking... adamantium is an alloy, and optionally melting it down requires highly specific possibly magical tools, making the doors mostly worthless because 1. you can't do much of anything with already-shaped adamantium and 2. you can't really find anyone who would pay anything fori t. :smallamused:

AMFV
2014-02-06, 05:14 PM
Yes. Important here though is that "fun" is the metric we're both after. When you're a GM that's what you should work.

Besides, it's not like increased agency makes your game logjammed. They're not mutually exclusive. Still, you can prefer one over the other and that's perfectly fine.

That's true, really it depends on too many factors, some DMs can work with increased character agency without failing to provide too many options, and some can't.

I remember when we had a DM for Shadowrun who wanted us to plan all of our heists without any real knowledge of the world, mocked us for not knowing to use e-mail or about the networks that were present, the game involved lots of sitting around while we had no idea what to do, which was particularly frustrating. Now a different DM might be able to produce better results, and I've had fun sandbox games. I think that knowing what styles you can work is the best way to go.

Rosstin
2014-02-06, 05:16 PM
DMing is like designing an entire complex game for just 4-6 people. It's an immense amount of work and very hard to get right. You're making an entire world and trying to stop a bag of cats from fighting at the same time. It's by nature just a really really hard thing to do.

The most important thing, as said time and time again, is to have fun. That's the only way it can work. People need to get along and be understanding of eachothers' shortcomings. It requires a lot of group chemistry and people skills in a subgroup that is stereotyped to not have those qualities.

I don't want to be a jerk or stereotype people, but from my experience, DnD and other tabletop games tend to attract people whose people skills are lacking. I couldn't tell you why this is true, but it seems to be the case. It's a cooperative game but many people seem to think of it as a videogame where they are the sole protagonist.

I think the best DMs, who are able to DM effectively without going mad, are those who have excellent skills as improvisors and multitaskers. Some people simply have a great talent for this. I confess for myself, I am not a naturally good DM. It takes quite a bit of preparation for me to create a good session. I lack the intuition and improvisational skill to make a good session without planning. That means that it takes me 4-16 hours to plan a 4-6 hour game session; therefore, I'm just not a good DM, as much as I like DMing. It's a huge time commitment for me to be even a decent DM.

Also:

1. GMing requires work.
2. As a GM you will be more invested in your game than all the players combined. This is frustrating.
3. GMing is a skill that requires practice. Many people ragequit before they can get good.
4. The GM is a single point of failure for the entire game.
5. The GM is in the spotlight. Some of us get stage fright. (I've GMed for 11 years and my pre-game random encounter still includes stomach butterflies from time to time.) This can be detrimental to your performance.

Very insightful.

Alberic Strein
2014-02-06, 05:29 PM
GMing is tiring.

Too actually tired to see if it was brought up, but really, it is. Chaining gaming sessions is tiring, struggling with that damn completely useless and suspension of disbelief breaking system is tiring. Trying to better yourself is tiring.

As a GM you want players to like what happens, to have them like it, you must be better, always better.

Which of course, creates pressure. But that one must have been brought up ten thousand times already.

veti
2014-02-06, 05:49 PM
Working together to choose the system, the genre, the style, the premise, and agreeing on rules and conventions for playing (the "meta-rules") can be very helpful, but they are often not addressed at all by RPG sourcebooks.

People who want to make money by selling a book are unlikely to start that book with "Before we begin, consider not spending money on this book. Depending on your needs, you might be much better served by one of the following list of rival products."

And even if, hypothetically, a book did begin like that, the wannabe-DM who buys it - has an investment in it, and that'll be the starting point for all their efforts to answer those questions. To adapt a popular .sig statement: "95% of all DMs started their first campaign using a system that they actually had a copy of." (Technically, I'd be one of the 5% in that case.)

This sort of advice is great for experienced roleplayers who've been around the block a few times, played (at least) half a dozen different systems and settings, and have definite ideas about what they want. But it's irrelevant to a beginner, and it's beginners who are in most need of guidance.

Rhynn
2014-02-06, 06:08 PM
People who want to make money by selling a book are unlikely to start that book with "Before we begin, consider not spending money on this book. Depending on your needs, you might be much better served by one of the following list of rival products."

That's like the tip of the iceberg as far as meta-rules go. Plenty of games do address "how do you play" too - Burning Wheel and Fate and I guess Dungeon World. But a lot of games, like D&D 3.5 and 4E, mostly just assume you know how all that works, and certainly don't acknowledge any non-standard set-ups.


This sort of advice is great for experienced roleplayers who've been around the block a few times, played (at least) half a dozen different systems and settings, and have definite ideas about what they want. But it's irrelevant to a beginner, and it's beginners who are in most need of guidance.

You could explain this in stuff in a way that a 10-year-old newbie could grasp. "Before you start, get together with your players and talk to them about what sort of a game they want to play. Do they want to be heroes or villains? Do they want to be pirates on the high seas? Do they want to be thieves in a big city, or monster-hunters in the wild?" And so on and so on.

Scow2
2014-02-06, 06:31 PM
That's like the tip of the iceberg as far as meta-rules go. Plenty of games do address "how do you play" too - Burning Wheel and Fate and I guess Dungeon World. But a lot of games, like D&D 3.5 and 4E, mostly just assume you know how all that works, and certainly don't acknowledge any non-standard set-ups.Have you never read the first few chapters of the 3.0 (3.5 is a mess) and 4e PHBs and DMGs?

Dimers
2014-02-06, 06:32 PM
Well switch to AD&D, tell them that's its privileged DM info and they don't get to know why the forcefield works.

Doesn't even have to be a particular game system. "How does your character find that out?" "Uhhh ... Knowledge (Arcana). I have a +17 modifier!" "Try again." "Knowledge (Architecture and Engineering)?" "More like Knowledge (Interstellar Travel). Got any ranks in it?" "Crap, seriously?"

@OP:

GMing is a massive skill set, and failure of any one of those skills can lead to a whole session or even a whole campaign turning sour. Insight and people management. Self-awareness, self-management. System mastery. Metagame mastery. Storytelling skills, of which there are many. Mathematics, not infrequently. Some of these can slide if the players are good at being players. Sometimes a game turns out great despite a skill being underdeveloped or poorly applied. But it's no surprise when one missing piece causes the whole thing to crash.

I've had a GM who did great character acting and made plots worthy of taking on Sherlock Holmes as a player. He didn't know what the system could do and he wasn't aware of what made a good GAME rather than a good STORY. I've had a GM who prepares in fine detail and is a master of player-introduced plot; he's brought low by RAW problems. I've had a GM who made great characters and got along really well with all the players; he either couldn't plot or couldn't express what he plotted. When I GM, I can't improvise without saying "okay, that's off my railroad, give me a few minutes", and I have a hard time keeping NPCs from turning into little Dimers-expys. I understand that playing under Gygax would be thrilling as long as you could fit within his rather limited range of character-role concepts.

Ain't nobody perfect. If someone made a perfect GM, they'd also be outrageously well-suited to many other tasks ... tasks which are frequently better rewarded by society, by things like money and sex and love and status. Meaning they'd be unlikely to have any time to spend on GMing. Same reason it's nigh-impossible to find an ideal mate. They're ideal for someone else, too.


Have you never read the first few chapters of the 3.0 (3.5 is a mess) and 4e PHBs and DMGs?

Yeah, no kidding! I haven't read 3.0 in a long time, but man, I idolize parts of the 4e DMG for the clarity they bring to the metagame.

Raum
2014-02-06, 06:52 PM
Putting the ol' airquotes around "difficult" in the topic, because honestly, I don't think it is. What I really mean is "why do so many people do it so badly?"CarpeGuitarrem's list (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showpost.php?p=16941465&postcount=4) is pretty good. The item I'd add is communication, particularly feedback.

Feedback is how you learn. You have to find out what was good, bad, and indifferent. Preferably before it becomes a forum legend. ;) I tend to think most of us started off as pretty bad GMs - I know I did. I can blame part of that on being young at the time but I had to learn. You have to know how and why you failed before you can try fixing it...and you have to know you failed before you can ask how & why.

GPuzzle
2014-02-06, 07:37 PM
As a one-shot GM for just about every system my group plays, GM'ing comes with experience, and I've started with bad storylines. The players liked the systems, and most of them we still play. But as I am literally the first one to read and test a system.

Why GM'ing is hard?

It requires a lot of stuff to take care. I'm currently GM'ing my second long running campaign and so far, so good. You've got to take care of enemy stats, feasible plot, NPCs that mix with your emotions and interesting worlds of adventure. And you've got to improvise when the players decide to make something unexpected.

It's just more work. A good GM has to think fast, create something quickly and be good at bookkeeping. It's more than the players will EVER see. Sometimes, GMs have to develop entire worlds. And then apply what's going on. Seriously, during the first campaign I GM'ed, I had played with wargames throughout the entire campaign to explain what was going on with the war to the table.

GMs have to work more than any player. It's hard because it is naturally hard. And it's naturally hard because it is much more complex than just about anything else.

obryn
2014-02-06, 07:52 PM
That's like the tip of the iceberg as far as meta-rules go. Plenty of games do address "how do you play" too - Burning Wheel and Fate and I guess Dungeon World. But a lot of games, like D&D 3.5 and 4E, mostly just assume you know how all that works, and certainly don't acknowledge any non-standard set-ups.
As has been pointed out, you should give the 4e DMG another look. It's got more raw advice about the "squishy stuff" involved in running a game than any other DMG I can name.

(Well, the 4e DMG2 has even more, but honestly that's not where you'd go when learning how to play the game.)

GPuzzle
2014-02-06, 08:00 PM
As has been pointed out, you should give the 4e DMG another look. It's got more raw advice about the "squishy stuff" involved in running a game than any other DMG I can name.

(Well, the 4e DMG2 has even more, but honestly that's not where you'd go when learning how to play the game.)

4e has one of the best DMG books I've read. It goes much more on the metagame than anything, and the whole "DM toolbox" chapters are amazing. 4e is rule-heavy on character progression, rules-medium on combat, rules-light on the skill system and is so light on fluff I think 4e's forum here is one of the most skilled forums on refluffing. So, what's left for the DMGs?

Metagaming.

RochtheCrusher
2014-02-06, 08:23 PM
Another difficulty is that, at least sometimes, the DM has to teach the players. Not only the system in question, but simple, meta things which one would think are universal. I've had players who were entirely unclear about what things were theirs to decide (in terms of background and whatnot), and therefore decided nothing (not even little things on the fly, like enjoying certain foods) and didn't know how to roleplay. I've had players who didn't already know that a Paladin was a guy in armor with a weapon, who was given magical power from his god (one of whom played a Paladin). I've had players who didn't understand that they could make me create something to the east by walking east. Often, folks don't tell you they didn't get something until 2 sessions have passed.

Worst of all, they don't know what they want... so how can you?

When you mix these sorts of new players with ones who at least know a smattering of terms and mythology, it can be difficult to know when you're communicating clearly to EVERYONE. It gets difficult to engage everyone without railroading, because they keep looking for tracks. When you do offer a path, it gets very difficult to ease them into freedom gently... and all of this while you're trying to run the game and deal with the hijinks of those who are already at a higher speed.

DMing is really just so many different roles at once, with a lot of time to prepare and only a few hours each week to implement... and even if your only goal is to keep the game going, people are going to use that time to fight your agenda (texting, side conversations, leaving for food and bathroom breaks). Somehow, it falls on the DM to fix all that, because he's got the authority and (hopefully) the will.

Really, it's a wonder that any of us succeed at all.

AMFV
2014-02-06, 08:26 PM
Doesn't even have to be a particular game system. "How does your character find that out?" "Uhhh ... Knowledge (Arcana). I have a +17 modifier!" "Try again." "Knowledge (Architecture and Engineering)?" "More like Knowledge (Interstellar Travel). Got any ranks in it?" "Crap, seriously?"

The reason I would suggest AD&D is because it has different assumptions about what the DM's can and can't do. There are other systems with the same sort of assumptions as well.

NichG
2014-02-06, 08:55 PM
Another thing is that much of it is 'you reap what you sow'. Want to run a tournament module by the book with pre-gens? Whether you're a particularly skilled DM or not, thats going to be a somewhat canned experience - it may not be great but it probably won't be particularly awful either.

Want to create your own setting from scratch and have dozens of plots running at once? It could be really awesome, but its also more chances to fumble something.

Sometimes people have eyes bigger than their stomach and take on more than they can really deal with.

That said, I still think that even the more extreme versions of this don't result in the kind of horror stories you get from, for example, the sort of DM who secretly wishes they were running FATAL.

Mr Beer
2014-02-06, 09:30 PM
For the same reason writing is so difficult. It's not just a matter of having an idea, you've got to convey it artfully (the method of conveyance being an art itself), with a full grasp of nuance, fully aware of what details are only obvious because you invented them versus being apparent from writing, etc

This is the explanation ITT I like most. Good DM-ing requires basic competency in a number of areas but that in no way guarantees a successful synergy in the DM chair.

Silus
2014-02-06, 10:03 PM
The reason I would suggest AD&D is because it has different assumptions about what the DM's can and can't do. There are other systems with the same sort of assumptions as well.

Well in the first campaign I ran for them, I was a lax DM, having 1) not run a game for them before and not expecting them to do what they did, and 2) because I was too busy trying to keep up with and control the mayhem they PCs were causing (Good-based campaign, everyone makes evil characters, rampant murder and me trying to apply a proper counter, etc).

So this next one, there will be...changes. :smallamused:

Pocket lint
2014-02-07, 12:10 AM
I found the most challenging bit to be designing suitable encounters. I suck at D&D builds in general (mostly played feat-poor builds to at least get a decent character out of the can), so especially trying to put casters against them was a nightmare. More limited d20 environments such as the Star Wars one were easier - they had plenty of sample chars to dust off. Even so, it's tricky to avoid getting completely steamrollered by the players who are very canny at using their own characters' abilities.

The other thing I found tricky is trying to balance player interest - giving everyone something to do. Some players are actively looking for things to do, most need to be spoon-fed opportunities to use their abilities.

One thing I found very helpful was writing up one of my scenarios to put on the web; reading your own handwriting is a good exercise to discover where the weaknesses are (extra good if you have comments enabled...).

Lastly, one of the best GMs I've had kept very thorough notes of everything that went down during a session (This was Pendragon, so even success/critical/failure each round would sometimes matter for handing out xp). This is a very underused technique, especially if a campaign runs for years. (Whose daughter are we rescuing again?)

Gamgee
2014-02-07, 01:18 AM
My players can make me feel like this. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V4UVbAgZbUc

squiggit
2014-02-07, 02:39 AM
-GMing requires planning ahead which some people don't do adequately ( the "Well that's all I've come up with today" GM always makes me twitch a bit)*

-New GMs are sometimes overloaded with information and intimidated by it. They have several PCs to remember, dozens of NPCs, monsters, encounters, settings, areas. It can be intimidating keeping track of it all, especially if you're running a ToTM game.

-Part of the above two to an extent, but a lot of DMs don't watch balance as much as they should. One character growing too strong or too weak is obvious, but it hurts with encounter design too. It can be really hard sometimes, especially in more niche games that don't have fully fleshed out bestiaries, to effectively balance encounters that aren't too hard or too easy.

-Some GMs feel like because they run the game they control the game. This leads to a lot of player-GM conflict when the GM, rather than crafting a story with the players, tries to impose their vision onto them directly (This is the "I'm writing a book" problem)

-Some GMs let themselves get beaten down too easily. I've had a few where a character or player figures out some sort of plot twist in advanced or developed a trick and rather than trying to work around it they just kill the entire campaign on the spot.

-Competitive vs Cooperative. This is a big deal in talking about how RPGs work and I see a lot of DMs go too far in one direction or the other: The GM who's obsessed with conquering his players is the obvious one here. A battle of wits and tricks is fine in the right setting, but some DMs just go too far trying to 'win' DnD. The opposite though can also be a problem... Instead of a DM who brutalizes his players too hard you have a DM who coddles them to the point where the RPG loses any mystique or sense of danger to it.

-Sometimes the GM seems to forget the game is primarily about everyone having fun. This can be part of an overly competitive or overbearing DM too, but it also stands on its own. It leads to situations like a GM deciding to say, make magic not work at all for a session (because it's part of his super cool metaplot, who cares if the wizard literally has nothing to do for three hours?).


*One of my personal 'worst dm ever' stories is about a guy who was so bad in that regard he ended up having players design settings for him (for areas related to that characters backstory but still)... entirely from the ground up including monsters and such.

Jay R
2014-02-07, 09:54 AM
The problems come when you design the setting, work hard on it, then the PCs start poking holes in it. Start asking questions to which you either have no answers because you didn't think of anything for it, or that your answer is insufficient to their liking.

What's worse is when you can't give an answer or an answer is insufficient to the player's liking (on a meta level, not a "my character can't work with this" level) that the players don't bother offering alternative answers.

When you build a setting, you should know why the goblins are where they are, so you have an answer when they ask. It solves the problems by not having anything that isn't self-consistent. That takes lots of time to prepare.

Second best is to be able to come up with answers quickly. This requires thinking quickly, and knowing as much about economics, politics, military strategy, etc. as any of the players. Again, this can be really hard.

Third best, and my fallback when the first two don't work, is to answer questions with, "That's a really good question. Your character doesn't know the answer yet." Then, when you're alone, come up with an answer that lets that be a clue to the BBEG's plan. This may involve having their questions and actions change your plot, but that's a good thing.

I once had some players put together some clues in a way that was much more clever than what I had intended. So I shifted gears and let their interpretation stand. Among other things, it meant tossing the intended villain and substituting another. (It was a game of Champions, and they came up with a very clever way to deduce that Two-Face was involved. So I brought in Two-Face,)

CarpeGuitarrem
2014-02-07, 12:20 PM
If you're really devious, you can turn it around and get them to answer their own question. :smallbiggrin:

Airk
2014-02-07, 12:31 PM
Another difficulty is that, at least sometimes, the DM has to teach the players. Not only the system in question, but simple, meta things which one would think are universal. I've had players who were entirely unclear about what things were theirs to decide (in terms of background and whatnot), and therefore decided nothing (not even little things on the fly, like enjoying certain foods) and didn't know how to roleplay. I've had players who didn't already know that a Paladin was a guy in armor with a weapon, who was given magical power from his god (one of whom played a Paladin). I've had players who didn't understand that they could make me create something to the east by walking east. Often, folks don't tell you they didn't get something until 2 sessions have passed.

Sadly, I view this as a simple teaching failure. If these were new players and you weren't, it's your job to make sure they understand stuff like this.



Worst of all, they don't know what they want... so how can you?

Odds are they do, they just don't know it in the terms you are asking.



Really, it's a wonder that any of us succeed at all.

I disagree. And perhaps I wasn't clear in the original post, but a lot the answers in this thread are reasons why a GM might not be GREAT. But most of the stuff listed here doesn't keep you from doing an 'okay' job of it.

Dawgmoah
2014-02-07, 12:51 PM
I agree with the poster who wrote previously that a DM has to be very good at multitasking and keeping a finger on any number of moving parts at any given time. When I became a project manager for a few years I didn't know why everyone complained about how hard it was.

Above all the ability to be flexible is the most important. The game will change with the changing of players. Change is inevitable. Players will come in who are satisfied with what is going on and others will arrive who want to make it their show.

Salvage what you can out of bad situations. My worst experiences have been with rules lawyers who ignore everything but trying to rationalize what they want. Sometimes even reminding them they are arguing against what they said earlier doesn't work.

And no matter how complex or well defined your setting there will always, always be something a players, usually new at the table, will ask that you don't have covered. No sweat, fill it in right then and there if possible or make a note to fill in the details when you have time. Most important though is to be stable; don't make a ruling one night and forget you made it the next game. A stable setting upon which to build your adventures and game upon goes a long way.

And no matter how long you've DMed and no matter how well you think you are doing: always listen to others as you just might learn something or see something from a different angle than you expect.

Amphetryon
2014-02-07, 01:26 PM
Putting the ol' airquotes around "difficult" in the topic, because honestly, I don't think it is. What I really mean is "why do so many people do it so badly?"

We've got threads and threads and threads here, ranging from "Tell me about your worst DM" mutual venting/sympathy to posts full of people desperately trying to save someone who has bad-DM'd themselves into a corner.

So. What is it about running a game that causes so many people to fail at it? (Both their first time and, in an appalling number of cases, over and over.) Is there a lack of good information in games on HOW to do this? It seems possible, especially when talking about older games, which in many cases included advice that was actually actively bad (Lookin' at you, World of Darkness!). Is it just that some people are incapable of thinking "how will this look from the other side of the GM screen?" Obviously, there's some sort of 'skill' involved here, but you'd expect things to be more "Well, that wasn't that good, but I see what went wrong." rather than the various horror stories we get around here.

Response from personal experience:

I ran a game for six Players (sometimes more). Two of them wanted a sandbox game, and pushed back reflexively and HARD if anything in the game felt like a preconceived plot, because they felt 'railroaded.' Two of them wanted clear direction in the game, and sat around staring blankly (or complaining they didn't know what to do) if I didn't provide a definitive plot for them to follow. Two of them were essentially only interested in combat, and complained of boredom in any roleplaying situation where combat wasn't the answer.

Feedback appreciated on how to avoid getting any negative feedback from the above group about your DMing style. :smallsigh:

Rosstin
2014-02-07, 02:53 PM
Response from personal experience:

I ran a game for six Players (sometimes more). Two of them wanted a sandbox game, and pushed back reflexively and HARD if anything in the game felt like a preconceived plot, because they felt 'railroaded.' Two of them wanted clear direction in the game, and sat around staring blankly (or complaining they didn't know what to do) if I didn't provide a definitive plot for them to follow. Two of them were essentially only interested in combat, and complained of boredom in any roleplaying situation where combat wasn't the answer.

Feedback appreciated on how to avoid getting any negative feedback from the above group about your DMing style. :smallsigh:

Yeah, you're basically screwed in that case...



Salvage what you can out of bad situations. My worst experiences have been with rules lawyers who ignore everything but trying to rationalize what they want. Sometimes even reminding them they are arguing against what they said earlier doesn't work.

This is a pet peeve of mine, and ties back into "what players want out of the game." Personally I much prefer if the DM makes a snap judgement and we move on with the game, even if it's the wrong judgement. I abhor it when the books come out and we spend 30+ minutes trying to figure out a rule. GOD this isn't a library, there's plenty of time to obsess over the books in the 29 days a month we DON'T actually play.

Dawgmoah
2014-02-07, 03:09 PM
This is a pet peeve of mine, and ties back into "what players want out of the game." Personally I much prefer if the DM makes a snap judgement and we move on with the game, even if it's the wrong judgement. I abhor it when the books come out and we spend 30+ minutes trying to figure out a rule. GOD this isn't a library, there's plenty of time to obsess over the books in the 29 days a month we DON'T actually play.

Sometimes you have the fun of making a "snap judgement" and then coming onto the Playground and reading where your players are complaining about it and folks are calling you a "jerk." :smallsmile:

And that gets frustrating too when a person new to the game decides you are fiating him or breaking some idealized RAW because they don't realize what else is going on in the situation. The books come out and tempers flare. Had one player get all mad and leave because another player built a slightly optimized character who the mad player tried to kill and failed in the attempt. He didn't find it hypocritical he wanted to kill the other character but said it was "game breaking" that I allowed the fellow to play his slightly optimized character to begin with. Moral of the story is (to paraphrase): You can please some of the people some of the time but you can't please all of the people all the time.

I let my players know it is okay to challenge me on a rule or situation if they think I am wrong. I'll gladly rectify my mistake if need be. But if I say that something else is in play that they may or may not see then just accept it and let's play on. No DM is ever perfect all the time.

NichG
2014-02-07, 04:14 PM
Response from personal experience:

I ran a game for six Players (sometimes more). Two of them wanted a sandbox game, and pushed back reflexively and HARD if anything in the game felt like a preconceived plot, because they felt 'railroaded.' Two of them wanted clear direction in the game, and sat around staring blankly (or complaining they didn't know what to do) if I didn't provide a definitive plot for them to follow. Two of them were essentially only interested in combat, and complained of boredom in any roleplaying situation where combat wasn't the answer.

Feedback appreciated on how to avoid getting any negative feedback from the above group about your DMing style. :smallsigh:

Interesting... hm.

Okay, for the two who wanted clear direction, I'd have them inducted (on the side) into a secret society or conspiracy, such that they had their own explicit goals and extra information about the situation that other people did not have. I would use this to hint that there is some underlying purpose that the sandboxy and combat-focused people are just missing, while still actually running the game so that its structured in a very sandbox sort of way.

Basically, I'd create a secondary layer of the plot (or heck, the cosmology) such that all the seemingly random misadventures of the party actually have some underlying thread that ties them together, and I'd selectively expose more of that layer to the players who are interested in it/need it to know what to do during game.

For the combat-focused players, I'd make sure that there are plenty of weird things to fight to help burn of the tendency to let pent up desire for combat spill out into the main game. In fact, this would be a good way to unify their particular tastes with the players who wanted guidance.

Imagine a plotline where, for example, the PCs are doing whatever stuff they would normally do, but often they run into bizarre supernatural creatures which seem to be inherently hostile in the context of those self-imposed goals and quests. For the players who want direction, they're informed that there's some sort of spirit wall that is breaking, causing people and creatures to be replaced with these hostile beings - everyone but those two PCs acts as if these creatures were always there and this was completely normal, but those PCs are given the information needed to keep the context clear. Fighting and killing these things sends them back across the spirit wall, but also can be a source of information about the incursions (X-Com style).

The trick is to make the presence of the creatures not seem like railroading to the two sandbox-only players. The way to do that is to play off of the idea that people retroactively believe these creatures are 'normal'. It should be no stranger to them that the bandit leader has one as a pet attack dog than if, say, they encountered bandits who kept a basilisk as a pet to ward off intruders - crazy dangerous, but not railroading the plot to be about a basilisk infestation.

Anyhow, thats a first attempt at the problem. Lots of holes in it, but maybe there's something there that could be used.

Alberic Strein
2014-02-07, 04:57 PM
I think much of what was already said, while right, is the consequence of the paradox that being a GM is.

1 You need to be careful with your players, make sure they enjoy themselves (yada yada, you know the tune, the interesting part is the second)

2 You need to be awesome and to know it. Player A is complaining? The RIGHT way to answer it is to laugh it off. Cut off the meta melodrama with a big, hearty lie***, and a lyrical spurt. Act. Act the bigger than life characters. Shame? Who cares about shame? Why should you be ashamed? It's not ridiculous, it's AWESOME. With a capital A. Wait, forget it, it's awesome in ALL CAPS!

***(Edit: laugh. I meant to write laugh. I'm not writing it out because the lapsus is fun as hell)

At the end of the day, the game is about having fun. Fun can be found in intricate plots, brilliant GM'ing, interesting battles, etc... But when all that fails, or when you can't be bothered to care about all that, there is nothing wrong with force-feeding FUN to your players.

Edit2: I feel it is not clear enough in the post. I meant to say that this is an issue. Stories about bad GM's abound, and quite a number of them will speak of Gm's entranced with their own things, and completely forgetting their players. The difficulty (I feel) in being a GM is that you need to be sensitive, to listen to your players, etc... But you also need to be determinate in telling them to shut the hell up, and to say it in a way they will understand, recognize and respect (A wizard did it). So as to stop them right in their tracks and then catch them in your rythm, so they can leave behind their whining and start enjoying the game again. Hence the paradox, hence the planning and work before a game session, hence the "tiring" and difficult part about being a GM.

I am, and have always been, a mediocre GM. But I seriously believe I got worse when I started thinking "it's serious" when thinking about the game and players, and not asserting a fun ambience at the gaming table. Over thinking is the enemy.

DodgerH2O
2014-02-07, 05:07 PM
... And perhaps I wasn't clear in the original post, but a lot the answers in this thread are reasons why a GM might not be GREAT. But most of the stuff listed here doesn't keep you from doing an 'okay' job of it.

You've already said YOU don't find it too difficult, so you might want to try to realize that you're coming at this from a different position than many others.

The stuff listed here wouldn't keep YOU from doing an 'okay' job, but people who already lack the temperament or who have more than one of the many potential issues listed stacked on top of each other could easily move from 'okay' to 'horrible'.

All it really takes is one or two problem players combined with poor GMing skills and a mentally drained GM to cause a game to collapse outright. Most GMs would handle it fine, but there's those on either end of the bell curve, some who couldn't handle it at all and others who'd swoop up and save the whole thing without much issue.

Alberic Strein
2014-02-07, 05:15 PM
You've already said YOU don't find it too difficult, so you might want to try to realize that you're coming at this from a different position than many others.

Funnily enough, I think that it's an opinion shared with a bit of GM's.

I mean, it's GM'ing, right? It's hard! It's "difficult". You're supposed to feel uncertain about it, you're supposed to angst about it. Like it's your big day, like you're standing on a scene. Like a teacher in front of his students, except nobody pays you, your students can leave any time without being punished, and no one looks out for you.

Then you GM.

And honestly? It was nothing much.

So after that, you have some issues with the viewpoint that it's horribly hard.

It's not hard. Being an awesome GM is hard. Making all sessions awesome is hard. GM'ing? You sit a bunch of unruly overgrown children in front of a table and you're GM'ing.

The whole "I'm awesome" shtick might be a good guideline to follow for new, uncertain GM's, actually...

Magesmiley
2014-02-07, 05:26 PM
I've been at this for thirty years. And I still don't always get it right. Usually most of my players are very happy with the games, but occasionally its not so good.

For me what often kills me is simply not having enough time to prepare. RL comes first, games second, so sometimes, I've only thought out what is coming up and have some sketchy notes.

The flip side of this is that I do run thing more or less as a sandbox. And when I do have time to prep, sometimes what I do gets shelved entirely.

I've had players be 6 ventures into a dungeon that I've sketched out to be good for at least 6-8 more evenings (and everyone seemed happy with the dungeon). I then spend an evening or two fleshing out enough of the dungeon to cover the next couple of weeks of the forrays and when game night rolls around then they suddenly decide they want to go visiting a town 30 miles away. Dungeon encounters are now shelved for future adventure that fits (hopefully). With nothing prepped, out comes the random wilderness encounter table for the overland trek. Which isn't necessarily a fun evening.

RochtheCrusher
2014-02-07, 06:41 PM
Then you GM.

And honestly? It was nothing much.

So after that, you have some issues with the viewpoint that it's horribly hard.

It's not hard. Being an awesome GM is hard. Making all sessions awesome is hard. GM'ing? You sit a bunch of unruly overgrown children in front of a table and you're GM'ing.

In the same sort of way that you just step up in front of a few hundred people, say "hi," and now you're doing public speaking. :-P

Most of us want... no, need, to be awesome (or at least decent) GMs. GMing is time consuming, it's expensive, it's stressful, there's math involved... if you're not sure you're doing something your players enjoy, it's hard to keep at it.

Every time a player misses a session, or gets distracted at the table, your confidence in that takes a hit. After all, "I reschedule my appointments so I have time for D&D, why don't my players like it enough to do the same?" Or, "I thought that was one of my better scenes, but why is the Wizard looking at her cell phone? Don't I keep her interested?"

Airk
2014-02-07, 11:07 PM
In the same sort of way that you just step up in front of a few hundred people, say "hi," and now you're doing public speaking. :-P

Not really.



Most of us want... no, need, to be awesome (or at least decent) GMs. GMing is time consuming, it's expensive, it's stressful, there's math involved... if you're not sure you're doing something your players enjoy, it's hard to keep at it.

And you know? Odds are, if your players aren't quitting, or visibly pissed off and/or arguing with you, you've probably hit the 'decent' bar already.



Every time a player misses a session, or gets distracted at the table, your confidence in that takes a hit. After all, "I reschedule my appointments so I have time for D&D, why don't my players like it enough to do the same?" Or, "I thought that was one of my better scenes, but why is the Wizard looking at her cell phone? Don't I keep her interested?"

Taking it personally is different from being bad at it. :P

Amphetryon
2014-02-07, 11:54 PM
And you know? Odds are, if your players aren't quitting, or visibly pissed off and/or arguing with you, you've probably hit the 'decent' bar already.

And that particular bar is too low for many of us to consider an indicator of a 'good' DM. An effort you can improve upon is not your best effort.

Axinian
2014-02-07, 11:56 PM
Taking it personally is different from being bad at it. :P

This is true. However, this only underscores the importance of being able to read and communicate with people. Which are skills that not necessarily everyone is good at (I for one, am not great at reading people). Perhaps it's not difficult in the sense that not much exertion of effort is required, but it can be tricky to grasp.

In short, people are complicated and that makes DMing hard sometimes :smalltongue:

jedipotter
2014-02-08, 12:11 AM
DMing is hard for all the reasons mentioned. It takes lots and lots of skills. And it is one of those things where you simply need experience.

And like any ''leadership'' role, nearly everyone thinks it is so easy and fun to be in control and run things. And nearly everyone jumps at the chance to do so. But, of course, only a few can do it.


In my experience, the 'bad GMs' are the ones who don't realize that roleplaying games are best served as a group story-telling thing, with some crazy awesome action sequences.



And I think DM's that let the game become a group story telling group hug are the bad DM's.

Axinian
2014-02-08, 12:16 AM
And I think DM's that let the game become a group story telling group hug are the bad DM's.

Why? Out of curiosity?

I don't think DM's on either side of the "group storytelling" position can be considered bad on that basis alone. People can create bad, boring stories together, but it also leads to many amazing games. Same with dungeon crawls, or more "DMs story" type games.

Felhammer
2014-02-08, 01:27 AM
DMing is NOT an easy job.

It comes easier to some more than others but, honestly, very few people are good DMs out of the gate, let along great.

It takes a lot of trial and error to understand the complexity of the role. You are part host, part narrator, party referee, part story writer, part actor, part project manager, part counselor. Most people are pretty good at some of those tasks but ofttimes are lacking in the others. Practice makes perfect.

Additionally, there is a huge burden placed upon IRL DMs when they are forced to balance player preferences compared with how DMs would handle such issues online. With the latter, you can just assemble a group of like-minded individuals and make a game that suits everyone's preferences. Games held in real life do not have that luxury. DM's are forced to play with who they can attract, which is often an eclectic group of people with wildly different play-styles, goals, desires and interests.

It is very difficult to manage a group that is composed of one player who wants to RP constantly, another who just wants hack and slash, a third who wants a sandbox adventure and a fourth who wants a railed adventure. That group is going to have a lot of issues gelling cohesively. When something goes wrong, blame often falls at the feet of the DM because he is the easiest scapegoat by virtue of his position in the group.

There are a lot of tips and tricks out there for becoming a good DM but, to be honest, nothing beats being 100% honest from the get go. Tell your players what kind of game you want to play, your expectations for character building and what YOU want out of the game. Then ask your players to tell you what they want and expect. Once everything is out in the open, the DM can truly make a game that suits the character's interests.

Lorsa
2014-02-08, 05:38 AM
Feedback appreciated on how to avoid getting any negative feedback from the above group about your DMing style. :smallsigh:

Have 3 different groups.

Seriously, not all people are supposed to play together.

Rhynn
2014-02-08, 07:25 AM
Have 3 different groups.

Seriously, not all people are supposed to play together.

This. If the players are not willing to flex on their preferences and learn to like different things, they are just incompatible. If they're so strongly set in their preferences to boot, they're pretty much actively incompatible.

Raum
2014-02-08, 10:53 AM
Feedback appreciated on how to avoid getting any negative feedback from the above group about your DMing style. :smallsigh:Expectations (for players and GM) need to be set up front. Before character creation even. I also prefer to create or at least finalize characters as a group. Together they help avoid things like an evil assassin in a party of paladins (or vice versa) and creating a social fu master for a combat centric campaign.

Amphetryon
2014-02-08, 11:01 AM
Have 3 different groups.

Seriously, not all people are supposed to play together.

At which point those who are separated by the DM from gaming with their friends, due to conflicting expectations of gaming style, are wont to complain to others (rightly or wrongly) about the DM for being unable to handle them as a group. These complaints add to the gaming community's understanding of the DM's ability as a 'good' or 'bad' DM.

The fact that you can't make everybody happy means that the unhappy folks are probably going to complain about it - often disproportionately to the praise the happy folks are likely to sing in your name.

Scow2
2014-02-08, 11:03 AM
Response from personal experience:

I ran a game for six Players (sometimes more). Two of them wanted a sandbox game, and pushed back reflexively and HARD if anything in the game felt like a preconceived plot, because they felt 'railroaded.' Two of them wanted clear direction in the game, and sat around staring blankly (or complaining they didn't know what to do) if I didn't provide a definitive plot for them to follow. Two of them were essentially only interested in combat, and complained of boredom in any roleplaying situation where combat wasn't the answer.

Feedback appreciated on how to avoid getting any negative feedback from the above group about your DMing style. :smallsigh:
Ignore their preferences and run the game YOU want to run. If they refuse to cooperate and compromise, why should you?!

That said, the whole "The DM's the only one expected to make compromises and disregard his own preferences (ON top of every other thankless task foisted on DMs)" seems to pop up a lot.

Amphetryon
2014-02-08, 11:06 AM
Ignore their preferences and run the game YOU want to run. If they refuse to cooperate and compromise, why should you?!

That said, the whole "The DM's the only one expected to make compromises and disregard his own preferences (ON top of every other thankless task foisted on DMs)" seems to pop up a lot.

Doing so will almost certainly lead to at least two of the Players described calling you a 'bad' DM, will it not? That seems to lend credence to the notion that DMing is difficult.

Scow2
2014-02-08, 11:16 AM
Am I so bad that you'd rather not play? If no, suck it up and roll initiative!

Well, a more reasonable approach is "Tell the two guys that hate railroading that it's NOT being railroaded to chose to pursue an adventure hook. (Those two are Bad Players), and if they have another idea, to use the setting to create their own adventure set-up the two that need direction are interested in pursuing."

And then, to get the two Hack+Slashers in on everything, turn the entire game into Peter Jackson's "The Hobbit" or any other chinese action movie - anywhere a fight can possibly break out, one WILL break out! (Travelling? Wilderness encounters! Gathering information in a pub? They guy with info is a belligerent drunk with friends! You must defeat the king's royal guard in order to see him! It's okay, he doesn't mind, and it saves him the hassle of sending out their next paycheck!)

jedipotter
2014-02-08, 11:20 AM
Why? Out of curiosity?

I don't think DM's on either side of the "group storytelling" position can be considered bad on that basis alone. People can create bad, boring stories together, but it also leads to many amazing games. Same with dungeon crawls, or more "DMs story" type games.

Too much storytelling is free form. Then your not playing a game anymore, your just describing actions.

And for win or loose games, like D&D, storytelling can ruin the game. Games like D&D, have armor classes, hit points, attacks and such as it is possible for your character to be hurt or killed by the rules. This is part of the game. A D&D character has hit points as they might loose them and die. But when you head down the storytelling path, all that does not matter. No storytelling group would have a character die unless it was part of the story. So it makes a lot of combat pointless, everyone knows the characters will win...but everyone just pretends they don't know that and pretends the combat is real.

obryn
2014-02-08, 11:32 AM
No storytelling group would have a character die unless it was part of the story.
That's not how it works. Part of even narrative-focused games is finding out what happens. Look at Dungeon World, which is a heavily narrative game thematically based on oldschool D&D.

Amphetryon
2014-02-08, 11:44 AM
Too much storytelling is free form. Then your not playing a game anymore, your just describing actions.

And for win or loose games, like D&D, storytelling can ruin the game. Games like D&D, have armor classes, hit points, attacks and such as it is possible for your character to be hurt or killed by the rules. This is part of the game. A D&D character has hit points as they might loose them and die. But when you head down the storytelling path, all that does not matter. No storytelling group would have a character die unless it was part of the story. So it makes a lot of combat pointless, everyone knows the characters will win...but everyone just pretends they don't know that and pretends the combat is real.

How do you 'win' D&D?

Scow2
2014-02-08, 11:48 AM
How do you 'win' D&D?Kill the monsters, take their treasure, wear the DM out of ideas to the point he has to end the campaign and declare the players victorious.

Alberic Strein
2014-02-08, 11:49 AM
The Old man Henderson way!

Gamgee
2014-02-08, 11:58 AM
Kill the monsters, take their treasure, wear the DM out of ideas to the point he has to end the campaign and declare the players victorious.

Act like spoiled asshats if you want to go down in a kamikaze flame of glory/shame. Sure to end it fast. Just know that this may burn bridges if you actually like the GM. Not seriously recommended by Gamgee. Such use can cause irrevocable social enemies and shame for the rest of your life. Worst case scenarios may lead to a psychopath being born. Kamikaze Vengeance is not recommended for this intending to have a social life.

Ask your doctor today about Kamikaze Vengeance. Kamikaze Vengeance is not for everyone.

:smallcool::smallbiggrin::smallwink:

I hope that's enough smilieis and tongue in cheek to not have this be taken seriously.

Scow2
2014-02-08, 12:06 PM
Actually, there IS a way to "Win" or "Lose" any given D&D campaign, especially if it's a module or Adventure Path. The idea that D&D is "Not something to be won" doesn't actually hold up in theory OR practice, although there are some open-ended campaigns.

First off - every encounter can be "Won" - if you lose an encounter, you didn't think/optimize hard enough. The monsters are defeated, and your party's not. Likewise, every adventure can be Won or Lost (Tip - if the building supported by rings of fire you were defending blows up and takes out a significant chunk of Sharn, you LOST. Likewise, when your Doomsday Endbringer evil campaign character has broken the seals binding the world together and unmade creation, you WON).

If your character gets killed, you LOST, but Try Again.

Amphetryon
2014-02-08, 12:19 PM
Actually, there IS a way to "Win" or "Lose" any given D&D campaign, especially if it's a module or Adventure Path. The idea that D&D is "Not something to be won" doesn't actually hold up in theory OR practice, although there are some open-ended campaigns.

First off - every encounter can be "Won" - if you lose an encounter, you didn't think/optimize hard enough. The monsters are defeated, and your party's not. Likewise, every adventure can be Won or Lost (Tip - if the building supported by rings of fire you were defending blows up and takes out a significant chunk of Sharn, you LOST. Likewise, when your Doomsday Endbringer evil campaign character has broken the seals binding the world together and unmade creation, you WON).

If your character gets killed, you LOST, but Try Again.

The combats where Characters can defeat enemies or be defeated are not the whole of the game, and I don't agree that a Character death indicates that you 'lost' D&D. See also: Huma Dragonbane, and Dying Moment of Awesome (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/DyingMomentOfAwesome) (Warning! Link goes to TVTropes!)

Scow2
2014-02-08, 12:22 PM
The combats where Characters can defeat enemies or be defeated are not the whole of the game, and I don't agree that a Character death indicates that you 'lost' D&D. See also: Huma Dragonbane, and Dying Moment of Awesome (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/DyingMomentOfAwesome) (Warning! Link goes to TVTropes!)

Still lose, but you might win somewhere else.

Amphetryon
2014-02-08, 12:33 PM
As I said, I disagree with that assessment as a generality. Debating personal opinion on the matter seems entirely pointless, though.

GPuzzle
2014-02-08, 12:38 PM
Depends. Sometimes the character will die because the player kills him for the sake of roleplay. That Paladin that died fighting a Demon Marshal, killing the Marshal in the process by himself, allowing his friends to escape, didn't lose. He won.
After all, what is a noble death?
A win.
Knowing you've fulfilled your mission and helped the others in an act of selflessness.
That's a noble death.
And it's a win.
And never a loss.

Airk
2014-02-08, 01:28 PM
And that particular bar is too low for many of us to consider an indicator of a 'good' DM. An effort you can improve upon is not your best effort.

No one said anything about it even being your "best effort'; Nothing is EVER going to be the best you could ever possibly do, and there's always room for improvement, but that doesn't mean you did a -bad- job either. Not sure why that's not completely obvious.

Airk
2014-02-08, 01:30 PM
At which point those who are separated by the DM from gaming with their friends, due to conflicting expectations of gaming style, are wont to complain to others (rightly or wrongly) about the DM for being unable to handle them as a group. These complaints add to the gaming community's understanding of the DM's ability as a 'good' or 'bad' DM.

Sorry, but anyone who does this is an immature jackass and doesn't deserve to be in your game. Seriously. If they can't fathom that somehow, their tastes in RPGs are incompatible with other people at the table, they have some sort of serious issue.

Would those same people bitch if you decided to hold a poker night without them because they only like Hearts? It's the same thing, and they can't figure that out, don't play with them.

This is actually a case of terrible PLAYERS. Which I guess is the REAL reason DMing is hard for a lot of people - their players are crap, and expect the GM to magically create an amazing game for them without them helping in the slightest; And in fact, often, actively opposing the GMs efforts to make the game fun.

GMing is "Hard" because GMs insist on taking all the blame. :)

Edit: Also, yeah, I disagree that there are "win and lose" conditions in most RPGs. Sure, you can set up a tournament format or something, where you must overcome all obstacles in a kill or be killed arrangement, but frankly? That's not roleplaying, that's just playing an unusually intricate miniatures battle game. Anything that manages to really be an RPG doesn't have a clearcut win/loss condition.

Rhynn
2014-02-08, 01:43 PM
At which point those who are separated by the DM from gaming with their friends, due to conflicting expectations of gaming style, are wont to complain to others (rightly or wrongly) about the DM for being unable to handle them as a group. These complaints add to the gaming community's understanding of the DM's ability as a 'good' or 'bad' DM.

I think I might like the people you play with even less than I like the people Talakeal plays with!

AMFV
2014-02-08, 01:55 PM
Sorry, but anyone who does this is an immature jackass and doesn't deserve to be in your game. Seriously. If they can't fathom that somehow, their tastes in RPGs are incompatible with other people at the table, they have some sort of serious issue.

Would those same people bitch if you decided to hold a poker night without them because they only like Hearts? It's the same thing, and they can't figure that out, don't play with them.

This is actually a case of terrible PLAYERS. Which I guess is the REAL reason DMing is hard for a lot of people - their players are crap, and expect the GM to magically create an amazing game for them without them helping in the slightest; And in fact, often, actively opposing the GMs efforts to make the game fun.

GMing is "Hard" because GMs insist on taking all the blame. :)


I think that the difference in style is really the major barrier, some people have very hard and set preferences and won't be able to fully enjoy anything with less or more than their preferences in any direction, other people are more fungible. The problem is if the DM has a particular style that conflicts with the player's styles too much, or if he is unable to adapt, or if both parties are unable to communicate. Communication is generally where things break down.



Edit: Also, yeah, I disagree that there are "win and lose" conditions in most RPGs. Sure, you can set up a tournament format or something, where you must overcome all obstacles in a kill or be killed arrangement, but frankly? That's not roleplaying, that's just playing an unusually intricate miniatures battle game. Anything that manages to really be an RPG doesn't have a clearcut win/loss condition.

Well there are RPG like games that have objectives which are clearly win-lose type things. It really depends on the style of roleplaying games. I mean there are people that believe that there are win-lose conditions for RL, and so they might enjoy an RPG that reflects that better.

Scow2
2014-02-08, 02:39 PM
Edit: Also, yeah, I disagree that there are "win and lose" conditions in most RPGs. Sure, you can set up a tournament format or something, where you must overcome all obstacles in a kill or be killed arrangement, but frankly? That's not roleplaying, that's just playing an unusually intricate miniatures battle game. Anything that manages to really be an RPG doesn't have a clearcut win/loss condition.You're saying getting a TPK in the first encounter with goblins in the Caves of Chaos isn't a "lose"? Are you saying that destroying Count Strahd in "Castle Ravenloft" isn't a "Win"? Are you saying that blowing up the titular tower isn't a Lose in "Deep Sky One"? And defeating the Demi-lich Acererack isn't "Winning" the Tomb of Horrors?

Just because an RPG has multiple and variable (And often mutually exclusive) "Win" and "Lose" conditions, and that the game CAN (doesn't always) continue afterward doesn't mean it doesn't have win and lose conditions.

You can win or lose an encounter. You can win or lose an adventure. You can win or lose a campaign just as much as you can win or lose ANY game. But, just because you lost doesn't mean you didn't have fun, and "Winning" and "Having Fun" are not synonymous or dependent on each other.

And, from personal experience - having my character try to rescue the party paladin's body from an way-beyond-our-ability monster and ending up getting her soul torn from he body and body incinerated through bad rolls and dumb decisions doesn't feel like "Just another twist in the story" - It's a flat-out "You Lost".

Airk
2014-02-08, 02:44 PM
I think that the difference in style is really the major barrier, some people have very hard and set preferences and won't be able to fully enjoy anything with less or more than their preferences in any direction, other people are more fungible. The problem is if the DM has a particular style that conflicts with the player's styles too much, or if he is unable to adapt, or if both parties are unable to communicate. Communication is generally where things break down.

Yeah, but the problem arises when the players don't believe there is a difference of style and thus blame the GM for being "bad'. That's just the players being clueless jerks.


You're saying getting a TPK in the first encounter with goblins in the Caves of Chaos isn't a "lose"?

Allow me to return to the "somewhat advanced miniatures game" definition. :P



Are you saying that destroying Count Strahd in "Castle Ravenloft" isn't a "Win"? Are you saying that blowing up the titular tower isn't a Lose in "Deep Sky One"?

These, I would say, rather depend on the cirumstances.



And defeating the Demi-lich Acererack isn't "Winning" the Tomb of Horrors?

See my first statement. Ugh. This module needs to stop being used as an example of "roleplaying games" ever again. :P

Scow2
2014-02-08, 02:47 PM
Yeah, but the problem arises when the players don't believe there is a difference of style and thus blame the GM for being "bad'. That's just the players being clueless jerks.

Allow me to return to the "somewhat advanced miniatures game" definition. :P

These, I would say, rather depend on the cirumstances.

See my first statement. Ugh. This module needs to stop being used as an example of "roleplaying games" ever again. :PIf your definition of RPG excludes the original and most successful RPG of all time that all other non-tabletop/Live-Action RPGs are based on, you are using a nonfunctional definition of RPG.

Role Playing Games have win+lose conditions. That's what makes them GAMES.

Airk
2014-02-08, 03:04 PM
If your definition of RPG excludes the original and most successful RPG of all time that all other non-tabletop/Live-Action RPGs are based on, you are using a nonfunctional definition of RPG.

Role Playing Games have win+lose conditions. That's what makes them GAMES.

I'm afraid if all role playing games have win lose conditions, you also have a non-functional definition.

In any event, my definition doesn't exclude D&D, it just excludes D&D when played a certain way.

Amphetryon
2014-02-08, 03:06 PM
No one said anything about it even being your "best effort'; Nothing is EVER going to be the best you could ever possibly do, and there's always room for improvement, but that doesn't mean you did a -bad- job either. Not sure why that's not completely obvious.

When there's room for improvement, people complain. When they do that on the internet, they paint a one-sided portrait of a 'bad GM.' When portraits of 'bad GMs' crop up, they add to the impression that GMing is difficult. . . .

And now I sound like a commercial for satellite TV.

Airk
2014-02-08, 03:07 PM
When there's room for improvement, people complain. When they do that on the internet, they paint a one-sided portrait of a 'bad GM.' When portraits of 'bad GMs' crop up, they add to the impression that GMing is difficult. . . .

And now I sound like a commercial for satellite TV.

Ah! So your thesis is "GMing isn't hard, it's just that people make it look difficult due to the way the internet works"?

Interesting point. With a caveat about the handful of truly ineffectual people who try to GM, that might just be it.

GPuzzle
2014-02-08, 03:08 PM
Wait, what's is a win-lose condition in an RPG? Dying isn't a win-lose condition in Paranoia and it might be in D&D at low levels, but it certainly isn't at high levels.

The problem with defining a win-lose condition in an RPG is that it varies from player to player and from situation to situation.

Amphetryon
2014-02-08, 03:09 PM
Ah! So your thesis is "GMing isn't hard, it's just that people make it look difficult due to the way the internet works"?

Interesting point. With a caveat about the handful of truly ineffectual people who try to GM, that might just be it.

Is the internet the sole medium through which Players garner information about the skills of a GM they haven't played under before?

Scow2
2014-02-08, 03:14 PM
I'm afraid if all role playing games have win lose conditions, you also have a non-functional definition.

In any event, my definition doesn't exclude D&D, it just excludes D&D when played a certain way.I have yet to find a single RPG that doesn't have or develop a win/lose condition, so my definition stands. There are also RPs, which DON'T have win/lose conditions... but they usually amount to people faffing about and making stuff up until everyone gets bored/runs out of time and goes home, without any virtual accomplishments or failures.

The difference between an RPG and an RP is the difference between an Action/Horror/Romance/what-have-you show and a Soap Opera.


Wait, what's is a win-lose condition in an RPG? Dying isn't a win-lose condition in Paranoia and it might be in D&D at low levels, but it certainly isn't at high levels.

The problem with defining a win-lose condition in an RPG is that it varies from player to player and from situation to situation.The win/lose conditions vary from situation to situation. Paranoia is built around the concept that you WILL lose, but will still have fun doing so (You are given a secret win condition at game start. You will not succeed).

Knaight
2014-02-08, 03:33 PM
No storytelling group would have a character die unless it was part of the story. So it makes a lot of combat pointless, everyone knows the characters will win...but everyone just pretends they don't know that and pretends the combat is real.

Losing and dying are not synonymous, and if the combat has some stakes to it and is a situation beyond "Suddenly goblins!", this is obvious. It's really easy to think of a dozen areas where the characters can lose, not die, and it makes a difference in the story.

The characters are attempting to infiltrate a cult to gain information. Someone who knows who they are tries to warn the cult, and they try to intercept them. If this person manages to escape their ambush, they lose, they are found out, and the narrative bends in a big way. This doesn't require them to die.
The characters are protecting a civil official during an assassination attempt on said civil official. The assassins don't care about the player characters, and are just trying to get in, kill the official, and leave. If they do this, there is a very real loss, with no guarantee of anyoen being dead.
The characters are in a largely political conflict with a hated enemy, and it escalates to violence on the streets. If the enemy lasts long enough for guards to show up, they lose. If they are taken out of the fight, they lose, and are probably taken prisoner and ransomed after whatever they've been trying to do is resolved against them - again, a loss. Then there's the possibility that they are left bleeding in the gutter, because the guards show up after they are taken out - again, a loss.
The characters are left for dead, on the assumption that they won't survive what just happened to them. They do, but their opponent came out much better and had however long recuperation took to further their agenda.


Even if we assume a game where characters only die when the players decide they do, there are a lot of loss conditions. Saying that they will necessarily win is ridiculous.

Actana
2014-02-08, 03:34 PM
The way I see it, there's no universal win/lose divide for RPGs in general, but there are win/lose situations in games in general. So while you technically can't lose a campaign of D&D, that campaign consists of encounters, storylines and campaigns, many of which have an explicit win/lose condition. You lose if you fail to beat the encounter. You lose if the BBEG manages to complete his plan and kill the princess.

While in both examples you can continue the overlying story, you have still "lost" a part of the game, namely the encounter and "quest" such as they are.

Though at the same time, the arbitrary win/lose conditions imposed by players and GMs are detrimental to a sort of organic storytelling where the events that happen, be they victories or losses, contribute to the game at large. D&D works on a rather explicit focus on "winning" encounters, so while I don't think it's fair to say that D&D has a victory condition in general, victory conditions in the form of beating encounters are a large part of D&D.

Lorsa
2014-02-08, 03:36 PM
At which point those who are separated by the DM from gaming with their friends, due to conflicting expectations of gaming style, are wont to complain to others (rightly or wrongly) about the DM for being unable to handle them as a group. These complaints add to the gaming community's understanding of the DM's ability as a 'good' or 'bad' DM.

The fact that you can't make everybody happy means that the unhappy folks are probably going to complain about it - often disproportionately to the praise the happy folks are likely to sing in your name.

Ehm what? What sort of people is this and why would anyone care about their opinion?

If you tell them they can't play together because "you want different things out of the game" how is that your fault? It's their bloody problem to solve not yours!

Alternatively you could start a campaign by being very upfront of what it will be, how much or little agency the players will be given and how much or little focus there will be on combat. If they agree on playing according to those premises and the premises are met, they can't very well complain.

If they do, you can go to the very same gaming community and complain how horrible players they are and that no DM should ever play with them.

Amphetryon
2014-02-08, 03:44 PM
Ehm what? What sort of people is this and why would anyone care about their opinion?

If you tell them they can't play together because "you want different things out of the game" how is that your fault? It's their bloody problem to solve not yours!

Alternatively you could start a campaign by being very upfront of what it will be, how much or little agency the players will be given and how much or little focus there will be on combat. If they agree on playing according to those premises and the premises are met, they can't very well complain.

If they do, you can go to the very same gaming community and complain how horrible players they are and that no DM should ever play with them.

Theoretically, these 'sort of people' are your friends; I've seen that term used as the unequivocal definition of 'those you game with' on more than one forum, by more than one username (so theoretically more than one poster).

If you, as GM, are the one making the final decision on who can play in the game, how is it not your 'fault?' You made the decision!

If you, as GM, go to the internet (or another outlet) to complain about Players, and both/all the Players you're complaining about are simultaneously complaining about you as GM, your voice is the minority, and can reasonably expect to have a more difficult task in getting your POV to be the sympathetic one, merely because you're the only initial advocate for your side, while the Players will tend to support their shared POV in their complaints.

Raine_Sage
2014-02-08, 08:23 PM
If you, as GM, go to the internet (or another outlet) to complain about Players, and both/all the Players you're complaining about are simultaneously complaining about you as GM, your voice is the minority, and can reasonably expect to have a more difficult task in getting your POV to be the sympathetic one, merely because you're the only initial advocate for your side, while the Players will tend to support their shared POV in their complaints.

Yeah pretty much. People in general are less sympathetic to those they perceive as being in a position of power. You see it everywhere, not just in gaming narratives. So since the GM A) Can only vouch for themselves, in a case where they're more than likely biased and B) Is in a position of perceived authority then it can be hard to come across as the good guy even when you are.

It doesn't help that there are a lot of *******s who will abuse power the moment they get their hands on it. My friends and I were in a game with a guy named chance once. It all started out ok, he was the DM more or less and he'd built the game himself. He just didn't see anything wrong at all with giving his favorite players more perks than everyone else, blatant favoritism and harassing, making his DMPC the center of every single plotline. It was miserable so we all left.

Now this game, while a communal roleplaying game, was not strictly a tabletop rpg (most of it was played on line) but it shared a lot of social mechanics. Still we weren't using terms like DM or DMPC, we just knew one guy was in charge of keeping the plot running and that guy was kind of terrible.

Flash forward a few years and I'm broaching the subject of D&D to my friends for the first time, explaining how things work and what the DM does to run the game. And one of them looks up and goes "Oh hey, that's kind of like what Chance did right?" and everyone else instantly looks kind of wary like I'm going to suddenly start making unreasonable demands.

What I'm getting at here is that the concept of having a DM can be poisoned for people long before you know what a DM even is. All it takes is one guy being in charge of everything, and then abusing that power, and suddenly you've got a Pavlovian response any time you hear the words "And this is the guy in charge of all of you."

Kelb_Panthera
2014-02-08, 08:36 PM
Putting the ol' airquotes around "difficult" in the topic, because honestly, I don't think it is. What I really mean is "why do so many people do it so badly?"

We've got threads and threads and threads here, ranging from "Tell me about your worst DM" mutual venting/sympathy to posts full of people desperately trying to save someone who has bad-DM'd themselves into a corner.

So. What is it about running a game that causes so many people to fail at it? (Both their first time and, in an appalling number of cases, over and over.) Is there a lack of good information in games on HOW to do this? It seems possible, especially when talking about older games, which in many cases included advice that was actually actively bad (Lookin' at you, World of Darkness!). Is it just that some people are incapable of thinking "how will this look from the other side of the GM screen?" Obviously, there's some sort of 'skill' involved here, but you'd expect things to be more "Well, that wasn't that good, but I see what went wrong." rather than the various horror stories we get around here.

Like any other skillful endeavor, some people are talented enough that they can do it with minimal effort, some are so naturally inept at it that they must put tremendous effort into just being adequate, and most will fall somewhere in between.

DM'ing isn't a mathematical exercise that you either get it or you don't. It's an art. Talent is a factor and skill grows with practice.

Technically, DM'ing is a series of interrelated skills; story telling, event planning, character building (in some games, such as D&D 3.5), conflict resolution (players and GM's don't always agree), and ad-libbing (when players do something unexpected).

As an example; I'm pretty solid on conflict resolution, event planning, and character building. I'm only kinda okay on story telling and I'm absolutely retched when it comes to ad-libbing. I consider myself an okay DM but there's clearly room for improvement.

Fiery Diamond
2014-02-08, 09:21 PM
Losing and dying are not synonymous, and if the combat has some stakes to it and is a situation beyond "Suddenly goblins!", this is obvious. It's really easy to think of a dozen areas where the characters can lose, not die, and it makes a difference in the story.

The characters are attempting to infiltrate a cult to gain information. Someone who knows who they are tries to warn the cult, and they try to intercept them. If this person manages to escape their ambush, they lose, they are found out, and the narrative bends in a big way. This doesn't require them to die.
The characters are protecting a civil official during an assassination attempt on said civil official. The assassins don't care about the player characters, and are just trying to get in, kill the official, and leave. If they do this, there is a very real loss, with no guarantee of anyoen being dead.
The characters are in a largely political conflict with a hated enemy, and it escalates to violence on the streets. If the enemy lasts long enough for guards to show up, they lose. If they are taken out of the fight, they lose, and are probably taken prisoner and ransomed after whatever they've been trying to do is resolved against them - again, a loss. Then there's the possibility that they are left bleeding in the gutter, because the guards show up after they are taken out - again, a loss.
The characters are left for dead, on the assumption that they won't survive what just happened to them. They do, but their opponent came out much better and had however long recuperation took to further their agenda.


Even if we assume a game where characters only die when the players decide they do, there are a lot of loss conditions. Saying that they will necessarily win is ridiculous.

This exactly. It irks me when people claim "If you aren't making it due just to chance whether your characters live or die you aren't really playing a game anymore, you losers!" (usually they leave of the last two words, but they certainly are implied, especially by the person you were responding to).

Kelb_Panthera
2014-02-08, 10:22 PM
Paranoia is built around the concept that you WILL lose, but will still have fun doing so (You are given a secret win condition at game start. You will not succeed).

They said the same about Call of Cthulu, yet Old Man Henderson (http://1d4chan.org/wiki/Old_Man_Henderson) is a thing that happened.

On the more general topic of win/lose conditions; most RPG's do have a lose condition that remains stable but few have an ultimate win condition.

Character death is a fairly stable lose condition in most cases but it can be neutralized as a loss if it coincides with a situational win condition. The previous example of a paladin martyring himself to protect the innocent from a demonic incursion is a good example. If that same paladin survived the encounter with the demons and was subsequently murdered in his sleep by a goblin on the way home, that'd almost be certainly considered a loss unless ready access to resurrection magic was available.

Win conditions, on the other hand, are virtually always dependent on the situation at hand but there is rarely a situation under which overcoming the challenge at hand means winning the game altogether; the "happily ever after" moment, if you will. Defeating the BBEG -can- be such a moment but it doesn't preclude further adventuring in that same campaign.

That's my take anyway.

NichG
2014-02-08, 10:35 PM
I tend to think of win or lose conditions in RPGs as more of a negotiation style of thing. Its multi-layered, because the player has certain things they want, the character has certain things they want, the 'world' has certain things it wants, and the DM has certain things he wants. Thats why, for example, character death is not necessarily an automatic loss, if it gets the player something more desirable than continuing to play the character was. Similarly, the character can survive the campaign but if the player dislikes the way the ending went, its not well-described by a win.

The thing about the terms 'win' and 'loss' is that they're absorbing states - once you've declared a win or a loss, something is 'over' and its status can't further evolve. Thats a little simplistic for something like narrative control over the course of a long campaign. Instead, I would say that sometimes things are going your way, sometimes things aren't, and there are things you can do to seize control of the way things are going (or have conflict over that control).

A lot of this is actually all about the meta-game. If I as a player really like comedic things, I can 'fight' to make the game more comedic, even if that is completely orthogonal to e.g. my character's mechanics or the outcome of the battle with the goblins. Loss of a character is often associated with a loss of control though, so these things are rarely totally disconnected.

TuggyNE
2014-02-09, 01:10 AM
Ugh. This module needs to stop being used as an example of "roleplaying games" ever again. :P

In other respects I agree with Scow2 here, but ToH really is not how RPGs should work. At all. It wasn't designed for the purpose and it really shows.

Hurnn
2014-02-09, 01:20 AM
It takes A LOT of gd time and work to do it and do it well. At one point I was creating the scenarios, building/making/painting minis for npcs and bad guys, designing encounters and npcs and bad guys, showing up an hour early every week to set up tables (I used 2-3 full scale tables of terrain) every week. Then had to deal with herding cats and the obligatory power gamer trying to break everything. Did I need to put in that kind of effort probably not but it was worth it and I had the time to.


Some people don't have the time or patience for it, some resent being stuck doing it (been there personally), some aren't good at it (I had a friend who if you weren't part of the prevailing power structure in her game it quickly turned into a victim game), some just don't know how to do it better.

Knaight
2014-02-09, 02:19 AM
It takes A LOT of gd time and work to do it and do it well. At one point I was creating the scenarios, building/making/painting minis for npcs and bad guys, designing encounters and npcs and bad guys, showing up an hour early every week to set up tables (I used 2-3 full scale tables of terrain) every week. Then had to deal with herding cats and the obligatory power gamer trying to break everything. Did I need to put in that kind of effort probably not but it was worth it and I had the time to.


You don't need the minis to do it well, you don't need the terrain to do it well, and as far as creating scenarios and designing encounters goes, the amount of time that takes varies highly. The first is largely by GM, the second by GM and by system, where there are systems that make it easy to do via complete improvisation.

In short, I doubt your time and work angle - I've seen enough excellent improv GMs to conclude that it really isn't necessary. Some systems amp it up, and some people take longer, but that makes the statement situational anyways and it fails as a universal statement.

The Mormegil
2014-02-09, 03:18 AM
The CR system is probably the best answer. Not just because it sucks, but because it's a good indicator of how new DMs will approach most RPG systems (most as in "not FATE", at least from what I've seen up to now).

When you see the CR system, you see a mechanical way to balance an encounter towards a party of a certain level. This is reinforced by background information about stories and in particular videogames with leveling systems: the more you grow the more powerful the monsters become.
You conclude almost immediately that the game is about fighting through progressively different and balanced encounters, with a story that ties them together. Add that almost all rules material is about battles and fighting is extensively detailed, and you will see why new people tend to feel this game is all about fighting. Again, this isn't even 3.5-specific, the other gaming systems I've read are basically the same way.
Creating a story isn't as easy as it seems. It takes a certain kind of preparation and thinking to understand how stories "tick". As such, a lot of young and inexperienced DMs will fail spectacularly at providing decent narrative. This leads many groups to shy away from narrative even more.
This leaves the role of the DM more or less at providing encounters and adjudicating rules arguments. Which means his role is almost always about the rules and their interpretation. Which leads to the real problem.
All rules are broken. Or at least breakable, and since many RPG systems are very complex and not thoroughly tested, this means a lot of rule issues will come up to the table. Solving discussions and arguments is a skill that not many people have; what's more, it requires a lot of maturity. Being the arbiter at the table is not fun for most, and it is a huge responsibility oftentimes not even recognized or even mocked by others.

So here's where the terrible DM types come out of:
1) The guy that sucks at everything rules related and would just love to tell a story like the books / films / videogames he knows. Except he's not even a good writer due to inexperience or lack of talent. He would love to have decent advice on how to make his adventures better but he can't be bothered actually reading the opportune DMG chapters because they're long and they have a lot of pointless stuff in between the good rules. Point him towards Robin D. Law.
2) The guy that is the DM because he loves to be in positions of authority and make others life difficult or easy as he pleases. This guy is a jerk, but nobody else wants to take his place because he would take offense and it's a pain doing what he does anyway. Man up and offer your group to DM. Pick up some modules and go nuts.
3) The guy that knows all the rules and follows them always to the letter. He sits behind the screen because nobody can question his competence. Unfortunately he doesn't provide any sort of narrative, ignores the needs of his players and can only be talked to through rules texts. Which are broken anyway. Either play the game by the rules, or change DM. If the group already started optimizing heavily, this is a tricky situation.
4) The guy that is a doormat and is the DM because all the coolkids want to play and be awesome and he goes with whatever the other guy with the big voice says or whatever the girl with boobs says. He's a pushover, and unable to put any amount of order at the table. He tries to make sure everybody with a big voice or boobs has a fun time in the only way he knows, which is by not doing anything that's not strictly required. Take his place and try to do better.

Knaight
2014-02-09, 04:11 AM
The CR system is probably the best answer. Not just because it sucks, but because it's a good indicator of how new DMs will approach most RPG systems (most as in "not FATE", at least from what I've seen up to now).
...
Add that almost all rules material is about battles and fighting is extensively detailed, and you will see why new people tend to feel this game is all about fighting. Again, this isn't even 3.5-specific, the other gaming systems I've read are basically the same way.

Extensive combat systems are pretty common, but I've seen a lot of games that put a lot of material elsewhere. Many of these games are pretty dramatically different from FATE. Legend of the Five Rings, REIGN, Shadowrun*, Chronica Feudalis, and a whole host of other games focus on things outside of combat just as much as things in it. FATE has a combat system that takes up a fair chunk of the game's mechanics.

In short, I don't think that the CR system or RPG presentation is largely responsible here. I'd lay a lot more of the blame on modules (if they're used they tend to push this way) and the probable familiarity of CRPGs. They share a name, lots of them use systems obviously close to tabletop RPGs, and as such what they do is likely to be taken as a starting point. GM advice then tends to be sparse enough and bad enough to not displace this with a better method.

*There's plenty of mechanics on hacking and stealth. Arguably way too many on hacking.

Kaun
2014-02-09, 05:23 PM
Being the GM requires you to utilize a wide range of skills. I have always looked at it like playing a musical instrument.

Some people have a natural aptitude. They can pick up any instrument that interests them and in a short period of time can start making music which is generally pleasing to those around them. They find music to be a very natural and intuitive thing and they are able to create and accomplish things with an ease that can confound others.

Some people can master any given instrument with time and focus. While it may not come as naturally as those in the group above, through dedication and hard work they can become quite an accomplished musician.

But some people are tone deaf and struggle to keep a beat. Regardless of how much time and effort is expended, they struggle to master even the simplest songs. In some cases they are not even fully aware of how poorly they play and are unsure as to why most people do not stay and listen to their music. For some, no matter how much they want it, mastery will never come.

In short; Natural aptitude comes into play a lot with DMing. I think that's why some people complain about it being difficult and others take to it with ease.

Amphetryon
2014-02-09, 05:54 PM
Being the GM requires you to utilize a wide range of skills. I have always looked at it like playing a musical instrument.

Some people have a natural aptitude. They can pick up any instrument that interests them and in a short period of time can start making music which is generally pleasing to those around them. They find music to be a very natural and intuitive thing and they are able to create and accomplish things with an ease that can confound others.

Some people can master any given instrument with time and focus. While it may not come as naturally as those in the group above, through dedication and hard work they can become quite an accomplished musician.

But some people are tone deaf and struggle to keep a beat. Regardless of how much time and effort is expended, they struggle to master even the simplest songs. In some cases they are not even fully aware how poorly they play and are unsure as to why most people do not stay to listen to their music. For some no matter how much they want it, mastery will never come.

In short; Natural aptitude comes into play a lot with DMing. I think that's why some people complain about it being difficult and others take to it with ease.

Others are more - or less - receptive to feedback from their Players as to how the game went and how they might improve. GMs who don't listen to complaints because they don't want to hear them or because they create an atmosphere where Players are not comfortable voicing dissension may believe they're doing better than their Players would say they are, if asked; GMs who are particularly sensitive to criticism can have the inverse issue, believing the gaming sessions went worse than the Players would say they went, because they can't get past the 'this could be better' feedback.

sktarq
2014-02-09, 07:04 PM
Being the GM requires you to utilize a wide range of skills. I have always looked at it like playing a musical instrument....
In short; Natural aptitude comes into play a lot with DMing. I think that's why some people complain about it being difficult and others take to it with ease.
Being someone who is naturally tone deaf but a natural at DMing I agree with this metaphor and post very much.
My personal thoughts on 25 1/3 years of dealing with and being a GM/DM/ST whathaveyou comes to a pretty simple baseline on why most people are not good at it.
It is about telling stories where you are not the only voice and using mechanics to buttress that.

To break it into it's three parts:
It is about telling stories: Good stories should not only allow the players to build a world in their heads where the action is occurring but to care about it. You have to speak to the players and get them to care as much as getting their characters to care about moving whatever plot forward. Being able to tell a story interesting enough that even if the spotlight is not on their characters the other players are still paying attention and want to know (or are selectively ignoring it to highlight their characters lack of knowledge later-but that is a still a form of engagement).

where you are not the only voice : This is where the whole railroading issues come in. But also where blank spots in planning come in. Many a time a DM has thought that a challenge he had given the group I was in had two possible solutions. Myself I saw a third and to me it was as obvious if not more so than the other two. And when we picked it the DM had no plan. Didn't come into his head...Personally to avoid this as a DM I don't plan these things-I build up the world to the Nth degree and improvise from there. This also includes player management. Making sure other players treat each other well and that everyone has fun. This even goes back to the idea of what game is being played and what style. I won't run a game and am leary of playing in a game without a pre-meet to discuss theme, settings, group style and purpose, and often what game we are playing as the idea of a group not who are all involved in creating a story together not getting their direction figured out from the start seem bizarre and disaster courting.

using mechanics to buttress that: The mechanics (normally dice based) are there to stop the "I hit him""He dodges out of the way""No I HIT him" arguments that would come up from group storytelling without them. That doesn't mean they are easy and natural to use. Many are overly complicated. Many have levels of detail in some areas (combat being most common) that skews how people trying to learn the system view what the field of possible play is. For many others it simply slows things down to a degree whee the excitement and energy of the game dissipates. Also a misjudgment on the mechanics can have dire impacts on the flow of the game. CR says it should be easy but if the monster plays to the party's weaknesses it could still be session ending at the least. Similarly by giving over a piece of random generated loot that makes one player so demonstrably more effective than the others it screws up the flow of play-let Mr./Ms. McDooDad take care of it. The list goes on.

But yeah my two cp

neonchameleon
2014-02-09, 08:47 PM
OK.

Facing the elephant in the room. D&D 3.0/3.5/Pathfinder are the woodwind section of DMing. They simultaneously suck and blow. They suck and blow because they game lies to you (it gives you a CR system - but one that doesn't work). They suck and blow because the game simultaneously puts strict bounds on the capabilities of the characters and makes them absurdly powerful and varied (look at a level 13 wizard), so you don't get the "Behave like adults" working easily or a good grasp of the limit of the characters. They suck and blow because they are high prep (design the PCs as high crunch NPCs) and high lethality (so it doesn't take long to spoil all that hard work). In all these cases the 3.X rules give you the worst of both worlds. And the 3.5 DMG doesn't help much (3.0 is better - I don't own Pathfinder).

I'm not saying that there aren't advantages to D&D 3.X or that there are fewer GMs than players. But I've never been at a non-3.X table where more than half the players weren't either experienced GMs or about to become experienced GMs. This includes AD&D 1e, GURPS, Rifts (bleh!), 4e, and a whole lot of indy games.

To GM well you need to get to the stage where you can pull a random NPC out of nowhere, and cope with the PCs using said NPC in their plains by any number of ways. If you are following the rulebook (as most beginners do) GURPS or Unisystem will tell you to just eyeball their stats. 4e will tell you not to bother unless you need to fight them (just give them a level and an impact on skill challenges*) and then gives you monster design rules that fit on a business card. Fate and Leverage have NPC creation rules that make 4e's seem dense. And you don't have to stat the NPCs in most Powered By The Apocalypse games. 3.X? Tells you to design NPCs as if they were PCs, complete with the Commoner class. Experienced 3.X GMs will do things the GURPS way. This is not a problem. The problem is that 3.X leads you down a garden path before you learn to ignore it when a lot of other games get you to model good practice rather than telling you to do things badly and having you learn to ignore them.

To GM well you need to get to the stage where you don't need to stop the game to look things up in the rulebook. As the GM you expect to be the rules authority - and every time you slow things down to look things up in the rulebook you both normally consider that an admission of failure and it slows the game down and weakens your engagement, which you need to use other skills to overcome. It's also a blow to your confidence. How many of you can tell me the 3.X Grapple rules? Or what exactly provokes Opportunity Attacks? Most starting GMs will try to play things by the book which means they will try to engage with those fiddly details. All the rules you need in play in 4e fit on little more than a Trifold and I really should finish the trifold version. Fate fits on a trifold - Trifold Fate (https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B4v1xSux57vyMjU4NmRmM2ItZGIwOS00ZTUyLWI0NmMtMjQ4M mEyNmFjYmIz/edit?hl=en&authkey=COW2_dYB) is a thing (actually it takes three sides - but the entirety of the third side is the OGL so no one prints it). Unisystem? Again, a double side. Leverage? One side. Apocalypse World/Dungeon World/Monsterhearts? Two pages (approximately - although it's tangled up with GMing advice). Even GURPS might have a rule for everything, but it generally doesn't have all the fiddly details. Again, this isn't a problem for experienced GMs who know what to ignore - but it really is one for newbies, nervous in their first few sessions GMing.

Is GMing hard? Not terribly, especially for a game that's not expected to last longer than half a dozen sessions rather than an epic campaign with a player acting as continuity cop. But D&D 3.X puts in a whole lot of barriers to GMing that need not be there and that experienced GMs simply learn to ignore.

If you want to teach someone to GM, my recommendations would be first a couple of sessions of the GMless Fiasco (http://www.bullypulpitgames.com/games/fiasco/), then give them Fate Core (http://www.evilhat.com/store/index.php?main_page=advanced_search_result&keyword=fate+core&categories_id=&inc_subcat=1&manufacturers_id=&pfrom=&pto=&dfrom=&dto=&x=29&y=13), one of the Powered by the Apocalypse family (Apocalypse World (http://apocalypse-world.com/), Dungeon World (http://www.dungeon-world.com/) (SRD (http://www.dungeonworldsrd.com/)), Monsterhearts (http://buriedwithoutceremony.com/monsterhearts/) (only if you're feeling brave (http://www.flamesrising.com/monsterhearts-rpg-review/)), etc.), or the forthcoming Firefly RPG (note: not Serenity). If you want to stick with D&D rather than something that can quite literally be run with no prep (and Dungeon World isn't close enough), D&D 4e for boardgamers/wargamers crossing over, or something old school - probably Rules Cyclopaedia (http://www.rpgnow.com/product/17171/D%26D-Rules-Cyclopedia-(Basic)?it=1) D&D backed by Keep on the Borderlands (http://www.rpgnow.com/product/17158/B2-The-Keep-on-the-Borderlands-%28Basic%29?term=keep+on+the+borderl&it=1) or Caverns of Thracia (http://www.rpgnow.com/product/1358/Caverns-Of-Thracia?it=1) (preferably the original version of Caverns as it was written for oD&D) and then buy a copy of Vornheim (http://rpg.drivethrustuff.com/product_reviews.php?products_id=91110).

* The Skill Challenge guidelines suck. This is not in doubt.

Amphetryon
2014-02-09, 09:41 PM
As the GM you expect to be the rules authority - and every time you slow things down to look things up in the rulebook you both normally consider that an admission of failure and it slows the game down and weakens your engagement, which you need to use other skills to overcome.It's potentially worse than that. Every time you come across a situation that's not one you're expressly prepared for from a rules-standpoint, you have a decision to make: Do you slow things down, admitting to failure, weakening your engagement with the game and other Players, and letting them see that the Great and Powerful Oz is just some regular dude behind a curtain DM screen? Or, do you make an on-the-spot ruling and have the Player who created the situation (and who is familiar with the particular rules-subset he opted to engage) cry foul and complain about how you're removing his sense of agency in the game by arbitrarily changing the rules he was using, without informing him ahead of time?

Scow2
2014-02-09, 11:37 PM
It's potentially worse than that. Every time you come across a situation that's not one you're expressly prepared for from a rules-standpoint, you have a decision to make: Do you slow things down, admitting to failure, weakening your engagement with the game and other Players, and letting them see that the Great and Powerful Oz is just some regular dude behind a curtain DM screen? Or, do you make an on-the-spot ruling and have the Player who created the situation (and who is familiar with the particular rules-subset he opted to engage) cry foul and complain about how you're removing his sense of agency in the game by arbitrarily changing the rules he was using, without informing him ahead of time?

Well, Ironclaw's advice in this sort of circumstance is "Don't hesitate to defer the ruling to the guy who knows the rules best" (In its "Problem Player Archetypes", distinguishing the relatively benign "Formalist" from the well-known and more malign "Rules Lawyer")

Rhynn
2014-02-09, 11:52 PM
Do you slow things down, admitting to failure, weakening your engagement with the game and other Players, and letting them see that the Great and Powerful Oz is just some regular dude behind a curtain DM screen?

Dang, there's adversarial games, and then there's this: actual adversarial player-GM relationships. That sounds like a terrible way to run a game, worrying about appearing "weak" and "regular"!

Maybe you should find nicer people or actual friends to play with?


Or, do you make an on-the-spot ruling and have the Player who created the situation (and who is familiar with the particular rules-subset he opted to engage) cry foul and complain about how you're removing his sense of agency in the game by arbitrarily changing the rules he was using, without informing him ahead of time?

The correct approach is always "this is my ruling, we'll look it up after the game." Don't slow down play. You can make your ruling based on what a player who seems to know how it works says. If they're a lying jerk and get away with something on purpose, hey, you'll know next time not to trust them.

neonchameleon
2014-02-10, 07:35 AM
Dang, there's adversarial games, and then there's this: actual adversarial player-GM relationships. That sounds like a terrible way to run a game, worrying about appearing "weak" and "regular"!

Maybe you should find nicer people or actual friends to play with?

There's adversarial relationships. There are also relationships that are not helped by nerves. DMing for the first few times is stressful especially if it's built up as A Big Thing and the GM is built up as being The Boss.

Amphetryon
2014-02-10, 07:48 AM
Dang, there's adversarial games, and then there's this: actual adversarial player-GM relationships. That sounds like a terrible way to run a game, worrying about appearing "weak" and "regular"!

Maybe you should find nicer people or actual friends to play with?



The correct approach is always "this is my ruling, we'll look it up after the game." Don't slow down play. You can make your ruling based on what a player who seems to know how it works says. If they're a lying jerk and get away with something on purpose, hey, you'll know next time not to trust them.
1. Given the tone of your response (which practically shouts "you're doing it wrong"), I'm not sure if 'adversarial' was used ironically or not.

2. As I mentioned earlier in the thread, multiple people in multiple threads on multiple forums have made the claim that 'those you game with' and 'your friends' are synonymous terms by default, so the distinction being drawn here either disagrees with that assessment without explicitly expressing the disagreement and explaining its basis, or the distinction of 'actual friends' is some sort of value judgment on the sort of people that some folks call friends.

Knaight
2014-02-10, 12:21 PM
As I mentioned earlier in the thread, multiple people in multiple threads on multiple forums have made the claim that 'those you game with' and 'your friends' are synonymous terms by default, so the distinction being drawn here either disagrees with that assessment without explicitly expressing the disagreement and explaining its basis, or the distinction of 'actual friends' is some sort of value judgment on the sort of people that some folks call friends.

This is ridiculous. What happens when you play in a con game with people you don't know - are they suddenly your friends? What happens when there's some sort of event at a local gaming shop and you play with other strangers who went there - are they suddenly your friends? What if you're at a college which has some sort of RPG club, and you go to that club and play with the people there - are they suddenly your friends?

I could continue, but that would grow tedious. The distinction being drawn here disagrees with that assessment, but there';s no need to explicitly express the disagreement and explain the basis because "everyone you game with is necessarily your friend" is a ridiculous statement and not some sort of null hypothesis that people can just be assumed to agree with.

Amphetryon
2014-02-10, 12:37 PM
This is ridiculous. What happens when you play in a con game with people you don't know - are they suddenly your friends? What happens when there's some sort of event at a local gaming shop and you play with other strangers who went there - are they suddenly your friends? What if you're at a college which has some sort of RPG club, and you go to that club and play with the people there - are they suddenly your friends?

I could continue, but that would grow tedious. The distinction being drawn here disagrees with that assessment, but there';s no need to explicitly express the disagreement and explain the basis because "everyone you game with is necessarily your friend" is a ridiculous statement and not some sort of null hypothesis that people can just be assumed to agree with.

Your disagreement with the definition/hypothesis is duly noted.

Rhynn
2014-02-10, 12:42 PM
This is ridiculous. What happens when you play in a con game with people you don't know - are they suddenly your friends? What happens when there's some sort of event at a local gaming shop and you play with other strangers who went there - are they suddenly your friends? What if you're at a college which has some sort of RPG club, and you go to that club and play with the people there - are they suddenly your friends?

A lot of roleplayers are nerds, and nerds are frequently terrible at social relationships and have over-expansive definitions of "friends" and weak boundaries.

So people, especially on nerdy forums, having a weird definition of "friends" doesn't really count for much. A lot of people are wrong about things, and within communities or groups or subculturse, wrong ideas can propagate very effectively.

People you only play RPGs with (and not just once, like at a con) are probably just acquaintances, rather like people you work with, go to school with, see sometimes through family or friends or hobbies, etc. Friends are a bit more than just "people you know" or "people you do stuff with," usually.

And unless your friends are a pack of wolves, you shouldn't need to be worrying about appearing "weak" or "regular" (as in normal) in front of them. Friends won't lunge for your throat when you show weakness, literally or metaphorically. Acquaintances might, I guess, although in that case you should probably unacquaint yourself...

Knaight
2014-02-10, 01:10 PM
Your disagreement with the definition/hypothesis is duly noted.

Having reread the definition, there's more to note. I was interpreting it more generously than I should have been.


'Those you game with' and 'your friends' are synonymous terms by default.
Previously, I was using the generous interpretation that 'those you game with' was being treated as innately a subset of 'your friends'. Strictly speaking that is only half of what this says. It also says that 'your friends' are all 'people you game with'. Not only are acquaintances at some club one only plays RPGs with automatically friends, people who are extremely close, spent a lot of time together, and who are willing to do quite a bit for each other when they need help are somehow not friends unless they also play RPGs together.

jedipotter
2014-02-10, 02:07 PM
2. As I mentioned earlier in the thread, multiple people in multiple threads on multiple forums have made the claim that 'those you game with' and 'your friends' are synonymous terms by default, so the distinction being drawn here either disagrees with that assessment without explicitly expressing the disagreement and explaining its basis, or the distinction of 'actual friends' is some sort of value judgment on the sort of people that some folks call friends.

What?!

I can break down my players into three groups:

1.My best, best friends. Like ''he was my Best Man at my wedding'' or ''I donated blood to her'' no just ''I gave him a high five Friday''.

2.Just friends. People I know. About half of them are people I only know through the game, and the other half I see and interact with for other things.

3.Strangers. People I do not know. At all. This includes people I only know and game with, but don't know them otherwise(I might not even know some of their last names).

Scow2
2014-02-10, 02:22 PM
What?!

I can break down my players into three groups:

1.My best, best friends. Like ''he was my Best Man at my wedding'' or ''I donated blood to her'' no just ''I gave him a high five Friday''.

2.Just friends. People I know. About half of them are people I only know through the game, and the other half I see and interact with for other things.

3.Strangers. People I do not know. At all. This includes people I only know and game with, but don't know them otherwise(I might not even know some of their last names).
Declaring people you game with as "Acquaintences" instead of "Friends" is merely a way of socially distancing them from you to justify being a **** to them and screwing them over! (Yes, that is the argument I've seen leveled at people who claim the people they game with are merely 'acquaintences' instead of "friends")

GPuzzle
2014-02-10, 02:24 PM
You know, the people you game with are your friends, to an extent. They go out of their way to spend hours (up to 12 was the limit I found) with people that aren't family playing a game that involves weirdly shaped dice and adults playing make-believe with rules and a theme.

In my book, that's a friend. Not one of my best friends, but definetively one.

Rhynn
2014-02-10, 02:43 PM
In my book, that's a friend. Not one of my best friends, but definetively one.

Well, I started this with "actual friends," and I didn't exactly mean it as a binary thing: I meant it more like "yo those are some horrible friends" (with an implied "I wouldn't call them friends"). People have different standards for what friends are, and you can certainly have bad friends.


Yes, that is the argument I've seen leveled at people who claim the people they game with are merely 'acquaintences' instead of "friends"

:smallbiggrin: Yeah, that's headed towards the Geek Social Fallacies (http://www.plausiblydeniable.com/opinion/gsf.html).

esotErik
2014-02-11, 01:32 AM
As someone who's been interested for awhile in playing roleplaying games, and GMing them in particular, (although I've never done either), I share the OP's perplexion at the crazy bad GMs you read stories about.

If I want to write or experience a totally linear, unchangeable story, I'll write or read one. If I want to play in and master a closed system of rules, I'll play a video game. The sole reason roleplaying games hold any interest to me is because of the opportunities for cooperative story-telling and unmatched player agency. If someone isn't interested in either of these aspects, I honestly don't see any reason you'd want to play a roleplaying game in the first place.

So despite everything I've read in this thread I still don't understand how really, really bad GMs exist. If you aren't interested in the unique aspects of roleplaying games, why are you even playing them?

TuggyNE
2014-02-11, 01:48 AM
As someone who's been interested for awhile in playing roleplaying games, and GMing them in particular, (although I've never done either), I share the OP's perplexion at the crazy bad GMs you read stories about.

If I want to write or experience a totally linear, unchangeable story, I'll write or read one. If I want to play in and master a closed system of rules, I'll play a video game. The sole reason roleplaying games hold any interest to me is because of the opportunities for cooperative story-telling and unmatched player agency. If someone isn't interested in either of these aspects, I honestly don't see any reason you'd want to play a roleplaying game in the first place.

So despite everything I've read in this thread I still don't understand how really, really bad GMs exist. If you aren't interested in the unique aspects of roleplaying games, why are you even playing them?

Power trip? If you write a story you can't be sure anyone will read it, and those who do might have, ugh, criticisms. But if you make people play it out, well, they're not going anywhere until it's done!

Raine_Sage
2014-02-11, 02:16 AM
As someone who's been interested for awhile in playing roleplaying games, and GMing them in particular, (although I've never done either), I share the OP's perplexion at the crazy bad GMs you read stories about.

If I want to write or experience a totally linear, unchangeable story, I'll write or read one. If I want to play in and master a closed system of rules, I'll play a video game. The sole reason roleplaying games hold any interest to me is because of the opportunities for cooperative story-telling and unmatched player agency. If someone isn't interested in either of these aspects, I honestly don't see any reason you'd want to play a roleplaying game in the first place.

So despite everything I've read in this thread I still don't understand how really, really bad GMs exist. If you aren't interested in the unique aspects of roleplaying games, why are you even playing them?

Basically you want a captive audience. As someone who draws and occasionally dips into creative writing I understand just how demoralizing it can be when something you worked hard on goes largely ignored. So some GMs use the game to make players listen, after all where else are they going to go? If they agreed to play with you they probably don't have many options open to them.

Since you're in a position of power, you can also use the GM spot as leverage over your players to gain "positive" reviews of your story. Anyone who offers praise gets in game goodies, naysayers get rocks to the head. Basically bad GMs aren't really there to play a roleplaying game at all, they just want to get off on holding a bunch of people on puppet strings. That's why they're bad GMs.

esotErik
2014-02-12, 11:43 PM
Basically you want a captive audience. As someone who draws and occasionally dips into creative writing I understand just how demoralizing it can be when something you worked hard on goes largely ignored. So some GMs use the game to make players listen, after all where else are they going to go? If they agreed to play with you they probably don't have many options open to them.

Since you're in a position of power, you can also use the GM spot as leverage over your players to gain "positive" reviews of your story. Anyone who offers praise gets in game goodies, naysayers get rocks to the head. Basically bad GMs aren't really there to play a roleplaying game at all, they just want to get off on holding a bunch of people on puppet strings. That's why they're bad GMs.

That actually makes a ton of sense. As someone whose own creative work goes largely ignored I hope I never reach that point...

jjcrpntr
2014-02-13, 01:16 AM
I started up a sunday night group that I'm dming for. Most of the group is from my saturday night group so I know them. I've never dmed before.

I made a mistake of writing to much stuff out in advance. Having an old man trying to talk to them and then when someone says "shut up old man" I got thrown for a loop.The overall game went well I think, everyone said they had fun. But I learned a few things

1) Set general ideas but don't over think stuff, players can very easily say fk it and mess up with what I wrote.
2) Carefully think out encounters. I had an encounter I thought would be tough for them, but they ripped through it in 3 combat rounds taking only minor damage.

I've got a better set up for Saturday and I'm hoping I'm learning quickly enough on the fly to keep them interested and having fun.

hemming
2014-02-14, 09:56 AM
The most difficult aspect for me is to keep focused on creating a world that provokes the players to act vs. creating NPCs/events that direct the players to act a certain way

- It is so much easier to give players a course of actions than to have them feel like they have a world of possibilities. I think this is a lofty goal for any DM to aspire to, but one that is very tough to achieve.

Hober Mallow
2014-02-15, 12:34 PM
The best solution Iíve found to GMing problems is to get the campaign off to a good start. I insist that the players create characters who are compatible with each other, will act as a team and will fit the campaign. Make sure that the players have an idea as to what the campaign is about before they design their characters.

Doing so means that they are much less likely to drag the campaign in a direction that you are unhappy with. If they insist on doing so, tell them that they are welcome to roll up some new characters as the others will be leaving the campaign since youíre not prepared to run a second group.

So if your campaign is based on a Paladinís quest to rescue something for the Dwarf King, itís a good idea to insist that there is at least one Paladin in the group (run by someone who doesn't play it as Lawful Stupid) and that no-one is allowed to run an evil character who hates Dwarves.

Disruptive players who argue and whose characters generally bring trouble to the rest of the party are a big problem. So unless youíre playing ďParanoiaĒ, where this is expected, this will probably ruin the campaign after a few sessions. Tell them to stop doing this or design another character and if they wonít then throw them out of the campaign. If they insist that they are ďrole playingĒ point out that this is a game not a drama.

For example, in the TV show ďLost in SpaceĒ most of the drama is created by the character Dr. Zachary Smith but in an RPG Dr. Smith would soon find himself marooned on a planet as his behavior poses a serious threat to the rest of the crew of the Jupiter 2. In real life sensible people tend not to hang around with jerks if they have a choice.

If the game is adversarial, players vs. GM, youíre doing it wrong. Don't go on a power trip and never get annoyed whenever the players solve a problem in a way that you didn't expect.

Insist that the players are reasonably well-organized. If someone is forever dithering about what to do in combat when itís their turn, delay their action and move onto someone else. If they keep on dithering then assume that they have chosen to not act in the current round. Usually they will only do this one time. A poorly organized player slows down the game and eats into everyone elseís time.

Never split up the group for too long as the players who arenít involved will get fed up. This is something which works in a drama but not in a RPG.

Donít run large groups (my limit is 4 or 5). Too many players leads to too many distractions.

Donít run DM Player Characters. Donít even be tempted. This takes the focus away from the players and increases the DMís workload. Run DM NPCs and keep them in the background; if they are with the party make them support characters, such as Bards or Clerics who specialize in buffing, and they should never make key decisions for the party.