Friday, July 24, 2009

The Tyranny of the DM and the Tyranny of the Player

We have been discussing the way the rules can help and hinder players and game masters acting like jerks over at Zach's place, RPG Blog II. Zach is, as you might know, one of the voices of The RPG Circus. They had ChattyDM over for a talk at their show, and he claimed that the reign of the tyrannical DM was now over. Since I have little time to listen to podcasts I wont try to put words in the mouth of Chatty, but the way the discussion went on Zach's blog made me chip in with my own two cents.

Now, I don't think the tyranny of anything have ended. In the latest edition of D&D I would even like to claim that the Tyranny of the Player have reared its ugly head. Now we have a game where every character class plays very much like the other, and where everything you can do is written down as a Power. While it don't have to be that way, just like the former editions of the game didn't have to bring on the tyranny of the DM, it has opened the door for something which I consider just as bad as the Tyranny of the DM.

When you have a game system which is open for interpretation, and where different characters have different game mechanics, you might have to add common sense. You might also have to add some on the spot rulings. More often than not you might also have to play the social game and be graceful enough to admit that your character is not as powerful as the others at all occasions. Basically, it means that in order for the game to work smoothly you will have to have a bit of trust. That trust has to work both ways across the screen. Preferably it also extends in between the players. If you know that the game is not a zero sum game of "balance", you will have to trust that the other people around the table is not out to ruin your game. I could also mention the word "fun", but we all know old schoolers hate fun.

Also, have you considered that maybe some of those stories you have heard told about how someone totally was screwed over by his DM might actually been what that player deserved? Mike Mornard tells us it happened in the Greyhawk campaign, and I'm wondering if not that has been the reason more than once. That's not bad DM-ing. It's bad Playing, and they need just as much empowerment as lousy DM's need. 'nuff said.


  1. This is a load of horse-puckey. The only thing that different game mechanics and open for interpretation game systems do is give more scope for arguing. I've been a DM for twenty years, and I'll tell you right now, the only tyranny, of the DM or Player that you'll experience is what you bring to the table with you - game system makes little or no difference, save perhaps providing fuel for the fire.

  2. The only thing that different game mechanics and open for interpretation game systems do is give more scope for arguing.

    Well, like I said it depends on the amount of trust involved. I didn't say that any kind of game mechanics could make that arguing go away. Just like you say it's something you bring to the table.

    If you have a game which try to empower the player to end "DM tyranny", you will at most just add another kind of tyranny. That was my main point.

  3. For most of the late 80's and through the 90's, I mostly culled players from people I knew, and mostly people with little experience in gaming. So I never got too many complaints about my "imperial GM" attitude (I use "imperial" to describe a DM who is very much about his own "bottom line," but is also on the players side and wants them to do well in the game).

    I recently got a couple of new players who were very 3.5 oriented. They came to my 1st. edition game with eyebrows raised, and immediatly started going on about all the things you can do in 3.5. They seemed to be very experienced with calling DM's on the carpet for discrepencies.

    They were finally pleasantly suprised by my fairly open and light version of 1st ed, and I had them won over by the second game.

    But my AD&D, where I am to be considered "in charge" (the only way I know how to run the game), I will probably run into some new players down the line who won't "get it."

    But I've had my game world for over 30 years. I have a connection to it that I think is rare among DM's. That means I am it's lord and master. If players accept it, they realize it is how it should be, and we all have a great time.

  4. I will say that the game system might not be the only thing that decides what kind of play you get, but if you don't have any trust it will be a crappy game. If you also have people trained in the mentality that the players shall correct the DM, then it will suck big time. I don't think we need games that explicitly does the latter.

  5. Let's create a new and even better phrase: "The Tyranny of the Game Tyrant."

    When people talk about "Game Master/DM Power" versus "Player Power" it's always in the vein of someone having the Ultimate Tyrannical Power over the others players of the game.

    Crap. Stupidity. Nonsense. The paranoid delusions of insecure whiners and children should not be allowed to muddy our game and spoil the fun.

    People gather to PLAY the game and HAVE FUN TOGETHER. The goal of the DM is to entertain the players; the goal of the players is to entertain the DM. If you aren't having fun and don't want to come back -- quit playing the freaking game!

    When some people dislike their fellow players, they whip out hate words like "He was Being Mean and Nasty to Me, the Tytrant!" They are trying to force everyone else to play how they want to play. Everyone else is supposed to be a robot catering to their paranoid insecurities.

    People who can't get along with their fellow players need to stop playing.

    I am a player because I'm lousy at being a DM. The DM I want has to meet only one criteria: they have to be there to have fun playing (and be creative and talented at running games; beyond that, they are my host in the game world they create and I'll treat them as such). My fellow gamers also have to meet that criteria: we are all guests in the DM's game and are expected to behave like civil, freindly people to each other and the DM.

    Anyone who wants to play the game Tyrant and treat everyone else like slaves deserves to be driven off by an angry crowd with torches and pitch forks!

  6. One of these days we will all learn to live together. Hopefully.

    Oh, I agree.


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