Tuesday, December 21, 2010


A friend of mine made a unique connection about my post yesterday, which was about how I did not prepare for a session and how I preferred to work on big picture stuff rather than the finicky details of the campaign.  This friend - who may identify himself in the comments if he wishes - brought up the point that DMs who spend a lot of time preparing for their campaigns are like micromanagers ... a point I realized at once was brilliant.

Consider this:

"If you are a micromanager, the chances are that sooner or later you will realize that the employees are spending an increasing amount of time thinking how to deal with their supervisor rather than actually working. If you wait long enough, most of the good self respecting people would have left and you would be left with a team of mediocre employees who just know one thing, follow orders, no questions asked."

Now, I am as guilty as anyone in saying that I have players, they like me, so my world cannot be that bad.  But that's really bullshit.  It could easily be that I browbeat my players into playing, that I expect them to toe a line which - if not toed - will be stabbed through their hearts.  Perhaps my players are fretful, accepting worms who are so short on social life they have to play in my world since its their only solace from the cold, oppressed dungeon apartments they can afford to rent.

Without giving any answer whether or not that's true, I'd like to turn it around against people out there making the same claims I have made.  Claims such as their players being roleplay geeks, or pure as the driven snow, or the same six buddies they've been playing with since the 1970s.  What do such claims mean, exactly?  Are these necessarily laudable plaudits about the strength and quality of the campaign described, or are they distinct signs that something is seriously, deeply wrong?

Do you mean to say that in 30 years of play, not one member at the table has dropped out, or been added?  Do you mean to say that no person offering to play in your campaign has ever expressed a desire for their 'evil' player characters to rape someone?  Do you seriously mean to claim that no weak roleplayers have ever cast dice at your table?  Or is it that your world is so inflexible, and your personal style as DM so stifling, that anyone who has dared to enter the sanctity of your domain with "weird" ideas has quickly slipped right out the door again, grateful that it was only one night of their lives they'll never get back?

Let us address the micromanager quote at the start.  A micromanager, for those who might not be overly familiar with the term (there are people younger than 18 that read this blog), is an individual who feels they must personally control or oversee every detail of what is being done by the employees under their authority.  Most 18-year-olds are familiar with this, as most jobs you get at 18 are for people with zero or no management skills, who think 'managing' is the same as 'nit-picking.'

And do not many DMs behave likewise?  Micromanaging every die roll, or the quality of the dice (yes, sorry, though I did think it was a good post Cyclopeatron), or what moral standing the player is expected to have in the DM's world, or dozens of other things that one might expect to find tolerable in the work place only because there's a wage.  We've all read examples.  The result is exactly as the description of micromanager reads: what is the DM thinking?  What is the solution the DM wants solved?  How will the DM motivate the players?  Carrots, sticks, extortion, punishments, behavioral corrections, karmic responses by the world to slap the players if they step out of line?

(Yes, true, I did mention karma a few posts ago.  But I haven't implemented it, have I?  Part of that has a great deal to do with the thought processes driving this post)

If the players are all focused one hundred percent on the DM, then I think something's wrong.  I have written right here on this blog - more than once - that it is MY world and that the world runs according to MY rules.  But the reader should know the game is not in the rules.  All I do is establish the playing field, draw out the lines and describe the methods of play - just as an umpire or a referee.  After that, I am well out of it.  There are arguments in my world.  They go on between the players.  If there's a question about what to do next, I'm not the one that's holding up the show.  I'm in the kitchen making myself coffee, waiting for them to sort out what they want to do.  Running the game is ejudicating, not directing.  But I've said that before.

Most micromanagers, it must be said, are oblivious to their own management practices.  They look around at their offices and think everything is going great!  People are obedient, the work is getting down, everyone has their heads down and focused on their work, no one looks the least bit undependable ... then the higher ups drop a survey on the employees and the results look - well, the gentle reader can guess.

I want to put myself under a microscope, with the hope that others would do the same.  And as you read this, ask yourself what your players might say to a completely disinterested investigator, who had them answer a survey about your world that you would never see.  How confident does that make you feel?  Are you certain your confidence is a good thing?

1. How long has this present campaign been in existence?

Simple enough.  Four years.  Five?  Could be six.  Seems like forever.

2.  How many players do you have, and how many right now were present at the beginning of the campaign?

I have eight players.  Four were present at the beginning.  They were the same four I started with.

3.  How many of your players are family members?

Three of the original four.  My wife plays, my daughter and her common-law husband.

4.  How many of your present players began playing after the halfway point in the existence of your campaign?  How many in the last year (if that applies)?

Four.  I had two girls who started playing about 14 months ago, and a couple who have joined my game (after several months of expressing a desire to) in the last session.  That last two have been playing in my daughter's campaign, in which I am a player, for six months, so I know them quite well.

5.  How many long-term players (played for more than a third of the campaign) have you had that dropped out?  Were any reasons given?

One.  I had a player who ran a cleric until she was almost seventh level, who then stopped coming around to play.  The other players, who knew her better outside of the campaign - I only knew her as a player - tell me she had a change of life, stopped gaming altogether and stopped talking to her friends.  I was not given a reason by the player; she just stopped appearing.

6.  How many short term players have you had since the campaign started who did not come back?  How many of them gave a reason?

Four.  One that came for two sessions, two that came together for one session, and one who's appearance has been spotty over the last year (younger brother of one of the other players, and still 'technically' in the campaign, though I don't count him).  All but the last are regularly-seen friends of mine, but we don't talk much about D&D.  One of those three occasionally comments on this blog.  That individual sat down at length and described what he found undesirable about my world - specifically, that it was too serious, too focused on ambition rather than on spontaneous fun, heavy on detail and generally not his cup of tea.

7.  How many of the players in your world have never played a roleplaying game before?

Three.  My wife and the two girls who started playing the game 14 months ago.

8.  Estimate the appearance rate of your players.  How often does your campaign run?

About 92-96%, not counting the inconsistent player.  Games are suspended over the summer, but through the fall, winter and spring we play consistently, every two weeks.

9.  Name the three principle reasons for people not appearing in your campaign.

Shift work.  Secondary School.  Family obligations.

10.  How often is it that players in your campaign do not appear without having given a reason?



Brunomac said...

As far as micromanagement, I think it of course varies from DM to DM. I used to do more of it. And I've used my gameworld since I was a kid back in the day, so that kind of bond with your world lends itself to wanting to control so many aspects of it. But hey, as long as the players have lots of choices and live the lives in the way they want, they don't need to see how the sausage is made!

I like the "under the microscope" questions. I think I'll use 'em in a post today - lay my heart out, so to speak.

Anonymous said...

Ooh, an excellent way to hold the mirror up. Do I have to look? I'm thankful for this post and will be taking the time to blog about my responses as well. Thanks!


Anonymous said...

Here's mine: