Saturday, March 8, 2014

Ah, Insight

Recently, I made the argument that if the Players were to get up from the table and desert the DM, there would be no game.  I inferred that because the DM does all the work, the DM has more to lose in the power struggle.  Others proposed that if the DM refuses to play, that the Players would have no game.  The inference there is that the DM has all the power, and the Players must submit to that power.  Finally, still others argued that it is balance of power, and the inference there is that both the Players and the DM are two sides of a see-saw, and that both must agree or there is no game.

Three philosophies.

However, what is actually important is not which of these philosophies correctly defines who has power, or how much they have.

What is important is which of these philosophies, if embraced, produces the BEST game.  Best being defined here as most pleasant, most productive and least oppressive.


Ozymandias said...

Let's consider this perspective: it's all about providing a service.

Practically every job can be viewed from the vantage of service. A factory worker provides a service for the factory owner - she builds the product. The warehouse attendant provides a service for the factory worker - he brings the parts for the product. The foreman provides a service for his boss - he manages the employees and meets quotas - but he also services his team - he advocates on their behalf in return for good work.

Whether this is true of all factories is not the point. What matters is that it is a way of looking at our relationships. We all have needs, and everything we do is in service to someone else's needs. (Replace "need" with "want" where appropriate.)

If we apply the idea of servitude to the relationship between DM and players, we get the following outlooks:

1) The DM is a servant to the players. She must provide them with a consistently run, fairly adjudicated game.
2) The players are servants to the DM. They must participate in the game according to the limits he provides.
3) Both are servants to each other and need to clearly define the standards of their game.

I'll be honest, I'm not sure where to take this line of thinking. I prefer the first option. Then again, in both my real-life jobs, I see my work as a service to others. I can't help but apply the same reasoning to my D&D game and therefore I'm biased. I'm interested to know what others think.

Taren said...

I agree that defining which of the three choices is most accurate is slippery at best, and largely irrelevant. All three may apply at any given table!

In the end, as you said, Alexis, a good and satisfying game is the goal - and all players bear responsibility for making or breaking it.

We players are in effect giving our power to the DM in exchange for an enjoyable experience. With the implied (sometimes explicit) understanding that the DM will make the game for us.

We DMs, on the other hand, may appear to hold all the power, but we are indeed there for the players. We want them to participate in our world and derive satisfaction when they're pleased and challenged both.

In the end we ALL give something of value, and we all gain something worth more than what we gave. In a good game ;)

Power dynamics is a fascinating subject in itself! It's a human condition, to seek and give power.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Taren, Ozymandias,

What you say is fair, but the post is entitled 'insight.'

The question is not, 'what is true.' The question is, what needs to be true, and thus pursued as a philosophy, regardless of whether or not it is IS true, in order to provide the best gaming experience?

Giordanisti said...

The game is about the party. First and foremost, it MUST be about the party. Not an individual player, not the DM's plan, but the party as a whole.

Selflessness is the key to a harmonious game. The players have to give up their ego and help one another. The DM has to be making the game about others and not themselves. However, the players should not think they "owe" the DM. If they feel they are indebted to his or her work, there's no actual selflessness going on, just an exchange. And the problem with that exchange is that the DM holds the world in their hands. If there is any entitlement on the part of the DM, we start down the road to megalomania and abuse of power.

So, the power needs to be thought of as in the hands of the players. But that power is not adversarial or bullying towards the DM, but rather directed inward, in the spirit of cooperation to the party. The DM has to expect no reward but the game itself for their work. Their power has to be in-world only.

Excuse my hippy bullshit.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Power of your convictions, Giordanisti. Power of your convictions.

Andrej said...

A statement and a question.

My inference is that some readers here lose sight that your book's thesis is how to better "run" the game as a DM and not a more general playing guide. Your perspective on this assumes DM abuse of power is either universal or common enough that therefore inherent in your prescribed approach must be a correction for it. Those who are unaware of this abuse, don't suffer from it, or expect a book on advanced "play" seem to be getting confused.

Now the question(s)...

Were you to write a book about how to better play the game (player here meaning being a participant other than the DM) would you still choose to promote the philosophy that the DM is there to serve the players? Or would you adjust it to the players are there to serve each other?

From a slightly different perspective, would a book whose thesis was how to better play D&D (DM and players are both included this time) embrace the philosophy that each and every participant must act to serve the other participants gathered around that table?

Alexis Smolensk said...


Interesting question, in that it makes a set of reasonable presumptions about why I'm writing about abuse of power that are just so slightly off-target that it produces the rest of your position.

I am right now writing the part of the book that is called "Managing Your Players." Most would take the approach that to manage your players would require knowing how to respond to them when they behaved in certain predictable manners. I don't think it is really possible to write that sort of position well. I am, instead, arguing in the section that if you are not a dick, your players will be tractable in their interaction with you. There will still be players that will work against you, but by not being a dick, those players will be more immediately identifiable.

Which means, in effect, I am saying 'clear the roadblocks that you are creating in the way of play by being a dick, and the players will be better players.' If your behavior as DM becomes intrinsic to the game, then the player's behavior to each other should suit to match. Lead by example, not by dictum, and to do so one must also lead from a position of goodness.

I would argue then that I am writing a book that includes better play, but rather than compelling the reader (who would be the DM) to try to change the players, I'm encouraging the reader to change themselves.

Andrej said...

My key take-away here is that you're writing a book for the DM and therefore the focus is on DMs improving themselves. I think its an excellent approach to take and look forward to challenging/ changing myself as a result of reading the book.