Thursday, May 17, 2018


The following sequence rose from events played between February 25 and 26, 2009.

In my last masterclass, I addressed the matter of players having to make up their minds how to interact with the campaign setting, and how the DM will be typically pressed to make this interaction happen for the players.  In short, the players want to adventure; and will wait for the DM to create the adventure for the players to run in, because this is easiest for the players.  Opposed to this, however, is the experience and opportunity that arises when the players do for themselves, even if doing for themselves is the harder option.  Good play calls for all the participants to dig in and work together to make things happen ... not when the DM provides for all the others, who then become hopelessly dependent on that DM.  Dependency is never a good thing.

This post is meant to address the contrary point of view, and how "doing for the players without waiting for the players" is easiest for the DM too.  In many ways, by creating the adventure from whole cloth, so that players know what is expected of them, makes everything easier for the DM as well.  Which is why DMs do it.  Nothing makes a D&D running go well like having the players be dependent upon our story, our plot twists and our moment-to-moment whims.

It will not be popular to say, but many of the substantial problems that arise in having ONE PERSON control all that is said and done at a game table for a bunch of people who are dependent upon that person's intentions to create, or not create, the adventure that is going to be run, arise from the same issues that we connect with codependency.  Role-playing is addictive; and while it is not a drug, I will rush to point out that the link explicitly states that codependency relationships can also arise from gambling, which is also a game, and the dysfunction that arises out of family relationships ~ which, incidentally, psychology invented role-playing in order to combat.

Which is to say that role-playing itself is not a bad thing.  It can be healthy, if approached in a healthy manner.  It is that healthy manner that promotes role-playing as a therapy.  We stress how every participant must learn to be responsible for themselves, and in their contribution to the general welfare of the relationship.  But when we say that the DM is responsible for everyone having fun at the table, ie., for the emotional state of other people; or that the DM is responsible to always say "yes" to player efforts at problem solving, ie., supporting and enabling the ability of another person to feel successful and validated; we are drifting dangerously into codependency.

When the DM knows who the players are going to talk to, and why, and what's going to be said, because that is the way the adventure goes, this removes everything else, the "unexpected," from the equation.  This shrinks the problem of managing the players' motivations and probable actions to a framework that most DMs can handle.  It is especially necessary for new DMs, who are hardly able to handle even this much interaction ... which is why "story-telling" DMing is presented as the best, more rational way to play.  Because it is easiest.

This is not the hall the players would see; it's a town hall from Passau,
a like town to the one the players were in, built in the 14th century.
Impressive, no?  Imagine how it was to the medieval eye.
Let's take an example from the campaign we left at the end of the last post, Who is Responsible.  The players have learned that to become guards protecting a merchant's wagon train, they must be bonded by the merchant's guild.  To be bonded, they must find a merchant to stand up for them.  And because they don't know any merchants, two players, Tiberius and Joseph, have decided to go where the merchants are: the merchant's guild.

And just like that, I'm in a trap.

continued elsewhere ...
This is the first of two such posts I will be writing in the month of May for the Tao's Master Class blog, where the rest of this post can be found. Examples on the Tao of D&D blog can be found here and here.

To see the rest of this post, you must pledge at least $3 to my Patreon account. This will enable you to see all material to date on the Master Class, but it will require that you wait until June 1st to see the content. Because it is difficult to keep track of who is donating $3 to me each month, I am no longer accepting small direct donations for the Master Class blog.


Ozymandias said...

Over the years, you've introduced people to role-playing, as suggested by the last podcast: how does that experience differ from this one?

In the one, you're working with someone who has never role-played before. In the other, you're working with someone who hasn't learned to role-play well.

At what point do you stop educating by explication and start by way of example?

Alexis Smolensk said...

I don't see that it's an either/or. If I can think of an example of play that I can offer, to express my point, then I will use it, and if my only option is to explain, I will do that. We use the tools that we can reach.

Silberman said...

This is a fantastic post, Alexis. It really digs into a subject I'm currently wrestling with, so much appreciated and timely.

I wonder if players struggling to approach the game world in an informed manner might have additional challenges running in the "real world" as opposed to a DM's "whole cloth" setting (accepting that the latter will actually be a compendium of received wisdom and outside influences).

On the one hand, playing in the real world, I can refer to a wealth of non-game writings for information. But on the other, seeking clarification about history and social norms from the DM or other players opens me up to feelings of being insufficiebtly well-read. This can be tough to overcome. In the case of a DM's homebrew world, player ignorance is more easily attributed to the DM giving insufficient background.

In the example you give here, how should players get themselves up to speed on a new feature, like the guildhall? Online research before committing to a game move? Direct OOC questions to the DM? The default for many people seems to be either extreme overcaution or brash recklessness in the face of the unfamiliar.

Alexis Smolensk said...


I'll confirm that players as real people do struggle with the real world; we all do. And part of the appeal of D&D is that it is the only game in the world that has the power to present the player with that difficulty, contained in a bell jar. The DM is free to either puff up the player's ego, or crush it, and do so in the guise of an NPC with that appropriate motivation, and the player has to rise to that occasion. Can't do it with a VG, because the VG isn't real; it doesn't fire the hormones the way that having to speak with a real person in the presence of the DM does.

To another point you make; the right answer is direct OOC questions. Players tend to think they should solve such problems "through roleplay." They forget that their characters grew up in this town, and ought to know as much about the guild hall as they deserve to know; and that the DM is beholden to give them this information. It's no good that a DM tries to be stingy. "I'm from this town. This is not my first time in this guild hall. I have talked about the hall to people all the time. What, DM, is this dining room for?"

At which point, I would tell them. But the player in this instance decided to ask the concierge, the NPC; and in that relationship, I have to BE the concierge, and not the conducive, obliging, generous DM. For some dumb reason, players consistently think the "game" is stumbling around, asking non-player characters stuff, as though they, the characters, were just born yesterday ... oh, wait, they probably got that idea from playing a VG! Where you can't talk to the programmer! Because the "game" in a VG means to start as an ignorant boob and learn things about a very tiny, very closed, very minimalist system, where your "character" is a blank surface the game presents to.

That is not D&D, or role-playing, where your character is a PERSON, who has lived DECADES before the game starts, who has KNOWLEDGE of stuff. But players, on the whole, just don't get it.

Ozymandias said...

Because that would be meta-gaming...

Joking aside, I'm seeing a lot of connections between this discussion and elements of adventure games, "modern" or "indie" RPGs, and the online community.

I'm beginning to think that a lot of people recognized issues with their players ~ a tendency to treat their characters like they're in a video game, or a reluctance to accept risk or challenging situations ~ and sought solutions like making entirely new games as opposed to changing how they ran their own games.

Or maybe I'm drawing conclusions that don't exist.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Getting information from the DM is not meta-gaming. I know that people have gone down that road, but it is demonstrably false, rather easily. Is it meta-gaming when the DM describes a room?

I'd argue that people backed away from the problem entirely, grasped without understanding why at the part of the game they could understand ... and then an outside marketing element, wishing to sell the game, interviewed the participants and derived a glossed-over superficial philosophy that has now been embraced as a game description, since it has received "official" approval. It's a lot of non-players and non-experts combining together to describe a game they don't understand.