Sunday, July 30, 2017

Legitimacy in DMing

You've known those Dungeon Masters. This is their campaign. They're in charge here. They've got their way of doing things and you better get used to it because that's how the game is played at this table. Want to run in their world? Get used to feeling their eye upon you; get used to a sharp rebuke for doing it wrong. Get ready to bend. Because if you want to play in this world, you're going to play the game their way.

Why do some DMs play like this? Is it that they like power? Are they bullies? That's an easy explanation. I have to question if it's right. A lot of these DMs play for years like this and a lot of them manage to retain regular players - though, from my experience, such players are rarely happy. So what's going on here?


  1. You have no idea how badly I want people to read this (and other) post, but I can just imagine the response...

    "I was totally with him until he said, 'get rid of the DM's screen.'"

    It's like their identity is wrapped up in that piece of cardboard...

  2. In many ways, it is. I could write a post about that, too; the sense of entitlement that is received from icons that pronounce a person worthy. I am reminded of a quote from Frederick Douglass,

    "Once let the black man get upon his person the brass letters, U.S., let him get an eagle on his button, and a musket on his shoulder and bullets in his pocket, there is no power on earth that can deny that he has earned the right to citizenship."

    DMs view the screen in the same way. It is the proof of their worthiness, their self-evident proof of legitimacy; it is the crown that a Miss Universe wears or the little pin that's given to members of a fraternity. They can't give it up, its a little crutch they embrace that proves to them that they've moved "up" in the system.

    And that is the problem: the sense of "better than." I love Douglass, but is a black man who does not join the army less deserving of the right of citizenship? Does a tin crown embossed in silver make a woman more important or worthy? Does an icon on a student's collar make Jim a better student, or does it make him a swaggering asshole?

    I'm an iconoclast. And those who put faith in proof of superiority are always threatened by iconoclasts: because we don't respect those little proofs. We're immune to the awe they're supposed to convey. We see only the person; and if the person isn't themselves worthy, then all the brass and eagles and silver glitz won't change that.

    Getting rid of the screen means they'll have to rely on themselves for respect; and they fear, inside, that they don't deserve it.

  3. Frankly, as a DM, I don't deserve it. But then again, I don't believe I deserve anything I have in life. Won't stop me from running the way I do but it does make me pause and evaluate whether I'm using the right method.


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