Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Should You Trust Your GM? (And other stupid questions)

On this thread on DragonsFoot, I have offered some opinions akin to (and the cause of) my previous blog post, Is Fudging Just a Style Difference?  I also opened up two polls to test premises that (1) players can generally detect when fudging occurs, and (2) most players prefer no fudging.

Now, I am a strong advocate of not fudging, and have been so for a very long time.  I am also a strong advocate of the GM running the game that he wishes to run.  Nor am I responsible for the initial thread, or the initial topic.  But, in the “As aplayer, do you prefer your GM to fudge or not fudge?” poll thread I triggered this from Frank Mentzer, who has been active in the initial topic, and whom I suspect has not actually read what he is responding to.

As this topic has turned into 3 separate threads (all driven by Raven_Crowking), I have a brief comment here.
(See the 1e forum thread "DM Cheating" for lots more, mostly from R_C).

The basic and insidious point here is to make you think about dishonesty and cheating in your games. A lot.

I reject that premise entirely. MY games start with mature cooperation and mutual respect.
While dishonesty may occur, it is normally a rare event.

If you accept R_C's premise -- that this is a Major Issue that you should be thinking about while you're gaming --
the entire experience is tarnished and degraded.

Anything can be discussed here on a message board. But when the underlying message starts with "don't trust your fellow gamers," imho that is a Bad Thing.

So be warned. Don't let this infect your game.


I realize that I write mostly from the GM’s point of view.  Most of my experiences take place on the GM’s side of the screen, and most of what I write about is what, for me, makes for the best gaming experience.  I do not think that advising the GM to “be trustworthy” is somehow advising players not to trust the GM. 

I am not responsible for the title of the 1e thread I responded to, nor am I responsible for the wording of the poll options.  Nor do I think that attempting to determine whether or not some assumptions I am making (to whit, that most players can detect fudging, and that most players prefer not to) are valid is attempting to infect anyone’s game with anything.  In fact, there are some results from these polls that are already forcing me to revise my position to some degree, so I believe that they are of value.

It has been a long time since I’ve written on the topic of whether or not you should trust your GM, and that was on EN World….I deleted a bunch of posts there, but some survived the cull.  This one is from April 2011, and is reproduced in full so you don’t have to visit the site.  I’ve used red to indicate the quotes from Hussar that are being responded to, as I reproduced Frank's post in red above.  My responses are in green.  If you don’t believe me, the actual post can be found here.

Originally Posted by Hussar
Reverse it around though. Given the benefit of the doubt, a mediocre player can do a reasonable job.

Maybe we're using "benefit of the doubt" to mean different things here.

In most games, a player advocates for his character. It is neither in his interest, or in the game's interest, that the player try to make things more difficult for himself.

In most games, the GM tries to make things difficult for the PCs in such a way that the PCs can, through effort, triumph more often than not.

IMHO, and IME, a mediocre player will attempt to advocate for his character through the application of the rules, i.e., will attempt to maximize effectiveness (potentially at the cost to other players). If you did not also experience this, your position on the Wizards and Warriors balance thread would be markedly different than it is.

So, no, in terms of "what is allowed", the GM should be actively involved in ensuring that all players have a relatively level playing field before the dice hit the table, and that the characters chosen by one player do not damage the fun of the others unduly.

Good players, IMHO and IME, do not have these problems. It is the GM's job, at least in part, to help a mediocre player become a good player.....just as it is the players' job, in part, to help a mediocre GM become a good one.

OTOH, the GM is specifically in a role that requires that he provide opposition for the player characters, essentially in the role of supplying all of the sudden reversals, unexpected dangers, WTF moments, and villiany that players enjoy overcoming.

If the players do not believe that challenges are there to make the game better, then these reversals do not seem like the GM doing his job, but rather like the GM being a wanker, the players lose motivation to overcome the reversals, causing them either to miss out on the payoff or causing the GM to just give the payout to them. In either of these last cases, the game spirals into a sink of diminishing returns and sooner or later folds.

Given no benefit of the doubt, a great player will seem like a total wanker.

This is true if, and only if, the GM thinks that the players' job is to stroke his ego or to lose. The GM must indeed give the players the "benefit of the doubt" that their attempts to overcome his opposition are in the best interests of the game, and the GM must also give the players the benefit of their efforts.

The GM need not "give the benefit of the doubt" that Class X, Combo Y, or Build Z will be good for the game. But within the parameters of what the GM does allow, the GM must absolutely be willing to "lose" to the players. Each roadblock, each sudden reversal, each problem that the PCs face exists to enrich the game, and to be overcome in some manner chosen by the players.

It's a two way street.

In that both must believe that the others are there to make a fun game for all, I agree.

See, I used to be a bit believer in the whole, "Trust Thy DM" creed that early games espoused. Then I got repeatedly bitten on the ass for it. So, no, my distrust of DM's came AFTER experience, not before.

Well, I suppose we have to take your word for that, but I have to tell you that through repeated discussions I have gotten the definite impression that there is a Freudian slip in your statement (i.e., that you typed "bit" instead of "big"). I suspect that your repeated problems with various GMs has not been as one-sided as you would seem to be suggesting.

But, I am certainly not putting words in your mouth!

I am not claiming that you have said that your distrust has caused problems with various GMs (which would be putting words into your mouth). I am saying that your various statements imply something that you are not saying. Which is, actually, an extremely common state of affairs among human beings. I doubt any of us are immune.

Another way to look at it:

With my game philosophy, I can find a group anywhere to run any system I so choose. I can say, "You must trust me to run the best game I can", and I have to choose who cannot play because I simply don't have the time or energy to run games for all who would wish to.

My games will certainly not be for everyone, but I have no fear of being able to game so long as I wish to, regardless of what happens with WotC or the D&D brand. It is not, has never been, and never shall be "Where can I get some players?" but always "How do I deal with so many who want to play?"

With your game philosophy, can you say the same?


I still stand by that post.

That I believe that the GM must indeed give the players the "benefit of the doubt" that their attempts to overcome his opposition are in the best interests of the game, and the GM must also give the players the benefit of their efforts is not in opposition to, but complimentary to, the concept that the players must also give the benefit of the doubt to the GM.

If you don't trust your GM, the game will suck.  Frank Mentzer is spot on about that.  But I am not advising you to mistrust your GM.  I wasn't doing it in 2011, I am not doing it in 2012, and I will not be doing it in 2013.  That would be as dumb as a bag of nails.

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