Friday, 15 February 2019

Reading the GM Section

The question came up on Facebook recently: Should players be allowed to read the GM section of RPG rulebooks?

I thought that it was an interesting enough question to crosspost my answer here.

Allowed? Obviously.

Encouraged? That's a different question, because you can't unlearn what you see....and, regardless of being "really outdated and obsolete", the opportunity for true discovery of the fictional milieu can be removed by knowledge. This is analogous to film spoilers, in a way. 

Which is how you get a game like Dungeon Crawl Classics, which actively encourages the GM to make new monsters, has no standard magic items, and even suggests that the GM make campaign locations where the forces of magic work....differently.

If you can remember that magic when you first played, when you were facing some skeleton or goblin or whatever, and you didn't know what it could do.....or when the magic thingamabob you discovered really seemed special, it was because of the information disparity between you and the GM. The GM knew the skeleton was beatable; you did not. The GM knew the blunt mace was going to work better than your spear; you did not. The GM knew what the thingamabob did; you did not.

For some of us, that sense of discovery is actually what the game is about.

At some point, through experience or through reading the monster and GM books, you learned the ropes. The game shifted. It became about how the pieces were used, rather than discovering what the pieces were. That information disparity was about the current (and extended) situation - the particulars of this encounter or that adventure. Rather like most fantasy fiction itself, the process of discovery narrowed from not even knowing what a word like "goblin" was going to mean in the context of the fictive world to wondering how common tropes are going to be combined this time out.

I run Dungeon Crawl Classics because you can read the book cover-to-cover and that magic will still be there. There is no monster book to memorize. There is nothing to un-know.


  1. I enjoy the openness to judge DCC. Each monster can be something different. Goblins don't have to be the same from adventure to adventure. Kobolds can be different. Creativity is encouraged with DCC. I've been the judge in games where I've had players that have played a popular RPG and will say "I know what that is!" I will stop and say, "No you don't. Your PC has never come across this monster before." Gets them everytime.

    1. Or, "I know what this is!"

      A round later "Wait! Goblins can't breath fire!"

      Sometimes a player has to learn the hard way..... :)

    2. I appreciate that DCC feels free form without feeling incomplete. Less, "do it yourself," and more, "do more yourself."