DMing: Dictatorship or Democracy?


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This topic was touched on in another thread, but I am interested in the various views here. One recent comment in particular really got me thinking:

"The GM is telling you more than he needs to. He could tell you, "because I said so and if you don't like it, there's the door".

Is this more or less standard approach to DMing? I ask because I believe in transarency in rulings (why I do things the way I do), and I also allow votes on new rules after discussion of them -- and as DM, I generally vote only to break a tie, in that case. That doesn't mean I'll interrupt a game in order to discuss things, but that I'm willing to lay out in any level of detail desired why a certain ruling was made, what the alternatives are, and whether people would prefer a different guideline, if it's one that's causing difficulty.

I also wonder if the availability of players makes a difference on DMing style. In my case, I'm picky about who I play with, so it's very hard to get enough players together for a campaign, which means I need to try extra-hard to keep them.

On the other hand, I'm led to believe there are some places where players are lined up in the street looking for anyone with a pulse to DM.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure, Lost Omens, Pawns, Rulebook Subscriber

Sounds like a very apt description Kirth. Lack or abundance of players will certainly have an effect on the playstyle.

Dark Archive

I used to think the DM gets the final say. I'm definitely moving towards the other direction that everybody should get a say. It's such an uphill battle to get others to try something new or the default RAW instead of a flat banning or altering of rules without testing.

It's definitely related to the skill of the DM though. With a good DM, I'll tolerate the illogical stuff, with a bad DM, I will not.


I prefer gerontocracy -- rule by a council of elders. :-)

But not a single dictator, no.

RPG Superstar 2012 Top 32

I ask my players what they want to play that I'm willing to GM. (I can't run sci-fi or modern conspiracy to save my life.) Once inside of that, I determine what is allowable. I ask their opinions. I frequently ask what they want to see more of. But I am the final word. I do about 10 times as much work as any of them conservatively, and I do it because I like GMing. If they want to discuss things after game, I will do so. In fact, I encourage it. I tell them that I'll meet during the week, take phone calls, or exchange e-mails. But that doesn't give them to wreck the world I've spent months building based on what they've said they'd like the next campaign to be themed like. The main reason, though? I'm the final word because no one else is willing to GM, and I have to have fun too.


As a DM there's some things I won't budge on. But for the most part of a player comes to me with an idea, be it a character concept or class or race or what have you, I will work with them to get it to fit in my world even if it is outside my vision of it.

Example, a player wanted to play a half-gold dragon. Well half-dragon is a little too powerful for a first level character, and my game world has only ever known evil dragons. But I offered him the possibility of becoming a half-gold dragon through dragon disciple and roleplay, saying he could take the Draconic bloodline with Cleric or Paladin levels substituting other abilities, etc. To be the herald of good dragons, who had been ever absent (and I had no plans of creating) but nonetheless. In the end it was too much work for the player, but yeah I was willing to bend over backwards and customize a class/race/whole storyline for the guy.

Dark Archive

I have no idea what the norm is. But I think a GM should discuss what she plans to run with the players and let them know what to expect etc. To a point should work with the players to work in something they want to play/do that fits in with what the GM wants to run. But at the end of the day, yes I think the GM gets final say. Simple cause a GM typically puts in a metric ton of work into the game. Far more than players do, as such I think they deserve to have final say.

Now with that said though, a GM that is enough of a hardass won't find anyone to play. On the flip side Players who give there GM's a hard time may find no one is willing to do the work anymore to run it.

Yeah thats right I sat on that fence. sorta.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure, Lost Omens, Pawns, Rulebook Subscriber
hogarth wrote:

I prefer gerontocracy -- rule by a council of elders. :-)

But not a single dictator, no.

Doesn't work for me. My wife and I are the DM's as well as the youngest members.


BYC wrote:
It's definitely related to the skill of the DM though. With a good DM, I'll tolerate the illogical stuff, with a bad DM, I will not.

That's one of the things that really complicates matters -- there are an awful lot of variables. For example, I run a VERY open-ended game, with no hard boundaries, and any number of level-inappropriate encounters that can be approached (or avoided) in a variery of ways, so it's more like a mud pit than a sand box. I've also had two very excellent players leave the game, not over me being too quick to ban things, and I like to think I'm not a bad DM -- but (I think) mostly because of the game style I just mentioned. Or maybe it's just that I'm not all that likable a guy? -- because personality is also a big factor.

Still, I do wonder about people's experiences with different levels of DM authority, and what works well vs. doesn't work for different people at different levels.

Dark Archive

I subscribe to DM-ocracy. It is a mixture between Dictatorship and Democracy. Basically, I am the final word, but I listen to and try to accommodate my players' wishes...and succeed more often than not, I'd like to think...

But then, I have a general rule of only playing with people I know, so that might make it easier (though I've had a couple of problem players over the years).


Military style.
Many speak and give ideas, only one general rules.

Sovereign Court

I tend to DM as a dictator in RL games- but I am open to critiscism and rules debates as long as its not during the session and general issues can be debated with me outside of the game session. I tend to have very few problems and I always know the rules better than everyone I play with, which helps.

I might allow a small conversation asking why i'm doing A when they think I should do B, but I usually ask them to accept my ruling and move on- and bring it with me outside the game. Nothing spoils the atmosphere and immersion like a full blown player rant and DM argument.

As for elders... *shudder*. I'm also usually one of the youngest at the table, and the oldest players are usually the grumpiest, most inflexible players who think they know it all based on how it worked in 2E... As a player this winds me up to no end. I'm not trying to be agist here and I know we have some great posters who are getting on in years, but this has simply been my experience of gaming with older players, and i've gamed across the board from ages 10-60.


As a GM I'll give players a say, but when I make a final ruling it is just that Final. If it involves a rule I'll make a fast decision at the table during the game as I will not spend an hour debating then and there. After the game is over then as a group we can hash out how the ruling should work from that point on.

Sovereign Court

seekerofshadowlight wrote:

As a GM I'll give players a say, but when I make a final ruling it is just that Final. If it involves a rule I'll make a fast decision at the table during the game as I will not spend an hour debating then and there. After the game is over then as a group we can hash out how the ruling should work from that point on.

Ninjaed muhaha! But +1 and kudos to you.


Dictatorship.

However, transparency isn't naturally opposed. It's not a question of how you get there, it's a question of who has the actual final say. DMs have fiat power. The best ones exercise that power subtly.

I don't think that number of players makes a difference. Different gaming cultures, maybe.


Alexander Kilcoyne wrote:


Ninjaed muhaha! But +1 and kudos to you.

So it seems I agree with most of your post as well.

Sovereign Court

GM always has final say at the table. My group has had a few, not many, cases where rules differences have held up the game. In respect to keep the game moving the group wont dwell long on a particular GM ruling at the table during that session. Afterwords we have a discussion when the session is over by email or face to face. Through that discussion the group determines if the ruling was fair, raw, or if a new interpretation is necessary.

Having a good gaming group is more important than a single ruling you disagree with IMO. The group I have took some time to find and put together. I respect each members input as players and GM. Just because players are lining up to play doesn't mean you will have a good time with any of them. On the other hand lacking players wouldn't hold me back either. I know tabletop is preferred but there is the internets now pbp is where I would go if I couldn't find a decent group. Respect; dont push people around dont let them push you.

Sovereign Court

Pan wrote:

GM always has final say at the table. My group has had a few, not many, cases where rules differences have held up the game. In respect to keep the game moving the group wont dwell long on a particular GM ruling at the table during that session. Afterwords we have a discussion when the session is over by email or face to face. Through that discussion the group determines if the ruling was fair, raw, or if a new interpretation is necessary.

This is the kind of player attitude I always like, but I find its rare to get a whole group of people who are happy to do that.

RPG Superstar 2009 Top 16, 2012 Top 32

hogarth wrote:
I prefer gerontocracy -- rule by a council of elders. :-)

Not to be confused with grognardocracy -- rule by a council of grognards.

Sovereign Court

Epic Meepo wrote:
hogarth wrote:
I prefer gerontocracy -- rule by a council of elders. :-)
Not to be confused with grognardocracy -- rule by a council of grognards.

Often the same thing IMO. YMMV.

Sovereign Court

Alexander Kilcoyne wrote:
Pan wrote:

GM always has final say at the table. My group has had a few, not many, cases where rules differences have held up the game. In respect to keep the game moving the group wont dwell long on a particular GM ruling at the table during that session. Afterwords we have a discussion when the session is over by email or face to face. Through that discussion the group determines if the ruling was fair, raw, or if a new interpretation is necessary.

This is the kind of player attitude I always like, but I find its rare to get a whole group of people who are happy to do that.

Word. When you find it dont let go of it!

Liberty's Edge

It is a little of both. For Conventions or Organized Play, you have more say as a Player over what the GM does or his/her style.

For a home campaign, A good GM will work with the players to make sure that everyone's needs are met. At the same time, it is my home and my toys, so if the player drives me nuts, there is the door. Life is too short to participate in a non-enjoyable game. That applies to both sides of the screen.

I feel that I put plenty of effort into the campaign to keep the players happy and when you find good players, you really should try to keep them. I have also given a few players the boot and do not regret it one bit.


Pan wrote:
GM always has final say at the table.

Of course. But that's a far cry from "because I said so and if you don't like it, there's the door".

If a GM's decision doesn't have any player support behind it, that's a bad decision, IMO.


hogarth wrote:
If a GM's decision doesn't have any player support behind it, that's a bad decision, IMO.

Yeah, that's my position exactly. It may even be a good decision in terms of technical interpretation of game rules or whatever, but what matters is that the game is a cooperative venture.

Sovereign Court

hogarth wrote:
Pan wrote:
GM always has final say at the table.

Of course. But that's a far cry from "because I said so and if you don't like it, there's the door".

If a GM's decision doesn't have any player support behind it, that's a bad decision, IMO.

Thats fine its a bad decision, but the GM still should have final say at the table. Now as a GM I would never go so far as to say "get the hell out" but that comes back to player/gm respect for one another. Its been so long since I have had a bad group so maybe this all seems so silly to me. Players on the other had can be a problem too. If a player is constantly challenging a ruling and GM style a GM might have to say GTFO.

Liberty's Edge

Kirth Gersen wrote:
hogarth wrote:
If a GM's decision doesn't have any player support behind it, that's a bad decision, IMO.
Yeah, that's my position exactly. It may even be a good decision in terms of technical interpretation of game rules or whatever, but what matters is that the game is a cooperative venture.

+1

A problem can arise when a DM takes a liberal view, or ignores, a rule or two to keep the game flowing or allow a situation to develop and players quote rules and pages back at the DM. Trust goes both ways. I think like all things, running by committee is bad. The DM must be willing to make the final call on if/when/how a rule is applied - after all it is the DM's job. I think it's becoming harder to DM as the rules are far more codified allowing more and more RAW vs RAI vs DM vs Player interpretations and conflicts.

S.


Benevolent Dictatorship

The DM does a great many things the players simply don't want to know about, much less do. The DM is the binding on the book of the adventure and the players are the words. They are both related but each player relies on the DM to lead and surprise - a benevolent dictator.

The story is not about the DM and every DM has to learn that. At the same time the DM holds the camera and sets the stage. Eventually, democratic gameplay can be without suspense or surprise. Its also not how D&D was designed.

I think tables should rotate who is the DM and that is a democratic influence. If your players know how much work it is they are usually more agreeable and everyone has more fun.

So that's my favourite answer.

Serial Benevolent Dictatorship


I tend to lean towards "the GM gets the final say" on things. While some rules and house rules can be determined by popular opinion, and the GM should always take popular opinion into account for the purpose of rulings, only the GM can really know what fits best with his story and his rules.

If I'm making a human-only campaign based in an alternate Earth setting, I don't think the players should get to vote on whether a player that REALLY wants to play an elf can do so. The GM should get the final say on story issues.

If I made a creature much less common than normal Pathfinder settings (i.e. Elves are a rare and reclusive race,) then I should be able to arbitrarily increase DCs of Knowledge checks relating to elven lore by 10 or more. And, I should be able to do so without explaining to the players that this world had a secret war between drow and elves that nearly wiped out both races; particularly if that detail is crucial for the players to discover in-game. Sometimes, GMs should be allowed a bit of mystery to contribute to the story.

If I create a secret organization that is extremely exclusive, I shouldn't be forced to explain WHY the group has wierd, seemingly arbitrary entry requirements...It may be clearer what those requirements are once your inside the organization, but the org (and thus the GM) isn't required to tell non-member PCs why.

On the other hand, if the GM wants to institute a mechanics-changing house rule, like "no need to confirm crits," the players should be included in that decision ahead of time, since so many feats and other creation decisions are affected by that. The story may be ruled by the GM, but game-play belongs to everyone.


hogarth wrote:
Pan wrote:
GM always has final say at the table.

Of course. But that's a far cry from "because I said so and if you don't like it, there's the door".

No, actually, it's not. Either way, the power is absolute. The only difference is the phrasing, or more likely, the difference lies in a player who knows when to shut up and one who keeps pushing the issue.

hogarth wrote:
If a GM's decision doesn't have any player support behind it, that's a bad decision, IMO.

A GM's decision that doesn't have any player support isn't a bad decision, it's a sign of a much more serious problem. It strongly suggests that it's a bad match - the players want to play one sort of game and the GM wants to play another. That's misfortune or miscommunication, not error.


I wouldn't put it in the terms of the quote in your OP Kirth,

but it's important for players to realize the time and effort investment of the GM is greater, and the GM's enjoyment of the game is more important than that of any player.

There are limits. The "Mandate of Heaven" applies. A jerk GM will quickly find himself without players, just as "ever falls a tyrant".


Kirth Gersen wrote:

This topic was touched on in another thread, but I am interested in the various views here. One recent comment in particular really got me thinking:

"The GM is telling you more than he needs to. He could tell you, "because I said so and if you don't like it, there's the door".

Is this more or less standard approach to DMing? I ask because I believe in transarency in rulings (why I do things the way I do), and I also allow votes on new rules after discussion of them -- and as DM, I generally vote only to break a tie, in that case. That doesn't mean I'll interrupt a game in order to discuss things, but that I'm willing to lay out in any level of detail desired why a certain ruling was made, what the alternatives are, and whether people would prefer a different guideline, if it's one that's causing difficulty.

I also wonder if the availability of players makes a difference on DMing style. In my case, I'm picky about who I play with, so it's very hard to get enough players together for a campaign, which means I need to try extra-hard to keep them.

On the other hand, I'm led to believe there are some places where players are lined up in the street looking for anyone with a pulse to DM.

I think what you are overlooking is the fact that the game isn't just you and your GM. There are a lot of other players at that table as well (usually). Having been one of those other players who ended up waiting as a player became a time suck trying to "discuss" what he wanted (demanded) out of the game, I much prefer a GM who can police a table and maximize fun time for everybody (not just the time suck) at the table. If a limb is cancerous, you cut it off. If maximizing fun for everybody can only come by cutting off the time suck, then good bye.


A GM in the old school sense is really more like a Prime Minister. Basically an elected dictator who is always subject to a 'vote of no confidence'.


TriOmegaZero wrote:
Sounds like a very apt description Kirth. Lack or abundance of players will certainly have an effect on the playstyle.

The playstyle will certainly have an effect on lack or abundance of players.


The DM should of course take into consideration what the players are looking for, however each DM has his or her own DMing style and as a player I have to learn to accept it, or move on.
Of course if I have a problem with something the DM does, I would discuss it with him after the game and hope to come up with an agreeable solution. When I am DMing (most of the time nowadays) this is exactly what I request of my players as well. At the table, the DM's ruling is inviolate and I do not want to be wasting precious gaming time arguing a point.
Or as Linkin Park sings, "I'm gonna do things my way, it's my way, my way or the highway".


stonechild wrote:


Or as Limp Bizkit sings, "I'm gonna do things my way, it's my way, my way or the highway".

the bolded parts are where i placed my corrections.

Stoni-Sama, you are the first person i met to mix up Linkin Park and Limp Bizkit. the 2 don't even sound alike.


LilithsThrall wrote:
I think what you are overlooking is the fact that the game isn't just you and your GM. There are a lot of other players at that table as well (usually). Having been one of those other players who ended up waiting as a player became a time suck trying to "discuss" what he wanted (demanded) out of the game, I much prefer a GM who can police a table and maximize fun time for everybody (not just the time suck) at the table.

That's not an either/or proposition, LT. A DM can, and should, cut off the player in-game -- but be willing to discuss the issue afterwards. In fact, I think he or she SHOULD do that. Simply declaring the player a "hopeless time-waster" and booting him immediately in the interest of "good policing" is an approach that I personally find abhorrent, but if that's what floats your boat... well, run your game however you like.


GodzFirefly wrote:
If I'm making a human-only campaign based in an alternate Earth setting, I don't think the players should get to vote on whether a player that REALLY wants to play an elf can do so. The GM should get the final say on story issues.

That touches on another issue I think is a big determining factor: whether, as DM, "your world" is big enough for the players. If you find the need to ban just about everything in order to preserve the pristine sanctity of your personal world, then I suggest that world is best kept to yourself, and you can make another one that has room for the players.

I know that I personally had a VERY hard time with this issue in the past: after running one homebrew world for literally decades, and spending hundreds of hours on maps, history, cultures, everything -- it's hard for me to "let go" and allow the players, collectively, to have as big an effect on the setting as I do. Ultimately, though, I decided it was the right thing to do: either it's a shared setting or it's not. I decided to share.


FIAT!


Shuriken Nekogami wrote:
stonechild wrote:


Or as Limp Bizkit sings, "I'm gonna do things my way, it's my way, my way or the highway".

the bolded parts are where i placed my corrections.

Stoni-Sama, you are the first person i met to mix up Linkin Park and Limp Bizkit. the 2 don't even sound alike.

My bad, but in my defense all these new bards sound the same to us old grognards.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure, Lost Omens, Pawns, Rulebook Subscriber
Mairkurion {tm} wrote:
FIAT!

*hands Mairkurion a bar of soap* Wash that out now. :)


GodzFirefly wrote:

only the GM can really know what fits best with his story and his rules.

If I'm making a human-only campaign based in an alternate Earth setting, I don't think the players should get to vote on whether a player that REALLY wants to play an elf can do so. The GM should get the final say on story issues.

Unsurprisingly I whole heartily endorse this message


GM gets the final say. Sure, he'll take people's opinions and thoughts into account, but in the end he is the game world and plot and rules. He has final say on that. I have final say on what my character does and thinks and says. Bad DMs impose their will on your character's volition, and bad players impose their will on the DM's simulation of the world.


Kirth Gersen wrote:

That touches on another issue I think is a big determining factor: whether, as DM, "your world" is big enough for the players. If you find the need to ban just about everything in order to preserve the pristine sanctity of your personal world, then I suggest that world is best kept to yourself, and you can make another one that has room for the players.

I know that I personally had a VERY hard time with this issue in the past: after running one homebrew world for literally decades, and spending hundreds of hours on maps, history, cultures, everything -- it's hard for me to "let go" and allow the players, collectively, to have as big an effect on the setting as I do. Ultimately, though, I decided it was the right thing to do: either it's a shared setting or it's not. I decided to share.

I can understand your logic from the POV of a GM running a campaign intended to run for years.

But, what if the campaign advertised for is a history-based setting taking place during the hundred-years war. If the player joins the campaign knowing this and THEN tries arguing that he should get to be an elf (or kobold, or Green Dragon Wyrmling, or whatever,) the GM should have the right to say, "That's not the point of THIS campaign, hold that character concept for the next one."


Kirth Gersen wrote:

This topic was touched on in another thread, but I am interested in the various views here. One recent comment in particular really got me thinking:

"The GM is telling you more than he needs to. He could tell you, "because I said so and if you don't like it, there's the door".

<snip>

On the other hand, I'm led to believe there are some places where players are lined up in the street looking for anyone with a pulse to DM.

It’s a give and take on both parts. The GM is running the game and has final say during the game. The players should agree to play in the GMs world and not try to rock the boat too much. However the GM should take care to keep the players happy (note: this does not mean always giving them everything they want), as without players the GM is just a lonely guy with a bunch of books.

I would hope it has little to do with the number of players available. I like to game with my friends and I would hope that everyone involved is able to act like an adult and not be threatened with ‘replacement’.


It really depends.

the DM has the right to say
"I'm running an all (insert race here) campaign with everyone of the alignment range of (x-y) in the world of (insert world here)"

The players can either 1) accept it, 2) go elsewhere or 3) try to talk him out of it.

Now during the game, the games I've been in have mostly been more of a "council of advisors" type thing but with the DM having the final say. I've not yet had one who said "my way or the highway" and if I found one who said that then I'd be locating the nearest highway. ;p

Not that I mind the DM disagreeing with me or ruling against me.. but there is definately an attitude that I am wary of.

Someone has to be the "final arbiter" of what is allowed. That someone should be the DM. He knows the game and what's coming and knows what he is or isn't comfortable handling in the campaign.

-S


Kirth Gersen wrote:

This topic was touched on in another thread, but I am interested in the various views here. One recent comment in particular really got me thinking:

"The GM is telling you more than he needs to. He could tell you, "because I said so and if you don't like it, there's the door".

Is this more or less standard approach to DMing? I ask because I believe in transarency in rulings (why I do things the way I do), and I also allow votes on new rules after discussion of them -- and as DM, I generally vote only to break a tie, in that case. That doesn't mean I'll interrupt a game in order to discuss things, but that I'm willing to lay out in any level of detail desired why a certain ruling was made, what the alternatives are, and whether people would prefer a different guideline, if it's one that's causing difficulty.

I also wonder if the availability of players makes a difference on DMing style. In my case, I'm picky about who I play with, so it's very hard to get enough players together for a campaign, which means I need to try extra-hard to keep them.

On the other hand, I'm led to believe there are some places where players are lined up in the street looking for anyone with a pulse to DM.

I think the dm should listen to the players but since it is his responsibility to keep things going he should be confident enough to make unpopular decisions, if they are for the greater good. How much input is taken from the players depends on the specific situation.


seekerofshadowlight wrote:
GodzFirefly wrote:

only the GM can really know what fits best with his story and his rules.

If I'm making a human-only campaign based in an alternate Earth setting, I don't think the players should get to vote on whether a player that REALLY wants to play an elf can do so. The GM should get the final say on story issues.

Unsurprisingly I whole heartily endorse this message

...but it is not his story alone.......


Kirth Gersen wrote:
GodzFirefly wrote:
If I'm making a human-only campaign based in an alternate Earth setting, I don't think the players should get to vote on whether a player that REALLY wants to play an elf can do so. The GM should get the final say on story issues.

That touches on another issue I think is a big determining factor: whether, as DM, "your world" is big enough for the players. If you find the need to ban just about everything in order to preserve the pristine sanctity of your personal world, then I suggest that world is best kept to yourself, and you can make another one that has room for the players.

I know that I personally had a VERY hard time with this issue in the past: after running one homebrew world for literally decades, and spending hundreds of hours on maps, history, cultures, everything -- it's hard for me to "let go" and allow the players, collectively, to have as big an effect on the setting as I do. Ultimately, though, I decided it was the right thing to do: either it's a shared setting or it's not. I decided to share.

What if a GM wants to play a human-only campaign and 5 of his 6 players want to play a human-only campaign, but the 6th player wants to play an elf?

Is that a world "big enough for his players"?


I take it as a dictorship.

Altough I encourage my players to bring ideas, I try not to show that I use them. I rather let them chat, and somehow it seems as if I had planned just what they were talking about.

If there is a rule-question, and noone gives a sure answer in seconds, I rule firm and hard.

However, I give my players 2 vetos per player per campaign. They can alter one one thing, whatever it may be, as long as the storyline stays intact. If a PC gets buried alive, and the player himself as a particual fear, he can veto this from happening without explaining himself. It is not about helping the character, but rather avoiding that I hit a too vulnerable spot.


LilithsThrall wrote:
What if a GM wants to play a human-only campaign and 5 of his 6 players want to play a human-only campaign, but the 6th player wants to play an elf? Is that a world "big enough for his players"?

LT, you seem fixated on the idea that there is automatically one player in every group who's a "sabateur" and is just out to ruin everything for everyone. While that may be your experience, I'm not convinced that the existence of that person at your table should be cause for all DMs to automatically play hard-ass "I know your type and I won't tolerate it, maggot!" with all players. Why not? Because I'd say it's the DM's job to screen out that guy BEFORE INVITING HIM TO THE GAME IN THE FIRST PLACE. An ounce of prevention, you know.

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