Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Is Fear of Capricous or Bad DM's driving modern game design ?

In the comments in my last post, a poster Daddy Grognard said this

What I don't really like about feats, powers, call 'em what you will, is the way that they're all codified and defined now. What it does is disempowers the DM because no matter how much he's prepared, planned or read the rules, someone else has read them better and can turn around and say "Yeah, my character CAN do that, it says so here on page 456..."

and I have to agree with another poster Ryan

Daddy G.- Yeah, I see the trust issues in the way mechanics are set up.

Which got me to thinking , is the fear of the Bad DM (and admittedly there were a lot of them at least when I was a kid) driving a lot of recent D&D game design?

All the emphasis on meticulous game engineering, encounter design , treasure parcels, total class balance, over simple trust and imagination is there some fear that poor DM's will drive away the customer base.

Now in fairness, there is some merit to this thought.

Back when us Old Grogs were gaming, when D&D was young there was no Commercial Internet (AAD&D 2e was more than half over by then) and people seem to think there were a lot less ways to spend a lazy summer afternoon.

This isn't really true . Many of us had computer with modems and BBS or console games (I had an Atari 2600 actually) and there were Books and VCR's and TV and all that. Its not as if the toys weren't there and they were often just as engaging to us as the Internet and Facey-Space is to todays kids...

However, one big difference we did not face any competitors like WoW or EQ. It may be that there is a fear that bad DM's drive gamers to MMO's . That would explain some of the MMO like design of 4e (its kind of a board game to my eyes) and also the of the earlier Players Option/ 3X designs which resemble the popular computer game Fallout in some odd ways.

There is of course a marketing angle as well. Players buy more books than DM's. TSR (and it was TSR in those days) learned this lesson way back in the 90's with the Second Edition "Complete" books.

So between fear of DM's and the desire to sell more books, you get a concentrated effort to minimize the influence of the DM. In fact it would not in fact surprise me if 5e D&D was designed to be run DM less. Sure the DM will still be there (getting rid of that would drive away all the existing player base) but you won't need him/her/it...

Anyway, just some food for thought. My personal opinion is pretty much the same as Ryan's

I think that if a gamer can't trust his DM, he's playing with the wrong DM.

And as long as I can find players, I'll keep on playing the way I always have and all the treasure parcels and rigid design criteria can go play patty-cake with Orcus's Wand ;)



  1. While bad DMs may be part of the reasoning, there's more to it, going way back to Gary Gygax in the 70s. One of the major reasons for AD&D was to eliminate house rules. The vague and bare bones nature of OD&D resulted in a situation where almost every group in the country was playing a highly modified, unique version of the game. TSR wanted to promote convention/tournament play and make it easier for players to move from group to group, so it was decided that a more complete, authoritative rule set was needed.

    Now we have WotC, and even in 3.x edition, organized play with Living Greyhawk was a major focus, but more than that, the desire to sell more books is a reality we can't ignore. The corporate masters at Hasbro demand sales, and by breeding a sense into players that official rules for everything are needed, they ensure that groups will snatch up every new book they put out.

    At the end of the day, I doubt they really care how we play the game, as long as we keep buying books, and players of the new editions are far more likely demand rules covering every situation, leaving DM caveat as a thing of the past, or a thing for those of us who still use a now unsupported rule set.

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  3. A lot of decent points chatdemon.

    In one thing though I do disagree with you, older rules sets are better supported now than they have been in years.

    Labyrinth Lord, Swords and Wizardry, Osric and all the others are giving us more tools then we have since the 80's for our games. There are 7, count them, 7 OSR magazines now and while they are not quite then same as Dragon every month, there is probably near as much content.

    Now getting players to try the OSR can be a little harder but as the blogs show, its doable. Its very possible instead of the dinosaurs we are actually the mammals and if we do our jobs, us old schooler will be feating on Hasbro's eggs as our style grows and theirs shrinks.

    And yeah, its not a sure thing but its something we can do ...