... now with 35% more arrogance!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The GM's Duty

Proposition: The GM's primary duty or role is to decide whether or not something is possible.

Everything else is optional and accounts for various playstyles. The GM doesn't have to come up with challenges; you could use a monster player, or an elaborate random menace generator, or secret ballot. The GM doesn't have to be the only arbiter of rules. The GM doesn't even have to handle dice decisions. But deciding whether a roll is possible, and then deciding whether it's necessary, is the core GM duty.



  1. Maybe: "The GM's primary duty or role is to determine how far something is possible."

    Switching 'decide' to 'determine' accounts more for player input, direct or indirect, while 'whether or not' could suggest no recourse to probability in the form of dice etc.

    It could also take into account the representation of the world. I have a slightly less brief explanation here aimed at beginning players:


    If that was added in, maybe: "The GM's primary duty or role is to present the immediate situation in the game world, determine how far something is possible and update the world as changes occur."

  2. I think the GM's primary duty is to validate whether something *happens.* Possibility is just one step of that determination. Players can do what they like and even roll the dice - so can the GM, if they want to stay honest - but the GM has final say.

  3. I think what both of you are saying falls under the different playstyles I alluded to. More player input? That's a playstyle choice. Setting probability? Most GMs do, but it's not *necessary* in a diceless or freeform approach. Validation? Could be done by group vote.

  4. Using a soft or diceless approach you're right. A lot of systems are hard though, you know how high you can jump, how far you can fall, or whether you hit an opponent. X + Y = Z; the determination is if you have an unknown "U" that can add or take away from the hard numbers to make determination a necessity.

    Validation is always a possibility or a group vote would probably work, but what happens when groups disagree. Or, when something was handles by doing it "this way" a month ago but now its handled "that way." Having the DM as authority seems to minimize all of these issues and streamline the decision process, and really it boils down to do you trust the storyteller anyway using either a soft or hard number system.

  5. Is your proposition intended to account for the single most common (or perhaps by its nature mandatory?) duty of GMs of D&D - or GMs (whatever the term for them is) of all GMed RPGs?

    Hm, now that I have the question, I suppose it is the first case.

    To me, the GM's most important duty would be to sort of "translate" between the real world and the fiction. The players have characters who act as their lengthened hands in the fictional world. But they know everything of the fictional world by the GM; and they can only interact with it through him ('cause he tells you if it's possible and if so what are the results).

    But I need to think about it more, unlearning hard-coded beliefs and coming back to it a fresh pair of eyes...

  6. Yes, I'm talking about what GM duty is mandatory or core -- what every game that uses a GM has. As opposed to what a game with a GM *could* have. Hence, the existence of diceless GMing means "choosing which dice to roll" is not a GM's primary duty, and the existence of groups who use group vote to validate some or all of the choices made during the game means that validation is not a GM's primary duty, even if both are very common GM duties.