Theory of RPG – DM-Player interactions

Its interesting (and has only just occured to me) that in the same way that there are different playing styles that people prefer and feel most comfortable in, there are styles of DM’ing as well. Or rather, its obvious there are styles of GM’ing, there are styles of player-GM interaction. I guess there are probably a few dominant DM’s out there who like to pull all the strings and micro-manage the players, but I am very much a ‘world-builder’ DM – I like to create a coherent and consistent world and for the players to create their characters and define their own goals within that world. I am then there to help them acheive their goals and make them worth acheiving by having struggled on the way. Its no fun if you don’t acheive your goal and its no fun if you acheive it easily.

I also tend to be very protective of the ‘feel’ of my world – I like the players to create bits themselves but I demand a veto over their creativity. Its all part of my obsession with internal consistency – anything that doesn’t fit right breaks the suspension of belief. The biggest problem that I have is when the real world is plonked into a fantasy world. Classic example is Dun County – I can never see the Old Sun Dome temple as anything other than Fountains Abbey, because it is.

Interestingly David is a completely different sort of DM, he likes detail and characters and plot. He is very good at designing a scenario and great characters for it, but doesn’t mind if they are no part of a world. He is quite happy playing one-off scenarios, whereas I find them pointless because there is no scope for character development – he like the problem solving. Its my biggest frustration with Call Of Cthulhu (which I otherwise enjoy) – the inevitable degradation rather than ascension of the characters.

I’m not sure how many styles of DM-player interaction there are. I can think of:

  • God – where the DM wants to control every aspect.
  • World Builder – me – create a great world and want the players to define their role and motivations in the world. I tend to be very protective of my creations as well.
  • Crossword Setter – creates problems for the players to solve. Consistency from scenario to scenario is not necessary, nor is playing the character – its a problem solving game. Most CoC has to be played like this I think.
  • Story Teller – very popular nowadays – the players and the DM are there to create a joint narrative. Characterisation is everything. Doesn’t work with problem solving because it is as much about character growth through failing as it is about winning (or surviving). Different from World-Builder in terms of approach and focus – Story Teller is normally bottom up rather than top down.
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2 Responses to Theory of RPG – DM-Player interactions

  1. David says:

    Yes, my DM’ing style is at the opposite end of the spectrum to Toby’s. I prefer developing a rich scenario with interesting locations, characters and plot devices, but the details of the outside world can be grey. That’s not to say that I don’t care about the back story or environment, just that it doesn’t need to be worked out in detail. In my style, the back story and environment are there to support the tactical scenario not the other way round.

    There are some drawbacks with this approach, as well as positives. The main drawback is that the players have less freedom to determine their entry point into a scenario and, although I take pains not to make the scenario hooks too blatant, it is possible for some players to feel as though they are being directed. Having said that, I encourage and support high degrees of freedom for the players within the parameters of the scenario itself. Also, many players in my experience appreciate being given a bit of clear direction, and find that having a plethora of choices (as is the case in a “world-builder” environment) a bit demotivating.

    My GM”ing style is focussed on making it interesting and exciting for the players, I focus a lot less on making it fit within the parameters of a pre-defined world. In my view, many world events occur at such a high level that the actual details are invisible to most people affected by them. An example is a recent adventure that I ran in Middle Earth. The party were travelling across Mirkwood in about Third Age 1650. At one point in the journey they almost ran into an Orcish warband that was crossing their path. They later found out that there was an Orcish “civil war” between two tribes in Mirkwood. The details of that war, the reasons for it, the orcish strongholds, all that stuff . . . I never worked out. The players don’t need to know it, and won’t know it, unless they actually go looking for it. In which case, I’ll either use my imagination and work it out on the go (some of my best scenario ideas have come that way) or I’ll do so in between sessions. If I really don’t want them to go that way, I’ll find some way to make the decision not to do so very easy. Is that being directive? Maybe, but who cares if the players have a good time and don’t feel manipulated?

    My scenario-design style, often centres around an idea for an interesting character, encounter or location. Then I build the scenario around that. Sometimes and entire world might be built up in that way. Very rarely will I invent a world and then populate it with scenarios.

  2. David says:

    If I had to type myself it would probably be ‘Crossword Setter’ / ‘Story Teller’ but with greater emphasis on interesting characters rather than just problem solving. Consistency between scenarios is important, but the details of the outside world are worked out over time not in advance.

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