Thursday, October 14, 2010

Wherein I Question the DM’s Authority - OSRIC Session Journal

I’ve been very busy with work lately but we did get some dungeon crawling done earlier this week. The height of the session was when Gladric the Thief scouted ahead and found an opening that led to a cavern with a chasm splitting it in two. Two figures were seen moving on the other side. At the bottom of the chasm was a large pool of yellow jello, which we assumed was the monster we’d been seeking, and the figures we took to be the evil magic user we sought and probably an assistant. Elaborate plans were made for a missile attack and ambush and then combat ensued.

The day after the session I felt a little badly about how I’d criticized the DM during the game for some mechanics handling, although now I have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, it's his very first time refereeing - and I’m very glad he’s taken up OSRIC. On the other hand, occasionally I feel like parts of his game could be improved with some constructive criticism. I’ve been DM’ing a S&W game and paying strict attention to certain aspects of it, so it’s possible I was a projecting a little or vocalized more than I should have.

I might have waited until after the session had ended, but because the issues involved combat I raised my concerns as they were happening. After all, if players feel that their characters are killed due to sloppy DM’ing, who’s to say that the same thing won’t happen again, causing them to lose interest? Initiative, order of attack, who has attacked and who hasn’t - among other things most players are paying close attention to these. So after a couple of lapses I grew a little concerned and couldn’t stop myself.

I don’t (and didn’t) want to make too much of it and we all have our off days. There’s a part of me that wants to see him get better and more comfortable with certain parts of the game, but I struggle with how hands off to be. I’m a fairly rusty DM and relatively inexperienced myself (in comparison to many other blogging DMs at least!)… We’ve played one on one in the past and it was less of an issue then. In those games we would stop to discuss certain ways of doing things to establish precedent, without worrying about boring or otherwise putting off another player.

Anyhow, it’s just a game and all that - these things will happen. On the positive side, I sent a note apologizing if I was out of line and he responded that it was all good and that the bottom line was that we’d had fun. I think I have a tendency to over-think these things and it might have hardly been noticed by anyone else.

The lingering question I have is, when should you, and should you ever, object to how your DM is doing something, particulary during the session itself? I know that the circumstances of each game will be unique, but maybe there are certain times when it’s the duty of the players to stand up to or question their DM. Yet not knowing his motives and considering his power makes doing so a risky endeavor. A crafty DM might make it look like he’s screwing up combat just to put the players off for some reason that will become clear to them later in the game (that magic item is cursed and has a minus to hit modifier - hmm, didn’t think of that did you smarty pants! Sit down zB! Etc.) It’s a strange game.


migellito said...

When I'm a player, I never correct the DM unless he asks for my advice. It's not out of some fear of reprisal, but rather just because I'm interested in seeing how his specific vision is going to play out. If he makes a mistake, can he cover it and come back?

Over time, if I feel a DM is being completely backwards about something, I'll go ahead and talk to them about it outside of the game.

One thing I have done though is to ask simple, non-pointed questions. "Do you use the +4 saves for dwarves?" "Is it 1-2 on d6 for secret doors in your world?" etc. There have been times that the DM has said "oh yeah, that's right, thanks for reminding me!"

Loquacious said...

I have had one case where the GM was flat out wrong and I knew it. I casually and carefully indicated my past experience lead me to believe other than his ruling; he had NEVER heard the rule in question. He thought he'd read it properly, but it had never been explained or ruled in front of him and he had no idea.

Otherwise I leave it be for the louder lawyery types. I'm not one for confrontation, nor metagaming.

Dave Garbe said...

I see it this way - since the DM's new it invites the risk of PCs dying easily and means you're entering the situation accepting that things will be a little rough. I'd ask the DM if they want help during the game and otherwise leave it as their show.

A brief polite mention at the time that you feel things should work some other way can be appropriate if you're not constantly doing it. After the game, 1 on 1, would normally be the preferred time to discuss issues with a DM, even if they're flat out wrong.

If the DM is the type not to listen to reason, you're probably already familiar with the person and their style. I've seen plenty of cases where people will put themselves through all sorts of horrible DMs or nightmarish games just for the chance to get their roleplaying fix. In that case, it's your own fault for being in that game.

Dennis Laffey said...

I had problems like this in the 3E game my friends and I were playing earlier this year. DM was behind the screen for the first time, and had never even played 3E, but was running it because he had a cool idea he wanted to use for a campaign, and everyone considered 3E the least of all evils (some won't play OSR stuff, some won't play 4E).

I was trying not to correct the DM at the table, but I was offering too much "friendly advice" along the lines of, "If you want to run it that way cool, but just so you know, the book says..."

It was really hard not to do that, and luckily the DM didn't take offense. We'd have big discussions after the games, though, so I'd try my best to save it for the after session fat chewing.

Anonymous said...

i don't see any reason why you would not express unhappiness with dm decisions. if you think the game would be seriously disrupted, wait until it's over. if it can't wait (cause characters are dying!), do it asap.

as long as everyone involved is a mature adult, this should never be a problem. constructive criticism is something every dm should welcome.

in my current group, half the people playing are also dm's for other groups or have been in the past. there is so much dm-experience, it would be stupid too let one guy make mistakes that could be easily avoided. there is no lack of respect involved, everyone makes mistakes now and then.

sometimes, when a situation occurs that noone is quite sure how to handle, we all (or at least anyone who is interested :)) brainstorm for a bit. that might take up some time but always results in a ruling everyone is happy with.

if you are constantly unhappy about a dm and can't work it out (which is only possible if you talk about it), you should find someone else to play with anyway.

but maybe there are certain times when it’s the duty of the players to stand up to or question their DM.

every time he does something you "know" is wrong (unless it's such a minor issue noone would care). most if the time he is just concentrating on something else and appreciates it anyway.

Dave Garbe said...

Constant rules lawyering with a friendly "if you want to do it this way, that's cool" is still constant rules lawyering. The DM is aware they can do it their way - in fact, the book says the DM CAN do it their way instead of what the book says.

Unknown said...

Something that does not appeared to be considered often - or at least it is not something I've seen come up very often in any blog - is the personalities at the table. Basically, a GM/DM might be pushy or error prone because that is their personality. If it is a rules issue, then discussing the issue is perfectly fine. If it is not about rules and game issues, then it is probably about conflicting personalities at the table. If that is the case then I suggest you walk away from the game - a bad game, or a game made by by personality conflict, is not worth playing.

Scott said...

As someone who pretty much exclusively runs games rather than playing in them, my advice would be to bring it up in-game if there's a problem - I think most good Referees will consider alternative viewpoints if presented with evidence that the way they're doing things is wrong or dippy.

I'm always keeping track of a lot of stuff, and sometimes things slip through that cause me some degree of embarrassment and the players some degree of bemusement. But I'd still like to know about it if my ruling just clearly doesn't make sense.

On the other hand, if the Ref responds with "table it until after the game," go with that. :)

JDJarvis said...

I went through a horrible phase of letting other DMs know where they flubbed up or even how "I wouldn't do things that way"... I realized I liked to play more then not playing so I got over that phase.

I bring it up after play these days and only if there is a gross rules violation out of line with something the DM did in another session.

Michael S/Chgowiz said...

I've been chewing on this since I read this and I have two opinions, one's kinda dickish, the other is helpful:

helpful opinion - it sounds like you both learned something about the game, so let it go. Maybe ask him how far he'd like you to help, in the future.

dickish opinion - it's his game, his table. A player questioning him, correcting him - that undermines his confidence and his flow. Questions of "how does this work" are fine. Observations of "Ur doin' it rong!" would leave me pretty pissed, especially in the middle of a game. If you know he's new, why not go over the game after? You ended up making it your game, not his game, by "not being able to help yourself"

Game Master Rob Adams said...

I have no problems with my players bringing up rules or questions during a game. Sometimes other players in my groups have problems with rules lawyers but I welcome them to a degree. There are times when it is inappropriate and it is pretty obvious that a player is attempting to gain knowledge that they might not have in-character such as the fact that a sword is a -2 and they keep asking why a 15 misses.

Sometimes I find it refreshing to see that my players take as active an interest outside of the game as I do with the mechanics and the game rules. I have even been known to ask someone to look something up. What is not appropriate, however, at any time is a player telling a DM how a monster 'should' run. I have had the encounters where a player will tell me "well that's not how the monster manual describes how an ogre mage works'. My response is usually 'Well I am not using that variant' which is usually the truth anyway.

Another gripe I have about players bringing up rules is when they bring up a rule vehemently and then you read it and find out they are wrong and they just shrug it off as no big deal. Well when you bring up something you'd better know what you are talking about and not trying to pull one over on the DM by saying "NO, sir you cannot do X because I have a special Y that does not allow it." and then find out in the book that the player's character does not even have enough levels to have Y and you wonder where exactly they got Y to begin with because it never went by you. That kind of stuff causes problems.

So yes it's the DM/GM who makes the ultimate call but a DM/GM must always remember that it is a group activity and should welcome honest feedback. If it is something nitpicky wait until the end of the game. If it is something dire then get it out in the open. Handle it like adults. I commend you sir on both your constructive feedback for the new DM and your follow up letter. Would that all players be like you!


ze bulette said...

Thanks for responses folks - looks like there's a lot of different opinions on the subject after all. In the end, the subtleties of properly handling these situations are probably something that's difficult to completely address in a post like this, but I'm really glad to see the thoughts here.

MS: re: the dickish half of your comment - As I said, I "raised some concerns" which is a far cry from "You're doing it wrong." Having talked it over with him and actually having been there, I can safely say I absolutely did not make it my game. Having said that, I grok where you're coming from - I'm pretty conservative about the whole subject and ever questioning the DM's authority, hence the reason for this post in the first place.

Michael S/Chgowiz said...

@z - yea, it took me about an hour to decide to post the comment because I wasn't there, I didn't know - I think it ended up being a "worst case scenario in my head" kinda thing.

Rules questions and honest inquiries are good - and I make sure that any deaths are clear and by the book - but beyond that, I'm one of those "it's the GMs table, let him/her run their game". Like I said in the helpful comment - I'm glad it worked out well.

Kindest regards.

ze bulette said...

@CWiz - I think my post title here was perhaps a little overdramatic. ;)

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