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Darth Ultron
2015-11-14, 02:09 PM
So this comes up from time to time, what can't a DM do? So first off we are only talking about D&D and other games with a DM/GM, not every type of RPG out there. And there is a lot of cross over between what a D&D ''can't'' do and what a D&D ''should not do'', but we will just deal with this as it comes along. The same with the more social side of things, as saying ''the DM should not be a jerk'' is just vague and unhelpful.

I'd like to make a list, and have it be specific as possible. I know lots of people will say vague things like ''a DM must be consistent'', but lets try to explain what that means.

I'll start with one:

1.Once a fact is known to the players the DM can only change and alter it in limited ways.

Now, before the players encounter something, then anything can be anything. So if the DM writes down an NPC with a ''sword+1'' that the players have never encountered they are free to make that weapon a ''sword+2'', an ''axe+1'' or anything else they want to at any time. The same way a DM can create anything out of thin air at any time. But once the PC's know something, the DM has limits. For example, if the wizard Kazor is 3rd level when the PC's encounter him on Monday(game time), he can't be 7th level on Wednesday(game time). If King Zon has three daughters on Monday, he can't have two sons and no daughters on Friday. No most games a character can't gain four levels in a couple days, so the DM has to follow that too. And people can't randomly alter time and have different kids.

Now, a DM can still change even things that ''can't'' be changed, as the DM can alter reality. But only in limited ways. So Kazor can't just ''gain'' four levels in one day, the DM can still make Kazor 7th level. For example, the human Kazor can be killed on Tuesday by a demon who is a 7th level wizard. Then when the Pc's encounter the demon who is not posing as Kazor, 'he'' will be a 7th level wizard. The same way it can be revealed that King Zons sons were hidden away at birth from everyone, and his daughters are in fact step kids and not his blood.

And the DM does have the limit as they can only change things a couple times, at best. So Kazor(the demon) could be killed by a devil who is a 7th level cleric and then take the form of ''Kazor'' who is now ''suddenly'' at 7th level cleric. Though it will wear thin after a couple times, and it is just down right ridiculous for ''Kazor the 34th'' to be 9th level psion who is really a Blue. The same way a king could have plenty of kids and step kids, but not too many. Again you have the limit of you can't do the ''ok, now the 15th son was a step son of the real son that was a step son of the 7th son that...''

legomaster00156
2015-11-14, 02:15 PM
Frankly, the king's family example sounds like a great running joke.

Honest Tiefling
2015-11-14, 02:25 PM
Frankly, the king's family example sounds like a great running joke.

He keeps recognizing illegitimate children, adopting other children and denouncing the current batch so much that the number of children he has fluctuates wildly.

Except I do what Darth Ultron does. If I make an oopsie with my notes, I make that clear out of character that I made a mistake, and allow for retroactive rolls or retconning as needed. So far as long as I don't do it too often no one has complained yet.

Keltest
2015-11-14, 02:28 PM
I disagree with the DM being unable to change any given NPC's level in between times the party meets them. presumably the NPCs are not just sitting in their lair waiting for the heroes to reach them, theyre out gathering power of their own. Furthermore, levels are an abstraction. The players wont necessarily even know the level, and even if they figure it out, it isn't some unchangeable facet of the character, unlike the number and type of children they have.

Lentrax
2015-11-14, 02:36 PM
Well in a spell casting NPC, they could metagame it to figure it out, ie by spells cast by the enemy.

I am going to have to have a king like Zon in every one of my games now... Hilarious ness like that needs to be harnessed and exploited.

Darth Ultron
2015-11-14, 02:45 PM
I disagree with the DM being unable to change any given NPC's level in between times the party meets them. presumably the NPCs are not just sitting in their lair waiting for the heroes to reach them, theyre out gathering power of their own. Furthermore, levels are an abstraction. The players wont necessarily even know the level, and even if they figure it out, it isn't some unchangeable facet of the character, unlike the number and type of children they have.

It is not that an NPC can't gain levels, it is that they have to do it at the same rate as the rest of the world. An NPC can not be 3rd level on Monday(game time) and then be 7th level on Friday(game time). In most games no characters can not gain a level a day(sure, you might play a weird variant of D&D where the players wake up as 1st level characters and gain a level and hour so they are 20th+ level by midnight...but most games are not like that.) But if the Pc's encounter an NPC in January (game time) and then encounter them again in June(game time), then yes that NPC might have gone up a level.

''Levels'' are one of the things that players just about always know, even if just vaguely. Lots of things in games like D&D is level based. So if a Pc meets a druid that can't wildshape, they know what level they are under.

oxybe
2015-11-14, 02:45 PM
be dishonest with the players.

if you tell them something in your DM voice, then you should abide by that statement. it's one thing to be told by "Kyle the Truthful that there are no monsters on the mountain" when that NPC is a lying sac of doodoo.

It's another to have Kyle the GM confirm or deny a ruling, mechanic or game element when in reality it acts in a wholly different way.

A GM I can't trust is one I can't play under.

Zephonim
2015-11-14, 03:02 PM
be dishonest with the players.

if you tell them something in your DM voice, then you should abide by that statement. it's one thing to be told by "Kyle the Truthful that there are no monsters on the mountain" when that NPC is a lying sac of doodoo.

It's another to have Kyle the GM confirm or deny a ruling, mechanic or game element when in reality it acts in a wholly different way.

A GM I can't trust is one I can't play under.

I agree. Although people should definitely use "As far as you can tell there are no x's in the area"

EX: Monsters, Traps, People, Trees

nedz
2015-11-14, 03:03 PM
1.Once a fact is known to the players the DM can only change and alter it in limited ways.

I tend to view this the other way around. The DM can change anything before they've run it. It amounts to the same thing it's a corollary but the emphasis is more positive in that it encourages the DM to think about changing things.

As to the main point:
The DM can do anything, except guarantee that they have some players.

Keltest
2015-11-14, 03:20 PM
It is not that an NPC can't gain levels, it is that they have to do it at the same rate as the rest of the world. An NPC can not be 3rd level on Monday(game time) and then be 7th level on Friday(game time). In most games no characters can not gain a level a day(sure, you might play a weird variant of D&D where the players wake up as 1st level characters and gain a level and hour so they are 20th+ level by midnight...but most games are not like that.) But if the Pc's encounter an NPC in January (game time) and then encounter them again in June(game time), then yes that NPC might have gone up a level.

''Levels'' are one of the things that players just about always know, even if just vaguely. Lots of things in games like D&D is level based. So if a Pc meets a druid that can't wildshape, they know what level they are under.

As I said, levels are an abstraction for the sake of game mechanics. A level 19 fighter is not any better able to take a sword to the gut than a level 1 fighter, theyre just better at not getting stabbed in the first place. Likewise, theyre better at getting in that crucial stab and wearing down their opponents. Its less abstract for wizards and casters because of spell levels, but if you absolutely feel compelled to explain the "power" differential, just say they were holding back, or didn't have the higher level spells prepared then or whatever you need to pull.

Most non-adventurers are not in a constant state of experience gain either. Players will just accept that a recurring ally or antagonist is just going to be of the same relative power level to the party unless they explicitly go out and do something like get an artifact that would alter that relation.

IE a level 16 archmage ally would trivialize encounters for a 5th level party. So have him work as a level 7 archmage if he participates. Then, when the party is at level 14, you can have your 16 archmage in all his glory.

Mr. Bitter
2015-11-14, 03:21 PM
As to the main point: The DM can do anything, except guarantee that they have some players.

Right. Unless the DM is your ride, they can't force you to play a game you dislike.

oxybe
2015-11-14, 03:55 PM
I agree. Although people should definitely use "As far as you can tell there are no x's in the area"

EX: Monsters, Traps, People, Trees

And I'm perfectly, 100% fine with that. The GM in this case isn't making any statement that something is a fact, just indicating that within the context a PC looking for something, nothing of interest can be seen (so they might be hiding, invisible or whatever) at the moment, IE adjudicating as he's supposed to.

Amphetryon
2015-11-14, 04:20 PM
And I'm perfectly, 100% fine with that. The GM in this case isn't making any statement that something is a fact, just indicating that within the context a PC looking for something, nothing of interest can be seen (so they might be hiding, invisible or whatever) at the moment, IE adjudicating as he's supposed to.

Yup. Players need to recognize the difference between the DM saying "there are no Ogres in Deepdark Forest" and "there have been no reported Ogre sightings in Deepdark Forest for over 50 years."

Pex
2015-11-14, 05:00 PM
What the DM says, goes. If he says enough stupid stuff the players go too.

Honest Tiefling
2015-11-14, 05:07 PM
Right. Unless the DM is your ride, they can't force you to play a game you dislike.

Yeah, players tend to gnaw off limbs too much for this to work properly. I was just in the kitchen prepping some snacks! Some people.

nedz
2015-11-14, 06:13 PM
Right. Unless the DM is your ride, they can't force you to play a game you dislike.

Sure. There are some other RL methods of coercion which could be employed also.

Sredni Vashtar
2015-11-14, 09:02 PM
Yup. Players need to recognize the difference between the DM saying "there are no Ogres in Deepdark Forest" and "there have been no reported Ogre sightings in Deepdark Forest for over 50 years."

The former means that there's a 0% chance of encountering an ogre, and the latter indicates a 100% chance.

Pyrous
2015-11-14, 09:18 PM
The former means that there's a 0% chance of encountering an ogre, and the latter indicates a 100% chance.

Nope :smallconfused:

The latter means a 100% chance and the former less than 100%. :smallbiggrin:

AmberVael
2015-11-14, 09:29 PM
As to the main point:
The DM can do anything, except guarantee that they have some players.

This is pretty much what I was going to say. And it is really the only hard limit- as long as a group is having fun, or at least accepting what the DM does, they really can do anything. The game works because it is cooperative- and so the DM's power fails (and the game for that matter) when the other side of the table leaves or refuses. So the limit on what the DM does is dependent on the players, and what they want or don't want will vary wildly.

Pex
2015-11-15, 01:03 AM
This is pretty much what I was going to say. And it is really the only hard limit- as long as a group is having fun, or at least accepting what the DM does, they really can do anything. The game works because it is cooperative- and so the DM's power fails (and the game for that matter) when the other side of the table leaves or refuses. So the limit on what the DM does is dependent on the players, and what they want or don't want will vary wildly.

Point and agreed.

However, rare is it for me to take the DM's side of things (Gasp!) , a player can vote with his feet but it is possible the player was the one who was unreasonable. It could all be benign where the player and DM just have different aesthetic tastes and they depart amicably, but there are cases where the DM is doing fine but the player's demands for what constitutes fun at the table is the donkey cavity. He leaves but all the other players are perfectly fine with the game and discuss how unreasonable that player was once he's left. I've been in that discussion on both sides of the screen.

goto124
2015-11-15, 02:36 AM
The DM can do anything, except guarantee that they have some players.


What the DM says, goes. If he says enough stupid stuff the players go too.

Heh heh. I think this means "be truthful to everyone, and make sure they're all on the same level of understanding".

Pex, may I sig your quote above please?


it is possible the player was the one who was unreasonable.

Luckily, both the GM and the player can go find a better-fitting player/GM respectively :smalltongue:

Mr Beer
2015-11-15, 03:05 AM
A DM *can* do whatever they want to their game world, but capricious changes are likely to infuriate players to the extent that they leave, so there's that.

Sir Chuckles
2015-11-15, 03:39 AM
A DM cannot be misleading purely for the purpose of covering his own mistakes. That's not just bad story writing and DMing, it's being a jerk.

The King Zon example is actually an excellent example of taking something unusual and typically questionable and turning it into a great hook for the players to discover. Perhaps King Zon truly is mad and constantly denouncing and adopting heirs. Perhaps he's a mercury-addled man simply going through dementia. Discovering that is interesting and a point of world building that the PCs can enjoy and possibly solve.

It is perfectly fine for a DM to have an NPC or set piece be intentionally misleading as way to enhance player experience. It is not fine for a DM to change rulings because it's a convenient way to stop/alter a player's actions.

Intention and application is key in what a DM can and cannot do. Subjectivity also plays a heavy roll in it, as we see from the King Zon example, which I will absolutely be using now.

Pex
2015-11-15, 03:20 PM
Pex, may I sig your quote above please?



You can, but it's not my words. I forget who originally wrote it, but I liked it a lot so I use it from time to time when appropriate.