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  1. - Top - End - #1
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    Default Should the DM necessarily be the best player?

    Optimizing is fun, we've all seen it by now. But having the best optimizer in the group behind the screen means that the characters will be guaranteed a challenge...or that the fights will be ridiculous, and players will end up clinically depressed.

    Now, I'm not saying my vote is one way or the other. Actually, I've seen incidents where this goes both ways. I've DM'd for more experienced players and felt like my manhood was being dissected, and I've been DM'd by a very big power gamer and had no fun whatsoever. (Not you, Meta... Someone back home).

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    In all three of my current groups the one with arguably the best optimizing skill is Dungeon Master.

    The two arguments I have right now are:

    Pro: A less experienced DM will feel overwhelmed by the better players characters, and will overcompensate, which will result in TPKs.

    Con: The best player will over-optimize encounters and treat it as his goal to kill the party, focusing less on storyline, and make impossible encounters, which will result in TPKs.

    Which do you guys agree with? Or, if we wanna get interesting, what arguments could you see for either side?

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    Default Re: Should the DM necessarily be the best player?

    I think the TPKs line of reasoning is a bit of a red herring, to be honest.
    A good min-maxer doesn't necessarily min-max everything he makes to the hilt. And there's absolutely no reason why there would be a correlation between being a good min-maxer and making it your goal to kill the party.

    Personally I'd say the best min-maxer should almost always be the DM if possible. The exception would be if everyone in the group is a really good min-maxer (it's not necessary that the DM be the best if everyone is at a similarly high level), or if the group's playing style is such that stats don't really matter.

    That's because if the DM is the best min-maxer:
    -he will know what is and isn't good, and not institute ridiculous houserules based on a false impression of what options are powerful (e.g nerf monks and power up sorcerers)
    - contrariwise he will be able to institute sensible houserules that actually improve balance, if the group wants them (e.g ban Natural Spell)
    - for these reasons he will more likely spot imbalances among the PCs and be able to correct for them and avoid them ruining the fun. (A good min-maxer will know that a straight fighter dual-wielding bastard swords in the same party as an Abrupt Jaunt conjurer is a recipe for frustration.)
    - he will more often recognize when a player is trying to slip something past him, min-maxing wise, and know whether he needs to say "no" or not.
    - He will be able to give less savvy players min-maxing tips without going overboard relative to the rest of the group (good players often also help others like this, it's true, but it seems they seldom know or care when to stop and I've never seen anyone give min-maxing tips to the DM)
    - He will be better able to make the various villains as challenging as he thinks they should be, protect them from sucker punch tactics that a less experienced DM might not spot, and avoid making something that accidentally kills the party.
    Last edited by The Corinthian; 2011-04-09 at 04:48 AM.

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    Default Re: Should the DM necessarily be the best player?

    I don't think DMing skill is directly related to op-fu, but in my experience the best DMs are somewhere in between 'optimizer' and 'casual gamer.' It's the result of the fact that a good DM knows the rules well enough to keep them out of the way of the game, but generally cares more about the game world and/or story than about optimizing.

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    Default Re: Should the DM necessarily be the best player?

    IMO,

    The DM needs to be the most knowledgeable about the rules, he needs to be a good min-maxer (not needed to be the best) but more importantly he needs to be a great orater/story teller.

    Nothing makes a game harder to attend than a DM that isn't interesting...

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    Default Re: Should the DM necessarily be the best player?

    I don't think the DM necessarily has to be the best player, though he does have to be familiar with the rules.

    Both your lines of reasoning are pretty flawed. The Cons don't have to appear unless the "best" descriptor is conflated with "min/maxer" and they have decided that their goal is to kill the party. The Pros are more or less negated unless the inexperienced DM decides to go outside his exp budget, which is pretty well constructed overall.


    Overall, I think, as a 4e topic, you don't need to be the best player in order to be a challenging DM. As a 3.x or other game topic, it may well be different. With 3.x for example, given a sufficient variation in skill, the "strong(er)" optimizer would indeed be able to milk the system and create much wider variations in difficulty, or lack thereof, depending on which side of the screen they are on.
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    Default Re: Should the DM necessarily be the best player?

    I don't think the game needs a GM vs PCs mentality. That attitude is perfectly valid and many people enjoy it, but if you're able to let it go it stops mattering whether the GM is as good at optimization.
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    Default Re: Should the DM necessarily be the best player?

    The DM needs to know rules well. Knowing the rules well tends to naturally come with extreme min/maxing skills since they're a direct result of the rules. So while it's not necessary, of course, it's rather natural. Still, as long as we're talking about a group with multiple people familiar with the system, anybody can of course DM.

    But yeah, DM needs some system familiarity as otherwise he cannot perform his duties as an adjudicator, and game sessions will be needlessly drawn. Being good at optimizing doesn't hurt either since it enables presenting different, interesting challenges for the PCs from the same creatures.
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    Default Re: Should the DM necessarily be the best player?

    Quote Originally Posted by valadil View Post
    I don't think the game needs a GM vs PCs mentality. That attitude is perfectly valid and many people enjoy it, but if you're able to let it go it stops mattering whether the GM is as good at optimization.
    If the game really were about GMs vs PCs, players would no doubt fear to give the GM their sheets, for fear of him perpetually crafting encounters specifically to hit their weak spots.

    In 4e, that's not what the GM is for. The GM in 4e is basically just the computer, the AI, controlling the NPCs and enemies and doling out phat lootz.
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    Default Re: Should the DM necessarily be the best player?

    I don't think your Con there really matters for this. If the DM wants to kill your character, he will regardless of optimisation.

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    Default Re: Should the DM necessarily be the best player?

    Apart from a basic knowledge of the rules, the most important thing is still storytelling, a sense of consistency, willingness to roll with players ideas within reasonable limits, and of course the ability to keep your sanity while doing basic bookkeeping. But deep rules mastery as a prereq for DMing is luckily gone in 4e, as you don't need to 'justify' your monsters/NPCs the same way it was half-understood you needed to in 3.5. Now, the focus is more on sense of balance and ideas of what will be exciting and challenging than 'what is allowed RAW' when designing encounters. I know a lot of people enjoy doing just that in 3.5: going over the builds of every single little thing and making sure it works within the framework of the game, and I'm not going to lie and say I've never done and enjoyed that myself, but in the end, I really see this as 4e cutting the Gordian knot: if you want your NPC/monster to do X, just let them do X and be done with it.
    Last edited by RebelRogue; 2011-04-09 at 10:51 PM.

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    Default Re: Should the DM necessarily be the best player?

    Quote Originally Posted by Volt View Post
    I don't think your Con there really matters for this. If the DM wants to kill your character, he will regardless of optimisation.
    Yes, but DM fiat is not a victory. Killing the party in an ostensibly "fair" fight is.
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    Default Re: Should the DM necessarily be the best player?

    Quote Originally Posted by Sarco_Phage View Post
    Yes, but DM fiat is not a victory. Killing the party in an ostensibly "fair" fight is.
    Nah, killing one player [character] in a fair fight is the victory. TPK is just too easy to accomplish.
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    Default Re: Should the DM necessarily be the best player?

    No


    Insert reasons here
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    Default Re: Should the DM necessarily be the best player?

    I always strive to make combats that put people nearly down or put them constantly on dying but rarely ever die. Makes them scared and every once in a while a character bites it so they know it is real but they manage to keep the story going.

    In terms of being good as a DM being good at optimizing is a nice skill but it is not even near being the most important skill (especially in 4e it was a bit more important in 3e where you constantly had to make enemies fully by scratch due to the NPC creation rules). I would put knowledge of the rules and interpersonal skills as number one (knowing rules is important but if you cannot talk effectively with your players it may not matter). Being a good story teller is probably more important in most groups as well though I manage to do alright even though I am not the best at it (I judge this due to the players always asking me to DM over and over again).

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    Default Re: Should the DM necessarily be the best player?

    There is one point in 4e where DM optimization does matter: monster group synergy. Same as the players the opponents have to work together, and should be chosen / created with this intention. A DM without experience might ignore this and will get much weaker encounters. This is often compensated by "we are always playing 2 or 3 levels higher encounters" or "we increase damage" or something similar. knowing the monster abilities is very important. But as player character optimization skills does not really help with this, i would say: the best dungeon master should be DM
    Last edited by Leolo; 2011-04-12 at 06:21 AM.

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    Default Re: Should the DM necessarily be the best player?

    DMing, rule wise in4e, is pretty straightforward. You do not need to optimise monsters or npcs, you just give them powers that are appropriate. So being good at building a PC is completely irrelevant. The dm needs to figure out how to make encounters challenging and fun and tie it all together in some kind of story, if it is a campaign.

    I think the best dm is the one who can make the game flow and add color to the encounter. if it is just rolling dice it is no fun.

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    Default Re: Should the DM necessarily be the best player?

    I think, far and away, the most important quality of a DM is to not be a sadist.

    That taken care of, I think a DM should be reasonably good at optimization in order to know how to get to that sweet spot where he challenges the players without overwhelming them, be good at making encounters work differently by exploiting interesting rules, and be reasonably good at identifying which houserules are desirable and which are not.
    It always amazes me how often people on forums would rather accuse you of misreading their posts with malice than re-explain their ideas with clarity.

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    Default Re: Should the DM necessarily be the best player?

    Quote Originally Posted by Galdor Miriel View Post
    DMing, rule wise in4e, is pretty straightforward. You do not need to optimise monsters or npcs, you just give them powers that are appropriate. So being good at building a PC is completely irrelevant. The dm needs to figure out how to make encounters challenging and fun and tie it all together in some kind of story, if it is a campaign.

    I think the best dm is the one who can make the game flow and add color to the encounter. if it is just rolling dice it is no fun.
    QFT

    Unlike 3.5, the 4e DM does not need to be able to build "characters" in the form of monsters to challenge the PCs. Monster Building does not resemble PC Building in the slightest and the DMG has plenty of good advice on how to build and coordinate monsters correctly.

    Plus, it is very easy to calibrate Encounters to differing levels of PC optimization. Even when facing a party of min/maxers, the DM can use better tactics or use more difficult monsters (or simply more monsters) to raise the difficulty of future Encounters.

    N.B. I say all this as a veteran DM/Player who is currently playing in a 4e game run by a first-time DM. Even though several of the Players are proficient optimizers and I frequently serve as the "rulebook" for the DM, he is capable of running a fun and challenging game.
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    Default Re: Should the DM necessarily be the best player?

    Quote Originally Posted by Galdor Miriel View Post
    So being good at building a PC is completely irrelevant.
    I wouldn't go that far. If you're going to be modifying monsters, PC building knowledge will come into play. This isn't something that you have to do of course, but it will give optimizers something to optimize.

    Applying class templates to monsters is the obvious use case. A heroic tier monster with a class template gets an at-will, encounter, and daily power. Choosing effective powers is obviously benefited by PC optimization skill.

    There are also sneaky shenanigans for leveling and de-leveling monsters. Tier based abilities don't change when a monster's tier changes. So take a level 11 monster with sneak attack and drop him down to level 10 or lower. By the book, that monster retains paragon sneak attack damage. (Also, the inverse of sneaky shenanigans applies to newb DMs leveling up monsters. Don't upgrade a level 10 sneak attacker to level 11. His SA damage won't upgrade with him.)
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    Default Re: Should the DM necessarily be the best player?

    Quote Originally Posted by valadil View Post
    There are also sneaky shenanigans for leveling and de-leveling monsters. Tier based abilities don't change when a monster's tier changes. So take a level 11 monster with sneak attack and drop him down to level 10 or lower. By the book, that monster retains paragon sneak attack damage. (Also, the inverse of sneaky shenanigans applies to newb DMs leveling up monsters. Don't upgrade a level 10 sneak attacker to level 11. His SA damage won't upgrade with him.)
    That's... just disregarding the spirit of the Monster Leveling rules. It isn't "sneaky" - that's just the DM deciding to give Heroic Tier monsters Paragon Tier abilities.
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    Y'see, DMs aren't constrained by "rules" when it comes to building monsters. Everything written on handling monsters are guidelines provided by the designers to aid the DM in creating monsters of given power-levels. If the DM wants to ignore them, he has no one to answer to - aside from Players who might get miffed when the LV 1 Controller has a Stun attack

    Players, OTOH, are bound by the rules of the game - including any modifications permitted by the DM. They can do "sneaky" things by getting early-access to ridiculous powers or setting up massive combos but they can't just award themselves Epic Destinies at LV 1.
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    Default Re: Should the DM necessarily be the best player?

    Not much to add to the sentiments already expressed, but I do want to point out a flaw in the basic premise: 'Best optimizer' and 'Best player' are two totally different things.

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    Default Re: Should the DM necessarily be the best player?

    Well... unless it's a one-shot, a DM who sets out to actually kill his party is missing the point. At least that's my take on it. As many people have stated here, it is actually very easy to wipe out a party, without even twisting the rules. Deadly traps and superior tactics can make a huge difference.

    Just last week the party I'm DMing found themselves up a creek without a paddle because their healer got himself isolated from the rest of the group by a wall of force. His magical prison was filling up with water and he was the only one in a position to disable the trap... and naturally, he couldn't disable it, being a humble cleric. It was also the last room before the final boss fight, and there was no way that the party could have taken the boss without a healer. Deus Ex Machina saved their sorry hides that day, but honestly, it made for a better session. It would not have been fun for anyone to sit through the rest of that session, had the healer died there.

    A DM should be at least well versed in the rules, should be quick on his feet, and should be a versatile role player, and a creative story teller. He's there to facilitate the player's experience, not to compete with them. A good player may make a good DM if he has those qualities and understands his role and the groups expectations of him, but even a great player would be a lousy DM if his only interest is in being the most awesome person at the table.

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    Default Re: Should the DM necessarily be the best player?

    A DM needs to be able to control his players, and in order to do that, it's necessary to know what tricks the player will try to pull, what "builds" or "combos" that they'll try to sneak past you. And in order to know this, having at least as much skill at optimizing as the player is necessary. If the player is more knowledgeable about the system than the DM, than he can break any scenario the DM puts together.

    In short, the DM needs to be able to optimize well enough (as well as have enough knowledge of the system) to keep the players in check.
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    Default Re: Should the DM necessarily be the best player?

    Conversely, a good DM can also help the players to play their characters better. Simple things like reminding them of re-rolls they can use, saves they might get, etc.

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    Default Re: Should the DM necessarily be the best player?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jukebox Hero View Post
    It's necessary to know what tricks the player will try to pull, what "builds" or "combos" that they'll try to sneak past you.
    That hasn't been my experience in 4e. The gap between the weakest and strongest member of party is slim enough that it doesn't matter if someone starts playing with powerful combos. While it was absolutely true that nasty builds could ruin a game in 3.5, those builds are fewer and father between in 4th.

    Honestly I don't even look at my PC's character sheets anymore. I trust them not to cheat. When they throw new powers at me, I say cool and we move on. As long as they're being honest, there isn't that much the PCs can do that has to be reigned in by a powergaming GM.
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    Default Re: Should the DM necessarily be the best player?

    I think that if you have one or more experienced players, then the DM needs to be at least fairly conversant with the rules.

    A while back I was playing with a group of friends who'd played 4E before, but our new DM had not. He'd DM'd plenty for previous editions, but had only read the PHB/DMG for 4E. He decided on all kinds of houserules to make it feel more like what he wanted. Being his friend, I kept trying to explain why that might not be a good idea (in private, not in front of everyone). I finally had to show him.

    I had a level 1 human enchanter mage with a 20 INT and at least 2 18's in other stats (he insisted on rolled stats). In the first combat encounter, he decided it was legal to stack 20 goblin minions into the same square with an NCP we were trying to save. One shot of Beguiling Strands and there were 2 minions left.... ;) The next encounter we were backed up against a wall by a group of thugs. My mage, who also had Orb Expertise, once again at-will pushed all of the thugs up against the far wall, freeing up the party to do whatever.

    Yeah, he listened to my explanations of why the rules are the way they are after that. ;)

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    Default Re: Should the DM necessarily be the best player?

    Quote Originally Posted by mathewt View Post
    I think that if you have one or more experienced players, then the DM needs to be at least fairly conversant with the rules.

    A while back I was playing with a group of friends who'd played 4E before, but our new DM had not. He'd DM'd plenty for previous editions, but had only read the PHB/DMG for 4E. He decided on all kinds of houserules to make it feel more like what he wanted. Being his friend, I kept trying to explain why that might not be a good idea (in private, not in front of everyone). I finally had to show him.

    I had a level 1 human enchanter mage with a 20 INT and at least 2 18's in other stats (he insisted on rolled stats). In the first combat encounter, he decided it was legal to stack 20 goblin minions into the same square with an NCP we were trying to save. One shot of Beguiling Strands and there were 2 minions left.... ;) The next encounter we were backed up against a wall by a group of thugs. My mage, who also had Orb Expertise, once again at-will pushed all of the thugs up against the far wall, freeing up the party to do whatever.

    Yeah, he listened to my explanations of why the rules are the way they are after that. ;)
    The stacking of monsters is silly, and I'm glad you showed him the error of his ways! But what home-rule did he use in the second encounter, with the thugs?

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    Default Re: Should the DM necessarily be the best player?

    Quote Originally Posted by valadil View Post
    That hasn't been my experience in 4e. The gap between the weakest and strongest member of party is slim enough that it doesn't matter if someone starts playing with powerful combos. While it was absolutely true that nasty builds could ruin a game in 3.5, those builds are fewer and father between in 4th.

    Honestly I don't even look at my PC's character sheets anymore. I trust them not to cheat. When they throw new powers at me, I say cool and we move on. As long as they're being honest, there isn't that much the PCs can do that has to be reigned in by a powergaming GM.
    Clearly, your group has far less ambition/skill at powergaming than my players.
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    Default Re: Should the DM necessarily be the best player?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jukebox Hero View Post
    Clearly, your group has far less ambition/skill at powergaming than my players.
    Or they're already bored of powergaming and looking for other parts of the game for entertainment.
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    Default Re: Should the DM necessarily be the best player?

    Quote Originally Posted by valadil View Post
    Or they're already bored of powergaming and looking for other parts of the game for entertainment.
    O how I envy you.
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