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    Pixie in the Playground
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    Post Thesis help D&D, Role of a DM/player

    I'm in the middle of writing my thesis, "comparing and contrasting D&D narrative with an established literary author: Terry Pratchett".
    and have come to the point where i need to discuss the role(s) of a DM, what's required, what they strive for, etc. I've written a good amount on consistency and immersion, but am not sure what to discuss next. Any ideas? Anything would be helpful.

    There is also a section of the role of the player(s), impact the DM has on the players, how they interact and stuff, so if you have anything, please do say.

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    Default Re: Thesis help D&D, Role of a DM/player

    Sounds like an interesting subject for a thesis. Anyway, I'm sure there are almost countless aspects about GMing and role-playing you could focus on but one that strikes me immediately is the varying degrees of player agency, from extremely railroady adventures to completely sandboxy ones.

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    Default Re: Thesis help D&D, Role of a DM/player

    I think that there are two clusters of DM jobs. One set pertains to D&D as a story, the other to D&D as a game. This is not to say they are seperate.

    As a game, the DM needs to balance the needs and opportunities of the players and their characters. They should understand what the players want their characters to actually do and to enable that to happen. If a player brings a character that is investigating the ocult then there should be some occult to investigate but also the way in which it might be investigated should aling to that player's strengths. A DM through play should let the characters distinguish themselves.

    The DM should also take care that some players don't outshine others. No Character is relegated to a bit-part. This can be tayloring specific challenges, growing the world in a particular way or handing out new abilities. It's the DM's job to ensure that everyone has fun.

    The DM is responsible for the amountof Peril the party faces. Is charater death a real concern? Will it be meaningful? If failure an option? Where on the spectrum between game and story does it sit? A DM has the job of reading the table and trying to find a difficulty for the game to keep everyone happy.

    The DM gives the players meaningful choices. This is related to the point above. If success/failure is certain there is little meaning. If all roads lead to the same outcome then there isn't so much choice. To the extent that it is an interactive game the DM needs to provide interaction and the ability to change outcomes.

    More on the story side, the DM needs to build a world. Sometimes in a pre-existing setting the scafflding is already there and just needs fleshing out with characters/plot etc.. Descriptions are important so that players have a sense of the world, but it should be rich enough that there is a similar enough vision among the players to help them make decisions.

    The DM reads the table to provide plot links. Not just something that can be done in the world but something that should be done and that the player's characters want to be done. A DM needs to build a relationship with the players' characters to understand what drives them so it is natural in the context of the story that they undertake the task.



    The contrast I see with a story, even a fantasy story like Terry Pratchett, is that there is no need for any kind of equality or role or attention or ability for the characters in a book. The structure of the story has different bounds.

    A book can also use certain devices to drive a plot in the way a game can't - an author can have a character make a decision that will cause a chain of events thatis exciting and engaging. A DM cannot force a PC to do the same and so is restricted to NPCs to drive this kind of behaviour. Often the most engaging plots are borne out of failure, something that players are trying to avoid.

    I think the camparison is pretty natural with TP due to the number of books that have "adventuring parties" in them - the witches, the silver horde, the guards... The fact that the strengths or characters of some members are drawn out by explicitly contrasting them with others is something easier to do in a book than to do in a game.

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    Barbarian in the Playground
     
    AssassinGuy

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    Default Re: Thesis help D&D, Role of a DM/player

    This is going to be hard to write, as different DMs have very different approaches. My group, for instance, mostly plays Paizo APs, so the narrative is pretty well established and the DM’s job is more about tone, immersion, and actually running the encounters. Even in that context, I’ve seen some DMs add NPCs and build more narrative into the AP, while others run it out of the box.

    On the other end of the spectrum, there are one-shots, sandboxes, and hex/dungeon crawls. But again, it varies between DMs; even without a baked-in narrative some will build an emergent narrative as the game progresses, with greater or lesser degrees of skill.

    And there are all sorts of variations in between. Some DMs will build sprawling campaign worlds and run games that published modules wish they could be. Some will try to do that but end up with a nonsensical railroad plot. Some will run thinly-veiled takes on popular fiction. Most probably flounder around and manage a narrative that wouldn’t hold up to much scrutiny but does a fine job of giving a group of friends an excuse to hang out and quote Monty Python for a few hours.

    And all of that varies by edition. Different editions of D&D encourage different approaches from both players and DMs.

    As you note, the players also factor into this. Players can either join with the DM to create a robust narrative, or they can pick it apart into window dressing on the core activity of killing things and taking their stuff.

    It’s also important to say that all of these are perfectly valid ways to play D&D. Which is why you’re going to have a tough time with this - there’s no Platonic ideal of a D&D narrative that everybody’s striving for.

    There are also (at least) two possible disconnects around narrative in a D&D game. The first is the distinction between planned and emergent narratives. In a heavily-planned game like a Paizo AP, the shape of the narrative is pretty well known. In a sandbox game, there’s not necessarily a defined narrative going in, but that doesn’t mean that the actions of the players can’t create a narrative during the game.

    Another disconnect is the extent to which the players and DM actually experience and appreciate the narrative during play. Imagine two groups running through the same published AP. Group A has a DM and players that really lean into roleplaying the encounters, connect with NPCs, and generally immerse themselves in the setting and the story. Group B has a DM and players that view the tactical combat as the important part of the game. The DM reads the flavor text, but the players really just want to know where to go and who to kill next, and their approach to any social situation boils down to “I roll Diplomacy.”

    In that case, both campaigns have the same NPCs, the same encounters, and the same major plot points. If you were trying to deconstruct the campaign’s narrative after the fact, you might be hard-pressed to find a real difference. But the experience at the table is vastly different. And again, that’s okay. Neither group has a claim on playing the game the “right” way.

    All of which is to say, you’ve got your work cut out for you. You probably need to start by acknowledging the variety here but then defining the playstyle that you’re actually going to talk about. Either on the basis of what seems popular or what it seems like WotC envisions based on their published material.

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    Ettin in the Playground
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    Default Re: Thesis help D&D, Role of a DM/player

    Quote Originally Posted by RavenInsane View Post
    I'm in the middle of writing my thesis, "comparing and contrasting D&D narrative with an established literary author: Terry Pratchett".
    and have come to the point where i need to discuss the role(s) of a DM, what's required, what they strive for, etc. I've written a good amount on consistency and immersion, but am not sure what to discuss next. Any ideas? Anything would be helpful.

    There is also a section of the role of the player(s), impact the DM has on the players, how they interact and stuff, so if you have anything, please do say.
    You can gm dnd as if it was in the disk world but to pull it out fine you will need a lot of skill (and good players too because players who only wants to throw dice if it is damage dice will just prevent that).
    Unless you are talking about pre-existing dnd narratives such as the one of "awfully horrifically existential horror setting" called the forgotten realms.
    I do remember some gms picking up a book and deciding "this session will be based on this book" and making the session match surprisingly close (with only a bunch of differences) which is rather easy if the players also wants to be railroaded.
    Last edited by noob; 2021-01-15 at 08:44 AM.

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    Ettin in the Playground
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    Default Re: Thesis help D&D, Role of a DM/player

    Ugh. This is an ugly topic to try to discuss thoroughly.

    There are *many* roles at a table. Some are mandated to the GM, some are often unthinkingly handed to the GM, some are often completely ignored.

    These roles include

    Host
    Scheduler / coordinator
    Content writer
    Tone / Scene setter
    Player / world interface
    Rules adjudicator
    Dispute arbiter
    Fun facilitator
    Spotlight distribution bean counter
    Balance enforcer

    And many others.

    There was a thread a while back where we concluded that the only role that *has* to belong to the GM is… darn senility… transmitting information about the world to the group, maybe? Everything else, it was determined, technically *could* be handed off to someone else at the table.

    And I disagree with MrStabby's assessment on balance: I think that it's fine for a game to have "starring roles" and "bit players", so long as that's what everyone signed up for / has fun with.
    Last edited by Quertus; 2021-01-15 at 08:45 AM.

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    Titan in the Playground
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    Default Re: Thesis help D&D, Role of a DM/player

    Speaking as an academic, I would strongly urge you to quote the definition of the DM directly from the D&D edition your paper cites most often. You can then go on to amplify it with examples and details relevant to your thesis, but the essence of a research paper is research.

    Dr. Jay R

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    Barbarian in the Playground
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    Default Re: Thesis help D&D, Role of a DM/player

    Quote Originally Posted by RavenInsane View Post
    I'm in the middle of writing my thesis, "comparing and contrasting D&D narrative with an established literary author: Terry Pratchett".
    Choosing a specific author was a good call. On the other hand choosing D&D as a whole is a bit to unfocused as there are many different playstyles and DM styles for D&D and they don't all look the same, accomplish the same things, or even have the same goals.

    and have come to the point where i need to discuss the role(s) of a DM, what's required, what they strive for, etc. I've written a good amount on consistency and immersion, but am not sure what to discuss next. Any ideas? Anything would be helpful.
    I think I would talk mostly about the process that your playstyle of D&D uses to create a narrative and how that works to create narratives with different qualities than narratives you would read from Terry Pratchett. You could even compare and contrast a few different D&D playstyles here. You could talk about what restrictions players and DM's have when establishing fictional facts, how uncertainty is determined and how it is resolved and how all these things work together to influence the narrative. *Alot of restrictions aren't from the rules, but from social expectations at the table. Things like no evil characters or make a character that will stay with the party or DM's exerting force on players so that the narrative plays out like they want. D&D isn't overly concerned with the Dramatic whereas Terry Prachett is. That's not to say Drama doesn't arise naturally in D&D but that the focus isn't on creating dramatic situations, so much as creating an environment where dramatic situations can arise naturally by playing the game - which gets noticed quite easily when players are clever and turn what was intended to be a dramatic and challenging ending into either a cakewalk or a TPK.

    The high level process in D&D goes something like: fiction -> player action -> mechanics -> updated fiction -> repeat
    Last edited by Frogreaver; 2021-01-15 at 06:14 PM.

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    AssassinGuy

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    Default Re: Thesis help D&D, Role of a DM/player

    Quote Originally Posted by Jay R View Post
    Speaking as an academic, I would strongly urge you to quote the definition of the DM directly from the D&D edition your paper cites most often. You can then go on to amplify it with examples and details relevant to your thesis, but the essence of a research paper is research.

    Dr. Jay R
    This is a really, really good point. Neither personal experience nor the collective wisdom of the internet are great sources to be citing for an academic paper. Quoting and analyzing the published explanation of the DM’s role is almost certainly a stronger approach here, regardless of whether it reflects the experience of most tables.

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    Barbarian in the Playground
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    Default Re: Thesis help D&D, Role of a DM/player

    Quote Originally Posted by TheStranger View Post
    This is a really, really good point. Neither personal experience nor the collective wisdom of the internet are great sources to be citing for an academic paper. Quoting and analyzing the published explanation of the DM’s role is almost certainly a stronger approach here, regardless of whether it reflects the experience of most tables.
    I'm not sure trying to stick to strictly written rules will work for a game that probably can't even be played by strictly written rules. Seems like you would miss to much context to accurately be academically comparing anything - which would presumably be just as bad as comparing without source citations? Though there may be some academic papers out there somewhere that would work for citations that already explain some common playstyles in those contexts.
    Last edited by Frogreaver; 2021-01-15 at 07:09 PM.

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    Barbarian in the Playground
     
    AssassinGuy

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    Default Re: Thesis help D&D, Role of a DM/player

    Quote Originally Posted by Frogreaver View Post
    I'm not sure trying to stick to strictly written rules will work for a game that probably can't even be played by strictly written rules. Seems like you would miss to much context to accurately be academically comparing anything - which would presumably be just as bad as comparing without source citations? Though there may be some academic papers out there somewhere that would work for citations that already explain some common playstyles in those contexts.
    Believe me, I know all the things WotC gets wrong about the D&D meta. This is probably the only context in which I'd advise anybody to go with what's in the DMG as opposed to the collective wisdom of a community that's been playing this game for a long time. But the audience for a thesis is not a group of gamers looking for advice. It's probably not even a group that has any particular interest in understanding D&D (though you can't rule out somebody with 40 years of gaming experience reading it, either). They just want to know that OP can do some research and present some sort of logically coherent thesis. So yeah - use the published material as your primary resource to explain the role of the DM and players and augment that with whatever secondary sources are needed to provide context and fill in the gaps.

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    Default Re: Thesis help D&D, Role of a DM/player

    Quote Originally Posted by RavenInsane View Post
    I'm in the middle of writing my thesis, "comparing and contrasting D&D narrative with an established literary author: Terry Pratchett".
    and have come to the point where i need to discuss the role(s) of a DM, what's required, what they strive for, etc. I've written a good amount on consistency and immersion, but am not sure what to discuss next. Any ideas? Anything would be helpful.

    There is also a section of the role of the player(s), impact the DM has on the players, how they interact and stuff, so if you have anything, please do say.
    Being a DM is more like being Director/Producer,

    you are not just talking to the writer and special effects crew.

    You also have to deal with actors, who may want to change script, get out of an uncomfortable scene, or have their characters act in ways or achieve things that actually work better but weren't part of the plan.

    This boils down to keeping your players happy.

    Actors can also get moody, or get into fights on set with other actors. Romances can turn into breakups and it can result in cast changes or characters being written off.

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    WolfInSheepsClothing

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    Default Re: Thesis help D&D, Role of a DM/player

    At the risk of throwing out a very un-popular idea:

    Are you sure you want this to be your thesis? I mean, really sure? If this is an undergrad thing, fine, do what’s amusing - but if this is for a graduate degree, your thesis is going to in many ways help define who you are to the professional or academic market. Are you 100% sure that you want to start off as “the D&D vs popular author guy”?

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    Default Re: Thesis help D&D, Role of a DM/player

    Quote Originally Posted by Frogreaver View Post
    I'm not sure trying to stick to strictly written rules will work for a game that probably can't even be played by strictly written rules. Seems like you would miss to much context to accurately be academically comparing anything - which would presumably be just as bad as comparing without source citations? Though there may be some academic papers out there somewhere that would work for citations that already explain some common playstyles in those contexts.
    That's why I didn't recommend sticking to strictly written rules. I wrote:

    "Speaking as an academic, I would strongly urge you to quote the definition of the DM directly from the D&D edition your paper cites most often. You can then go on to amplify it with examples and details relevant to your thesis, but the essence of a research paper is research." [Emphasis added.]

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    Default Re: Thesis help D&D, Role of a DM/player

    Quote Originally Posted by Jay R View Post
    That's why I didn't recommend sticking to strictly written rules. I wrote:

    "Speaking as an academic, I would strongly urge you to quote the definition of the DM directly from the D&D edition your paper cites most often. You can then go on to amplify it with examples and details relevant to your thesis, but the essence of a research paper is research." [Emphasis added.]
    Would it be worth throwing in a survey to support this? I mean to actually demonstrate that the game as played departs from the game as written, rather than just an assertion?

    Use a thread like this to design the survey to get a sense of the ways in which a game can depart from the defined way/style of running it then try and quantify it?

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    Ettin in the Playground
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    Default Re: Thesis help D&D, Role of a DM/player

    Quote Originally Posted by RavenInsane View Post
    I'm in the middle of writing my thesis, "comparing and contrasting D&D narrative with an established literary author: Terry Pratchett".
    "D&D narrative"?

    Quote Originally Posted by RavenInsane View Post
    and have come to the point where i need to discuss the role(s) of a DM, what's required,
    The only strict requirement is that they serve as the interface between the players and the content. Everything else can be offloaded.

    Quote Originally Posted by RavenInsane View Post
    what they strive for,
    Varies greatly by DM.

    Personally, I strive to… run the module / world honest, and choose a module / point in space-time where I believe that the players will have fun.

    Quote Originally Posted by RavenInsane View Post
    etc. I've written a good amount on consistency and immersion,
    Consistency is integral to intelligence; what's the 50 words or less version of your take on immersion?

    Quote Originally Posted by RavenInsane View Post
    but am not sure what to discuss next. Any ideas? Anything would be helpful.
    What do literary critics typically evaluate?

    Of course, going to far in this direction might will change your thesis to "the reasons why traditional literary analysis is insufficient to evaluate D&D narrative".

    Quote Originally Posted by RavenInsane View Post
    There is also a section of the role of the player(s), impact the DM has on the players, how they interact and stuff, so if you have anything, please do say.
    This also varies greatly.

    Some players, I greatly enjoy them acting in character, doing voices, changing their mannerisms or word choice, emoting to bring out the character. Others, I'm more like, "please don't".

    Some players, I greatly enjoy their role-playing, their in-depth in character decision-making, that takes into account the intricacies of the history that had brought them to this exact moment. Others, it just detracts from the game.

    Some players, I greatly enjoy their ability to recap, to draw a scene, to reframe events ("wait, did you just…"), to keep the group on task, to adjudicate the rules, to mediate disputes, to set the tone, to keep players engaged, and/or a whole host of other talents. Others, not so much.

    The way I was taught to play RPGs, the responsibility of the Player is to play their character. This was great, because it covered "the players play the PCs, the GM plays everything else", and because it produced the most fun games, just focusing on playing your character. On the down side, it made My Guy, "I'm just doing what my character would do" not only perfectly defensible, but grounds for sainthood.

    I believe that "fun" is everyone's responsibility. That it is the responsibility of the players to metagame, and ask, "would my intended course of action negatively impact the fun of others? If so, is there something else in character for my character to do, that wouldn't hurt their fun? If not, bring it up out of character".

    Learning the rules/mechanics - obtaining basic competence in your character, taking your turn quickly and not holding the group up with ongoing ineptitude and inability to role your own dice - would be nice, too.

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    Barbarian in the Playground
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    Default Re: Thesis help D&D, Role of a DM/player

    Quote Originally Posted by Jay R View Post
    That's why I didn't recommend sticking to strictly written rules. I wrote:

    "Speaking as an academic, I would strongly urge you to quote the definition of the DM directly from the D&D edition your paper cites most often. You can then go on to amplify it with examples and details relevant to your thesis, but the essence of a research paper is research." [Emphasis added.]
    Saying define it solely by the rules regardless of whatever incomplete or frankenstein experience that would describe and then offer examples that correspond to that definition is IMO sticking to strictly written rules.

    Maybe you mean something less severe - like list the official definition and then use examples from secondary sources to reveal the flexibility inherent in that definition. If so, I think we are on the same page.

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    Barbarian in the Playground
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    Default Re: Thesis help D&D, Role of a DM/player

    Quote Originally Posted by RavenInsane View Post
    I'm in the middle of writing my thesis, "comparing and contrasting D&D narrative with an established literary author: Terry Pratchett".
    That's about THE worst possible author to compare DnD to while still writing fantasy, but I digress.


    Quote Originally Posted by RavenInsane View Post
    and have come to the point where i need to discuss the role(s) of a DM, what's required, what they strive for, etc. I've written a good amount on consistency and immersion, but am not sure what to discuss next. Any ideas? Anything would be helpful.
    There should be a discussion on the areas of roles of the DM, some of which are given by the rules and some of which are not but usually correlate.

    For example, you have area of social authority in your group, DM has the final say on what goes and what does not. I have excercised this a few times in the past, swinging the banhammer on creating characters others at the table felt uncomfortable with and so on. Consequently, people tend to differ to DM in a lot of organizational things, like how to set up things at the table and so forth that realte to the game but are not necessarily part of the rules. To borrow a Discworld analogy, a DM should be like Granny Weatherwax - definitely not in charge, but everyone listens to them.

    Then there are strictly rule-based roles, where DM creates the adventure and arbitrates the rules and so forth - while the above can be taken over by a sufficiently respected and charismatic player (and when I'm in a session as a player with a fresh DM I'm helping, they do defer to me somewhat here), these can't be taken over by anyone, because then the game doesn't work.

    Lastly, discussion on the fact that many players have many needs is needed - not everyone cares about immersion as long as they get a neat tactical puzzle to play with.

    Quote Originally Posted by RavenInsane View Post
    There is also a section of the role of the player(s), impact the DM has on the players, how they interact and stuff, so if you have anything, please do say.
    Eh, just about the most I can think of this generally is to keep in mind which roles are strictly assigned and which can swap over between DM and players.
    That which does not kill you made a tactical error.

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