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He also talks about having a page of "plot hooks" that can be attached to any character. This is a little bit, "all roads lead to Rome" in a railroading sense, but it's also kind of "bandolier of bangs" in the Sorcerer RPG sense.
That is, if they play to character as they've written them, they'll likely do whatever it is Matt wants them to do. But more charitably, he's tailored "the story" perfectly to the characters that they wrote. Of course they want to find the villain who murdered their friends; of course they want to clear their name and get out from under house arrest. Is that GM Force in a bad way, or just the GM writing the player's Kicker for them in a way that serves the GM's plot?
Plot hooks and looking for buy-in in story-first designed, trailblazing/participationist scenarios are nowhere remotely like bangs and kickers in the very different context of an orthodox Sorcerer game, are they?
So if I understand correctly, in both Sorcerer and the technique Matt Mercer is (possibly?) suggesting, the DM is thinking about the motives of the PC and making up situations to throw at them, but the key distinction is between (1) choosing situations because they will be interesting to explore regardless of the outcome; vs (2) choosing situations in order to lead the player to a certain planned outcome.
It is a bit of an odd tension in the rules, like half of a subsystem with the other half missing.
That does rely on everyone actually accessing the rulebook, which isn't always the case - especially for playbook-based games. Maybe I'm interpreting "Mystery Cult" over-broadly? I was reading it as "opacity as a virtue."
By "indie scene," I meant "indie games, and the people who happen to play them." Indie in the distribution sense, to contrast with the big publishers.
So, what I mean is that I've seen opaque GMing both encouraged in indie RPG game texts and practiced by people playing those games.
My main issue with this whole topic is that... well, it hews to an old tradition in the RPG world, which elevates to "art of GMing" and then produces a variety of (often good) advice which omits the most key elements necessary for successful and high-quality play. I sometimes call it the Mystery GM Cult. GMs (and other authorities) pretend to hand out helpful advice, while leaving many of the most important underlying techniques, principles, and ideas unspoken. I don't even think it's conscious; it's a cultural thing, a way of talking about gaming.
Really? You don't look back on your adolescent gaming period with a certain mixture of fondness and also chagrin? We had a ton of fun, but we were younger and stupider and less wise. Hell, I "suspended" one of my players for a month because he secretly went out and bought the DMG. One of the other players ratted him out and we had a big confrontation in his attic bedroom, where I forced him to get it out (the other player had told me where he kept it hidden). Talk about Cult of the Mystery GM! I think he still harbours a bit of resentment about that today.
...and fear of being caught off-guard.
I'm currently running the Mistborn Adventure Game with four players who aren't really a part of what you might think of as the tabletop subculture (is there a better, common term?). The system is pretty crunchy in some regards, and the rules are laid out in a massive book that is ... I would say less-than-ideally organized. There's definitely a tension between the fact that (a) they understand we're all new to the system and that I'll have to look stuff up sometimes, and (b) my role as the Narrator means that when I stop, the whole game stops.I think maybe that's an important part of GM anxiety -- the traditional role of a GM makes them the limiting factor in the flow of play. Even though my players are patient (and are going to try running the game to get a feel for it!), they still have to sit there and wait if I don't know a rule. Staring at me. Just. You know. Flipping through a book. *shudders*
To play devil's advocate here: Are his players enjoying themselves? Why does it need any critical thought?
Matt Mercer basically lays out his entire philosophy of GMing, including thoughts on railroading, guiding players back to the story, and so on. His motivations seem to be wanting to tell a good story, feeling that the players have entrusted him to do so, and fear of being caught off-guard.
I think some of Satine's guests are super wrong and I had to stop watching her version of DM tips. That doesn't mean that she herself is a bad DM.
But as Eero pointed out in the other thread, this GM-ing style is understandable given the historical context.
Also, my expectations were a bit high — I was sad that there was gonna be no more Matt episodes and then I found out that Satine was taking over and I thought “That’s gonna be awesome, it’s going to be OSR techniques explained for the masses”. I really wanted to hear her talk about her own method of DMing.
I don’t know why show then had this format of guests – some with advice that is applicable to my goal as DM, many with advice that are counterproductive.
This is also tied into our collective neurosis that the 90:s style of DM:ing is some sort of memetic poison that will compromise and ruin gaming if it seeps into the minds of too many watchers. And if we’re ever going to have productive conversation I need to let go of that fear.
It’s actually been frustrating – I’ve been itching to play some 5e (After reading Xanathar’s & the PHB there are so many characters I want to make) under a DM using my own style but it’s hard to find someone I trust enough to do that. I could maaybe find some B/X clone group. But also I’m not the most popular player or best people person. #emo2097
Even within this idiom – almost every OSR DM does things that other DMs view as compromise and even taboo. It’s just that everyone has selected their own compromises. (I know I’ve sometimes felt the wish to be able to write some sorta “Dogme breach confession” list. Most notably the way I timed the starting event of Deep Carbon Observatory within a larger sandbox – don’t worry, this incident has also been something I’ve discussed with my own group.)
And outside of that set of principles, once you bring in the whole “curate drama / arc / pacing” mindset, well, then of course I’m going to be dissatisfied. But I just don’t have to watch.
I’d say the root of all “sin” of some of the 90:s style GM advice – in storyteller’s guides, DMG:s, magazines, among friends and on shows like this – is less that they want to teach/cause people to introduce incoherence. They want to make people who already do it feel good about it.
Like, take the 5e DMG. Page after page on how to make a hexcrawl, how to roll up random NPCs, random inns, random dungeons, how to create location based adventures etc etc. And still there’s that paragraph allowing fudging on page 235 – sepecially “don’t let on that you’re doing it”. My own experience is that my game became better once I stopped fudging and of course it’s frustrating to see the contrary position taken.
It’s just the oft lamented truth that 5e is “all things to all people”. I saw a player on some other site – maybe EN World? – complain that it was so hard to find a group that wanted to play the way that player wanted to (and their wish was opposite of mine which made it extra interesting, that people who want to play in that style also feel that frustration). This old Penny Arcade strip, “The Way Forward” (Fourth Panel here – NSFW/TW/CW, the Penny Arcade guys) becomes funny in hindsight because they did it. They pulled it off. It’s true that 5e makes it hard to find a group that by “D&D” means the same things you mean. But it’s also true that 5e makes it easy to find game material – modules, monsters, mechanics – that work. We just have to be more judicious about the play culture part of things.
It’s also the case that… you’re never really happy with someone else’s style. I’m watching Adam’s (Koebel, not Dray) run of Tomb of Annihilation and I’m still on the early episodes (I think I’m on episode 6 now) and tiny things like “oh, he’s not using the fishing rule from the DMG, they’re catching way less fish than he would if he were using that rule” and “where are they getting water, do they have enough rain catchers?” are popping up in my mind all the time. I mean in the end, I need to realize that
Similarly someone could look at my game and say “wtf why aren’t you using weapon speed factors?” or “why did you adapt the simplified travel pace rules from ToA?”
As I told a player “You might wonder why I am the DM since I’m such a bad DM” and he was like immediately “Yes! I’ve wondered that a lot!” and I answered “While I’m not the best DM in the group I’m the person who is most picky about DM:ing, who is the hardest to please about DM:ing”.
Maybe that’s true for many DM:s? And that’s why DM advice upsets us.♥
That’s not Satine’s or even the production company’s fault.
It feels like we’re blaming them for the 90:s happening.
D&D is more popular than ever? Or at least it’s very popular. And there are many new players. And I read the other day but couldn’t find a source that 40% of players are women now! And there is D&D on TV now, more than anyone has time to watch. And that’s amazing!
Whatever is going on seems to be working!
And it’s even a downhill battle for us who want it “done right”. I believe the problem with the 90:s style for me was lack of information. Sandbox without the OSR-tools seemed completely overwhelming, impro without the SG tools was dissatisfying, railroading without participationism was frustrating. Now these tools are widely available. We can reach&teach people how to run LMoP or Keep on the Borderlands (which was just rereleased for 5e) in an awesome way. Hell, just link someone to Clint’s Damn Good D&D, give them the 5e Starter Set and let them go to town! The town of Phandalin♥