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Dungeon Master participating as a player
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Thread: Dungeon Master participating as a player

  1. #1
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    Dungeon Master participating as a player

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    Most places I have gone, there seems to be a lot of animosity against the concept of a Dungeon Master also participating as a player. Running his or her own PC alongside the rest of the party. (DMPC)

    There are a lot of objections, such as the DMPC overshadowing the rest of the party because of DM's personal bias, or the DMPC using OOC info like where traps are. My belief is that a skilled DM with the desire to do so can play a DMPC without injecting bias in favor of his/her character. Lots of players routinely manage to ignore OOC info, such as if they have played an adventure before and know the tricks. Why could the DM not?

    What I would like to ask is: is a DMPC always inherently wrong to have? Is there no chance that a DMPC could be run in an unbiased manner? Would you be opposed to playing in a campaign that had a DMPC, if the DM seemed otherwise capable and unbiased?

    Would a DM always fail at being unbiased? Would a DMPC always end up overshadowing the party?

    Or is it, maybe, just maybe, possible that some DMs could play their own PC without overshadowing the party?

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    Excellent question.

    I see the DMPC as being in the same category as evil characters- yes, it is possible that this will work and make for a good story, but that possibility is significantly less than 50 percent, and it's the possibility that it will work that the problem player/DM is banking on for you to let them do it (as hinted by the last line of your post).

    My question would be, if the DM is unbiased and perfectly capable of managing OOC information, what interest would they have in playing a character? As a DM, I've got enough to do without having a full-time NPC to push around the table- now I have to do everything a player does too? To heck with that.

    Most of the time, the DM wants to have a character in the game so they can god-mode. I have yet to see a DM play a character in a balanced way.

    Check out the following for a literary equivalent:

    http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/MarySue

    In my experience, the typical way a game with a DMPC ends is the party ganging up on the DMPC, and the DMPC wipes them out singlehandedly.

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    "well, g'night! dont let the flesh eating demon bed babies bite!!"
    facebook.com/houstonderek

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    As a fan fiction writer, I'm thoroughly familiar with the concept of the Mary Sue and, IMO, pride myself on being able to avoid that syndrome. Similarly, I also feel that I would be able to play a DMPC -- in fact, I have a few times, and have had no complaints from my players. Of course, it's entirely possible that those who believe I failed in my fiction and in my DMing simply chose not to speak up.

    While I am certain that there are personalities who want to god-mode over the other players, I do not believe myself to be one of those personalities and I like to think I am not alone in that. In my fiction, I prefer to see balanced casts like, say, Star Trek TNG, and not fiction where you have one or two main characters and everybody else plays second fiddle/background to the single protagonist.

    As for your question, why would they want to play a PC? Why would anyone? Ask the five other players in the group, why do they want to play a PC and not DM? Aside from the obvious reason (being afraid of the amount of work a DM has to do), what other reasons do they have? Usually, the answer will be, they want to feel a sense of attachment to a character they "own", or that they want to develop a character long term. A DM can have the same motivations. Why would they suddenly be lobotomized of all those feelings and emotions that PC-players have? Why wouldn't they want to play a game the same way?

    Often I have run into gaming groups where everybody wants to be a player and nobody wants to be the DM. What of the individual who wants to be a player, but who *has* to become the DM, lest there be no game because nobody else will take the seat? They are already biting a bullet by sitting themselves in the DM's seat for the group's good, should they be doubly punished by not being allowed to play, too, which is the primary reason they came to the group?

    Personally, I like to think that a lot of DMs are personalities who would enjoy writing fiction/literature. And frankly, if you write Mary Sues, you write crap fiction. Are we really saying that the majority of DMs write crap fiction?

    I suppose there is the old saying, 90% of everything is crap. I guess we should assume that most DMs are bad DMs. But at least on this site, where I like to think we're dealing with some of the more thoughtful DMs, I'd like to think that many (if not most) of us can recognize Mary Sues, bad writing and god-moding, and are opposed to it.

    Let's consider it this way: take yourself. Do you think that *you*, personally (aimed at all of us reading the thread, not just Valdar), would be able to write a balanced cast without a Mary Sue? Does the majority of us consider ourselves incapable?

    Of course, there's always the caveat that most people don't see the log in their own eye. But even so, is it really *so rare* to be able to write a balanced cast?

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    I've run DMPCs before. One time, I killed him as a plot point. The other time, I killed the campaign because I couldn't figure out how to extricate the DMPC without screwing up everything else. Frankly, I failed on many levels.

    This is not something that I've let happen again.

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    I guess that is possible. The problem with that DM might be deeper than just for their "DMPC". I have an opposite problem with the idea. I can run an NPC that is part of the party and may even have a personal interest in them, but I do not have time to run them as if they were my character. Most of the time the party assigns them more importance than I do, asking if they acted in the round (probably not) or have any useful skills (oh, yeah right), etc. I am just too busy with a story and making sure PC's are engaged. That is not to say they have no personality or that the personality might not flare up periodically, but a party NPC is the first one I neglect when I get busy with something not specifically about them.
    "Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth." - JFK

    "If we don't believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don't believe in it at all."
    - Noam Chomsky

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    A DMPC is not that different than a NPC that travels with the aprty as a equal member of the group.
    I do not play them here or there, I do not play them anywhere, I do not play them with a fox. I do not mash that button box. I do not like MMO games. In the end ther're all the same.
    -Tesral

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    In fact, that's pretty much the definition of the DMPC. An NPC that travels as an equal member of the group. I suppose the only thing that could be added to that is "travels AND LEVELS as an equal..." to make it 100% the definition of DMPC.

    Engar, I think that's definitely a good route to take, even if it is unintentional to a degree on your part. I think a good rule of thumb when running a DMPC is, "if in doubt, ignore the DMPC". It's easy to give them too much importance and weight and ruin the experience for the other players, but if you go too far in the opposite direction, and ignore them too much, then the others won't be bothered. Only person suffering in that case is the DM themselves, and that's acceptable.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Samy View Post
    They are already biting a bullet by sitting themselves in the DM's seat for the group's good, should they be doubly punished by not being allowed to play, too, which is the primary reason they came to the group?
    To me the real issue is here. If a player is "forced" into running a game but he would have preferred being a regular player then it's a problem the group has to deal with before starting any lasting campaign. There are several possibilities to avoid the designated GM's frustration, which is going to propagate to the rest of the group one way or another. The simpler one (on paper) is to play one shot games and alternate GMs. It's probably difficult to pull out though, since nobody wanted to run games in the first place. Another solution is to play GMless games. On top of my head I can only think of Polaris and its cousin Thou Art But A Warrior, but I know there's been a few of them. Others like In A Wicked Age have built in turning GMs. I have no deep knowledge of the scandinavian Jeepform trend of games but I'd expect them to be quite iconoclast about the role of GMs too.

    I know those games are very different in their approach of role playing to say D&D for instance. But a radical issue might require radical solutions.

    I have trouble to understand the need of playing a DMPC like you describe. To me the possibility to role play dozens of characters of different gender, social backgrounds and abilities is a very satisfying one. Sure sometimes a recurring NPC can be a mine of jubilation in itself, like say a capricious rotten princess who the PCs have to protect and I plan to play as obnoxious as possible until the whole party want to strangle her This kind of NPC doesn't really become a subsidiary PC more like a challenge to deal with.
    Au gibet noir, manchot aimable, dansent, dansent les paladins
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    From what I've learned in studying how to write good fiction, the best way to sum it up is "good literature is bad things happening to good people. The worse the things, the better the literature." You can replace "literature" with "adventure" here for gaming.

    Battlestar Galactica is a good example of this. I love the new series, but man do those people have it hard. If the writer were on board that ship, you can bet that it wouldn't be as good a story.

    As a DM, you need to be able to dish it out to the characters for all you're worth. Anything less is boring. Great heroes face great challenges and all that- can you really say you're going to cut loose on your own character? I have a hard enough time putting my friends through the meat grinder, and they aren't me

    My point here being, however good your game is going to be with a DMPC, your game will be better without one. Your attentions are needed elsewhere, and any effort you put into playing a character is effort you're not putting into DMing.

    Your point about not being able to find a DM is a valid one though- I'm running a game that I needed to solicit players from the Internet for, and I've gotten dozens of responses. I'm trying to match them up for their own game, but you guessed it, nobody wants to run. DMing needs to be easier I think, and people need to find the fun in it. You're not just playing the part of the computer- you're being a writer for part of the story. You handle the setting and plot, and the rest of the folks handle the characters.

    And agoraderek, that was a particularly horrifying story. Especially bad for me because I've lived it- in my case, it was a D&D 3e game, solicited off the Internet. Two players were found, myself and one other, and we decided to play a Dwarf Paladin and Barbarian, sole survivors from a clan wiped out by orcs. We were told upon arrival that the game was going to be based on the Baldur's Gate video game, and the DM would be playing a character himself since the party was so small. At this point, it would probably not surprise you to learn that the DMPC was a half-orc fighter, since that was his idea of what the party was lacking. After being told that we had no option but to take this foe of our people along, he wound up killing everything and solving all the challenges. Wishing I had a pager for that game...

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    Quote Originally Posted by boulet View Post
    like say a capricious rotten princess who the PCs have to protect and I plan to play as obnoxious as possible until the whole party want to strangle her
    Just so you know, I'm totally stealing that idea.

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    Only time I've seen it work was a multi-GMed MSHRPG game that lasted for about 15 years. You might even have multiple GM's in the same sessions. Basically, everybody played and everybody GMed and we had pretty rich story arcs because of it. Often, the GM's character was right there, usually not so much for the combats, but definitely it worked for plot advancement. Can't say that this work work so well for anything but the superhero genre, but that game was very rich because of all the things that everybody brought to the table as a GM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by boulet View Post
    To me the real issue is here. If a player is "forced" into running a game but he would have preferred being a regular player then it's a problem the group has to deal with before starting any lasting campaign.
    I don't think it needs to be dealt with. I have been in many groups that were exactly like that, and somebody bit the bullet, and the campaign went just fine. It's just part and parcel of playing RPGs. Somebody has to be the GM, and I'd say it's quite common in my experience that nobody wants to do it. Sure, you can run GM-less games or alternate GMs like you suggested, but I think those are just pretty marginal solutions. I believe that the majority of groups don't want alternating DMs and want to play a mainstream system like D&D, so those aren't really going to be a good common solution. While someone "biting the bullet" is not ideal, of course, I do think it will result in more satisfied people than either of the alternatives suggested.

    a radical issue might require radical solutions
    I don't think it's a radical issue. I think it's a common issue, and the common solution is somebody biting the bullet. Take going out drinking. Who's gonna drive you? That's a common issue and the common solution is somebody being the designated driver. I don't see anything wrong with the simple solution of somebody biting the bullet.

    I have trouble to understand the need of playing a DMPC like you describe.
    Yes, I'm sure there are lots of people who have no desire to be a player. But similarly, there are lots of people who have very much desire to be a player. Just because you don't understand the mindset doesn't mean it doesn't exist.

    I do understand the joy of being able to play multiple different NPCs, but I also understand the joy of playing a single character long-term.

    best way to sum it up is "good literature is bad things happening to good people. The worse the things, the better the literature."
    I don't 100% agree with that statement. I mean, I can write a total crap story about the universe blowing up -- which is as "worse" as things can get, but does that make it the best story ever? Similarly, another writer can write an absolutely brilliant story about somebody grappling with money problems -- which is far from "the worse the things". The badness of the situation does not linearly correlate with the quality of the fiction.

    But I do agree with your overall point -- that if you want to write a good story *about your DMPC character*, then they need to go through bad things. On the other hand, the more hell you put your DMPC through, the more it may (depending on situation) take away from the other PCs. If I play a Picard character, do I really want to make him Locutus, or do I want to give that hell to one of the other PCs so they can enjoy the character arc? As noted earlier in response to Engar's post, it's better to ignore the DMPC than give the DMPC *too much* attention. If on the bubble, err on the side of giving attention to the PCs.

    can you really say you're going to cut loose on your own character?
    I could. I have absolutely no problems doing that. If my character gets to have the Locutus arc, then I would be thrilled. But that would be taking away focus from the PCs. So I'd think long and hard before giving myself that pleasure, and probably weigh it against the other PCs and make sure that they've had 2:1 ratio as much pleasure as me before giving myself some. So I'd cut loose on my character, but not as often as on the rest of the party, because their fun is paramount. Mine is just a sidenote, but I'd still like to have it *sometimes*, but I can live with it not being as often as the others.

    however good your game is going to be with a DMPC, your game will be better without one
    For whom? The other players? Perhaps. For me? I doubt it. Taking away one of my main sources of joy, I don't see how that'd make the game better for me.

    In the end, one has to remember that the DM isn't just a robot there for the other players' pleasure. The DM has to have fun too, and if the DM is a person who wants to be a player and who's just DMing because nobody else would, and if they can DMPC without *significantly* worsening the game for the others -- then IMO, they should go for it. The game might be *slightly* better for the others without the DMPC -- but if on the other hand it would be *a lot* better for the DM with the DMPC, then that should be weighed too.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Samy View Post

    I don't 100% agree with that statement.
    It's a very simplistic description of things I've learned reading "Story", by Robert McKee. That book is epic, and I think every writer would benefit by reading it. Bascally, if you love your characters, it needs to be tough love.

    Anyway, you have a point that you're there to have fun too, so if it's working out for you, then kudos, but yeah, your situation is far from typical.

    I think I'd take the opportunity to craft a kick-ass villain and make the party's life as creatively hellish as possible, and use that for my RP fix. Great villains make great stories just as much as great heroes. Heck, it's why Smallville is still in production.

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    Anyway, you have a point that you're there to have fun too, so if it's working out for you, then kudos, but yeah, your situation is far from typical.
    Agreed. Though perhaps I'd wish it were slightly more typical, in order to erase some of the stigma -- although in the end I don't suppose it matters how other people play. Only thing I really want acknowledged is the possibility that with the right DM, it *can* work out. I'm not saying it's for everyone, and with the wrong DM, it can indeed be disastrous. I'm only saying that it won't be a failure with *every* DM out there.
    Last edited by Samy; 07-09-2008 at 12:29 AM.

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