Wednesday, May 11, 2011

I'm a different sort of DM

As a result of this desire to be the best DM I possibly can; I have a lot of blogs on my Google Reader, I  read a few email lists and message boards and I listen to some podcasts.  I do this so I can pick up ideas and techniques that other DM's have found successful and apply them to my game.  Lately though, this has become less productive.  I'm starting to find that my DMing philosophy is very different than a lot of other DM's.  Further, at the last two conventions I went to and in a gaming group I played two sessions and quit, I found that certain types of DMing really rub my fur the wrong way.

At first, I thought that this was me developing so much skill as a DM that it was just impossible for me to sit in a less skilled DM's game and be satisfied with the resulting experience.  This is partly true because I'm just a dick that way.  It is a character flaw I'm working on.  I am coming to realize that I don't agree with or enjoy playing in the games of DMs that hold certain DMing ideals.  Some of these ideals seem to very common based on the various DMing technique resources I read.

I've recently come to understand what it is I don't like.  I'm nearly finished reading a book by Alfie Kohn entitled "Punished by Rewards."  In this book, Mr. Kohn reports that social psychologists have determined empirically that extrinsic rewards are counter productive in work places, schools and homes.  The carrot dangling on the end of the stick still has a stick tied to it.  In his book, what comes to light is that people don't like coercion.  It doesn't really matter if you are coercing them with a reward or a punishment, it is still coercion.  Contrary to popular belief, "you'll get this if you do that" actually reduces interest in an activity and reduces the quality of the result.  This has been shown to be true across age groups, genders, social rank and cultural background.  It is as universally human a trait as it gets.

What is interesting here, and pertinent to DMing, is that my approach is to give the players options and then let them decide what to do.  I'm a collaborative DM.  I work with my players to create a good time.  So what I'm seeing is that I don't like it when a DM is coercing players to "go here, do this, get that."  I'd much rather have a DM say, "This is here, that is there and over in this other place is something else."  I want agency over my character and I want to make meaningful decisions.  There seems to be a lot of approaches to DMing that I'm reading these days that seem to say that we are to give the players the illusion of agency without giving them any real meaningful choices to make.  Humbug!  Players are not stupid.  They know when they are being railroaded.

There is a lot more to this notion of not coercing players to unpack.  I will think on it more and outline some more blog posts to make clear how it is I do this.


Alexis said...

I've been screaming this sort of thing for three years and yet I am not on your blog roll.

Travis said...

Hmm. You should be. The blogger gadget is supposed to add all the blogs from my Google Reader feed. I'm not sure what's going on there.