I’ve been role-playing (with some large breaks) for decades. Often when I start a game, I’m introducing brand new people to the hobby, so I tend to set the tone and have found things run smoothly.
A while back, I started talking to people about playing online (via Roll20 or Discord) and have found a strong streak where players expect to dictate to the person running the game how it’s going to work.
As an example, I saw a post where someone said their group needs a new GM, they then proceed to iterate the system, play style, and themes they expected and were looking for. This seems to be a pretty demanding attitude to me: “Run, this game, this way, with these features, on our schedule”. This would be FINE if it was an ad for a paid DM position, but this person expected this for free.
I talked to a couple people about running a very “rules as written” game of a system I’m interested in and one of the players was pushing pretty hard for some gender-bending furry stuff with his character in a way that’s making me a bit uncomfortable (I’m not looking to provide sex chat fetish services). This isn’t at all part of the default setting. The other player, when I asked about his availability, instead wanted to dictate exactly when the game would be run.
I grew increasingly concerned that the game session would degenerate into a collection of people each trying to pull the game in the direction they want. This didn’t seem like it would be any fun to me. One of the players had promised that there would be a ton of people wanting to fill out the group and, when this didn’t happen, I took it as an opportunity to bail on the whole venture.
A recent Reddit post discussed this issue, with many DMs offering their personal experiences with demanding players and discussing this issue.
Is this the norm for RPG groups these days?
As someone who is maybe more “old school”, there was a tradition of deference to the GM as the person who is doing the heaving lifting to make the game happen. Usually they knew the rules best and, ultimately, it was just a good way to avoid bickering, which isn’t fun for anyone. This has been codified as an implicit Rule Zero for all RPGs.
I brought up the question of whether this had changed in an online RPG forum and people LOST THEIR MINDS. One group, clearly sharing my perspective made the argument that DMs are in more demand than players and are usually doing more work, so the DM gets to run the game the way they want. The best argument anyone made for this position is that the DM deserves to have fun too – they aren’t just there to serve the players.
Another group said that the players can call the shots if they pay, which is a growing concept I’ll probably post about in the future: professional DMing.
The most vocal group were rabidly upset that I’d even brought up the subject. They were angry at me, society and all DMs everywhere. It was hard to get them to calm down enough to even explain what their issue was, but it seemed like it was mostly that they were upset about the power imbalance and thought that DMs having more control was morally wrong.
It’s weird to me, because any of these people could have simply become a DM if they wanted more control. It’s pretty easy to find players, even if you’re not a very good DM. It seemed that they wanted to play, but also wanted more control over the game than players had historically received.
Many of them presented this as a moral issue and talked about traditional DMs (as “Gygaxian”) in derogatory terms.
Finding Groups Online
Some of the best advice I got on this topic was:
Players online come in two types:1. Well-intentioned people who’d fit into a local group
2. Dregs who wander from shunning to shunning
A single, unpleasant person can really ruin an entire session. The unfortunate reality is if you throw open the doors to anyone who wants to play, you’re more likely to get people no one else wants to play with.
This idea is deeply painful to many of the types of people who enjoy role-playing. The best write up of this was “Five Geek Social Fallacies” from 2003, which discusses how group disfunctions become problematic when there’s a pathologically avoidance of exclusion.
Based on this, the second best advice was that you *DON’T* throw open the doors to your game and let people “sign up”. Instead, you let them APPLY to your game, then make sure they’re people you want to spend time with. If they aren’t, letting them down easy with a “I think we want to play different styles of games, I hope you find what you’re looking for!”
This could take form of “jam sessions” (single session games), where you’re trying to find people you gel with to eventually “form a band” (people you role-play with consistently). It could take the form of a quasi-interview where you talk to each player extensively before deciding whether or not you want to game with them.
What To Do If You Want To DM
At the end of the day, there are FAR more players who want to play games than DMs who want to run them. DMs put far more work into sessions than the players do.
Either the DM should charge the players, in which case they can certainly be more accommodating, or the DM should run the game the way they want and let the players adapt or move on if they don’t like it. It is very hard for a DM to change to accommodate a number of different players, each with their own hopes and desires for the game.
Having the DM clearly articulate what they’re offering is a good thing and saves people time, but I’ve found that no matter how carefully you express what your looking for, there are always people who will ignore it and push for what they want.