DM of the Rings Remaster XXXVII: Intervention Interruptus

By Bay Posted Sunday Sep 17, 2023

Filed under: DM of the Rings Remaster 14 comments

The Circle of Fantasy Roleplaying Life:

  1. Enchantment:You begin a new campaign. How exciting! As you play, you will eventually experience…
  2. Disillusionment: You notice all the flaws in the campaign. Loot distribution is uneven. The house rules outnumber the core rules, and the only person who knows these house rules is the DM. Some players (not you) are taking center stage. Some players greatly overpower others. The plot is on rails and none of the NPCs are likeable. You decide to cope with this through…
  3. Long Suffering: Deal with it – bad DMs happen. Give the guy a chance to learn. When the campaign gets worse it will be time to engage in…
  4. Sabotage: Try to run the campaign off the rails and kill off major characters, just to break free and do something that isn’t being imposed on you. If you’re still not having fun…
  5. Confrontation: Talk to the DM and let him or her know your concerns. If this doesn’t transform them into a great DM, then you may be obliged to resort to…
  6. Coup d’état: Get the players together and tell the DM that his work just isn’t cutting it. Appoint someone else to run the campaign. However, the DM might mange to retain power. If he owns all the books, all the dice, and you meet at his house, then kicking him out isn’t usually an option. If you can’t depose him, then the only thing left is…
  7. Exile: Make up some lame excuse about getting a girlfriend / boyfriend or a new job and find a new gaming group. Then the cycle begins anew.

It has its low moments, but I still love this game.

–  Shamus, Monday Dec 4, 2006

I have no clue where Dad was pulling this cycle from. Was this his experience as a player? I don’t remember him ever being a player in a game, only being a DM, but maybe this was from before I was born. Was this his experience as a DM? I don’t find that likely. People were usually begging my dad to be their DM. I can’t imagine his players trying to pose a coup only to come back a few weeks later touting that he was the best DM they’d ever met. Was this possibly how he thought people felt at his table? Maybe, that seems a bit more likely, but makes me sad.

Oh yeah, the internet. Yeah he probably pulled this cycle from commenters, forums, and players’ past experience with other tables. Probably also fortified with his own experience back from before I was alive. Duh.

Man, I hope he thought he was better than that. I only got to play one short one-shot with him as the DM, but his other past players loved his work.

Either way, this list is pretty cynical. Dang. I’d say about 40% of the games I’ve played have gone like this, but maybe I’m lucky. I only have my own experience to draw from.


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14 thoughts on “DM of the Rings Remaster XXXVII: Intervention Interruptus

  1. evileeyore says:

    I’ve never experienced your Dad’s cycle as a GM. I have had games fall apart due to Real Life, but as we all friends it was never a ‘made up thing”, it was in fact real life. I’ve also ended games when I as the GM found myself no longer passionate about running them and we’d come to a Good Point To End, and of course since I tend to have a pre-baked terminus point, when we’ve reached that the game will end.

    As a Player I’ve encountered the Poor/Bad/Malicious GM cycle, usually I just end up leaving game and going to another game, and I’ll let the GM know why, as politely as possible, as I do so. Usually though, games ‘end early’ either because the game falls apart due to Real Life or the GM just falls out of love with it and cans it at the earliest convenient spot. It’s pretty rare it’s a Bad GM problem as I rarely play with people who aren’t friends, or whom I’ve played with in other games.

  2. Storm says:

    Honestly this is only a thing I’ve seen in internet horror stories and memes passed around, I’ve never seen this kind of cycle talked about by anyone I know.

    I guess it might be more common if you go to a game store and form a group on the spot? There would be more room for conflict there, if no one knows each other and you don’t have an idea of what each others expectations are. But even then, it’s the kind of thing that should be solvable with a first session where you set expectations with the group.

    1. Eichengard says:

      I think the idea of a “session zero” is relatively new. Or at least, it certainly is for my age group (mid-forties), and I can imagine Shamus never having experienced it in his playing career. The cycle he talks about rings enough bells from the 90s era for me that it’s humorous, but clearly exaggerated for comic effect. It doesn’t read like literal truth to me. (Any more than the comic of the DM of the Rings does.)

      And to avoid sounding too “get off my lawn!”, session zero and express discussions about what we want from our games are amazing innovations that everyone should use!

      1. Storm says:

        You know that’s fair, thinking back on it I do remember seeing a few discussions talking about session zero as a cool new idea to try at your table back in the early days when I was playing – which I suppose wasn’t all that long ago all things considered, late twenties here. I guess I’ve gotten so used to it being a thing it’s hard to think about playing without it now.

        And before I started using session zero as a thing, I only really played with close friends in school, and even then only really had one gaming group, so I probably didn’t have the exposure to the kind of setup that would lead to experiences like Shamus mentions.

        You’re definitely right though, between session zeros and other methods of setting expectations, like lines & veils, I’d say gaming is better than ever these days – it’s a lot easier to make sure everyone is on the same page and able to have fun in games, and if a group is a bad fit it’s easier to figure out sooner rather than sit through a horror story of a game. It’s really cool the kinds of innovations people have had!

      2. evileeyore says:

        I remember talk about Session Zero back in the early days of 3e, explicitly because it’s something we did in one of our early 3e games, but I’d been hearing it for years before then. So while the idea is certainly young compared to rpgs in general, it’s way older than many people in the comment section.

        I think the terminology we now use, that is “Session Zero and Genre and Theme discussions” were born of the GNS theory/flamewars of the late 90s. While a lot of hate and discontent came of those hammer and tong grognards going at each other, a lot of heavy and healthy discussion took place. Most of these ideas were directly incorporated into the games that were born from those fires, o.g. FATE for instance relies heavily on Session Zero and cleanly identifying “What the GM wants In Their Game”.

        But these ideas certainly go back even farther than that, I have Amber Diceless, and Erick Wujcik spells out that you should run a Session Zero and discuss what you want from the game as both Players and GMs, he didn’t use the same terminology, but that discussion was back ’91. And White Wolf’s old Storyteller system’s GM section was full of similar advice.

        So the discussions were there, they just weren’t in a D&D space till the 00s when those kids who grew up playing those other systems in the 90s came to takeover D&D and rewrite it in their image. (And the internet wasn’t as “widespread’ until the 00s, so these side discussions remained closed off in the cul de sacs of their own respective game systems until we all started mass-communicating at each other in a more flagrant manner.)

  3. Zaxares says:

    In my experience, most DMs tend to fall into two categories: Type A is the one who wants to be DM because they love crafting huge, intricate worlds and stories for people to play through and experience. Good Type A DMs will build their world and campaign with their players in mind, ensuring that the story is there to facilitate their players, not the other way around, and to make sure everybody has a good time. Bad Type A DMs are the “railroad-y” types who have their story all planned out and players are gonna stick to the script whether they like it or not. ;P

    Type B is the person who wants to be DM basically because they want to power trip. They love holding all the cards and are the type who usually won’t think twice about putting a level 1 group vs an Ancient Red Dragon because they just want to see a TPK (or because the players insisted on doing something the DM didn’t like.) A subset of this type of DM is the one who has a DM character of their own in the party, and this character is basically a walking Deus Ex Machina and every other player just plays second fiddle to them.

    There’s also a rarer Type C DM which is the player who became DM because nobody else wanted to do it. ;P (Building and running adventures takes a LOT of work and planning.)

    1. Joshua says:

      I was just about to protest when I saw your two DM groups before I got to the end and saw Type C. We just moved to a different state three months ago and posted in the local gaming group about hosting (we love to host and cook meals), but looking for someone else to DM. We didn’t want to have to drive 30 minutes to the FLGS where we’d end up in a loud public space eating fast food each time. I also did a guest attendance at an existing group that met up at a coffee shop/bar, but they already had EIGHT PCs, and I tend to put a hard cap on having only five in a group (MAYBE a part-time 6th if one is a spouse of another who can only occasionally play).

      No luck. So, that’s why I’ve been DMing again for two months.

      As a side note, 5th Edition has a notorious problem right now where players vastly outnumber DMs, which is contributing to the issue of DMs charging to run games.

      1. Daimbert says:

        As a side note, 5th Edition has a notorious problem right now where players vastly outnumber DMs, which is contributing to the issue of DMs charging to run games.

        Is that just because it’s new, or is there something about it that makes it more fun to play than DM?

        1. Madison says:

          Not OP, but it’s the most popular edition of the game by a LONG shot, what with the explosion of insanely popular actual-play series like Critical Role and The Adventure Zone (though the latter has tried out other systems for some of their games). And the fact that 5e is the most newbie-friendly edition of the game means that the game is more popular now than it ever has been.

          So, I’m not surprised there’s a shortage of DMs.

  4. JR says:

    Sadly, I can honestly say that I’ve seen several of the phases of that cycle at one time or another, although never as a single progression.
    Session Zero as far as I recall started with the initial meeting to generate characters but in which little if any actual playing occurred. (Though I did know a guy who ran convention games with his own system designed to generate beginning characters in the first 20-30 minutes; the nice thing about this was that you weren’t playing some throwaway pre-gen, and you got to keep your own character as a souvenir at the end.)
    It really developed once campaigns became ‘participatory storytelling’ rather than ‘running this boxed set I just bought’. Nowadays some games explicitly recommend it, and in some cases the game is partly driven by choices made at that time, including necessarily group choices (e.g. Ars Magica, in which the players not only choose story-generating flaws for their own characters, but also often build their collective base which has its own backstory and flaws which also influence the campaign).

  5. djw says:

    Don’t forget that much of this may be exaggeration for comic effect. Regardless of his DM skills (which I have no basis to evaluate) he was also a funny guy.

    1. Philadelphus says:

      That’s how I read it, as tongue-in-cheek parody, just as the comic is deliberately a parody of bad players and DMs. Parody is based on a kernel of truth (that’s why it works), but blown up to ludicrously exaggerated levels. Are there people out there who’ve had (at least some of) the things listed here happen them? Almost certainly, it’s a big world and conflict happens. Does it happen to every player every time? Almost certainly not, and hopefully not actually all that often (though as someone whose role-playing experience amounts to two games, I’m not in a position to make definitive statements).

  6. Pax says:

    We have some of these patterns in my gaming group, but not in exactly this way. In my group, we’re all friends first and foremost, and roleplaying is just one of the activities we do. So if someone leaves the gaming group, they’re leaving the friend group as well!

    But we all want to be players, and some of us have GMed too much and just want to play. So sometimes we let a friend gamemaster who’s maybe not so good at it. And then some of these things can come into effect (especially disillusionment and long-suffering.) If we get too bitter about it, then some of the other, more sabotage-y things might come into effect. And the coup is usually the end result, where the rest of us get together and just decide we’re not playing that game any more. We try to be nice about it at least, but that is the end result.

  7. PPX14 says:

    My DM basically came from the end point of this cycle as a player encountering all that nonsense, particularly one person either sabotaging the game as a player or ruthlessly killing the players as a DM, being more concerned with exploiting mechanics and griefing than anything else, and that person and others being weird and tasteless at times to the point of making things uncomfortable. So he left and formed a group with me (i.e. his friend) and his two ex-girlfriends (all of whom he met where he works, none of whom had really played D&D other than one of his exes who was in the previous group for a bit), and any problems we have are pretty mild. He’s the D&D king, we argue with him here and there, he takes it in relatively good humour, and all is well. We have had a new player for the last few months now who has more experience with D&D but in terms of the the complaints in the post we really don’t have them – perhaps because we don’t have any preconceptions of how much loot or XP or whatever we “should” be getting. We’re about 3 years into the campaign now and only about 5 days have passed in the game and we’re at Level 5. Apparently that’s slow, but I’m not fussed, the gameplay and banter are fun. All online via Discord. The only thing that has possibly decreased in quality is that previously we the players kept track of the locations or map at the time in MS Paint, which was source of all sorts of hilarity and inventiveness. And sometimes the DM would use a picture of his map cards instead, which we’d then potentially put into Paint. Now he uses Shmeppy which I appreciate allows him to build encounter/location maps, but I feel looks a bit more dry, unfortunately.

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