I just read the latest post on Roleplaying Tips titled "A Con, A Cave, a Troll" by Simon Woodside. I have to admit, I had to walk away from the computer, come back, walk away again, come back.. well, you get the idea. If you wanted proof and a great example of the myth/perception that the DM should be the (unpaid) entertainer/walking-talking monkey, this post is it.
This is not to pick on Simon - I don't know Simon, I've never seen another post by him, as far as I know - it looks like he's a guest poster. What I am picking on are concepts like these:
As the GM you are expected to be a storyteller for your players ...Now, in Simon's defense, he also writes:
... make your gaming material fit what the players want to do ...
In this specific example, the GM might scrap their previous plan to dive into a gritty underdark campaign and instead develop into an above-ground, interaction-with-the-locals theme. I’m just making that proposal based on what the PCs in the example seem to want. They seem to have expressed a preference, maybe, for building-oriented adventures over dungeon adventures. Don’t assume it, ask them. Use their feedback for your future designs.
The players ultimately get a campaign more closely tailored to what they want.
But fundamentally he was right. He had prepared a troll cave. Why should he suddenly have to wing it just because his players didn’t want to play what he prepared?I'm still trying to figure out how this perception, this myth that the DM needs to be the performing chimp came about. Is it just a sign of the times, this sense of entitlement and the sense that the DMs should have to do that, just because they're DMs?
I don't get it.
I know there's a balance and if I was running a game that totally sucked, nobody liked, then I would expect players to not play. But if the players got up and left because I ran a goddamn troll cave, well, great, you go back to town and we'll shut down for the evening. See you next game session. If I had players demanding things, with the expectations that they should get it just because they grace my table after I've put time/effort/thought/money into putting together a campaign world... I'd be hard pressed to ever want to put the energy into running a game.
I would like to beat a dead horse a bit and say that is why I like sandboxes - the players aren't constrained to a plot that they don't suddenly like. And perhaps that's why I don't run into these problems of the players requesting a "new plot" because they don't like the old one... in a sandbox, they can up and go do something else on their whim, which is expected and encouraged.
Go back to the wargaming roots of our hobby. When someone puts together a battle of Romans v. Gauls, the participants don't suddenly say in the middle of the game "Hey you know what, I really want to play Aztec warriors, so let's just cross the ocean..." the stated campaign was what it was and people played it and then decided what to do next. Now, if the DM doesn't supply players with what's on the WotC approved magic item list, they're a horrible DM. If they don't provide checklists and questionnaires and adjust their campaign to fit 4 to 8 different 10 page backgrounds, they're a shitty DM.
Well, guess I'm a shitty DM. Go figure. I just have no interest in being that type of performing chimp.
This isn't to say I don't participate in a mutually enjoyable game. We try stuff that works or we get rid of it. I run a game that I've found to be enjoyable. I've found a good rhythm with the game I like to run and the game people like to play. At the same time, I don't feel this slavish responsibility to do exactly what my players want, when they want, how they want. I evaluate requests on what's good for the campaign as a whole, not on whether I should always say "Yes". There's a difference between saying "yes" when it makes sense and saying "yes" because I'm expected to be the performing chimp.
If I were writing that article that Simon wrote, it would be less about what I'm supposed to do because the players demand it and more about how to be up front with what the campaign/adventure/story/mission is about and being flexible within a sandbox context to allow the players to shift their goals. I don't need to put the same troll cave in the players' path because I'm locked into the troll cave.
This post feels funky, only because I don't think I'm doing a good job of expressing my puzzlement at this supposed DM responsibility and what goes on at my table. I have players coming back, so apparently I'm not the sadistic, fuck-em-all, screw-the-players DM, yet I don't resonate with anything that Simon wrote.