Creative Burden in DnD

Brad wrote about locating the creative burden in RPGs: is it primarily on the ref, or the players, a mixture of both?

The following are my free-writ thoughts in response.

I’ve played a fair number of games (including a couple of Brad’s) where the creative burden is explicity shared out among the players & the ref to some extent. I’ve played games where there is no ref & the rules share the burden out among the players all on equal grounds. From my point of view, the creative burden is being spread around the table in most games that I play, including DnD. It’s not that a player has less creative responsibility than the GM, it’s just a different kind of responsibility.

I should say at the start that the “rulings-not-rules” maxim & associated discussion has never held much meaning for me. From my point of view, early DnD has plenty of rules, and I don’t find myself needing to exercise a lot of creativity in order to apply them in any given situation (i.e. make a ruling). Thus, I don’t feel the GM has to fill up gaps in the rules by creatively applying rules.

I’m more interested in the creative burden of generating setting & narrative (or I might say context & movement).

In DnD the ref seems to hold a lot of the creative burden because they are responsible for the setting the PCs are to explore, and for making that setting feel alive during play (context & movement).

But the players have a huge creative burden as well: they participate with the GM in making the setting real (by active listening or engaging with visual aids like drawings or miniatures), and then they must take action within that context by imagining either what they or a very specific fictional person would do in that context.

Brad asked:

So where is the creative burden in your favourite game?

And I think my response is that the creative burden in DnD, as I have played it for the past several years, is fairly evening spread out between the ref & the players, but that the specific nature of the burden is asymmetric: the GM creates a fictional world & its reactions to player action, while the players actively (& creatively) receive that world, and create their PCs actions in response to it and in context of it.

My background is in theatre, and I spend much of my life finding space for my own creativity around a script. No one doubts that an actor shows great creativity & shoulders a heavy burden when interpreting the words of a playwright. The player’s burden in an RPG is similar. However, while I almost always feel myself to be creating in collaboration with a playwright, how much more so is a player creating in collaboration with the GM? My playwright may be completely inaccessible to me as a person – in fact most of my work is done in collaborate with Mr. Wm. Shakespeare, who’s been dead four hundred years and is very inaccesible as a person at the best of times due to his damnable aura of mystery – whereas the player sits at table with the GM, sharing the air they breathe & the vibrations of voice in the room.

To come around to a conclusion, I’ve always felt the creative dynamic of RPGs (including DnD) to be very much a two-way street, or more accurately an agora of the table, where creativity is shared.

Actually, the analogy is hitting me in the face at this point:

DnD is like a theatre production: the rules & setting are the script, a sturdy framework; the DM is the director, responsible for speaking for the rules & setting and keeping an eye on the overall effect; the players are the actors & other individual craftspeople, each with their part to play. (Arguably) there is no production without the script, the director, or the actors – they share the burden in order to create the thing.

But it’s always a collaboration.


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This page last updated: 2019.01.30