In Dungeons & Dragons culture, Dungeon Masters have a lot of ideas, which often turn to arguments, about what is the *right* way to run the game.
I believe that many of these arguments, whether it’s about fudging dice rolls, having restrictions on who can roll what when, or even the style of adventure in the campaign, all comes down to where you fit on what I’m calling the “Somebody/Anybody Spectrum.” The core of this spectrum, is what you prioritize in your game.
At the end of the day, the biggest priority should be fun, and if you are all having fun, then you’re playing the right way.
It is worth mentioning that some games (games that aren’t D&D which you should explore), are built around one of these ideas, and if you find that you are strongly on one side of the spectrum, you could look into playing those games that encourage and reward that playstyle. We are exploring D&D 5e specifically, not only because it is the most popular Tabletop Role Playing Game (TtRPG) but also because it is fairly neutral on this spectrum.
Anybody Can Be a PC
When D&D first came out, it was a game about monster killers and treasure hunters. No more, no less. If there was a cave with a monster and treasure, that was the extent of “motivation” or “plot hooks” that was given, because that was the point of the game.
In this style, you aren’t expected to be emotionally tied to your character, and be prepared for them to die. If that happens, you roll up a new character, and you keep going. Your hero, your Player Character (PC) wasn’t a grand prophesized hero who was going to change the world, at least not yet. If you built a good character, who was well equipped for the specific, yet currently unknown, challenges ahead, then they will end up being important, but right now they just aren’t.
This leads to some different ideas and opinions about how the game should be run, some of which are direct, some aren’t. You might be on the Anybody side if…
If you believe that Verisimilitude is priority in the game. Meaning that (after having fun) the biggest focus of your game is how “realistic” it is. Maybe you prefer monsters that actually have tactics and want to kill you. Maybe you keep track of rations, encumbrance, or spell components. Maybe the idea of a “Combat Wheelchair” seems unlikely to you, because of how much mud, stairs, and cliffs that are found in dungeons, or the idea that a boss might focus on removing you from the wheelchair, thus immobilizing you. The fiction isn’t as important as the reality of the second world.
If you believe that sometimes your Player Character is going to die, not because of something you did, or some narrative moment, but just because monsters are hard to kill, and your dice might be having an off day. PCs dying isn’t going to ruin your game, but is just another obstacle for you to overcome.
If you believe that a DM should never “fudge,” or lie about dice rolls. The dice are the representation of chance and luck, and are the core mechanic of the game, so lying about them brings into question why you are rolling dice in the first place. It not only seems foolish to fudge the die, but sometimes even dishonest to the players, making them believe that the world is unknowable, but the DM just is going make whatever they want happen. You believe it’s verging on railroading if you’re going to just fudge the die.
Overall, if you believe the dice lead the game, they are the arbiter of what happens, and the DM’s job is to interpret them, not drive them.
As a player, you enjoy rolling for stats, because you might have an idea for a character, but the dice will determine what you are actually like. You like being surprised by your own character.
You might enjoy other aspects of TtRPG culture, such as OSR (Old School Renaissance (or Revival)), Adam Koebel’s Office Hours on YouTube, games like Delta Green, Band of Blades, and Red Markets, and you like Game of Thrones.
The PC is Somebody
In the ’90s, TtRPGs changed to focus on the story, with a huge wave of popularity with games like Vampire: The Masquerade. After that, D&D has changed with it, and now tries to balance the legacy rules of randomness, with the DM having a narrative focus, with things like villains that are tied to PC backstories.
The other end of the Spectrum is the Somebody side. This is the idea that the reason we are following these specific Player Characters is because they are important to the world around them, even if we don’t yet understand why or how. This PC is Somebody important. It doesn’t sound crazy to have an idea of who your character might be at level 15, even when you are only level 3, because to you the game is about how did this low level character BECOME this very powerful and important person?
You might be on the Somebody side if…
You believe Drama is the priority of the game. Meaning that (after having fun) you want to collaboratively tell a story, one of adventure, action, horror, comedy, etc. The idea of the 4e monster category “Minion” where monsters have 1hp sounds cool, because you can wade through them and feel super powerful. You gloss over rations, encumbrance, and spell components, unless it has a narrative impact. You like the idea of a “Combat Wheelchair” because it allows players to create a character the way they see it in their head, and they trust that the DM won’t put unsatisfying obstacles in their way.
The idea that a Player Character might die is present, but if it happens because of a Nat1, that would be a bummer. The idea of a Total Party Kill (TPK) means that the campaign “failed.” In fact, if your character died, you might even question if you want to continue playing in this campaign at all.
You think that a DM’s job sometimes includes fudging a dice roll, because having a PC die from a goblin is more frustrating, or a PC trying out their new super cool ability and it failing on the first try is anticlimactic and lame. You believe that’s the purpose of the DM screen anyway right, to magic some things away? You can even fudge a players dice, by simply silently setting the DC lower, because it would be so cool!
As a player, you might prefer a stat Point Buy system, or even a standard array. You want all of the PCs to be about the same power level, because you are a team, and having a healthy balance to the strengths and weaknesses of the characters leads to a sense of comradery and teamwork.
Overall, you believe that the dice lead to Drama, to the unknown, and are simply another tool in the game that is used to increase the level of drama. Not the end-all-be-all.
Other aspects of TtRPG culture include fiction first games like Rogue Trader, Kids on Bikes, or Legend of the Five Rings. You watch Matt Colville’s Running the Game on YouTube, and you like The Avengers.
Big Thanks to Scott Krammer of Scribbles and Dice for help with this article.