I like to win!

I recently received copies of Ticket to Ride and Dominion for my birthday (see also National Holiday); I have a deep admiration for and get a sense of enjoyment from both of these games. My enjoyment of certain board games might have to do with the games design, or core mechanics. It might also come from the fact that I win a majority of the time I play them; I’m pretty sure that’s it.

Last Monday night my gaming group was a few players short so we decided to break out my new games. I had a great time probably due to the fact that I won every game. I’m not going to say that no one else enjoyed their evening but winning made it especially fun for me. At the end of the night I thought to my self “I needed this”. But did I?

Why would I need a night of laying the beat down on my gaming group? I thought I needed it because I spend week after week of getting my monsters and encounters handed to me by my players. Every week I try hard to push them to the edge, every week they prevail. I thought I needed a night where I win and they don’t. Now I don’t think that’s right; a change of mindset might really be what I needed all along.

The AngryDM will disagree with me but DM’s, my self especially, shouldn’t show up to a game with the intention of winning. Not in the classic sense of the word; not as board games are concerned. For a long time now I have been running my games in a less than effective way. I have been sitting across from my players trying to beat them, as if that were the point of an RPG. Many times I have sat at my table imagining that it is me the DM verses the player each of us throwing powers and rules across the table until one side or the other has won.

Why not beat them? Shouldn’t the DM get to enjoy the game just as much as the players? Yes! The DM should enjoy the game, but not by out maneuvering and out rolling the party but by sharing in the excitement of the story and the adventure.

New mindset vs. old mindset looks something like this:

Old Mindset:

  • I am the author of the story it goes where I want it to.
  • I am the monsters, I control them; if they win I win.
  • I am the obstacles, if the players don’t work hard to get around me I have failed.
  • I am the villain if the players defeat me I have lost.
  • I control the world and the world is against the players.

New Mindset:

  • I am the narrator I observe the story and relay what I see.
  • I am the mediator of combat, I judge and decide most likely what monsters would do. If the monsters lose I still win.
  • I am the narrator I tell the players about their obstacles if they overcome them or find new success in failure I succeed with them.
  • I know the mind of the villain but I am not him. I do not win or lose depending on how well the main villain does.
  • I narrate the world but the story controls it. The group tells the story and I win if a good story is told.

If a DM can enjoy the victories of the players he/she can find enjoyment of the game with out needing to claim some kind of victory of his/her own. I would like to think about each of my games and who is telling their stories. Is the narrator some one who witnessed the events? Is he/she the proud ancestor of one of the party members? Or a historian retelling heroic events of the distant past? Would any of these possible story tellers relish in the defeat of their protagonists? No. I as a DM shouldn’t enjoy defeating my players.

While I had a good time playing board games with my Monday night group, I shouldn’t have been so ruthless. I shouldn’t always play to win, but play to have a good time. That drive to win might just drive others away from my table. If I can focus that drive to win on other goals and redefine what winning is I could really enhance my game.

I can’t promise that I won’t caught up in the moment from time to time. That I won’t get just a bit upset, inside, when the party decides to take the story in a direction I had not planned. I can’t make you any assurances that I won’t sit down from time to time and forget about this shift in thinking. I will always try to remember that I don’t have to win.


Part idiot. Part old man. All geek. Thadeous can't think of anything interesting about him self right now. Know this though if he could it would be creative and funny as well as thought provoking.

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About Thadeousc

Thadeous can't think of anything interesting about him self right now. Know this though if he could it would be creative and funny as well as thought provoking.
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9 Responses

  1. Great post man. I have to start thinking in your new style myself. I’m a very competitive person to begin with and I know it affects how I run my games and how I feel about the things that happen within it.

  2. Umm… wow. One of us is playing wrong, Thad. Very wrong. And I’m sure it isn’t me. If there isn’t a place at the game for the DM to do the crit dance, what’s the point?

    Okay, seriously… there is a value in being a DM with a competitive mindset, as long as you can keep it at the table and keep it away from the DM who is writing your games. It is all very well and good for the DM to congratulate the players, but there is also a visceral thrill for the players if you can give the sense that they really are competing against you and that their victories are… well… victories.

    My players have no illusions: when a combat breaks out, I am trying to lead the monster underdogs to victory and I will trample the PCs to get there. During the rest of the game, I’m the narrator, director, referee, whatever, but when I am choosing a monster’s actions and making an attack and damage roll, I’m on the monster’s side.

    Of course, I can only pull it off because I’m actually very noncompetitive. Otherwise, I’d have gotten tired of losing a long time ago. Well, no. That’s not true. I win a lot. 🙂

  3. Good post, but I agree with TheAngrey DM. Every combat I design is pretty much built around trying to kill the players. I never succeed. But, I do dance merrily and taunt my players when one of them goes unconscious. Rivalry is the spice of life, even at the game table 🙂

  4. Bravo! It’s taken a fair amount of self-examination, but I have figured out that I have the most fun when the story-telling is truly collaborative, instead of competitive. This is why I need to play more and DM less. When I play, I have none of that George Costanza hand, so I have no preconceptions about winning or losing, and therefore it’s easier to set that aside and just live inside the world.

    The very first article I wrote for Critical Hits was about winning and losing, and looking back at it now, I know it still applies to me. It’s not why I play. It’s not where my fun is.

  5. Well, I completely agree with new mindset 😉

    Of course monsters are trying to kill the players, but you have to rolpelay them like monsters. Not all monsters act according to the whims of some invisible chess master. Stupid swarmy bugs for example.. are likely to make crazy frontal assault type rushes at a PC even when it isn’t tactically savvy. Wolves hunting in packs are going to harry. Sentient creatures like orcs or goblins (depending on intelligence) are going to fight as a loosely organized unit- hobgoblins with ruthless efficiency.. cowardly creatures are going to run. This actually makes battles both easier and (shockingly) more interesting.

    There’s an LFR adventure that notoriously takes a long time to run: The Night I called the Undead Out:- it takes place in Baldur’s Gate. It has several battles against hordes of undead, and an assault on a base of halfling thieves. DMing these under the old mindset tends to make them run slow. But here’s what’s really going on: The hordes of undead (well.. a large group of wights) are attacking townsfolk- and the PCs have to stop them. ie- the wights aren’t targeting PCs and are scattered, just chasing commoners down and killing them. DMs who run this as a head-to-head battle tend to make it go slow- wights acting as a tactical coordinated unit vs PCs. The halfling assault- well.. the thieves are trying to escape with stolen goods. Once again, you can turn this into a chess-match of halflings vs PCs.. but really the encounter is about *keeping the halflings from escaping* which they should be doing all at once, in differnt ways, in as chaotic a manner as you can manage.

    That setup makes for an easier battle, yes.. but also a more interesting one, because it suddenly casts the PCs in the role of defenders of people and capturers of thieves rather than just combatants.

  6. As the self-appointed defender of adversarial gaming (in a good natured, if angry, sort of way 🙂 ), I want to respond to pseckler. He raises some very useful, valid points. The DM must always keep in mind that the monsters have goals and those goals are not always about destroying the PCs and eating their faces (the best ones are, though).

    When I cheer for the monsters, I cheer for them to win and I try to make them win – as defined by their goals and, of course, by general survival. I might cackle with mad glee when the undead devour another innocent townsperson, for instance. Why? Because this drives home the point that the PCs need to be worried about that and also because every townsperson they save is one they have snatched from my cruel grasp.

    That’s why I call it adversarial, rather than competitive. You should be able to share in the victories of the PCs, because the game is setup so that the bad guys will usually lose a fair encounter, but you don’t want the players to feel as if they aren’t fighting a malevolent force that really, truly wants to do horrible things. I hate to plug my own stuff in someone else’s blog, but I will suggest reading my post: Winning D&D at http://angrydm.com/2010/07/winning-dd/ … which explains my “Build Fair, Play to Win” multiple DM hat approach to running games.

  7. Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not making the monsters lay down and die for the players. It’s not a mindset that turns every encounter into team and crumpets. When I run an encounter I will still make the monsters be ruthless and cunning. I just want to let go of that competitive edge I have, the one that makes me argue rules to give the monsters an advantage. I want to not get upset when my players find a creative and quick way to defeat something I was hoping would really tax them.
    I’m still going to smile wickedly when I roll a crit, and I’ll still enjoy the mood of the room when the possibility of a TPK looms. I just want to be able to enjoy the game with out being a competitive dick, but that does not mean I have to turn into a lame ass DM.

  8. This thread needs more cowbell.

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