What makes DM fiat a problem for people?

I’m not looking to start a fight here. I would like to get some insight on the issue of DM’s making up rules. I’ve been on both sides of the screen and spent a lot of time war-gaming with no DM.


Part of the fun of D&D for me has always been exploration, and learning how the DM sees his or her world is part of that exploration. In my time gaming I’ve never had a DM who wanted to discourage players, any ruling on the DM’s part was about keeping the action and story moving.


As a DM sometimes the rules get in the way of a good adventure. Taking time to look everything up, go over errata, and then debate the Rules As Written vs designer intention takes everyone out of the mood and really cuts into game time.


In my experience these games are too complex for everyone to have the same interpretation of the rules, someone must make a decision in order to move things forward.  And so I’ve always just assumed that the DM should be able to make a call and have everyone accept it as part of the game. Even if that decision is counter to the rules as written it always seemed better to have a result and get back to the game then to step outside of the game to figure out what the designers intended. It’s difficult for me to see how the game will work otherwise.


 Thanks in advance to anyone who can help me sort this out. And please, to people on both sides of this don’t try and make it a place to have a big fight. I would like this thread to be a place where people who don’t like DM fiat can outline their reasons why. Any comments from the 100% in support of DM fiat should be kept to questions for clarification. 


EDIT: To sum things up thus far:


Section 1 (posts #1 through #36  ) My observations thusfar: 


It is an issue. There are 4 different general incarnations as listed in Nelyo's and DemoMonkey’s post above.



Oct 30, 2012 -- 10:09AM, DemoMonkey wrote:




I think we need to draw a distinction between "DM Fiat because the written rules are inadequate" (which is an issue focused on the rules designers) and "DM Fiat because the DM want's certain things in/not in the game they are running" (which is an issue focused on the DM/Player social contract).

Very different issues.





Agreed, and we can further divide "DM fiat vs. the written rules" into "DM fiat because the rules are unclear" (i.e. there's a grey area so the DM has to make a call) and "DM fiat because the DM dislikes the written rules," and divide "DM fiat and the social contract" into "DM fiat and the campaign setting" (i.e. including/excluding elements to set tone/flavor) and "DM fiat and how the story plays out" (i.e. railroading). Individual groups are going to come to different conclusions about what is acceptible in each of those four situations.



 People have different play styles, some want a rules governed game others are less concerned with this. 


People want the rules as written to be complete enough that there isn’t a lot of need for interpretation or revision. 


People feel that in some situations clear rules and adherence to them will mitigate some of the problems with a “bad” DM. 


Section 2 (posts #37 through #76 ) Compared the terms “DM fiat” and “Rule 0”. Rule 0 can be found in the urban dictionary.















rule 0



110 up19 down



 



a.k.a. "The GM is always right."

The unwritten rule in tabletop role-playing games (such as Dungeons & Dragons) which grants the game master the right to suspend or override the published game rules whenever s/he deems necessary.

Similar to a house rule; however, rule zero may be invoked unilaterally, at any time and does not have to be agreed upon in advance by the players.

When abused, can lead to an inconsistent, confusing, or frustrating experience for the players.


Bob: I climb up the wall and into the wizard's castle, bypassing the defenses. I rolled a 20, so I succeed. 
GM: The wall is magically warded against climbing. You fail. 
Bob: But a 20 is an automatic success! 
GM: Rule 0. You fail.



 


DM Fiat on the other hand is considered by many to be a derogatory term that conjures up images of the absolute worst DM imaginable. The absolute law implied by DM fiat justifies all inconsistent application or poor understanding of the rules, bias towards certain characters and NPC opponents, and railroading the story line.


The ideas presented in this post have led me to believe that many of the arguments spawned over DM fiat stem from differing definitions of the phrase.


For myself this means that I am going to use the term “Rule 0” when referring to the idea that a DM must be enabled to sculpt the rules as he or she sees fit in order to fully realize hir world and gaming experience.


 This post just hits the highpoints. There’s some other great ideas and a continuing conversation that is very interesting, and helpful. The whole thread is worth reading if you have time. Kudos to everyone who took the time to post here and good job keeping the discussion mostly on track.


 I just read Posts #80 - #90: some great stuff in there which kind of ties things together in a workable consensus. 

Elves, Gates, Book-binding and Doom On the Rocks: Breaking rules and lichen maps Is character development killing exploration in our games?
Personal taste. I don't like playing a game where my success or failure is at the mercy of the DM's whims.
...whatever
Calling it fiat...



I can edit that, its just a term I've seen used to label the question in the past. Is there another word that would work better?


Edit: I think fiat is the word to use;

fi·at  (ft, -t, -ät, ft, -t)
n.
1. An arbitrary order or decree.

2. Authorization or sanction: government fiat.



[Medieval Latin, from Latin, let it be done, third person sing. present subjunctive of fierto become, to be done; see bheu- in Indo-European roots.]

I like the "let it be done" connotation. 

 
It is usually when the players and DMs want to play different types of game and no one communicated their wishes.

Orzel, Halfelven son of Zel, Mystic Ranger, Bane to Dragons, Death to Undeath, Killer of Abyssals, King of the Wilds. Constitution Based Class for Next!

My issue with DM Fiat at least doesn't have anything to do with the DM's ability to change or drop a rule to fit his game it is the lack of a default ruling to fall back on or build off of.  IME this has two big problems with it.

1) From the DM perspective it makes things a lot of work.  If I have to write a large portion of the game system when I want to play a game and play constant adjustment as I am trying to DM it takes way to much of my time and effort away from the parts of the game that actually matters.  It's not that I can't do it (so snarky superiority complex DMs can go sit on a fork) It's that I don't want to.

2) From the player perspective it means that you don't have any idea what is going to work until the DM okays it or not.  This brings up multiple issues from character creation (what if the DM invalidates what I am building my character to do?) to creativity in play (If I set up myself to do this cool thing I would much rather have an idea of the rules behind making it work).  

These issues coupled with the fact that we are paying WotC to produce the game rules specificaly so we don't have to means that a system that demands fiat is just not what I am looking for in a game. 
As a long time DM I don't make arbitray rules that go against the RAW without talking it over with my players.  However if the rules are not clear, then its my job to make a decision and to get on with the game.  Generally speaking I will rule in favour of the players unless it is obviously not meant to be that way.
If I have to use dm fiat to design the entire game system myself, then why am I buying a game in the first place? I'll just make my own version of D&D and sell it and make money for doing all the work for the designers. 

I.e. I don't mind changing minor things, but if I am going to spend $40 on a book, it had best be 90% usuable and not require me to design the game I just baught that I thought the designers were supposed to do. 
Depends on the purpose of the fiat. If it's used to make the game better and more interesting, then fiat is fine.
If it's only happening to fix things that was the developer's job to make properly, then that's the kind I want out.
Power/control/expectation and the application (precived and real) there-of.


We all need structure of some sort (lawful).  We expect gravity for instance.  The game would go no where if every time our characater took a step we needed to ask if gravity applied.

We all need change of some sort (chaos).  We expect something to happen.  The game would be pretty short if you just woke up in a peaceful world where everyone got along and there wheren't any monsters to fight, or no catastrophic event happened.

Some people are more lawful don't like asking the DM how much damage bonus or loss they get because the wind is blowing against their weapon swing, some are more chaotic, who are more chaotic and don't want their attack to be a forgone conclusion.

But you need some of each.  Every game has some DM fiat (this cave just happens to be full of kobolds), and each has some structure (longsword does 1d8).  How much of each is a matter of opinion and personality.

guides
List of no-action attacks.
Dynamic vs Static Bonuses
Phalanx tactics and builds
Crivens! A Pictsies Guide Good
Power
s to intentionally miss with
Mr. Cellophane: How to be unnoticed
Way's to fire around corners
Crits: what their really worth
Retroactive bonus vs Static bonus.
Runepriest handbook & discussion thread
Holy Symbols to hang around your neck
Ways to Gain or Downgrade Actions
List of bonuses to saving throws
The Ghost with the Most (revenant handbook)
my builds
F-111 Interdictor Long (200+ squares) distance ally teleporter. With some warlord stuff. Broken in a plot way, not a power way.

Thought Switch Higher level build that grants upto 14 attacks on turn 1. If your allies play along, it's broken.

Elven Critters Crit op with crit generation. 5 of these will end anything. Broken.

King Fisher Optimized net user.  Moderate.

Boominator Fun catch-22 booming blade build with either strong or completely broken damage depending on your reading.

Very Distracting Warlock Lot's of dazing and major penalties to hit. Overpowered.

Pocket Protector Pixie Stealth Knight. Maximizing the defender's aura by being in an ally's/enemy's square.

Yakuza NinjIntimiAdin: Perma-stealth Striker that offers a little protection for ally's, and can intimidate bloodied enemies. Very Strong.

Chargeburgler with cheese Ranged attacks at the end of a charge along with perma-stealth. Solid, could be overpowered if tweaked.

Void Defender Defends giving a penalty to hit anyone but him, then removing himself from play. Can get somewhat broken in epic.

Scry and Die Attacking from around corners, while staying hidden. Moderate to broken, depending on the situation.

Skimisher Fly in, attack, and fly away. Also prevents enemies from coming close. Moderate to Broken depending on the enemy, but shouldn't make the game un-fun, as the rest of your team is at risk, and you have enough weaknesses.

Indestructible Simply won't die, even if you sleep though combat.  One of THE most abusive character in 4e.

Sir Robin (Bravely Charge Away) He automatically slows and pushes an enemy (5 squares), while charging away. Hard to rate it's power level, since it's terrain dependent.

Death's Gatekeeper A fun twist on a healic, making your party "unkillable". Overpowered to Broken, but shouldn't actually make the game un-fun, just TPK proof.

Death's Gatekeeper mk2, (Stealth Edition) Make your party "unkillable", and you hidden, while doing solid damage. Stronger then the above, but also easier for a DM to shut down. Broken, until your DM get's enough of it.

Domination and Death Dominate everything then kill them quickly. Only works @ 30, but is broken multiple ways.

Battlemind Mc Prone-Daze Protecting your allies by keeping enemies away. Quite powerful.

The Retaliator Getting hit deals more damage to the enemy then you receive yourself, and you can take plenty of hits. Heavy item dependency, Broken.

Dead Kobold Transit Teleports 98 squares a turn, and can bring someone along for the ride. Not fully built, so i can't judge the power.

Psilent Guardian Protect your allies, while being invisible. Overpowered, possibly broken.

Rune of Vengance Do lot's of damage while boosting your teams. Strong to slightly overpowered.

Charedent BarrageA charging ardent. Fine in a normal team, overpowered if there are 2 together, and easily broken in teams of 5.

Super Knight A tough, sticky, high damage knight. Strong.

Super Duper Knight Basically the same as super knight with items, making it far more broken.

Mora, the unkillable avenger Solid damage, while being neigh indestuctable. Overpowered, but not broken.

Swordburst Maximus At-Will Close Burst 3 that slide and prones. Protects allies with off actions. Strong, possibly over powered with the right party.

I have no problem with DM fiat being used (I do have problems with jerk DMs/players in general, though).

I have a problem with DM fiat being required, because the rules of the game are simply lacking.  At least in games someone intends me to pay them for - free games get a pass.
Feedback Disclaimer
Yes, I am expressing my opinions (even complaints - le gasp!) about the current iteration of the play-test that we actually have in front of us. No, I'm not going to wait for you to tell me when it's okay to start expressing my concerns (unless you are WotC). (And no, my comments on this forum are not of the same tone or quality as my actual survey feedback.)
A Psion for Next (Playable Draft) A Barbarian for Next (Brainstorming Still)
DM fiat is not an on/off switch.  DM fiat exists as more than one spectrum across several axes of concern.

Does the DM hold absolute control over world building.  Can and should the DM say there are no elves in my world, or no Divine caster classes or that magic is dispised and persecuted in his world.  Should DMs be encouraged to follow their own visions, or should they be guided to base their world building on the consideration of their players?  World building fiat freqently encourages DMs in seeing it as their world, while forgetting that it is their players and those players' characters story.

Should the rules be clear cut and as complete as possible, encouraging a DM who is mostly an impartial referee?  Or should they be open and nebulous, frequently requiring a subjective interpretation?  In either case should the guidelines for interpretation favor internal consistancy?  Fairness?  Advancement of story?  There isn't really a right answer, as what works for one group will not for another. 

My biggest issue with games that expect a lot of subjective DM fiat, is that it is easy to make calls that make sense, but that aren't fun and engaging for the players.  Some people out grow games, but a lot of others give up on gaming due to bad experiences.  I think the baseline game should encourage play that is friendly to new and inexperienced players. 
I love the heck out of empowered DMs, but I can see plenty support for why others would be resistant.

Most of it can be traced to adolescence and early experiences with the game. 

Danny

I would wager that most peoples' problem with it stems from past bad experiences with lousy DM's. 

DM Fiat is amazing with a great DM... otherwise its anywhere between "meh" and "I think I'll just start playing Shadowrun, instead".
I would wager that most peoples' problem with it stems from past bad experiences with lousy DM's. 

DM Fiat is amazing with a great DM... otherwise its anywhere between "meh" and "I think I'll just start playing Shadowrun, instead".



I think it's worse than I'll play Shadowrun instead.

I think the hobby loses potential players and DMs on an ongoing basis.  Many soured on the game and give up on the hobby entirely.  I once ran at open table night and my FLGS.  I eventually talked another of the DMs taking a break to play, because his entire group was turning over (and not buying product and for all I know not playing anywhere any more) about ever 2nd week. 

The other DM and I had groups that played in the same interconnected campaign for over a year.  The players were customers of the store in addition to playing.  Some of them eventually started a 2nd open table night.

The goal of design ought to be one that supports growth of the hobby.  When growth and the future potential of the hobby conflicts with reaching out to legacy players of older editions . . . I think the game ought to favor the future.
My problem with DM fiat is when it becomes necessary to balance the game. I.e. all the extra work you had to do to keep things interesting if you had high level mages and non-mages in the same party. Or things like alignment mechanics or old school ranger favored enemies where you needed the DM to tweak the game just for you otherwise you were incredibly UP or OP. Things like specific classes needing extra/less magic items to be balanced are also a no no.
As a long time DM I don't make arbitray rules that go against the RAW without talking it over with my players.  However if the rules are not clear, then its my job to make a decision and to get on with the game.  Generally speaking I will rule in favour of the players unless it is obviously not meant to be that way.



All hail the great mind of this one who understands rule 0. This needs to be the promoted mentality amongst DMs.
Because any DM who drives a car that ugly is not someone I want to game with.

Yeah but imagine that car with the front window blown out, while being driven by a gorrila in goggles and passengered by a woodpecker with a machine gun! Thats the power of DM fiat! 


Yeah but imagine that car with the front window blown out, while being driven by a gorrila in goggles and passengered by a woodpecker with a machine gun! Thats the power of DM fiat! 




Shouldn't have to ask.

I think it's worse than I'll play Shadowrun instead.


I guess I didn't quite clarify.  I gave up on TSR in 1989, because I was tired of terrible DM's abusing DM Fiat... I learned the rule system for Shadowrun, started GMing for my friends, and didn't come back to the D&D brand until about 2007. 

I’m not looking to start a fight here. I would like to get some insight on the issue of DM’s making up rules.

Back in the day I mainly played under two DMs.  One would make up rules and ruling and adopt variants, and stick to them.  His game was fine because you knew what you were doing and what you were getting into, and when you didn't, you asked him and came up with something.  If it came up again, it would be the same.  He didn't use the power to arbitrate rules to "make things happen" like having a recurring bad guy escape when he should be dead, or a character live or die or be cursed when he shouldn't have.   The other, his buddy from college who loved to DM, would make up rules and variants and make rulings, and they'd change every month or two.  One week, magic-users were memorizing spells, the next they were using mana points.  One time you could hold a doorway against a band of orcs, the next they pushed you out of the way.  

I saw or played with or heard about other DMs back then, too.  None of them just played strictly by the book.  Some said they did, but when you actually looked up one of their 'by the book' rules, it didn't match what they were doing.  Some were 'Monty Haul' and some were 'Killer' and some were both, but none refrained from adding to or changing the rules.

In my experience these games are too complex for everyone to have the same interpretation of the rules, someone must make a decision in order to move things forward.  ... It’s difficult for me to see how the game will work otherwise.

 Thanks in advance to anyone who can help me sort this out.


If you'd asked me about this 4 years ago, I'd have agreed with you.  Once I'd realized what you were talking about and thought back to the 70s.  Even in wargames, you often had a 'judge' to arbitrate and they're a more straightforward proposition.  

But, now days when I play D&D there's very little rules argument.  The rules are pretty clear and at worst the DM may spend a few moments looking up an obscure one in the fairly compact "Rules Compendium."  Sessions go by without that happening even once.  Sometimes you'll have a rules guru at the table who can answer those obscure questions before the DM can even look them up.  

A big part of it has to be a shift in attitude among the players.  But, part of it may also be that the rules are really pretty 'fair.'  You rarely have a rule that says "you're just FUBAR," you don't have to fight the rules to stay in the game, let alone have some fun with it.    

 
 
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"DM fiat" is only a problem for people who are not playing Dungeons and Dragons.  Every edition has relied equally heavily on the negotiation between DM and players as to what is a reasonable mathematical representation of the game world.  There is not, and never has been, a purely objective rule set, and that's because this is a role-playing game and cooperative storytelling exercise, not a boardgame.

Anyone who thinks the rules somehow objectively 'set' the mathematical balance of the game in some fashion is not recognizing the degree to which the decision when to incorporate or enact those rules is up for negotiation between players and DM.  If the thief is hiding behind a hedge and declares "I'll hide here, with +5 due to complete coverage," the DM, or even other players may well declare "that hedge is only partial cover, so you only get a +2.  And there is no "objective" rule to determine which one of those two is correct.  It would depend on lighting conditions, how recently the hedge has been watered, whether it's windy or not...a million little factors which the players at the table guess at and come to a mutually acceptable target number just before rolling the dice. 

That's the nature of this game.  Anyone who claims "I don't like DM fiat" is simply not acknowleding that immutable fact.

"DM fiat" is only a problem for people who are not playing Dungeons and Dragons.  Every edition has relied equally heavily on the negotiation between DM and players as to what is a reasonable mathematical representation of the game world.  There is not, and never has been, a purely objective rule set, and that's because this is a role-playing game and cooperative storytelling exercise, not a boardgame.

Anyone who thinks the rules somehow objectively 'set' the mathematical balance of the game in some fashion is not recognizing the degree to which the decision when to incorporate or enact those rules is up for negotiation between players and DM.  If the thief is hiding behind a hedge and declares "I'll hide here, with +5 due to complete coverage," the DM, or even other players may well declare "that hedge is only partial cover, so you only get a +2.  And there is no "objective" rule to determine which one of those two is correct.  It would depend on lighting conditions, how recently the hedge has been watered, whether it's windy or not...a million little factors which the players at the table guess at and come to a mutually acceptable target number just before rolling the dice. 

That's the nature of this game.  Anyone who claims "I don't like DM fiat" is simply not acknowleding that immutable fact.


If that is the case then why play D&D? There are countless systems (oWoD and Fate come immediately to mind) that provide better cooperative/collaborative storytelling opportunities. I'd go so far as to argue that D&D discourages such things by having a DM as opposed to a Storyteller. The very linguistics behind the game disagree with you.

People play D&D IMO for that objective baseline. Sure, a little houseruling is unavoidable, but by and large you know what to expect in D&D once you read and understand the rulebook. If the rules are so subjective as to demand constant DM rulings, then the rulebook might as well not exist.
Because i don't like buying broken products that don't work until i fix it myself...I don't pay money if i have to end up designing most of the system, i as a DM design adventures, worlds, characters, plots and stories...not system mechanics, that's the game designer's job, and if they want my money, they better do their job well
If that is the case then why play D&D? There are countless systems (oWoD and Fate come immediately to mind) that provide better cooperative/collaborative storytelling opportunities.



A question of balance.  Some people want a leetle bit more pseudo-objective "rules" to structure their storytelling experience than, say, WoD allows for.  I might be able to get my rpg-phobic buddy to sit in on a game of D&D if they're rolling dice and describing their actions at a table...I'm a lot less likely to get them to dress up and stick fake fangs in their mouth for a night of Vampire: the Masquerade.

 I'd go so far as to argue that D&D discourages such things by having a DM as opposed to a Storyteller. The very linguistics behind the game disagree with you. People play D&D IMO for that objective baseline. Sure, a little houseruling is unavoidable, but by and large you know what to expect in D&D once you read and understand the rulebook. If the rules are so subjective as to demand constant DM rulings, then the rulebook might as well not exist.



And what is the most important rule in that rulebook?  The one that says hang the rules the moment they start interfering with fun.  No copy of Monopoly has that in its box.



I've been DMing for years with rather minimal issues with rule 0, I find it's one of those tools that's more effective the less you use it.

However the game balance and core mechanics should not be dependent on it. 
"DM fiat" is only a problem for people who are not playing Dungeons and Dragons.  Every edition has relied equally heavily on the negotiation between DM and players as to what is a reasonable mathematical representation of the game world.  There is not, and never has been, a purely objective rule set, and that's because this is a role-playing game and cooperative storytelling exercise, not a boardgame.

Anyone who thinks the rules somehow objectively 'set' the mathematical balance of the game in some fashion is not recognizing the degree to which the decision when to incorporate or enact those rules is up for negotiation between players and DM.  If the thief is hiding behind a hedge and declares "I'll hide here, with +5 due to complete coverage," the DM, or even other players may well declare "that hedge is only partial cover, so you only get a +2.  And there is no "objective" rule to determine which one of those two is correct.  It would depend on lighting conditions, how recently the hedge has been watered, whether it's windy or not...a million little factors which the players at the table guess at and come to a mutually acceptable target number just before rolling the dice. 

That's the nature of this game.  Anyone who claims "I don't like DM fiat" is simply not acknowleding that immutable fact. 




And what is the most important rule in that rulebook?  The one that says hang the rules the moment they start interfering with fun.  No copy of Monopoly has that in its box.





I agree with this 100% 
I play D&D because I like some rules structure to add a random element and the excitement of uncertainty to the game, obviously, I would like those rules to be balanced and thoughtful as well. I also play D&D because I like the fantasy genre and it's the game I grew up playing.

There's DM fiat, and then there's DM fiat.  One DM may make decisions with the group's best interests at heart, to improve the fun of all, while another one may do it to make himself feel powerful, lording his DMship over his "friends" as some kind of social bludgeon.  The former kind is great, the latter kind is a fun-killer.
I think we need to draw a distinction between "DM Fiat because the written rules are inadequate" (which is an issue focused on the rules designers) and "DM Fiat because the DM want's certain things in/not in the game they are running" (which is an issue focused on the DM/Player social contract).

Very different issues.
If that is the case then why play D&D? There are countless systems (oWoD and Fate come immediately to mind) that provide better cooperative/collaborative storytelling opportunities.



A question of balance.  Some people want a leetle bit more pseudo-objective "rules" to structure their storytelling experience than, say, WoD allows for.  I might be able to get my rpg-phobic buddy to sit in on a game of D&D if they're rolling dice and describing their actions at a table...I'm a lot less likely to get them to dress up and stick fake fangs in their mouth for a night of Vampire: the Masquerade.

 I'd go so far as to argue that D&D discourages such things by having a DM as opposed to a Storyteller. The very linguistics behind the game disagree with you. People play D&D IMO for that objective baseline. Sure, a little houseruling is unavoidable, but by and large you know what to expect in D&D once you read and understand the rulebook. If the rules are so subjective as to demand constant DM rulings, then the rulebook might as well not exist.



And what is the most important rule in that rulebook?  The one that says hang the rules the moment they start interfering with fun.  No copy of Monopoly has that in its box.






You're talking in circles, though. World of Darkness has rules for ordinary people (Mortals). It has fantasy rules (Exalted). Pseudo-objective rules don't structure a storytelling experience. People give that experience structure. If anyone is leaning so heavily on Rule Zero that it becomes noticeable, then they should be playing something like Fate, where Rule Zero isn't just encouraged but openly shared between the Storyteller and players.

"Balance" in the way you use it (I'd argue moderation is a more accurate word) becomes a red herring used to support a ruleset that doesn't support the objective of the game.
I generally go with the RAW unless it's one of two occasions.

1) The rule being used is slowing down the game noticibly. If it would "Technically" take 15 climb checks to climb a mountain, I might make it 3. Stuiff like that. Thankfully this doesn't get used that often.

2) The rule being used is being exploited or used in an abusive manner. Since one of my gaming groups is full of notorious power gamers, I have to use this one more often than I'd like. Broken spell combos, maneuver traps, and other abuse of the rules are fine once, but if repeated will get shot down. I don't care how good the spell combo is, when you can stun lock an adult red dragon at level 7, that will be dealt with

Other than that, I usually just go with the rules.
My two copper.
I think we need to draw a distinction between "DM Fiat because the written rules are inadequate" (which is an issue focused on the rules designers) and "DM Fiat because the DM want's certain things in/not in the game they are running" (which is an issue focused on the DM/Player social contract).

Very different issues.

Agreed, and we can further divide "DM fiat vs. the written rules" into "DM fiat because the rules are unclear" (i.e. there's a grey area so the DM has to make a call) and "DM fiat because the DM dislikes the written rules," and divide "DM fiat and the social contract" into "DM fiat and the campaign setting" (i.e. including/excluding elements to set tone/flavor) and "DM fiat and how the story plays out" (i.e. railroading). Individual groups are going to come to different conclusions about what is acceptible in each of those four situations.

Just a quick reminder: The stated goal of this thread was to get a clear idea of what the issue means to people for whom it is an issue. My only goal here is to enable effective communication with other gamers In order to ensure a good time for everyone who showed up at the table. 


Thank you all for staying within those bounds. 


My observations thusfar: 


It is an issue. There are 4 different general incarnations as listed in Nelyo's post above.


People have different play styles, some want a rules governed game others are less concerned with this. 


Most players want the rules as written to be complete enough that there isn’t a lot of need for interpretation or revision. 


In some situations clear rules and adherence to them will mitigate some of the problems with a “bad” DM. 


There’s a few others I’m sure, but that’s what I have so far.


 

DM fiat again is usually a problem when expectations differ.

When the player says "Fred the Fighter leaps over the goblin, swings his sword and attempts to trip the orc"

One DM says "Make a Jump check then a Str check"
Another says "Spend two expertise die. One for the jump or for the knockdown."
And another says "Get you wuxia junk out my game."

Orzel, Halfelven son of Zel, Mystic Ranger, Bane to Dragons, Death to Undeath, Killer of Abyssals, King of the Wilds. Constitution Based Class for Next!

DM fiat again is usually a problem when expectations differ. When the player says "Fred the Fighter leaps over the goblin, swings his sword and attempts to trip the orc" One DM says "Make a Jump check then a Str check" Another says "Spend two expertise die. One for the jump or for the knockdown." And another says "Get you wuxia junk out my game."



+1, this made my day.
My two copper.
my problem with it is that people have vastly differing perceptions of how things work. that, combined with the fact that most DMs aren't perfect means that fiat-driven games will always lead to disagreements. in most cases the disagreements are minor and we can all move past them, but in other cases they either happen way too often, or take too much toll on the fun of the game.

another problem is that fiat-driven games will lack any sense of consistency. you're forced to learn what the DM likes and dislikes if you want to be successful. Things that work one week will be deemed impossible the next if you don't appeal to the DM in the right way. This means certain players will be at a disadvantage just because they don't know how to properly petition the DM to allow them to do things.

fiat-driven games are by definition unfair. they may still be fun if you have a good DM and you're used to them, but that doesn't change the fact that for the majority of people, consistency and fairness will be more attractive options, especially after they've experienced a game where fiat shut their characters down.
my problem with it is that people have vastly differing perceptions of how things work. that, combined with the fact that most DMs aren't perfect means that fiat-driven games will always lead to disagreements. in most cases the disagreements are minor and we can all move past them, but in other cases they either happen way too often, or take too much toll on the fun of the game.

another problem is that fiat-driven games will lack any sense of consistency. you're forced to learn what the DM likes and dislikes if you want to be successful. Things that work one week will be deemed impossible the next if you don't appeal to the DM in the right way. This means certain players will be at a disadvantage just because they don't know how to properly petition the DM to allow them to do things.

fiat-driven games are by definition unfair. they may still be fun if you have a good DM and you're used to them, but that doesn't change the fact that for the majority of people, consistency and fairness will be more attractive options, especially after they've experienced a game where fiat shut their characters down.



+1
You could play an entire campaign where the DMs fiat and RAW rulings were logical and consistent from week to week. I don't think it's true that fiat-driven games = lack of consistency. Lack of consistency could occur in any style of play, it's a sign of a bad DM. 

What if you sat down at an open table and the GM said “I always play with the following house rules; Shields shall be splintered= any time you take damage in combat you can sacrifice your shield to avoid it, heavy crossbows = heavy crossbows do x2 damage but take x2 to load, all PC’s get +10 hp, and lastly gnomes have a 90% to hide in shadows if they don’t move, but NPC’s will not trust them and they get a penalty to their reaction rolls to non-gnomes. Those rules are posted on my GM screen if you need to reference one.”


 

What if the DM says “I don’t give XP for monsters or treasure. you have get these objective cards as the game progresses, once complete each party member will get the XP listed on the bottom of the card. Here’s a couple to start you off; ‘Explore all around the lake and the 10 acre wood to the south of the keep. 500 XP’ and ‘discover why the keeps standard is hung upside down above the gate.  350 XP’

What if you get caught in a flood at night while camped, you only have moments to grab your gear. The DM says “Make a Save VS Acid for each of your magic items, weapons, and spell books to see if you can hold onto them as the water swirls around you. The water is up to your chest and rising.”

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