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Nerd Watching: Are you a backseat GM?

Written by Nicholas - Published on October 13, 2009

Nicholas is the columnist in charge of Nerd Watching and part-time Expy wrangler. He also works as the community manager, so keep an eye out for him on RPG blogs and forums.

The Seeker

A new goodie dropped for insiders this week, the seeker. The seeker, aside from being The Who song I am listening to while I write this, is a new primal controller class. The class is distinct because it is the only controller so far to use weapons as its main damage output. The seeker is a bow wielding master of the wilderness. I’ll admit, when I first started reading about the seeker I rolled my eyes. I thought, “great, it is not only trampling the same ground as the druid but it’s a ranger knock-off too”. But I went back and took another look. Once I did that I came to grasp the essence of the seeker.

I’ve talked to some gamers who were disappointed with the ranger in 4e. The class works mechanically, but some people were annoyed that the mystical elements were out to make the class a purely martial warrior. Well it turns out those bits were not discarded. The seeker is the mystical bow wielding protector of the forest part of the ranger made into it’s own class.

Mechanically the seeker uses his bow as a delivery system. He attunes his arrows with primal powers ranging from lightning energy to plant growing powers. His powers often deliver debuffs and zones to the target and the area around the target. Some create simple bursts of damage. Other powers are more complex, creating difficult terrain, grasping thorns or plants that persist and attack creatures in their range.

The Martial Controller

Every since the first Player’s Handbook dropped there has been speculation about the martial control on D&D forums. One of the most common theories is a bow wielder using archery tricks to debuff and move people around the battlefield. Well the seeker has proven that weapon wielding controllers are on the table now. The question is what new angle the martial controller would take to separate it from the seeker. I’d love to see some speculation about this.

The Backseat GM

There is an affliction that runs through the gaming community. Our friend Phil the Chatty DM has called it out. The tendancy for old GMs to backseat GM when they are players. Phil defines the syndrome fully in his article, but in essence it is when the old GM doesn’t want to yield control of the game to the new one. He constantly “helps” and “gives input” to the point that it frustrates the new GM, who is trying to run his own game. Thankfully, I don’t backseat GM (atleast I don’t think I do), but I have dealt with a backseat GM player. Backseat GMing is not incurable, in fact it can even be turned to an advantage. I have a few tips for turning your backseat GM into an asset:

  • Make it clear where the line is. Your word is final in your game.
  • Turn to them sometimes! If you’re not sure how to handle a situation, ask the backseat GM. Even if you don’t use the idea it can be valuable input that makes him feel useful.
  • Give your backseat GM a hand in world building.
  • Outsource some of your duties. The backseat GM can track initiative, be in charge of looking up rules, run the minions in a big combat or even play an NPC in a story scene.

Have you checked out the seeker yet? Are you a backseat GM? We want to hear your thoughts in the comment section!

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Written by Nicholas

Nick DiPetrillo is the original author behind the games Arete and Zombie Murder Mystery available at http://games.dungeonmastering.com

Nick is no longer active with DungeonMastering.com, however he is an accomplished writer and published his first game in 2009.

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Nicholas is the columnist in charge of Nerd Watching and part-time Expy wrangler. He also works as the community manager, so keep an eye out for him on RPG blogs and forums.

 

 Comments

10 Responses to “Nerd Watching: Are you a backseat GM?”
  1. Scott says:

    Glad to see my favourite part of the 3.5 Ranger is coming back.

    After nearly three years of DMing and never playing i recently had my first experience as a player the other week. My friend who was DMing choose to use my personal Home brew system and it was extremely hard not to interfere with his game. Whilst not going over board i believe i did ‘The Look’ as Phil refered to it over a dozen times. Going to focus more on playing from now on.

    Some really good advice, thanks Nick.

    Scott

  2. I like the term “backseat GM”. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately?) I haven’t been a player in a single game for the last 3 years. But I am quite sure that I would be a very annoying kind of player, and the Backseat GM-syndrome would be a part of my playing style. Especially in games / settings that I know by heart, I would have a hard time not to correct the GM in question at every occassion.

    However, odds are pretty non-existent that any of my current players will ever try to GM a game of their own…

  3. Bartoneus says:

    Back before the PHB2 came out I was strongly hoping the Barbarian would end up being a good example of a Martial Controller, relying on temporary HP and burst / blast attacks to control the battlefield but from melee. I’m very happy with how the class came out, and I think the primal power source is very interesting, but I’m definitely still convinced there’s a great martial controller that could be made. That said, I have to agree with Mike Mearls in his latest dragon article talking about class design where he says you can’t design a class just to fill that role, you have to first find a class that will work that just happens to fit best into that source / role combination.

  4. Krys says:

    Guilty as charged. I’ve even caught myself backseat GMing to more experienced GMs. Thankfully they’ve been gracious enough not to point it out, and I usually catch myself and stop. I don’t think I’ve become a pest…yet!

    Great article, Nick! Mucho props on the ZMM game, too. Everyone, you must check it out. It’s so fun to keep your players guessing till the end!

    ~Krys~

  5. shyDM says:

    My boyfriend and I are both casual DMs, so when one of our friends invites us into their table we do our best to be helpful. We try to be ready on our turn, to help track initiative, and to bring yummy goods for everyone to share. We realize that DMing is hard, and that being prepared to entertain 5 people for hours at a time can be quite energy-draining, so we want to make things smoother for everyone.

    Conversely, when our DM friends join our table for a game, they become the most controlling power-gamers ever.

  6. GroovyTaxi says:

    I’m a compulsive backseat DM, except I find the mistakes in-character and exploit them. The DM was so tired once that he just rage quitted the game because my character had found a flaw in the clergy of Pelor that he hadn’t noticed. It’s always a bit frustrating to see your DM end a game end just because you thought outside the box. Some people however take backseat DMing very well. I recently started playing with another DM and we just share tips and rule knowledge as we play. That way I don’t feel like a rule lawyer and we both get to learn new things about the game.

  7. The Backseat GM article is really making the rounds. Not much I can really add to the conversation that hasn’t already been stated at ChattyDM and NewbieDM.com.

    @GroovyTaxi Did your DM continue running later or did he just stop the campaign altogether? This personally would probably bother me, and would likely have just asked you to stop.

    @Scott, Best of luck not interfering with a game that uses your own home rules, that would bother the paint out of me! I’d suggest mentioning to the DM outside of the game and ask if you can help him brush up or ask if there is anyway you can help him during the game. He may be open to the suggestions!

  8. Scott says:

    @Tyson, Your right it can be very bothersome (who uses the word bothersome!). The problems seem to stem from the some of the rules being very broken as i created the system a couple of years ago before i managed to buy any source books and really had no idea what i was doing, (Australia doesn’t really have RPG suppliers so i get all my stuff from amazon now.) Anyway over the years i’ve implented change upon change to the point the system is a mix match of my original creation and 4e. I’m currently building a newer system that is nothing like the old one and during this time playing my friends campaign. I should be able to ignore my inner backseat DM to a point though, but some in game decisions that have been made are hard not to speak up over.

    That was really long winded, sorry. lol.

    Scott

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