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My golden rule is more golden than yours

Written by Expy - Published on August 15, 2008

Leaving D&D behind… Or not!

After getting into roleplaying games the usual way, by playing Dungeons & Dragons, my friends and I slowly stopped playing D&D and picked up every other possible RPG imaginable – or so it seemed. Vampire, GURPS, Amber, Mage, Werewolf, Star Wars, you name it.

I didn’t touch a D&D Player’s Handbook for about 3 years.

And one morning I woke up and decided/knew that D&D was my favorite game. That’s right, after 3 years of not playing Dungeons and Dragons I felt that it was best RPG for me. I asked my friends if they wanted to start a D&D campaign and was met with unbounded enthusiasm – and I went on a shopping spree and bought the last revision of AD&D 2nd edition, with Combat & Tactics and all that good stuff.

Anyhow, why do I like D&D so much compared to other RPGs?

The Golden Rule

The golden rule applies to all RPGs: the DM (GM) is always right!

That rule applies to game mechanics, but also the game world. But D&D’s golden rule is more golden! The generic fantastic world in which PCs go on adventures makes absolutely no sense – and it’s perfect like that! I wouldn’t want it to change.

Whatever strikes me as a good plot hook can be justified in a split second. I can make up spells, cataclysmic events, weird monsters, whatever. And I don’t need to justify it. My players will never bat an eyelash at the weirdness of it all.

Some people would say that other RPGs don’t keep anyone from playing any type of game. But all the games that take place in the “real” world have some logic that needs to be respected, and all the games that are based on famous novels and settings have a certain feel to them. It’s hard to get away from that.

On the other hand, a D&D world always keeps me pumped about the endless possibilities. (Oh! I have an idea! Now if the PCs talk to that hooded figure in the inn I can set them on this unique quest!)

How do you feel about other RPGs and the experience they provide compared to D&D?

Let us know. Share your thoughts in the comments.

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19 Responses to “My golden rule is more golden than yours”
  1. Tommi says:

    D&D is pretty good for rules-heavy combat-centric D&D fantasy (it is a genre). Games that are not D&D do everything else better. IMO.

  2. Chad says:

    I love the idea of D&D, but this new system is the bane of all existence. I am working on making the game less MMO like. Why does World of Warcraft need to be added. They have a big following ( been playing since ’80). D&D is a favorite, tho this last version is gross, from a DM PoV.

  3. Morten Greis says:

    Well, I kindly disagree.

    First I don’t buy into the idea, that the DM/GM is always right. But leave that aside for now.

    Your second golden rule leaves me a bit perplexed, as I don’t see how D&D better supports all your crazy ideas, than any other RPG. If I were to play your D&D-setting with the GURPS rules or Storyteller, I ought to be able to realize the same order of wild ideas. So to me it is just a matter of setting, and you play with one, if I understand correctly, that is loosely enough defined for you to add any weird thing, you want – and luckily you like the rules you play with at the same time, hence you and your fellow players are having a good time.

    Most of these RPG’s have a default-setting, and some requires a greater degree of realworld-inspired realism than others, but I don’t see how the rules in themselves oppose wild ideas. Most of the rules just deal with combat, charactercreation and how to roll a skillcheck.

  4. Fishercatt says:

    The reason D&D runs so well is that it is designed like a kids show. The skinny old guy in the smelly cloak is bad. The big dude with the funny horse and the shining armor is a good guy. Kill the goombas, get the gold and XP. It’s easy to think about, and that’s why the players don’t question it. In D&D, the players can be tricked and they love it. It’s also allows, as Yax suggested, any and all scenarios without breaking theme. Want a high-tech adventure? A evil wzard and some Gnomes. Religious scandal? A charasmatic shaman. Epic war? Goblins and Dwarves, fighting for the mountain. Mystery? Politician Thief. The list goes on, and all of these scenarious can be found not only in D&D, but can all be found starting in the same tavern on the same night and few will question it. D&D is especially good for using Yax’s last minute adventure philosophy for those very same reasons.
    This is not just for the setting, but for the rules, as well. Having rigid rules set forth for XP and damage and chances to find stuff takes the onus of responsibility for plot development away from the DM and gives it to the dice. It’s that chance to end up falling into a pit with evil saber toothed tigers from another dimension to get a cursed katana and 3000 gp on your way to the outhouse that gives D&D players that constant ‘edge of your seat’ feeling. It’s easy to judge NPCs and monsters, too, if you spend all your time trying to gauge where they’re character points are (a lot easier than, say, trying to figure out how strong someone is in “the Force” without figthing”). It’s a game of bling, too. The shinier and thicker the armor, the better the fighter. It’s a very sexy game rules wise. There’s a reason no one wants to play a 13th level programmer or 6th level truck driver. There are far, far less jazz hands in other games.
    Sure, other RPGs do their thing better, but for any adventure that’s both deadly and whimsical, it’s D&D.

  5. Morten Greis says:

    And as I see it, it is one of the great limits of D&D – you can kill and gather items, and that is all, the rules supports. The rules don’t supprt (or hinder) all those crazy adventures – the rules only support the gathering of gold and the killing of monsters. But once your crazy idea doesn’t deal with that, you have no support. Actually D&D has quite it’s own limits in this manner, and there is a whole lot of cool things, you don’t get to play (since truckdrivers or programmers aren’t the only thing you lay in other games).

    I simply can’t see how D&D does a whole lot of these things better than any other RPG, as most the things you advocate are simply setting and thus can be supported by quite a few other games.

  6. Al says:


    I think the reason why D&D is our favorite(our group) is the simplicity and solid system. I think that a RPG cant be judged by the roleplay aspect. I mean nothing stops you from heavy-house rule vampire or werewolf and turn it into a epic space opera full of magic and technology, but that change will be harder than if you implant that concepts in D&D.

    Each game have their own theme and thats ok. But sometimes a great concept (mage: the awakening for example) have rules that require more effort and sometimes slow the games(dont get me wrong, I love WoD).

    In other words D&D is Da King because if I want my players to fight an evil cyborg with an arm maded with chicken wings that fire rays of energy that transformes what is touched into icecream thats ok!, So they rise their +5 fun weapons and roll!


    *Note: Woorking my english so be kind ;D

  7. Alright, let me take it one bit at a time…

    “And one morning I woke up and decided/knew that D&D was my favorite game.”

    Good for you! I’m glad that you have a favorite game.

    “The golden rule applies to all RPGs: the DM (GM) is always right!”

    Wait a minute, I think you got things a little mixed up there. One of the jobs of the game master is to arbitrate conflicts that happen at a meta level that can pile up to slow down play. By having someone with the “final word” you can resolve this conflicts even if the answer is not ‘canon’ or ‘right’ or whatever other stuff the group considers important. Second of all, the game master also adjudicates a lot of the content that pertains to what we usually call the setting, as opposed to the leads (which are influenced by the players.) and if there is an argument about the validity of such content, the game master can make a decision so that the game can continue.

    This does not mean that the GM can do whatever and the players have to take it. Everyone at the table is a player and they’re all contributing to create a shared narrative, and if someone is engaging in a disruptive action, that should be discussed and prevented if possible.

    “The generic fantastic world in which PCs go on adventures makes absolutely no sense – and it’s perfect like that! I wouldn’t want it to change.”

    Ok. I mean, I can’t argue with the things that you like. If it were for me I’d say… The fantasy world in which the PC dwell in makes sense – and it’s perfect like that! I could really go on with the gameplay problems that a nonsensical (that is not world vastly different than ours -that’s no real problem- but a world that has no coherence -that’s a biggie, since the idea of coherence is something that’s deeply attached to our understanding of reality-) world can bring, but if it works for you guys, then what’s the point?

    “Whatever strikes me as a good plot hook can be justified in a split second. I can make up spells, cataclysmic events, weird monsters, whatever. And I don’t need to justify it. My players will never bat an eyelash at the weirdness of it all.”

    I don’t really see how you can feel constrained to do whatever you want (since this is not a problem according to what you’re saying) in whatever system you want to use… the only thing that I can come up with is that if you’re playing starwars and He-Man appears your players will go: “Hey, what the heck are you doing?” while in D&D they just take it. Again, not something that has to do with the game but more with the expectations of the players. Have you tried other generic roleplaying systems? They can probably do as well as D&D for you if this is what you’re looking for.

    And a final comment regarding what Fishercatt said…

    “Having rigid rules set forth for XP and damage and chances to find stuff takes the onus of responsibility for plot development away from the DM and gives it to the dice.”

    First, the GM being responsible for plot development is not a requirement although it is a customary standard in our hobby. Second, while I understand the use of fortune in roleplaying games (and I sometimes use it and sometimes don’t), how is taking plot development from the players (including the GM) and giving it to the dice a good thing?

  8. Turlock says:

    I started playing D&D from the very beginning in 1974. Since then I’ve played a myriad of other systems in one form or another. However, I always found myself returning to D&D…. why? Because, IMHO they’re simply the best at what they do…. Giving you an RPG mechanical template onto which you can build your own game world. Before reading any further, please keep in mind that I am referring to D&D game systems regarding editions 3.5 and earlier. I have only given the 4th Edition rules the barest of perusals.

    I think the key that many folks miss when playing any RPG system is that the rules are the rules and there is no changing them…. period, end of sentence. To my gaming buds and me, the rules are merely something to give you the basic mechanical workings of the game…. the nuts and bolts if you will. Like any mechanical item, you can add or take away, tweak up or down, and modify it until it runs exactly the way you want it to. If you follow the rules verbatim, then you’ll be stuck with the same mechanical workings time and time again. Sure, they will be reliable and solid but they’ll never have much in the way of flare and/or the vital ability to adapt to new and unforeseen situations and circumstances.

    The main thing to keep in mind when employing rules from any system is, “Is everybody having fun and enjoying themselves?” And by that, I don’t mean, “Is the game always giving folks what they want to keep them happy? Are the characters always getting the “bling” they like? Did that last scenario allow Sir Smashy and crew to overcome the evil entity that was oppressing the poor hobbits of Gigglebottom Cove without losing anyone in the party?” Some of my fondest gaming memories are ones in which we didn’t know whether we were going succeed or get out alive or not. They were those “white knuckle” moments where success came down to intuitiveness, thinking on the run, an imaginative solution to an insurmountable problem and yes even, on some occasions, a lucky dice roll. But our victories were our own and not a result of the DM “throwing the dog a bone”. The DM was, of course, of the highest quality. He was able to take the ideas (even seemingly outlandish ones) of the players and make them work. Even make them appear seamless within the context of the running storyline. Truly, the hallmark of a master DM! There were, however, times when we did NOT always succeed. But even those served a purpose. Those times made our successful ventures all the more poignant. Most importantly, we walked away (if we were able to walk) as more experienced and veteran adventurers. Remember that ALWAYS giving the people what they want results in a short-lived hollow happiness. D&D was never about that. It was about giving you a framework and then letting your imagination and intuitiveness take the controls from there.

    How the game is played out has limitless possibilities because any DM worth his salt knows how to adapt to “what is around the bend”. I only need for rules to tell me the basic concepts. After that, I need little else because I don’t need rules to tell me what I should be thinking. Over the years, I’ve found that any RPG system that gives you rules for every aspect of gaming is severely stifling to creativity. It manacles the imagination. It fetters spontaneity. Of course, there are many other systems that allow for these things as well. The ones that are more “limiting” are usually the ones that are set in a specific time period or, as Yax mentioned, in our “real” world. So it essentially boils down to game mechanics. It’s about game mechanics insomuch as, allowing for the DM to take the game in any direction. Game systems that tend to cover aspects outside of “…when to roll the dice…” (i.e. combat, skill checks, etc.) dictate what boundaries I have to tack onto my imagination. I’ve used (and continue to use) D&D rules because I simply like the mechanics of them over other systems. They seem to possess a balance of being neither overly simplistic nor incredibly complex to the point of stagnation with regards to game flow. Best of all, they don’t suffocate free thought.

    At their finest moments, RPG’s are games of the imagination. Being that really means that when one encounters limits or the lack of rules covering things outside the realm of basic mechanics, then the limitation or shortcomings are really not to be placed on the game system…. Rather, they are ones that we are placing upon ourselves.

  9. JC says:


    I can’t say if I agree or not with Yax because… I am to young (21years old) ! My first D&D adventure was with the 3.5 edition, so I don’t know how the 2nd edition is, if it is dongeon crawling oriented, etc…

    But I can tell you that there is an unknown role playing game that is especially designed to let the DM do what he wants. It fits to fantasy, space opera or modern worlds. There is no class and you build your own character style. The name of this game is Dk (edited by john doe).

    Note : I just realized that Dk is a french game and that I think that there is no english translation…

    So excuse me for advertising for a french game, but as I love this game and as I think that this is a game that particullary fits with Yax’s requierements, I posted this reply…

    P.S.:Excuse me for my languages mistakes, I am not very used to write in english. I wanted to say many other things, but the language limited the length of this comment.

  10. Ravyn says:

    D&D I can live with, but it’s not my primary, and the only reason it’s my secondary is that my original secondary is out of print.

    Then again, I was a writer first and a gamer second, and as a result many of the things that you were presenting as advantages are for me weaknesses. Internal consistency is a bit too important to me (sorry 4, I know you tried!). I don’t mind being limited to one genre or even one feel; if I want to play with a different feel, I’ll switch systems. I like there actually being visible advantages for my putting effort into my descriptions or coming up with clever and slightly off the wall plans, I like being able to play someone who’s practically useless in a fight without it completely ruining my ability to contribute to the game, I like magic item rules that aren’t utterly broken, and I like being able to whip up an NPC at a moment’s notice without having to worry about how x adjustment to skills affects just about everything else.

    I’m with Morten. There are things far better suited to my playstyle out there.

  11. Martin Ralya says:

    That’s a very cool perspective, Yax — thanks for a good article. I’ll have to mull this over a bit, but I definitely see where you’re coming from.


  12. Thasmodious says:

    I had pretty much exactly the same experience, around the same time. First it was Shadowrun that lured us away, then Star Wars, Top Secret SI, and several others. Missing straight fantasy, we took up Runequest for a couple years. Then one day, I felt the siren song of D&D, remembered things like magic missile and fly, bags of holding, and beholders, and when I suggested to the group we convert our existing RQ campaign back to AD&D, they were completely behind it, and we haven’t looked back since. Sure, we’ve dabbled here and there, but our main game has remained D&D since that time.

  13. Joey says:

    Congrats on the Ennie

  14. Morandir says:

    The Golden Rule is always the same for all games; however, a good DM/GM will only use it to end the argument and then find an agreeable solution or the correct rule before the next session. These often result in House Rules of which new players should be informed of ahead of time.

    31 years of playing D&D and it is still my favorite. While 4e changed enough [I don’t feel that it is backwards compatible] that I had to start a new campaign. I have found it no different in the role-playing. My players’ even think that the monsters are too tough, I like to think it reminds me of 1e.

    Other Favorites are Traveller 1e and the Morrow Project. They are utterly generic a can be used in many ways.

    Gamma World while generic I also thought of as to juvenile and not gritty enough for the subject. Also juvenile are BESM, Paranoia, and Macho Women with Guns, but light hearted.

    Other games or campaign settings/worlds: d20 Modern, Top Secret, Shadow Run, Cyberpunk, Twilight 2000, Aftermath, Darwin’s World, Battle Tech, StarTrek, StarWars, MERP/LotR, Dragonlance, Ravenloft, Forgotten Realms, Greyhawk, Mystara, Spelljammer, Eberron, Scarred Lands, Al-Qidim, Kara-Tur, Bushido, L5R, Birthright, Planescape, Vampire, Deadlands, Warhammer RPG, Arcanum [Atlantis], Call of Cthulhu, Stormbringer, Gang Busters, Indiana Jones, Conan, Star Frontiers, Boothill, and both Marvel and DC superheroes all lacked this quality and I’ve would have to say they are the source of more arguments when you try to go against canon or screw-up a modern setting you’ve never been to.

    I‘ve played WOW and Everquest and while I believe the new rules are more palpable to the MORPG players when it comes down to it there is no comparison.

    With D&D the players can change the course of the world, nothing is routine, no dungeon the same, sitting with your fellow players and watching for the next turn of events that unfolds behind that screen. And always do you get the memories and stories of doing something that 16 million people have never done.

  15. Tom says:

    I’m a fan of D&D as my primary system preference. I love Cyberpunk 2020 and World of Darkness games as well, but D&D is usually my default. That said, I’m not sure I agree with you Yax.

    The Golden Rule, as Yax puts it, applies to most games IMHO. I don’t see any reason why it doesn’t apply. What the GM says, goes. I can’t remember a single game where we didn’t operate on that. As such, I don’t see why that should be the reason for D&D being your preference.

    I prefer D&D because the mechanic makes sense to me, and I love fantasy settings. It’s just that simple. But, I’m not that complicated a guy ;)

  16. Justin Mason says:

    I think overall some people forget the very purpose of a Role-Playing Game. It’s to have fun. If you’re playing a game, and not enjoying the overall process, that’s idiocy.

    To be honest, and I don’t care what anyone says, or how many facts or opinions they have to back it up, no game system is any better than another in any way. It comes down to the gaming-group preference – and every group differs.

    As a DM / GM who runs campaigns with several different groups, I can attest that Dungeons & Dragons is the best game system for one of them, while another group would be bored silly with the focus on combat and constant skill checks. And yet another group I run uses a “house rule” system that combines the combat system of Dungeons & Dragons (with unique rules enhancement/modifications) with a more free-form RP system that doesn’t require a constant roll of dice to “see if my character can do that”.

    Some groups like to rule-crunch, others don’t want to think about it. Some like complex rules that provide balance and other groups would find that hindering. Some groups are more focused on getting treasure and leveling-up than they are developing in-depth character stories and twisting plots. It’s a dynamic, and thankfully we have the numerous different game systems with their vast difference that, as Game Masters, allow us to have fun with a verity of different groups.

    Deciding what game system is “best” depends on a lot of factors: the maturity of the particular group of gamers, the diversity of the group, experience of the group as players, personal preferences of the players. Also, your experience as a Game Master, how comfortable you are, do you want/need a very static system, or something dynamic and flowing? All of these things have to be taken into consideration when determining what works best. And, then sometimes just a change of pace can be a good, and breathe new life into a game group.

    This topic comes up so often on so many different mediums; I think perhaps it would be a good idea, and maybe a fun undertaking, to develop some sort of rating system with very specific presets for ranking. Something that could be applied universally to game systems that wasn’t subjective, and would help Game Masters determine the functionality of a game system at-a-glance. Not sure that on top of my employment, running multiple game groups, and developing my own custom game system, that I have the time to dedicate to it, but maybe several folks could come together to work on something like this – which would be much more useful and constructive than “My game system is better than yours,” or “That game system sucks”.

    Anyway, back to the point: Nearly two decades of being a Game Master has taught me that it comes down to what works best with the particular circumstances. And, even that can change over time. Just my two-cents worth.

    As far as “the Golden Rule” – Sometimes it’s imperative, sometimes it’s annoying. As a DM / GM, it’s important to keep the flow of the game session moving along, but if you sense your players are starting to loose interests or become overly annoyed at your “I rule all” concept, then just back off… It’s not the end of the world to bend the rules from time-to-time behind the screen just to let the players have a good time. – They don’t even have to know about it. ;)

    – /JM

  17. D&D’s not bad, but, as a system, it is much more combat oriented than many others out there. That’s not a bad thing, but it does limit what you can do with D&D. D&D campaigns often work themselves into high-epic fantasy, wherein your humble origins lead, ultimately, to becoming neigh-invulnerable and a force capable of shaping the world. And that’s great if that’s what you want. However, D&D doesn’t handle some things very well. A level-based system, in my experience, tends to encourage storytelling that results in some fairly predictable plots. You go out, and quest to acquire power. Each quest is, generally, a discrete point that adds up to some greater goal, that ultimately will result in some culminating encounter with a mastermind figure that controls lots of minions that it sends to thwart you.

    Non-level and class based systems tends to result in a much more nebulous sort of story. Antagonists compete with you in varied realms. Sometimes they’re social, and will work to undermine your reputation. Sometimes they’re stealthy, and will undermine you through careful acquisition of intelligence. You rarely have a single, overpowering foe (the dark wizard in the tower, sending his goblin minions at you to provide tasty XP to level up on). In fact, your opposition may be someone that you could, in combat, crush with little or no effort. However, there are other forces that prevent that. These systems generally seem to push to richer, more complex characters and far less linear stories. And that is something that I really like about them.

    I’m not saying you can’t do any story in any system. I’m just saying that if you spend three gaming sessions in D&D without ever rolling initiative, your players are likely to get irritable and complain about a “lack of plot.” However, if you do that in, say, World of Darkness, your players are likely to feel like they’re really doing something.

  18. Alphadean says:

    Its all a matter of perspective. When it comes to fantasy over all D&D is the best there is at what it does. Is D&D my favorite not by a long shot. Ya see I like Roleplaying Games at its core. My find fires off on so many cylinders that I see the multi-verse in my head. With that being said, I can’t live my RPG life stuck in the pages of D&D (though I love it) Sometimes I need to done my cape and shiny red boots and fly through the air, shooting bolt of energy from my golden garbed hands. or perhaps I need to pilot my space fighter into the heart of the alien armada to save the day. In all honesty it doesn’t make a difference. See at the end of the day it makes little difference what genre I play or the setting. Its the story and the social experience of it all. So at the end of the day D&D is not my favorite, but nor is anything else for that matter.

    I will not go into a long dialog, but 4E by far is my biggest disappointment in recent years. I’ve read read 4E and it just doesn’t make the grade so PathFinder gets my money hands down


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