Anarchy in the D&D

Well, I have officially run out of questions, but instead of just skipping out on a blog this week I decided to shove my unrequested opinions in your face instead.  I’ve been thinking lately about the social/governing structure of Roleplaying games, and how a truly healthy one bears a strong resemblance to social anarchism.

The only real symbol of anarchy.

On the surface one might assume that the DM/GM is in charge, and a Roleplaying game has an inherent hierarchy built-in to it, but in my experience this is a fallacy and one that’s perpetuated by the “DM as God” concept.  I’ve talked a lot previously about Roleplaying as co-creation, and any good game should be doing this.

The Player’s create their characters, histories, and insert them into a world and history created by the DM.  Both depend intimately on the other.  The DM has only an imagined authority because he/she gets to say, “You’re dead” or “You failed,” but this is only so because the Players assume that the DM is following a set of rules they all share and agreed upon.  If the DM were to toss these rules aside, and the Player’s found out, the DM would quickly be overthrown and a mutiny would be at hand.

Take from Daddy Grognard’s blog.

Everyone is playing an agreed upon role, and no one possesses any real authority.  The rules are the only true authority, and no one imposes those rules on anyone.  The group has chosen the game system they like best and all agree they like the rules, and if they don’t, they all agree together to adopt house rules.  The DM doesn’t make up new rules on a whim and impose them on his/her Players (or I should say, a good DM avoids doing this). 

There is a common misunderstanding of anarchy that rules don’t exist, and this is of course due to ignorance based on popular representations of anarchy by television, film and stupid people.  There are many different types of anarchy, but most forms of anarchy, with the exception of extreme individualist anarchy, allow for and require rules of governance.  Social anarchism removes authority figures and hierarchies by giving authority to everyone equally.

Taken from CrimethInc.

In my experience, this is exactly what we do around the gaming table.  If someone gets upset about something, he/she generally refers back to the rules and a discussion is had by all until (hopefully) everyone agrees that either the upset Player is in the right, or he’s just being a whiny assface.  Ideally, after such discussions everyone walks away mostly happy, and no one sits around pouting for too long.  The simple fact here is that the DM doesn’t say “Tough shit, what I say goes!”  (Again, I’m assuming a good DM here).  DMs need to be open to discussion, and a good DM wants his Players to be happy because there’s no game otherwise. 

Likewise, if Players are thoughtful, they should realize that they want a happy DM on their hands as well.  A happy DM gives the Players what they need and want, and happy Players make the DM enjoy the game.  There’s a mutual give and take, and only when an imbalance occurs does anyone get upset.

Take from Positive Anarchy.

In games where the DM has ultimate authority, Player’s generally tire of them quickly.  Even in a democratic environment where majority rules, you inevitably end up with one or two Players that are going to get annoyed.  We all know what it’s like to have just one upset Player.  They bring down the entire game.  They suck the fun out of things and find every excuse they can to complain.  When it’s more than one Player you can often end up with a strong enough split where people just say “Screw it!  Let’s go start our own game!”   Then instead of a fully functional adventuring party you have two halves of a party trying to run their own campaigns and everyone ends up sad, lonely and angry (just like America).

The best gaming table is one where everyone has equal say, where everyone has a voice, where problems are addressed and discussed, and where mutual consensus is the ultimate goal (even if it’s impossible at times).  Good government is like good gaming, and every healthy gaming table around the world is evidence that social anarchism is possible, at least on a small-scale.  So next time you’re around the table, raise up your fistful of dice and cry out:

Fuck the government, let’s play some D&D!

Please submit more questions! 

If you wish to submit a question to the Dungeon Master, please e-mail them to, or you can Tweet me a question @AskthedDM. And make sure to review the disclaimer.

You can also see me in action in One Die Short.

This entry was posted in Dungeons & Dragons, Geek Culture, General Roleplaying, Philosophy, Science and Culture and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Anarchy in the D&D

  1. Pingback: Dealing with Dumbasses Around the Table | Ask the Dungeon Master

  2. Pingback: Geeks, Punks and You | Answers to Life, the Universe and Roleplaying

  3. Grace says:

    The Palpatine picture is an excellent choice.

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