In a role-playing game like Dungeons and Dragons, a group of players will sometimes coalesce into more than a group: as I (and others) have described, they will form, storm, norm and start performing as a team. Once a group has survived those early stages by aligning around a purpose and sorting out who is in charge, they can start playing at a very high level. This is when characters start synchronizing attacks, players have learned who knows the most about the skills rules, and the group – or rather, the team – has developed ways of resolving tactical disagreements.
D&D presents an interesting dynamic because often times, the players don’t feel like they’re on the same team as the dungeon master. Conventional player wisdom believes that the DM’s job is to create obstacles and challenges. He has a screen that hides die rolls and limits information. The group’s purpose is to overcome those challenges; the DM is their adversary, not their ally.
There is another way to think about these relationships: the purpose of the gaming group is not to overcome obstacles, the purpose is to create interesting stories and to craft a fun and satisfying play experience for everyone involved. While the player characters are certainly on different teams than the DM’s monsters, the players are on the same team as the dungeon master. We’re all in this together. We’re all trying to navigate the rules, have a good time and tell a good, exciting story together.
It’s much easier to resolve interpersonal conflicts after you begin with the premise that the DM and the players are on the same team. Should a DM make an encounter too difficult, it’s much easier to forgive him when you begin with the premise that you have the same primary goals. Naturally, the DM’s job is different from the players’, just as a baseball pitcher’s job is different from the first baseman’s and a striker’s is from a defender’s. That just means we have variety in the roles to play in our pursuit of challenge and fun.