Listening to the RPG Circus podcast I was struck by something they said that I realised was blindingly obvious but I had never considered. In the olden days, GMs were the gods of the gaming table for one very simple reason – they had the rules.
In original D&D and up until 2nd edition, most rules were in a separate book with only the character generation and advancement rules in the players book. This was not just D&D. Aftermath! had a separate GM’s guide and I think others did (though no other examples spring to mind). Combat, magic items, dealing the environment and much more were all in the GM’s book. These rules, in concept at least, were only known by the GM and they alone decided how to arbitrate them.
In modern games, systems are a lot more streamlined with a focus on simple basic mechanics. This makes it easier for all the rules to be in the player’s hands with the DMG only used for advice to GMs about the rules and a few GM specific things such as experience points and encounter levels. The effect of this is to make the gaming table a lot more democratic with onus for knowing the rules shifting away from the GM to the group as a whole.
Newer players probably won’t appreciate that this concept did not exist prior to the mid-80s or the effect this change has had. But when RPG Circus mentioned it, I suddenly realised how much the gaming table has changed over the years.