The Bad GM

This is a tough landmine to avoid. It’s easy as hell to get infatuated with the “master” part of game mastering. The problem that most people who run these games get into is a rigid sort of storytelling. While this works when you are writing, it’s the most frustrating thing in the world to have a picky, finicky game master. There’s a fine line between running the game and dictating the table. I like to compare running a good game to building the pyramids; a pain in the ass that I should get someone else to do. More realistically, it’s like forming any sort of relationship with people.

The first thing that every group needs is at least some respect for one another. This doesn’t mean that players and game masters need to be the best of friends, but there should be an understanding. Everyone is there for fun, and it’s best to leave the issues around you at the door. Don’t go in with a chip on your shoulder, or a grudge that you need to fulfill. I had a player once who had been power gaming – hard. He was at the first level, and had messed with his character’s stats and gear that made him invulnerable. Game after game I dealt with this, focusing entire encounters around killing this character. The game, on the whole, suffered. 

The same thing can be said of game lore and me. It’s too easy to be a control freak around a world that you loved creating. I’ve created worlds that I loved, and stories that I thought were great, only to have them derailed by players. It’s easy to throw a tantrum and demand the game be played the way you want it to be played, and harder to give more leniency to the players. 

There are solutions for this, but they require one of the hardest forms of preparation: relaxing. When you get down to the brass of it all, the issue is you. The best way to mitigate this problem is to get your players more involved. If fantastical races or multiple countries are involved, ask players to come up with histories: wars, allies, and great people. 

When it comes to the actual playing, don’t be a dictator. Table talk is going to happen, and it needs to. Don’t be afraid to rein in control if the game veers wildly off topic, but don’t stifle the humour or the fun of playing games. 

Always remember that fun is the primary goal of all of this. If you keep that in mind, you’ll be liked more by that people joining you. 

Photo Credit:  Nick Benjaminsz

Michael Houle

Michael Houle is an insatiable reader, writer, gamer, and musician, and a critic of everything written, programmed, and performed. He is currently in the process of destroying his enjoyment of everything. Michael has been running tabletop games for years, starting in his freshmen year of high school to the present.

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