Jan 052017

It’s Throwback-Thursday, where we revisit an awesome article from years ago…

You know the drill: A group of gamers get together, one’s a GM and the rest of us are players.

  • The GM makes the monsters – we kill them.
  • He makes the NPCs – we steal from them.
  • He makes the traps – we get trapped by them.
  • He designs the adventures – we get railroaded by him.
  • He against us, us against him, so on and so on, forever and ever.

When your group is coming up with a plan, do you all plan it in front of the GM? Does he or she take a break to get food from the fridge, so he’s only half listening? Do you make him get up and leave because you are convinced that if he knew your plans, he would have time to prepare a heart-sinking thwarting?

We did that just the other day. We had to get something done and so began discussing it at the table. The GM began to ask us a question and that’s when we decided to make him leave. We wanted to surprise him with our “great plan.” We wanted to crush – no, demolish his adventure halfway through. We wanted to beat him. So, he agreed to leave the table (seemingly happily) and then went out to the living room to watch some TV.

Ten minutes later we called him back and the game resumed. As you can imagine, our great plan promptly backfired atomic-style because of something stupid that we had overlooked. It really ruined our fun, and almost ruined the whole session.

Later that night I had a talk with the GM. He told me that (1) he was going to inform us of our mistake during our planning phase, but we had stopped him, (2) he initially enjoyed leaving the room for ten minutes, and (3) for the rest of the night he felt bad that we weren’t really enjoying ourselves. He said he didn’t like sitting at the end of the table, when everyone else was having zero fun. He flat out asked me, “Why do you feel you have to beat me?”

So that got me thinking. Why do I, as a player, feel it is him against us? Probably because I’m trying to beat his armor class, I guess.

The GM’s job is to challenge and reward us. Their job is not to throw monsters, enemies, and encounters our way to see which side wins, it’s to give us something to do and accomplish… to help us shape a story. That right there practically guarantees fun’ness.

Put yourself into the shoes of the GM. As the GM, are you going to have fun when the players beat you, or are you going to have fun when the players accomplish the challenges you put in front of them, when your players help progress the story and their individual stories?

You, as the GM, know that you can kill the PCs by throwing the book at them. You, as the GM, also know that that is no fun for anyone. For a good group of fun’ness, all you’re trying to do is give them opportunities for accomplishment, not opportunities for death’ness.

To all us players out there: Don’t gloat about ‘winning’ until you walk a mile in the GM’s shoes. That way, when you do win, you’re a mile away, and you have new shoes. -Wait, I think I messed that joke up. Oh well.

As for you GMs out there, it is not your place to make things difficult for the players, every, single, time. Give the players something easy, to show them that you are not against them, but to help them shine. And when they shine after accomplishing something especially great (after much hard work getting to that point), congratulate them. In the end, remember that you are directing a story that involves the players ultimately winning, achieving success, or getting their stories told. When that happens, everyone has won.

Players, after you win or beat the adventure, or whatever, thank the GM for a good game, because he or she put in a lot more work getting you there than you did – all so that everyone could have some fun. Remember that a gaming group is a group of 5 that get together to have fun, not a group of 4+1.

Good Game Everyone!

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Charisma Keller

Charisma is a self-proclaimed Gran Tourismo champion, and swears that it’s official (or that it should be). She loves strength and beauty, so she usually tries to combine the two. Her characters are confident, humble, foolish, and heroic, and has named at least two of them after her favorite drink, the Lemon Drop. Oh yeah, her favorite muscle car would be the 67 GT-500E.

  13 Responses to “The GM is not a player, or is he?”

  1. Excellent article, and I loved the title and the game story, well-written and heartbreaking. Your DM sounds like a good one; hold onto him as long as you can!

    Honestly, I have to wonder when this VERSUS attitude is going to go away. Maybe it’s just a part of our human nature, competitiveness built into our DNA.

  2. Thanks Dixon. Honestly, I was a little nervous about posting this – it’s my first one!

  3. I think the whole verus thing comes just simply from the fact, when you look at the gaming table, it looks very one vs the rest. Any new player with zero experience to the hobby might simply think thats the way it is.

    I guess it all just boils down to education in some respects. Education of newer players (And maybe old ones to some extent I guess). I know that one thing I do with newer players is to invite them out for a drink or two to go over, not only any character ideas they might have, but to also explain what type of GM I am, as well as any group quirks or machanics.
    This seems to work pretty well… or at least it has for me. Its a rare thing these days that I get any games falling apart due to an Us vs GM mind set.

    On another note though, nice first arcticle Charisma. 🙂

  4. That is so true! I try to make planning sessions interactive so that I (as GM) can warn the players of anything they decide that is a) stupid or b) based on something they should know but I forgot to tell them or c) based on a basic misunderstanding of what has been going on.

    Also sometimes my players plan their response to a situation based on their knowledge that I have obviously planned a certain idea they know I am going to really enjoy carrying out, and they want me to have fun too.

    Adversarial styles don’t really suit me, I suppose.

  5. Sadly, I’ve been that adversarial GM at one time or another.

    Good first article, Charisma.


  6. It’s nice to read articles about DMing from a player’s perspective – and I totally agree.

    It’s great to crush (and be crushed by) the players in something like Descent, ‘cos that’s the point – but if you’re roleplaying it’s different.

    I prefer to make stuff up as I go along anyway, in response to the players’ actions; I’m fine with great ideas “breaking” my adventure because everyone has more fun that way. The best game I ever ran was a one-off in PDQ – we started off on a plane in the Adriatic and went wherever we went, which included on-fire-dogfights and driving-a-truck-down-some-stairs-while-fighting-minions-off-the-back-and-being-chased-by-motorbikes. When I came back the next week with stuff planned, it all fell flat. I guess it’s better when we’re not second guessing each other.

    Great first article, bonus points for fun’ness!

  7. Very good piece … insightful and as both a player and a GM I totally agree. One thing on perhaps a tangent to this is the notion of GMs trying to be players as well as GMs. I’ve recently been playing with a GM who really always has to have their own “character” in the party. We aren’t talking a helpful heal-bot or a necessary expert (guide, sage, etc.) that occasionally or temporarily accompanies the party. We are talking about a player character run by the GM whome he makes checks for, does actions that effectively railroads the parties, and frequently steals the spotlight from the real PCs with. To me this is a major mistake, its bad GMing and I don’t advise it, nor do I do it myself. The only reason I don’t just pull him aside and talk to him about it is he isn’t a good listener … he is going to do what he wants to do … we’ve been down that road with him before. I am trying to re-establish a gaming group so I don’t want to nuke the game and alienate him over something that while annoying at times isn’t completely killing the game. Believe me I know that communication is key and being able to be honest as a group is vital to a good game … its something I’m trying to slowly work through with him.

  8. You mean people actually play DMPCs as a regular thing? I thought they were a thing of myth and legend? O.O

  9. It’s funny that most of my role-playing friends never had a problem telling our friends to our GM. One of the GMs believed that it was his duty to keep us challenged and tailored the adventure to our plans to keep the playing challenging. Some complained, but I enjoyed those sessions. Most of those plans also happened to be mine because I was the mission leader in the group.

    A second GM helped us with our planning by pointing out critical flaws that he felt our characters would have known. He also fleshed out details about any environment. This GM feels that it is important for everyone to have fun. He also likes to see the players succeed in their missions.

    We did have one GM in the group who believed that it was him vs everyone else. He even had a GMPC that no one could beat in a fight. Few people enjoyed his game.

    When I GM (I currently am running a fantasy campaign under Strands of Fate) I do not do much pre-planning other than a quick outline and I let the characters plans determine the course of the campaign.

    There are pros and cons with each style. Regardless, I believe in planning in front of the GM. If the players feel the need to plan behind the GM’s back, the game is probably not that much fun.

  10. Good article. One every gaming group should read so they are on the same page.

  11. I’ve voluntarily left the room on occasion where I want my players to plan their next course of action without asking me a ton of questions. I don’t feel like answering questions like what do you think we should do?

    Sometimes it’s good to do this as the party needs a clusterfuck every now and then to keep them grounded and highlights the importance of examining all the evidence. It also makes it a challenge for me as DM to try to get the party back on track and yet at the same time make it feel like they are the masters of their own destiny.

    In any case as Baron Helmuth von Moltke would say “No battle plan ever survives contact with the enemy”

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