Sunday 16 December 2012

23 Bad Habits of Otherwise Successful GMs

Image Courtesy of and Ceramic Wombat
There are a few GMs out there with habits far worse than these. Habits so indescribably horrid, you can’t touch them with a ten-foot-pole. However, this article focuses on the most common bad habits of otherwise successful GMs. Many great GMs out there get along fine despite a few little habits which drive their players absolutely batty.
This list is written in no particular order. If you think I’ve missed anything, please feel free to share your horror stories. Enough chit chat, let’s see if we can remember how our GMs ticked us off…

1. Rail-Roading: Otherwise known as ‘forcing you into the adventure’. Rail-roading can occur whenever the GM has a plan for something to happen, you try to avoid it, and he shows you who’s boss. Classically, this begins at the start of the adventure when the players can’t decide how they all met, continues on to why they have to go in some random dungeon, and ends with an arbitrarily forced ‘hook’ for next adventure.

2. Disregard of ‘Unimportant’ Rules: Sometimes the GM will get so wrapped up in the ‘story’ that some ‘rules’ may seem trivial in comparison. Often, the GM won’t realize he’s being slightly unfair by letting a bartender auto-hit a 17th level fighter and knock him out without rolling for initiative.

3. A Sense of Balance: Well-meaning GMs sometimes try to enforce their own version of ‘balance’ on a game. This often includes detailed lists of which books are allowed, where your character can live with his 20 page background, and the fact that a 35 intimidation roll will only make peasants ‘slightly concerned’ because of ‘realism’.

4. Taking Things too Seriously: Often, and quite logically, GMs will think they’re making The-Best-Ever-Game-in-the-Universe. They will believe that they’re basically John Grisham and anything they invent is pure brilliance and can’t be messed with. If anyone dares to imply that their game world might not be perfect, or *gasp* comes up with their own cool ideas; these GMs will not hesitate to squash out their ideas like so many bugs on a trucking highway.

This kind of game will usually generate a very self-satisfied GM with very quiet players. The successful players will soon learn that flattery and ‘getting into’ the world will yield them the best results. The GM will be encouraged by this into the deluded belief that his players actually think he’s John Grisham.

5. Lack of Rules: At the opposite end of the spectrum, some GMs believe rules are for sissies. They will often come up with convoluted or downright insane random tables and bizarre creations of their own design. If it were up to them, the extent of the rules would consist of 250 pages of GM Advice which ranks somewhere below ‘optional’. Success in such games often depends on convincing the GM your ‘rule’ is a good idea. Once the GM figures something makes sense, he’ll likely make it into a new house-rule and you can do whatever you like until you run into some whacky 50 HD blob thing which wants to kill you for unknown reasons.

6. Poorly Thought-Out Adventures: There are few things more annoying to a player than a GM who doesn’t really know his stuff. Maybe he wrote some notes, but forgot them; maybe he wrote his notes last week, and can’t understand them anymore; or maybe he didn’t write any notes whatsoever, and is just making stuff up. These are the kinds of adventures that make the bravest players groan in frustration. 

For example: when the GM creates an impenetrable wall of fire just to buy time to think up the adventure, and then throws a 60th level orc archer at the party to ‘keep them busy’.

7. GMs as Players: Once in a blue moon, a long-time GM will get the hankering to be a player for a while. A great player will, no doubt, jump at the chance to GM for a while…and soon regret it. Some GMs have just been at it too long to know when to stop. When they game as a player they tend to control the adventure, make up NPC appearances, offer helpful plot advice, and arbitrarily rewrite character creation rules without telling you. Since the primary GM is often the one with the real power, telling them ‘no’ can be catastrophic for your future characters.

GMs are also used to prattling on at all times. If they aren’t describing what their characters are doing for at least 50% of the game session, they end up feeling deprived and stifled.

8. Forgetting to say ‘Yes’: Often, one of the best things a GM can do is to say ‘yes’ to the players’ ideas. Some GMs forget this concept completely and figure they’re in charge of the game. Whenever a player comes up with a cool idea, action, or plan the GM will just say, “No, you can’t do that.” 

10. Never Admitting they’re Wrong: Some GMs must always be right. It’s in the rules. If there’s a problem, it’s obviously the result of the players’ poor reasoning abilities or lack of character powers. Obviously, the system or the GM is never at fault for anything.

11. Being a Pushover: Some GMs kill off their players’ characters like no tomorrow (and occasionally for no good reason). Far more likely these days are the GMs who will pander to the might of the players and the game designers. If there’s an argument, this GM loses. If there’s a rules interpretation, the players’ votes always stand. If any player’s character happens to die *shudder*, he’ll be resurrected with no drawbacks in about 12 seconds.

These GMs will hand out magic items for the asking, treasure for the taking, and allow their players to pretty much control them in every way.

12. Ignoring the Action: GMs love to create cool stories and role-play. They’ll sometimes create elaborate and highly annoying NPCs. Some of these NPCs seem to have a hidden spell called ‘immune to everything’ which never allows them to die or suffer any ill-effect.

Sometimes, the GM will ignore the action of the adventure in exchange for mucking around and wandering about the city for the best version of iron rations. Trying to find a fight in these games would not only take forever, it would be nearly impossible.

13. Non-Combat, What’s That?: On the flip side of things, some GMs seem to be under the impression that RPGs are simply a glorified version of tabletop miniatures warfare with less pieces. The game starts with the first battle and ends with…well, it doesn’t really end; there are just more battles.

14. Weird, Cheating Dice: The rules actually encourage GMs to cheat the dice.
Also highly annoying are the times when you roll a 1 and receive obviously false information, or roll a 20 and still fail for some reason.

15. Overdeveloped sense of Fairness: Sometimes a good GM will feel it’s his duty to make his players equal. This will often result in magic items being taken away because they’re unbalanced, or other well-meaning but highly irritating feats of GM improvisation.

16. Lack of Rewards: After fighting for 15 hours, you get no treasure.

17. Outlawing Dice Towers: The GM outlaws dice towers as ‘not helpful’ to the game.

18. In-game Chat: For some reason, the GM comes up with a crazy rule to enforce whether you said something in-game or out of game.

19. Disappearing Treasure Hoard Trick: After defeating an ancient red dragon it often turns out his ‘hoard’ is 100 gp. Other times, whenever the group comes to a large, seemingly unguarded pile of treasure they just ignore it. It’ll obviously disappear or be trapped in some diabolical way.

20. Goblins Only Carry Copper: Apparently, this is quite annoying to players.

21. Thieves steal all of your Treasure: ‘Nuff said.

22. Cursed Magic Items: Hey, I thought all magic items were beneficial?

23. Poor Descriptions: You can’t really fault them for this. Player: “I know there’s a trap here, can you describe the area?” GM: “You see a door.” Player: “I check it for traps.” GM: “Where?” Player: “On the Handle.” GM: “You fall in the obvious pit trap before the door.”

...More GM Advice 

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