Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Classic Beginner GM Mistakes

Gamesmastering Style

- Railroading.
- Author Appeal - "what I think is cool must be cool"
- Focused only on combat to the exclusion of role playing: weak narrative - numbers focused.
- Excessive cheating.
- GM plays all NPCs with the same personality and mannerisms.
- GM does not narrate well (stilted descriptions).

Player Interaction

- Not understanding player preferences.
- GM Rules lawyering (niddling over rules with players in-game).
- GM allowing rules lawyering during the game.
- GM fails to establish reasonable player expectations (what kind of game are we playing?)
- GM Egotism - playing the game to Beat the Players and WIN THE GAME (bad, bad, bad).
-- Abusive GM Fiat.
-- GM-PC - another symptom of GM Egoism. Falling in love with one's own NPC.
-- Player Favoritism - the GM's Girlfriend, or best friend.

Game Prep

- Not knowing the rules well enough.
- Being under-prepared for the game.
- Overstacking the odds against the player characters (accidentally or otherwise).
- Understacking the odds against the player characters.
- Rules Tunnel Vision - being locked in by the rules making the world limited, technical and predictable.
- Mediocre story.
- Too much control over Players.
- Creating overly complicated scenarios (and then losing track and creating internal contradictions).
- Creating overly simplistic scenarios (uninteresting).
- Monty Hall Dungeons (can work, sometimes, but not often).
- GM failing to establish party unity in the back story or setting.
- GM does not know their world well enough (the "um um um" syndrom).
- Pampering Players.
-- Giving out too much stuff too fast (treasure, info, etc).
-- Never letting PCs die.

The list was gleaned from discussions at one of our Literary Role Playing Game Society of Westchester Meetings not too long ago.  I thought it was a good enough list to share.  Perhaps it will save some Newbie Gamesmasters from some of the common pitfalls of the beginning GM.   Best wishes!


Corey said...

Your blog post does absolutely nothing to encourage new players to have a go at GMing. Rather, you point out all the things that you think make a bad GM. Furthermore, you conclude your post with the notion that you have performed a great service to GMing by pointing out all these "pitfalls" that your "Literary Role Playing Game Society of Westchester" has decreed. Well, that's a long list for a "newbie gamemaster" to get his or her head around. Your "Literary Role Playing Game Society of Westchester" needs to do us all a favour and get over yourselves. As a DM for over 35 years I've come up with a much more concise list of what makes a bad payer:

* Expecting to be "entertained" by the GM.
* Invalidating the GMs work just to be an asshat. "Adventure lies East,eh? Then we head west."

vbwyrde said...

ok. sorry if you were offended. We not decreeing anything. Just making what we hope are useful notes for ourselves, and if they help anyone else, great. I didn't think we made enough of an impression on the world to require "doing us all a favor" since hardly anyone knows we exist as far as I know. Anyway, I do agree with your bad player list, though.

IntrepidOtaku said...

Actually, I found the list very useful because It helped me realize a few things that I have been doing wrong for a long time, but never have the balls to admit to myself. I constantly get lazy and end up role-playing all my no-name NPC's in pretty much the same way. I also have a lot of problems with running encounters as planned and then running out of time at a session for roleplaying. So, this is a good thing to look at. It isn't like you are coming into my house and telling me that I am a bad DM, if you don't want to read this list, don't read it. If you find yourself doing a few things on this list, but not many others, maybe you have no problems, but if you find yourself doing a lot of them, maybe you need to modify how you do things. ALso, i doubt that this post is going to turn anyone off of trying their hand at being a DM... seriously...

vbwyrde said...

Thanks for the comment Shinobicow. That does provide a bit of reassurance that at least it can be helpful to some GMs. The intention of the LRPGSW is to provide useful tools and advice to GMs, so it's always nice to know when we've succeeded. :)

Anonymous said...

I would like to thank you for posting this. We are playing with a 30 year veteran GM who makes most of these mistakes and when we call him on them he says that's too bad that is how I play the game.

He purposely setup a pc killer encounter to wipe out our 1st lvl party. He wants to beat us and now instead of making reasonable encounters following the rules on encounter lvls he's just filled the party with NCPs who are a lot stronger with magical weapons and he's basically playing against himself and we are just supposed to sit back and watch.

vbwyrde said...

Sometimes GMs never learn, even after 30 years because for them it is a personality issue that is the cause, and that is not resolvable through the study of GM techniques. If the situation is intractable then I advise finding a new GM, as that is the natural course of events in that case. Conversely, you could learn from his example of what not to do, and GM yourself.

I should say, though, that GMing is both an art and science, and is not necessarily easily done well. But for those who master it, the results can be very rewarding. Best wishes to you and your group.

glenn griswold said...

A suggestion - instead of just listing all of these pitfalls, perhaps a short explanation or description of each issue would be useful, as well as a possible suggestion for dealing with it?

vbwyrde said...

That's a good idea Glen. Ok. I'll work on that and post something soon. Thanks.

Grumpf said...

The "playing all the NPCs with the same personality" is something I encountered a lot with inexperienced GM. I make a point to avoid it at all cost in my games as a GM. Taking notes and usually referring to one NPC as X from this book or TV serie etc (internally). It's easy and make the world more interesting.

Like NPC A: William Riker TNG. Even if it's a she (changing sex of your NPCs is a good way for your players to never find what you used as a base).

It's also somehow linked to the falling in love with your own NPCs, be a Georges and kill them when the players are attached. Good drama without the cost of killing PCs. Keep them focused :)

Gabicus Rex said...

Thanks for the list. I haven't played in quite a bit and am in the process of starting up again with my children.

While trying to remember that my kids want to have fun, I tend to make the rules lax and slowly let them ease into the game. My kids are 10 and 4 so I don't want to overwhelm them and lose their interest.

Gives me things to think about.