My Gaming Renaissance, Part 2

I recently quit from my gaming group of 10 years.

This was due to ideological differences. We have different expectations on how these games should work. This friction has stressed me out for all of those 10 years. I put a stop to it and left.

Refusing to believe that I’m a control freak, I did some soul searching about this hobby and my interest in it.

I don’t want to control the setting, but I want the setting to be controlled.

Any make-believe game must have some sort of boundaries, otherwise we’re just playing cops and robbers. These games require some basic structure and a judge or referee to make calls about what happens whenever there’s ambiguity. It also needs some form of randomization, hence dice or cards.

Without fictional  limitations (rules) or a chance of failure, why even play a game?

Below is a list of my core GM ideologies.

Respect the Rules 

The Rules are a point of reference that we use to interact with the fictional world. House Rules must be agreed upon unanimously.

If you don’t like a rule when it comes up in the game, I will make a ruling to avoid puting the game on hold. A post-game compromise comes in the form of a House Rule. As already noted, any House Rules must be approved by all players, no exceptions.

Why do I insist on this? House Rules have ruined campaigns. Sure I have come across wonky rules and decided to tweak them. But more than once I’ve been asked (or even suggested myself) to change a core element of the game system. I’ve always regretted it after.

If you don’t approve of the rules that we’re using, or don’t trust in you GM to be a fair referee, then please don’t play anymore.

Respect the chance of failure

There will always be a risk of failure when the dice roll. That’s the point. Bad things happen to protagonists in fiction. That’s called conflict. Embrace it!

I only call for dice rolls when the chance of failure will make things interesting and/or will move the game fiction forward.

In other words: if failure would be boring or would grind the game to halt, then never mind rolling the dice.

Failure comes in many forms than just losing hit points. In my latest trap-filled dungeon, each trap (once sprung) had multiple consequences that the players could choose. These were the usual choices:

  • Hit point loss (the usual default)
  • A negative condition (or Debility)
  • Loss of gear or consumables
  • Another Character gets hurt instead

These are all inherently bad things, but the player could choose the flavor or type, based on what kind of drama that they wanted to explore. Most of the players hated this. I found this immensely frustrating: I’ve met other GMs who are ruthlessly cruel with traps. Many times the players had no choice at all! Don’t get me started on Save-or-Die traps or spells.

I don’t appreciate complaints of failed dice rolls due to chance despite the fact that I strongly emphasize that I’m a fan of the characters and that I always try to make failure interesting.

If you complain about the consequences of failure that I’ve come up with, despite my efforts to create heroic drama and tension, then please don’t play in my games.

Respect the GM

The GM is there to host the game and make sure everyone’s entertained. The GM will sometimes make rulings despite the rules if it makes sense, is fair and/or moves things along.

As a GM, I spend a lot of time preparing the world for you. That in itself does not entitle someone to your trust: I’ve had terrible GMs who spend years painstakingly creating an intricate campaign world. But if you know me, and know my GMing style, my goal is not antagonistic. I’m there to set a stage for you to play in. I’m your supporter, your cheerleader. I present opportunities for your characters to do great, amazing things.

As soon as you show signs of suspicion or reluctance, that wears down my fun. I’ve made mistakes, of course. I’ve made modules that were done in the best interest of fun, but miscalculated badly. But I’ve always tried to change things up when others have expressed displeasure.

Again, I’m not there to punish or to pick a fight with the players. I’m not trying to kill the characters: a GM has to power to kill all of the players instantly via instant world explosion or anything else. There is no fun in killing the player character off for no reason.

Another pet peeve of mine is player secrets and whispered plans against the GM. We’re not playing poker or chess. Sudden surprises don’t make the game better: they catch me off guard and grind the game to a halt as I have to re-assess the situation. Don’t do that.

If you don’t trust the GM or if you feel that I’m opposed to you, please don’t play in my games.

Respect the other Players

Everyone is at the table to have fun. The fun is not centered on any one person. Don’t be selfish and don’t be antagonistic to other characters unless the other player is okay with that.

You, the player, has control over your imagined character. If you choose to make the character a jackass, that’s YOU deciding to be a jackass. You can’t hide behind your imaginary friend.

“But… it’s what my character would do!” I understand getting into the role of your character, wrinkles and all. That’s fine. But that immersion and verisimilitude should not come at the expense of the other players’ fun. If you decide to make your character do something antagonistic to another character, I’ll ask you to pass that by to the other player. If you won’t, then I, the GM will, whether you like it or not. Your fun does not trump the group’s fun. If you insist on following through with this course of action, then you have no right to complain about the dire consequences that may follow.

You don’t HAVE to be an asshole. You’re CHOOSING to be an asshole. You don’t HAVE to shoot the other character in the face because of a ideological difference: you’re CHOOSING to do that yourself. Your character doesn’t HAVE to be an antisocial, aggressive and uncooperative lone wolf: YOU are choosing to do that and put the game at risk.

If your character’s specific story arc and bullheaded nature comes at the expense of game harmony, then please don’t play in my games.