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2014-05-22

My Worst GMing Mistakes

To err is human... even when you are the GM. I have had my fair share of GMing fumbles over the years, here are a few and what I've learned since then.

Plot Without Players

I don't think I was ever a "rail-road" GM. If the players wandered off, I might throw the plot at them in the next town, but I never "forced" the plot.

What I did start doing was having the plot progress without the player involvement at all. I had a timeline of events that were going to happen if the PCs got involved or not. The problem with this is that all the prep and investment on my end were wasted, and the player were never quite sure why things kept happening off screen, or why things they clearly had no interest in were the focus of the game. Basically, the PCs were not the principle characters in the story, and that was not as fun as when they are.

Now, I still create strong NPCs, and they have plans. I might even set up events to trigger their next move (if the prince is killed, we declare war...), but the story is about what the players are doing. If they don't get involved, then these NPCs and their plans can go to the way side. I also try to get the players interest or party goals to be what intersects with the NPC plans.

The Michael Bay Effect

I use to have a list of GMing "tips" that I kept at the top of my GM screen, or with my game prep notes, and the first item was something like "if nothing exciting is happening, change that!" So, when I would run games at the first sign of the party floundering or things slowing down, I would have something blow up, or some crazy NPC show up screaming, or something just plain weird happen. And the next, I'd have a bigger explosion, crazier NPCs, or even more strange things.

What this led to is games racing into the "silly zone." Every scene was more over the top than the last. Plots were abandoned and the players pursued or fled from whatever new crazy thing had shown up. Sure, this was fun... for awhile, but games like this tended to burn out fast.

I still try to keep on top of when my games slow down, but now I try to keep the action a little more even. I will jot down a few ideas for "random encounters" that I can plop down, but try to make sure they bring something to the game that ties into what major NPCs are up to, or give some details of the world. I'll still throw in some crazy stuff happening, but also allow for some mild lulls. Sometimes players need a breather.

That's Not Clever Enough

Uh... this is the worst one. To put it simply, when the PCs came up with what they though was a clever plan, but I felt it wouldn't work... it didn't.

One specific example that I recall is when the players needed to "out wit" a powerful (and incredibly intelligent) wizard in a fairy-tale type game. One of the characters had "No Sense of Humor", so they devised a plan to have a battle of "wit" be a humor battle. The first person to laugh would loose. At the time, I just didn't feel this master wizard would go for this plan.

Thinking back on it, I should have allowed it. I want to encourage the players thinking outside of the normal RPG tropes, and handling things in unique ways. This was actually a good plan... and so it should have worked, or at least had the opportunity to be tested.


Well that is just some of the mistakes I've made over the years, and I am sure to make new ones. My goal isn't to be a perfect GM, just a better one each time.