The GM’s Ten Commandments: GM vs. Players

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #1038

RPT GM Krys sent me this article on The GM’s Ten Commandments.

While an old article from 1987, it still has some good advice.

The first of Volny’s commandments made me stop and reflect:

Do not consider the players as adversaries

“If the players quickly neutralize or bypass these clever entrapments, the GM often has the feeling that he has been beaten, and thus feels the need to ‘get back’ at the players.”

I think there’s two different things being said here.

The Infinite Game

Play a collaborative game. This is tougher for some and it speaks more to the GM’s worldview as it filters down into gameplay.

Many people see life as a zero sum game.

“My pain must be your pain.”

“There can only be one winner.”

This is unfortunate. These people ruin games for others.

Others see life as quid pro quo.

I scratch your back, you scratch mine.

Less disruptive to fun, but can still ruin it out of selfish behaviour.

A precious few sees that the fun occurs during the journey. This is where you and I agree, I think. If you’ve continued with your Roleplaying Tips subscription and enjoy my Musings, then it’s likely we align on this value.

We believe winning is improving yourself and being better next time.

And while journeys might have painful moments, that’s why they’re called adventures.

When we get hit with an obstacle, we lean into it. We enjoy finding solutions or creating alternatives.

And we enjoy earned victories instead of things just handed to us.

Thus, if players foil our plans, we see those moments as learning experiences, as feedback, and as moments to celebrate with our clever friends.

We Are the Mirror of Opposition

Without a GM there would be no adversaries in the game. Your campaign needs villains, obstacles, setbacks, dangers, and challenges.

Earned rewards make players feel awesome.

I agree with Volny’s sentiment that it’s not us versus our players, at least on the surface.

You could say it’s GM versus the characters, or even the GM’s characters (NPCs and environment) against the players’ characters.

Yet, the most meaningful moments in life come when we learn something. And learning derives from the experience of overcoming an obstacle.

Our most diabolical opponent in life is ourselves. It’s us who limits our thinking, who shrinks from challenges, who makes bad choices. We are the villains of our own lives.

And so I think we should also offer players moments when they can earn victory over themselves. We offer up situations that expose limiting beliefs and personal weaknesses. Through the game, players can confront these bugbears and learn about themselves.

And at another level still, I see the players as mirrors where we confront our own limitations. If we pay attention, we see where we project our negative beliefs, false assumptions, and negative character traits.

The challenges posed back to us by our friends makes them the ultimate adversaries as they hold up mirrors into which we must gaze.

If you have any reactions to The GM’s Ten Commandments, shoot me an email, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Krys also had a request: “I’m curious to see if you have any alternative or better ideas to these simple rules for becoming a great GM.”

There’s a few of these GM advice list type articles out there. If you have a favourite, please drop me the link so I can share back to Krys.