Who’s Fault Is It? Yours?

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #1067

RPT GM Duane V. asked me this interesting question about the responsibility of the GM:

Hi Johnn.

I was reading your latest DM Tips and a question that has bugged me for a while popped into my mind.

In politics, we blame the leader if things go badly; in sport, we blame the coach; in the classroom, we blame the teacher if students don’t learn.

Of course, the leader, the coach and the teacher all have important, perhaps the most important, parts to play but the onus of responsibility is not all on them.

Do we do the same thing with DMs?

If a game goes south, is it always the DM’s fault?

If we have that mentality, surely it must account for some of the extra pressure DMs feel.

What are your thoughts?

Great philosophical question, Duane. Thank you!

Here are some of my beliefs concerning great gameplay:

  • Each person at the game table should respect each other. They should put extra effort into applying emotional intelligence to help create a fun atmosphere.
  • We should focus on that which we can control and influence.
  • We cannot control others. We can only control ourselves.
  • We cannot control outcomes. We can only control our actions and behaviours that bring outcomes about.
  • Traits like being self-aware, being aware of how your words and actions affect others, and being a creator instead of a diminisher go along way to create great session experiences for all.

I have the emotional intelligence of a plant. It’s not my strong suit.

Yet, I used to have the emotional intelligence of a pebble.

From pebble to plant! Proof that these things can be learned if one puts a bit of effort into it.

Which brings us back to Duane’s question.

There are too many things outside our control at a game session to ensure good sessions every time.

I also avoid framing things as blame or another person’s fault. That makes you a victim, and you give up your power that way.

Instead, I see game sessions as inputs and outputs. We look at those to see if we can run better game sessions.

In this way, I feel a game master is the defacto leader who sets the example, herds the cats, and takes responsibility to do as much as possible to make every game more fun.

But I do not blame myself when things outside my control or influence derail sessions.

I also do not allow negative self-talk, which I find saps a lot of my energy if allowed to fester.

If something goes awry, it’s worth thinking about. Is there something we can affect to reduce the chances of that happening again?

We don’t take mistakes personally. And we don’t take on others’ mistakes as our own.

We do take responsibility for making games happen and for doing what’s in our control and influence to create an environment where everyone can be their best selves at the table.

If a game goes south, is it always the DM’s fault?

I don’t care about the fault. Instead, I want to pitch in to help make the next session better. In part, that’s seeing reality as it is so you can address core issues for a real chance to fix things.

If I’m a bad DM, or if I make a bad decision, that’s fantastic. I have total control over how I apply myself to learn from my mistakes and try different things to see what works well.

For games, I take total responsibility for my contributions. Sometimes it’s not pretty. I have flaws. My EQ needs to level up from plant.

But that’s part of the fun. Always learning and trying stuff to improve.

Therefore, if a game goes south, it’s worth figuring out what I can do to improve. And collaborating with my friends on how to make the next game awesome.

I hope this answers your question, Duane. If not, let me know.