Committing one of the Seven Deadly Sins can undo any GM. A Game Master, also known as GM, has a very important role in any role-playing group. The GM is responsible for running the game, providing the story, and making sure that the game session goes well. GMs should avoid these seven deadly sins to insure a good game for everyone.
The GM holds far more power than the players in a group. The GM adjudicates game rules. The GM is responsible for coming up with the story for the game session. The GM has a godlike ability to say if the players are successful or fail in their actions and decisions in the game.
As the saying goes, “With great power comes great responsibility.”
A Game Master is at the forefront of not only making sure the adventure goes well, but also has responsibility for the well-being of the gaming group itself. It’s very important for Game Masters to understand this, since GM styles and decisions affect not only the storytelling, but also the relationships and trust between the people in the gaming group and also between the group and the GM.
It’s for these reasons I thought it would be very helpful to give you my Game Master’s Seven Deadly Sins. Avoid these GMing sins and you will have a much better time maintaining good friendships and great games!
These Game Master Seven Deadly Sins are in no particular order. They are all very important and each one has a good chance of wrecking your game, your friendships, or both.
Avoid These Seven Deadly Sins
One of the Deadly Sins is to gloat about the player’s failures and/or the GM’s success. It is also not very classy. Sure, players make mistakes. Sometimes they even make crazy silly mistakes. It’s ok to point out the error, but to gloat about it is not the right approach. Your job as a GM is to ultimately have the PCs succeed and win. So if they fail, is it their fault or your own?
If you give out the wrong information, fix it! Don’t try the old “you remembered it wrong” story. Own up to the mistake and fix it. It will make a difference in the integrity and importance of your story, and your players will appreciate your honesty.
Along with the wrong information is forgotten information. If you realize something the party was supposed to learn or discover was not mentioned, bring it up. Make sure the players have all the pieces of the story. It will make for a richer and more enjoyable game.
Take the time to know what pieces are vital to your story and be sure they get it. That may mean that more than one player should get the information. Players are not always good at knowing what information is the most important, or may not put the pieces together. It’s much more likely to be understood when multiple people get the information. Also, it’s more fun for the players when they all get a chance for the ah-ha moment, not just one.
Never abuse your power as a Game Master by elevating your own characters. A Game Master should have lots of NPCs that they can do with what they please. However, a GM shouldn’t reuse player characters from another GM’s campaign and bring them into their own. This is an extra egregious sin if the GM then elevates their own character with power, wealth, renown, or anything else.
This is a trap that far too many GMs fall into, especially when they are in a shared world or shared GMing environment.
Rule of Thumb: If a character plays under a specific GM, that character stays under the control of that GM.
This rule also means that the other player characters from the another GMs campaign are off limits.
It is a terrible sin to use one or more of the players as one of your own NPCs. A GM and a player should never be aligned with each other above the players in the party. A player and a GM most definitely should never conspire to betray, mislead, or undermine the party.
Fundamentally, a gaming group is a relationship between the GM and the Players. GMs hold almost all the power in this arrangement. The Players have no real power, the only thing they really have is the trust that the players are all on the same side and agree to work together to tackle what the GM throws at them. Having a player be a GM character undermines this very important part of a gaming group’s social contract.
If the GM tricks a character in-game, causing issues within the party, that is different…that’s a plot twist. The player is not colluding with the GM. The player is still coordinating and collaborating with the other players, even if the character they play has gone off the rails!
But a knowing and willing coordination and collusion between a player and a GM is not ok. It’s a breach of trust between friends and breaks the social contract we have between the friends in the gaming group.
Players are players. GMs are GMs. And there needs to be a real line and separation between those roles in game.
Don’t eat all the snacks because you think you “deserve” them. Yes, you do a lot of work for the game, but that is what you signed up for. Contribute and enjoy the game session treats as much as the other players. Plus, if you have so much time to eat you are probably neglecting your storytelling.
This deadly sin can sneak up on even the best GMs. I urge all GMs out there to put it right out of your mind! Never ever take your out-of-game grievances out on a player.
So you’re mad at your husband. Upset that a player was late. Or you had a crappy day at work. Bringing those issues into the game is never a good thing. They can manifest as being unfair to a player, making encounters too hard, or being unsympathetic to the player’s goals. This will not be good for your game or your friendships!
In-game actions should have in-game consequences. If a character does something stupid, like spitting on the king, then it makes sense for the royal guard to attack the character. However, the royal guard should not react the same way if the player paid their rent late.
Out-of-game actions should have out-of-game consequences. If you have personal issues with anyone at the table, or even just need to vent about a bad day at work, take care of that outside of the game.
Both issues need to be addressed, but they should be addressed in the right arena. Lots of gaming groups chat it up before and after a game session. These are great times to deal with out-of-game issues.
The last of the Game Master’s Seven Deadly Sins is ridicule. Ridicule is a very powerful and damaging behavior from anyone. However, in a gaming group, it is terribly destructive to the game and the players. Making fun of a player or character will stifle and undermine everything in a gaming group.
It is the Game Master’s responsibility to let his players play their characters and to game their way if it doesn’t disrupt the game or cause issues with other people. A player may choose to explore unique character concepts, accents, costumes, or quirky roleplay traits. Any issues a GM thinks will cause a problem should be addressed outside of game play and in a kindly, helpful way.
Ridiculing either the player or the character they play can do real and lasting damage to a group. Players and the GM should feel like they are in a safe place to go out on a limb and try a wacky character idea. If they want to wear a costume or try out an accent to try to get into their character, they should feel empowered to do so. This shows real interest from the player in their character or their playing.
To ridicule their idea or their attempt stifles the passion and dismisses the imagination of the entire group. If the players see that someone else tried something different and was laughed at, no one will feel safe or emboldened to try something new. And truly, isn’t the point of role-playing games to truly explore our characters? Players should feel encouraged to try, and perhaps fail. If they end up succeeding, though, what a memorable campaign it will be!
Be a Great GM running a Great Game
When you are the GM make sure to avoid these Seven Deadly Sins. Doing so will help make a better gaming group, a better campaign, and ultimately a better Game Master. That is what we all strive for. You can’t have a great game without a great GM!