Friday, April 28, 2017

40 Sins of GMing

I found these making the rounds in several forums lately, and figured they were worth sharing. I'm not presenting any of these as my own advice, but they are things to consider. As always, when reading advice, don't take it at face value. Taste it, swish it around in your mouth, see if you like it - see if you even get the core of what they're trying to do. If you like it, adopt it. If it's not for you? Leave it.

Anyhow, enjoy. The original source is here, but I've C&P'd them entirely below the break.

Deadly Sins of GMing

The material below is presented primarily in threaded order. No
attempt was made by me to prioritize the big 40. I've done little
editing and have made no attempt to credit anyone, even myself,
for their bits. I did attempt to consolidate similar posts and
select the best examples for each sin, usually this was the original
example. I also did my best to boil each sin down to a single
sentence commandment.


Deadly Sin #1: Thou shalt not afflict players with thine own awe-
inspiring characters.
Don't send one of your own really kool characters with the PCs.
Avoid the temptation!  Yes, yes, I know the PCs will sit in awe of
the astounding skill levels and powers your totally kickbutt
character has and that they will be thrilled by all the stories of
the world shaking events the character has been involved with and
they will be stunned by the astoundingly powerful array of magical
artifacts the character has collected.  But give the PCs a chance
to use their own pitiful skills, pathetic powers, and mundane

If lack of players or other reasons require extra party members,
run them as background, an extra Intelligence check, or just another
guy to go along.  Play them with character, but never allow them
to make decisions that will affect the PC's.  This only happens
when the PC's don't see a clue that is smack DAB in their faces.
Also, NPCs are always last to get the new equipment.

Corollary to #1: Thou shalt not afflict players with awe inspiring
omnipotent artifacts.  Never *ever* give the players that ever-so-cool
magical item you created that has all those super powers and
abilities and its intelligent and can kill deities in one stroke.
Regardless of who you give it to, it is going to get hideously
abused at some point. Give magic to match the characters.

Deadly Sin #2: Thou shalt not forsake notation.
Never *ever* forget to make notes on your campaign. The worst thing
a campaign/game can suffer from is lack of continuity. Things like
your favorite NPC suddenly popping back to life, almost (rather
suspiciously) like he never was killed at all, people who have
interacted heavily with the characters not remembering them,
"on-going plot lines" suddenly disappearing ("Hey, whatever happened
between the Frick'll Kingdom and the Baryn Dutchy? I mean, weren't
they at war?" "Oh yeah... when was that? Three, four years ago?"
"Must've been four - we were drafted in xxxx RLA."), "used" potions
and charged magical items having a seemingly infinite amount of
uses, etc.

Deadly Sin #3: Thou shalt not run a stagnant world.
Think about changes in the setting, what is happening in the
*dynamic* campaign world. Have kings been ousted? Wars fought?
Dragons slain? World upheavals occurred?

Deadly Sin #4: Thou shalt not allow players to flounder.
When your players are at a total loss at what to do, fumbling in
the dark, and have been so for an hour (real time), give them a
clue, a helpful NPC or some such. Even if you think it's totally
obvious what they should do. It might not be very realistic, but
it's much more fun to actually *do* something than just to sit
around. Let them sweat for a while, but if they have given up,
nudge them in the right direction.

Deadly Sin #5: Thou shalt not drone endlessly.
Don't expect players to interrupt you. Some of us don't think it's
very polite to interrupt people when they're talking, so don't
describe the gruesome ritual of the cultists until the gory end
without giving the players a chance to act. Some GM's will expect
the players to shout "I'll shoot the high priest!" in the middle
of a sentence.

Deadly Sin #6: Thou shalt not make little of hard-won PC abilities.
When a character has amassed enough skill/power/whatever in some
area, enough to be a world-class expert and maybe enough to gloat
a little -- do *not* instantly create an NPC (using more points/dice
/assigning higher numbers/whatever) who is better than the PC in
the PC's specialty and whose main goal in life appears to be to
rub the PC's nose in that fact. Especially do not create such an
NPC as a "goad" to force the PC to follow the railroad tracks of
the plotline (please keep hands and feet inside the car until the
plot has come to a complete stop). If a PC's earned the obscene
skill, let him keep it. Trickier mobs of almost-as-good NPCs will
do better anyway.

Don't constantly squash your players' dreams and ambitions in your
campaigns.  While adversity is a Good Thing in a role-playing
environment, hopelessness, except in some VERY rare circumstances,
isn't.  If a player wants his character to save the nation from a
great scourge, if this is even remotely within genre conventions
allow the player the opportunity. (Whether he succeeds or fails
should be based on her/his character's merits, but the opportunity
should be provided.) If a player wants his character to be the
greatest gunslinger in the Wild West, allow him the opportunity to
develop the requisite skills.  Do not EVER constantly introduce
NPCs who are superior "just to get his goat."

Deadly Sin #7: Thou shalt not design absurdities.
Don't make your mysteries/puzzles/plots so convoluted that no one
but you (the GM) can follow them.  I failed to follow this rule
and killed one of the best campaigns I've ever run.  As Aaron
Allston put it, "...clues fly like clouds of bats and pretty soon
the players wander off to play video games..."  Since then, my
players will give me "cloud of bats"-sign if they think things are
getting too Byzantine.

Deadly Sin #8: Thou shalt not allow an individual to spoil thy story.
Never allow one players actions to screw up a good story.

Deadly Sin #9: Thou shalt not place thy plot above player wishes.
Never let your precious, inflexible storyline screw up good
characters.  Nobody likes to be railroaded.

Railroading has gotten a bad name.  There are many games out there
that advertise themselves as "storytelling" that often demand that
the characters don't screw things up.  Killing the main bad guy in
the first session is bad.  GMs just need to fudge things a little
to "naturally" keep the plot on track.

The idea isn't that they don't HAVE free will, they do. They are
just made aware of the risks involved in attempting it (and failing)
are grave. They are quite free to make those 4 drive rolls you
mention, and perhaps die in a fiery automobile crash, but it's up
to them. Of course everyone knows that in REALITY they aren't going
to do it.

Deadly Sin #10: Thou shalt not fail to meet thine own commitments.
Don't tell everyone that the next game is on a certain night.  Then
when everyone arrives and is all settled in and ready to go, announce
that, "I really don't have anything ready for tonight.  Someone
else want to GM?  How about a movie?"

Alternatively: "You mean it is my turn to GM?  Uh-oh.  I don't have
anything ready...."

Tardiness. Nothing pisses off players more than having to wait for
their GM to show up, or watching him read something or write
something at the last minute.

Deadly Sin #11: Thou shalt not display preferential treatment.
Don't always pick out one member of the party and make the campaign
center tightly around that person. Don't ignore efforts on the part
of other players to carve out a niche for themselves in the campaign.

Whatever you do, don't ever display favoritism to anyone in your
game!  I don't care if this is your girl/boyfriend, husband/wife,
best friend from waaaay back JUST DON'T DO IT!  Nothing ticks off
players more than a perceived bias on the GM's part for (or even
against, if unjustified!) another player.  If you can't be impartial,
for political reasons or otherwise, in your treatment of a specific
player, don't invite that player to games involving other players.
If you can't leave out the player (by virtue, say, of being married
to him or her), don't run games. You'll lose your players in the
end anyway, so what's the point?

Special corollary:  The above takes on critical importance if you find 
the player in question attractive.

Corollary to the corollary:  Exercise extreme caution if the player's
significant other is also in the party.....

Deadly Sin #12: Thou shalt not fail to be prepared or to wing it.
Be prepared - Stay prepared. If you have to toss your plot out the
window; have an alternative ready. If the players comes up with
some *very* unconventional solution, be ready to handle that
situation. The best laid plans of mice, men, and GM's...

Never begin a scenario by apologizing to the players. "Sorry I
didn't write out character sheets for you..." or "Sorry I didn't
get all the NPC stats worked out..." Either do this stuff before
the game or learn to wing it during play.

Footnote to #12:
The players will almost always decide to do the thing that you
haven't planned for, or even considered. If the players are going
completely the wrong way, don't be afraid to turn the map around.

Deadly Sin #13: Thou shalt not overestimate thy players.
Never overestimate your players or their own estimation of their

or in essence:


If it seems like the GM and the players have very different ideas
about the structure or direction of the campaign, there comes a
point when hints and in-game information aren't enough.  Take some
time before or after a game session to talk about these issues,
and let everyone know what everyone else thinks.  This shouldn't
be necessary very often, but it's worth trying if it can save a
campaign from the brink of disaster.

Deadly sin #14: Thou shalt not coddle thy players.  
Don't make them believe that nobody will ever die in your adventures.
It takes away a lot of the fun, drama, and tension if it becomes
known that you can't be killed no matter what.

Deadly sin #15: Thou shalt not sway under pressure.
Be flexible, listen to your players' suggestions, but when it comes
down to it, DO NOT buckle under to player pressure when they want
something unreasonable.

Deadly Sin #16: Thou shalt not permit a totally dysfunctional party. 
Never allow a player a character that has big problems interacting
with the rest of the group. Especially if the player is a *real*
roleplayer who doesn't know when to stop. Always keep the group at
least marginally balanced.

Deadly Sin #17: Thou shalt not deviate greatly from thy goal.
Do NOT begin talking about other adventures/campaigns in which 
you've played!

We're *all* here to have fun by roleplaying.  Not all of us are
here to have fun by talking about television.  Our primary goal is
indeed to have fun, but the fun we're trying to have is roleplaying-type
fun.  Activities which impair roleplaying can, depending on the
group, all too easily ruin this fun.

Deadly Sin #18: Thou shalt not make puppets of PCs.  Never, ever
tell the players how their characters would react -- even if you
DID write the adventure.

It's probably worth distinguishing the GM attempting to force how
the player roleplays the character and the GM reminding the player
of the campaign culture. Particularly in the first few episodes of
a campaign.  Or in a convention run.

Even good experienced players slip-up. The GM should feel free to
question PC actions, but the player always has final say.

Deadly sin #19: Thou shalt not ignore or allow players to be ignored.
This is hard, but try to give each player *at some stage* every
session your complete, full and undivided attention. This way, the
quiet, polite and unassuming players get some good gaming in, and
it can work wonders for the plot too.

Deadly Sin #20: Thou shalt not reward pushy players.
Below are solutions.

1. If a GM doesn't want the PCs to be methodical and "slow," don't
give them non-action characters.

2. If you don't want people to examine doors, LEAVE THEM OPEN.

3. Give players a chance to react to other PC actions, especially when
they would be in close quarters. (I should have been able to stop the
pushy PC)

4. Remind players that there are other PCs in the area who are watching
them or at least in speaking range. The 3 PCs were in the car. One
suddenly got out and walked away without saying a word. Yeah, right!  
The other PCs would have AT LEAST said, "Going somewhere?"

5. Don't reward a pushy player with treasure/info because he "took 
action and got the game going" (this is what the GM later said). It will

only alienate the players who are roleplaying their characters.

6. If you want "the game to get going", simply compress time and don't 
ask the players for detailed actions. Say things like, "You don't find
anything" and "After searching several different areas you have come to
the following conclusion..."  

Deadly Sin #21: Thou shalt not tolerate disruptive players.
When you have a disruptive player who, in the face of repeated 
warnings, goes out of his way to make completely anti-social characters 
who go off and do their own thing, do not invite this player back to the

game. What you will find happening, nine times out of ten, is that your 
good, fun-to-game-with players will leave for greener pastures and you 
will wind up with the dysfunctional players.

Deadly Sin #22: Thou shalt not allow friendships to be torn asunder
Do not let your games break up friendships. If two people who get 
along well in ordinary circumstances constantly bicker in game sessions,

separate the two. If you want to game with both of them, run two 
campaigns and keep the antagonists in separate campaigns. If you 
haven't got time for that, talk things over with the antagonists 
(individually!) and explain why you're dropping one of them from the 
game. If you fail to heed this advice, you will be responsible for a 
broken friendship and a completely unenjoyable campaign.

Don't be afraid to *stifle* party friction where it's starting to 
interfere with the *players*... Probably best to stifle both ways, 
unless you want to suggest that one player leave

Deadly Sin #23: Thou shalt not allow newbies to flounder.
Don't ever invite newbies to your campaigns and then leave them high 
and dry.  If you bring in a newbie, shower him with attention.  He's 
already feeling the odd man out because he doesn't have the gaming 
history that his fellow players have. If you want to keep him, you're 
going to have to ensure that he feels welcome and worthwhile.

Deadly Sin #24: Thou shalt not use player psych lims against them.
Never use players' real-life "psych lims" against them.  If one of your
friends has a real problem with homosexuality, the game is not a good 
venue for forcing him to confront that problem (unless you're a REALLY 
talented GM *and* EXTREMELY good friends).  If one of your players 
doesn't like romantic entanglements, this is the wrong player to force 
into an in-character romance.  If one of your players has real problems 
with racism, this is not a good theme to throw into the game.

Deadly Sin #25: Thou shalt not overpower characters.
Don't overpower the characters.  Twice now in an AD&D game I've 
accidentally stomped the PCs with ill-chosen adversaries.  The reason is

that I've never played in, or run a game that lasted this long.  The PCs

all have characters of a power level I'm not used to.  Be careful and 
test the strengths and weaknesses of the players so you don't slaughter 
them by accident.

Deadly Sin #26: Thou shalt not permit the undesirable.
The GM should never allow anything into his campaign that he doesn't 
want there.

Deadly Sin #27: Thou shalt not over detail.
When people start asking, "Do you want some popcorn? I'll make a soda 
run," you've probably over detailed your GM notes.

Deadly Sin #28: Thou shalt not fail to provide a challenge.
Same GM above, what me and the other players referred to as the 
"God Squad". Simply put all of the major NPCs, and most of the PCs had 
very powerful abilities so much so that we were able to go stomping 
through what ever encounters that he through at us with very little in 
the way of a challenge. 

Deadly Sin #29: Thou shalt not be flighty in creation.
Killing off the campaign just as it getting interesting. Same GM as 
above but he abruptly changed from RQ to Cyberpunk 20.20, to Star Trek 
(In this one we saw what was coming a mile away and the players killed 
that one off in one session), to Stormbringer (In that one he sent us on

a dimension hopping campaign. It got to be chore for me, and I just 
stopped playing in it. He was my roommate at the time but that's 
another horror story......), to Call of Cthulhu, well you get the 

Deadly Sin #30: Thou shalt not fail to enjoy thy self.
Remember that the GM has the right to have as much fun as the 
players.  I've seen too many games where the task of the GM is a chore
rather than fun.  While I will be the first to admit that game mastering
is work, it should not be a burden.  If some aspect of the game is 
making the GM unhappy, he should change it.  Problems I have seen 
include, frustration with poor players, never getting a chance to play a

character, or boredom with the current game.  If a GM has any of these 
problems the only solution is to change it and change it quick.  Find 
new players, coerce a player into being the GM for a while, or try a new

game.  If you don't correct the problem the whole playing experience 
will be a real bummer.

Deadly Sin #31: Thou shalt not neglect detail.
Don't let the characters forget about their real world connections. The 
little stuff helps make the players 3D. Checked voice-mail lately, 
there's a missed clue. How're the relatives, there's a missed plot or 
two. Are they up-to-date on their spaceship payments? They can't _all_ 
be motivated by just greed.

Deadly Sin #32: Thou shalt not overemphasize unimportant details.
Don't get bogged down in the details. Who cares if the PCs haven't 
visited the John in weeks? Who cares about the effects of wind 
resistance on Mars vs Earth? If the players don't, and its not real 
important to the plot, drop it.

Deadly Sin #33: Thou shalt not permit unfeeling characters.
Don't let players get away with unfeeling characters unless they're 
built that way. What's the law have to say about privacy and mind 
reading? How do the PC feel about the super stud/babe their cruzin with?

How about all the innocents on the planet they just nuked from orbit? Or

the thousands of Kobald babies they killed just for the experience? 
Don't laugh! You've been there.

Deadly Sin #34: Thou shalt not fail to disclose rules before they're 
Don't surprise players with as yet undisclosed rulings without letting 
them reconsider their actions. Bad GMs do this all the time. As a GM 
myself, I unwittingly think others will rule as I would. I run my 
characters accordingly and expect the GM to let me know when there's 
an important difference. I don't have to agree with the GM, I just want 
a chance to act according to their rules BEFORE they kill me/hit someone

"in the line of fire"/critically fail.

Deadly Sin #35: Thou shalt not permit minority rule.
Don't let the minority rule. Aggressive players that run roughshod over 
the others should be dealt with. Others will expect to be catered to to 
the exclusion of all others. Deal with these problem players in a firm 
but fair way. Insist on the public support of unhappy players, it's
game too.

Deadly Sin #36: Thou shalt not ban character death.
Don't be afraid to let characters die. Occasional character death 
retains a sense of mortality.

Deadly Sin #37: Thou shalt not ban party friction.
Don't be afraid of party friction, even when it might mean character 

Corollary to #37: Don't let player friction dominate the game 
either. Unfortunately, there are a lot of immature players out there who

seem to derive pleasure from killing other party members (either 
because it's a power trip, or they like sowing discord, or they like the

attention, or whatever). If handled maturely and skillfully and 
legitimately within the context of the game, this can work out. However,

I've yet to see anyone who could play it this way, and I've found that 
there is nothing else that is more destructive to a game. If one of your

players is trying to off another player he better have a damn good 
reason for doing so.

Literally, don't let players get away with murder unless they cover 
their tracks well. PCs and NPCs are likely to have friends, relatives, 
and associates that care about how they died. In many settings, the 
authorities will also want to know. Magic, psi, and advanced forensics 
can make it tough to get away with murder.

Don't ever let a player run a new character out to revenge the death of 
his previously murdered PC. This is not always obvious when the new 
character is introduced. Talk to the offending player if it starts to 
become a problem. Remind them of what it would be like for them if 
the tables were turned.

Don't hold the game up for squabbling characters. If they want to 
squabble during an important bit, well they'll miss it while the other 
players are having fun. Penalize them if they're not paying attention to

their surroundings. Most PC friction can be run without involving the 
rest of the party or the GM, so let them have at it. If the rest of the 
party gets involved, well then everyone is having fun and its ok to 
spend some time on it.

Deadly Sin #38: Thou shalt not follow rules blindly.
Do not do the following: Trust the rules. If the rules say it, it must 
be right. Always follow them to the letter; the game was designed that 
way.  Even if it seems odd at the time, the designers are sure to have 
taken into account all possible factors. Even the house rules that you 
added three years after the game was published.

Do the following: If the rules don't fit, make up a new one. Write it 
down to keep things consistent (and probably loose it) and build a 
massive set of optional//house rules.

Deadly Sin #39: Thou shalt not be afraid to fudge a die roll. 

Deadly Sin #40: Thou shalt not kill to soon.
Never kill any player character too early in the piece. Even if they do
something stupid. Fudge the rolls if you have to.

Kill a PC early in the game ONLY to illustrate
a) the ease or resurrection or reincarnation
b) the vital role of ghosts or other undead
or something else along similar lines.

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