Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Forty Deadly Sins of DMing

The 40 Deadly Sins of DMing

Author Unknown

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 equipment!
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 characters.

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 disfunctional 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 eparate 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 againsd 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 idea......
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 applied.
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 their 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 death.

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:
  1. the ease or resurrection or reincarnation
  2. the vital role of ghosts or other undead or something else along similar lines.

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