23 Bad Habits of Otherwise Successful GMs
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    23 Bad Habits of Otherwise Successful GMs

    There are a few GMs out there with habits far worse than these. Habits so indescribably horrid, you can’t touch them with a ten-foot-pole. However, this article focuses on the most common bad habits of otherwise successful GMs. Many GMs get along fine despite a few little habits which drive their players absolutely batty.

    This list is written in no particular order. If you think I’ve missed anything, please feel free to share your horror stories. Enough chit chat, let’s see if we can remember how our GMs ticked us off…

    1. Rail-Roading: Otherwise known as ‘forcing you into the adventure’. Rail-roading can occur whenever the GM has a plan for something to happen, you try to avoid it, and he shows you who’s boss. Classically, this begins at the start of the adventure when the players can’t decide how they all met, continues on to why they have to go in some random dungeon, and ends with an arbitrarily forced ‘hook’ for next adventure.

    2. Disregard of ‘Unimportant’ Rules: Sometimes the GM will get so wrapped up in the ‘story’ that some ‘rules’ may seem trivial in comparison. Often, the GM won’t realize he’s being slightly unfair by letting a bartender auto-hit a 17<sup>th</sup> level fighter and knock him out without rolling for initiative.

    3. A Sense of Balance: Well-meaning GMs sometimes try to enforce their own version of ‘balance’ on a game. This often includes detailed lists of which books are allowed, where your character can live with his 20 page background, and the fact that a 35 intimidation roll will only make peasants ‘slightly concerned’ because of ‘realism’.

    4. Taking Things too Seriously: Often, and quite logically, GMs will think they’re making The-Best-Ever-Game-in-the-Universe. They will believe that they’re basically John Grisham and anything they invent is pure brilliance and can’t be messed with. If anyone dares to imply that their game world might not be perfect, or *gasp* comes up with their own cool ideas; these GMs will not hesitate to squash out their ideas like so many bugs on a trucking highway.

    This kind of game will usually generate a very self-satisfied GM with very quiet players. The successful players will soon learn that flattery and ‘getting into’ the world will yield them the best results. The GM will be encouraged by this into the deluded belief that his players actually think he’s John Grisham.

    5. Lack of Rules: At the opposite end of the spectrum, some GMs believe rules are for sissies. They will often come up with convoluted or downright insane random tables and bizarre creations of their own design. If it were up to them, the extent of the rules would consist of 250 pages of GM Advice which ranks somewhere below ‘optional’. Success in such games often depends on convincing the GM your ‘rule’ is a good idea. Once the GM figures something makes sense, he’ll likely make it into a new house-rule and you can do whatever you like until you run into some whacky 50 HD blob thing which wants to kill you for unknown reasons.

    6. Poorly Thought-Out Adventures: There are few things more annoying to a player than a GM who doesn’t really know his stuff. Maybe he wrote some notes, but forgot them; maybe he wrote his notes last week, and can’t understand them anymore; or maybe he didn’t write any notes whatsoever, and is just making stuff up. These are the kinds of adventures that make the bravest players groan in frustration.

    For example: when the GM creates an impenetrable wall of fire just to buy time to think up the adventure, and then throws a 60<sup>th</sup> level orc archer at the party to ‘keep them busy’.

    7. GMs as Players: Once in a blue moon, a long-time GM will get the hankering to be a player for a while. A great player will, no doubt, jump at the chance to GM for a while…and soon regret it. Some GMs have just been at it too long to know when to stop. When they game as a player they tend to control the adventure, make up NPC appearances, offer helpful plot advice, and arbitrarily rewrite character creation rules without telling you. Since the primary GM is often the one with the real power, telling them ‘no’ can be catastrophic for your future characters.

    GMs are also used to prattling on at all times. If they aren’t describing what their characters are doing for at least 50% of the game session, they end up feeling deprived and stifled.

    8. Forgetting to say ‘Yes’: Often, one of the best things a GM can do is to say ‘yes’ to the players’ ideas. Some GMs forget this concept completely and figure they’re in charge of the game. Whenever a player comes up with a cool idea, action, or plan the GM will just say, “No, you can’t do that.”

    9. Thinking your ideas are better than your Players': Whenever you decide one of your ideas is better than the players' and force something on them, they may get slightly annoyed. This could be deciding their class, race, origin, history, or any number of other things.

    10. Never Admitting they’re Wrong
    : Some GMs must always be right. It’s in the rules. If there’s a problem, it’s obviously the result of the players’ poor reasoning abilities or lack of character powers. Obviously, the system or the GM is never at fault for anything.

    11. Being a Pushover: Some GMs kill off their players’ characters like no tomorrow (and occasionally for no good reason). Far more likely these days are the GMs who will pander to the might of the players and the game designers. If there’s an argument, this GM loses. If there’s a rules interpretation, the players’ votes always stand. If any player’s character happens to die *shudder*, he’ll be resurrected with no drawbacks in about 12 seconds.

    These GMs will hand out magic items for the asking, treasure for the taking, and allow their players to pretty much control them in every way.

    12. Ignoring the Action: GMs love to create cool stories and role-play. They’ll sometimes create elaborate and highly annoying NPCs. Some of these NPCs seem to have a hidden spell called ‘immune to everything’ which never allows them to die or suffer any ill-effect.

    Sometimes, the GM will ignore the action of the adventure in exchange for mucking around and wandering about the city for the best version of iron rations. Trying to find a fight in these games would not only take forever, it would be nearly impossible.

    13. Non-Combat, What’s That?: On the flip side of things, some GMs seem to be under the impression that RPGs are simply a glorified version of tabletop miniatures warfare with less pieces. The game starts with the first battle and ends with…well, it doesn’t really end; there are just more battles.

    14. Weird, Cheating Dice: The rules actually encourage GMs to cheat the dice.

    Also highly annoying are the times when you roll a 1 and receive obviously false information, or roll a 20 and still fail for some reason.

    15. Overdeveloped sense of Fairness: Sometimes a good GM will feel it’s his duty to make his players equal. This will often result in magic items being taken away because they’re unbalanced, or other well-meaning but highly irritating feats of GM improvisation.

    16. Lack of Rewards: After fighting for 15 hours, you get no treasure.

    17. Outlawing Dice Towers: The GM outlaws dice towers as ‘not helpful’ to the game.

    18. In-game Chat: For some reason, the GM comes up with a crazy rule to enforce whether you said something in-game or out of game.

    19. Disappearing Treasure Hoard Trick: After defeating an ancient red dragon it often turns out his ‘hoard’ is 100 gp. Other times, whenever the group comes to a large, seemingly unguarded pile of treasure they just ignore it. It’ll obviously disappear or be trapped in some diabolical way.

    20. Goblins Only Carry Copper: Apparently, this is quite annoying to one of my players. Edit: *consulted with player in question* "Because goblins are really tough to kill, usually. Then they only have little bits of copper and not loads of gold."

    21. Thieves steal all of your Treasure: ‘Nuff said.

    22. Cursed Magic Items: Hey, I thought all magic items were beneficial?

    23. Poor Descriptions: You can’t really fault them for this. Player: “I know there’s a trap here, can you describe the area?” GM: “You see a door.” Player: “I check it for traps.” GM: “Where?” Player: “On the Handle.” GM: “You fall in the obvious pit trap before the door.”

    23 1/2. GM's Pet NPC
    : You know the guy. That random fighter the GM created he thinks is so cool that he gives him 'role-playing' bonuses to attack. The wizard who solves all the party's problems and hogs the show in battles. The NPC Thief who says, "Hey, guys, I think there's a trap over here..." etc.

    23 3/4 Poor Grasp of History: When the GM decides something is historically accurate, and then refuses to research it on the grounds of 'it's too much work'. Or, if the GM decides he's right and needs no proof to back up the claim.


    Consider yourself lucky if your GM frequently forgets about the NPCs who come along with your group. It could be worse, far worse...

    Special thanks to <!-- BEGIN TEMPLATE: dbtech_usertag_mention --> @d20 <!-- END TEMPLATE: dbtech_usertag_mention -->KC for the extra item on the list! Also, thanks to, <!-- BEGIN TEMPLATE: dbtech_usertag_mention --> @Crothian <!-- END TEMPLATE: dbtech_usertag_mention --> for agreeing with me that #20 was actually normal. Bonus thank you to <!-- BEGIN TEMPLATE: dbtech_usertag_mention --> @Hussar <!-- END TEMPLATE: dbtech_usertag_mention --> and @Hautamaki for the great additions and exceptions. I totally agree.<!-- BEGIN TEMPLATE: dbtech_usertag_mention --><!-- END TEMPLATE: dbtech_usertag_mention -->
    Last edited by Challenger RPG; Monday, 29th October, 2012 at 02:23 AM.

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    This is mostly true, though with a talkative group or in a largely serious campaign #18 can be necessary.

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    D&DEN PublishingZEITGEIST

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    I'd add the dreaded DMPC to the list. No one likes having to watch the DM's pet character do all the cool stuff, while their character just sits and watches.

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    While I agree with many of these, and others not so much, it does look like it should have been the named, The Big List of Badwrongfun.

    Each item may or may not be true depending on any given game or group. But out of context, such a a long list seems to say "If you're doing it this way, you're doing it wrong."

  5. #5
    @Agamon <!-- END TEMPLATE: dbtech_usertag_mention -->. I agree. The Big list of BadwrongFun would have been much more appropriate. However, I don't know if it would be as 'catchy' so I decided to just lie completely and make up a random title which sounded good.

    I didn't really mean to say everything on the list was 'wrong'. I just wanted to point out some of the things GMs do (wisely or not) which tick off players. Personally, I'd cheat the heck out of the dice, steal unbalanced magic items from the party, and disregard all kinds of rules. It's just come to my attention that a few of those things bug my players occasionally. Some of the items on the list weren't even my ideas (I asked my players).

    <!-- BEGIN TEMPLATE: dbtech_usertag_mention --> @d20 <!-- END TEMPLATE: dbtech_usertag_mention -->KC: It is done. Thanks for the totally awesome suggestion! I can't believe I missed that one.

    <!-- BEGIN TEMPLATE: dbtech_usertag_mention --> @Iapetus <!-- END TEMPLATE: dbtech_usertag_mention -->: Far better GM's than I would agree with you. One of the best GM's I know uses #18. I actually wouldn't have even included it, but one of my players insisted because of this totally hilarious event: One time in the game he implemented that rule and said, "Anyone who's talking out of game raise a pencil". As one, all the pencils at the table were lifted up in salute. The GM was not impressed, and all the players had an immediate laugh.

    My friend the GM: Sorry. They asked specifically, I had to tell them. View it as a mark of your high GMing skill Iapetus asked it be removed!

    *******

    Just out of curiosity, which items on the list does everyone think should be 'edited out'?
    Last edited by Challenger RPG; Wednesday, 24th October, 2012 at 01:08 AM.

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    This is not a list of absolutes. There are many times that most of these can be used to make the game better. Some of them are just silly like 20. I've never heard of this annoying players and frankly it makes sense in most settings. Goblins aren't rich.

  7. #7
    @Crothian <!-- END TEMPLATE: dbtech_usertag_mention -->: Yes. That was one of my player's suggestions, darn it! Crud, I might have to start making up my own material...

    List of Wrong Items (so far):

    #18 (put in by my players)
    #20 (put in by my players)
    My Players: You guys Suck! Joking, please play my next adventure!
    Last edited by Challenger RPG; Wednesday, 24th October, 2012 at 01:41 AM.

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    I'm going to go down the list and offer better feedback. I like the idea of the list and I always enjoy reading ways to improve my own DMing skills.

    Rail-Roading

    The way you define railroading is well done. It is not the railroad itself that is bad, but the reaction to players that want to do something else. As long as the players don't mind or even want a rail road (and I've DMed for a group like that) then railroading is perfectly okay.

    2. Disregard of Unimportant Rules

    This is more playstyle and allowing story to trump rules. Sometimes a DM has a great idea he wants to try but needs the players to get captured first. I for instance am running Serpent Skull Adventure Path by Paizo and that starts with something similar. At the very least I would say it is okay to use occasionally with the right group, but too much even for players that don't mind it would not be good.

    3. A Sense of Balance

    I don't have much to say on balance because honestly I don't care about balance. I do think that DMs who do this probably also suffer from the next one.

    4. Taking Things too Seriously

    Even Grisham has written some bad books, but I'm still a fan of his. It is just a game though it can take people a while to realize that.

    5. Lack of Rules


    Rules are for sissies. I think the free wheeling nature of some DMs works great but when they try to write down how they do it it fails. I can't adequate describe how I do it and I wouldn't want to. Much is instinct based on decades of gaming. Rules are important and DM's that toss them aside willy nilly successfully are rare.

    6. Poorly Thought-Out Adventures

    I compare this to Monty Python. They would have a cool idea and just run with it but wouldn't always know a good set up or a good conclusion. It worked for them as sketch comedy can handle this. Coming up with original well thought adventures is a tough thing. DM's many times seem to come up with an idea but don't know really what to do with it. I think that is where the problem comes from more then just forgetting details or a lazy DM.

    7. GMs as Players

    It can be a problem but for certain circumstance it can work. Like rotating DMS, or a solo campaign, or running games for children. Mostly though I would recommend just not doing it.

    8. Forgetting to say Yes

    It is something every DM does from time to time. A more important thing I think is knowing when to say No.

    no nine....

    10. Never Admitting theyre Wrong

    This is a life lesson everyone learns at some point. I'm wrong more often then I'm right these days.

    11. Being a Pushover

    This can be tough especially if you game with friends. I hate to frustrate my friends and not allow them to do things but at thee same time I have to be in charge and tell them No. But I prefer to work with the player and figure out a way to do what they want but still have it work. For instance one player in the current campaign asked for an intelligent weapon and I said yes and just made his current weapon become intelligent. That might seem like a pushover just giving it to him like that but this just became a plot point, an NPC, and frankly something I can use to have fun.

    12. Ignoring the Action

    Again this is playstyle. I ran a great Thieves World campaign that detailed every day that the campaign lastly. PCs had to worry about getting food each day as they were all poor, and daily survival was an issue. Dealing with NPcs and finding deals and hunting down certain items was part of the game. I would not do this in many other campaigns but for Thieves World it was what the game was.

    13. Non-Combat, Whats That?

    Again, Playstyle. Not my playstyle but it has it's place in the hobby.

    14. Weird, Cheating Dice

    Players Cheat; DM's improvise

    15. Overdeveloped sense of Fairness

    I can see a DM going down this road. I don't; I admit to my players when I'm being unfair. In fairness though I'm unfair to each player so I guess it evens out.

    16. Lack of Rewards

    Treasure is not the only reward but it is the only one you mention. Sometimes finding out key parts of the plot, or accomplishing a mission is its own reward. Hell, sometimes a5 hours of slaughter is reward enough.

    17. Outlawing Dice Towers

    Never heard of this one. We don't use them. I don't own one, but I wouldn't care if one of my players did. I might make fun of him for it but other then that it would be okay.

    18. In-game Chat

    It's a tough balance. I don't enforce the "Yes your player said that" to often, but I do use it to make players aware of what they say and how they say it.

    19. Disappearing Treasure Hoard Trick

    Playstyle again. I've had the Dragon with 100gp just because it was a funny. They later found out the dragon had a gambling problem and that was why it didn't have any treasure.


    20. Goblins Only Carry Copper

    Honestly, if I ever had a player make this complaint the next group of goblins they killed would have nothing in their pockets.

    21. Thieves steal all of your Treasure

    This one is awesome, just don't use it often like maybe once every other campaign. But it is a great plot hook and it makes the players think about how to get it back and how to have an effective character with no magical items.

    22. Cursed Magic Items

    I would consider this old school verse new school. I rarely use cursed items as they are rarely fun.


    23. Poor Descriptions

    This can be a problem. But so can descriptions that are too detailed. It is hard to find a good balance.


    23 1/2. GM's Pet NPC


    I love my Pet NPCs! However, they are never there to outshine the PCs. I mostly use them for plot devices, comedy relief, support roles, or just to annoy the players.

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    Is it bad that I'm probably guilty of several of these over the years?

    One I might add is DM's who think their idea for the player's character is better and refuse to back down, even when the player flat out says, "No, thank you."

    DM's whose grasp of history and historical elements is somewhat... shakey, but refuse to actually spend any time researching things and insist that they are right.

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    Interesting list; it makes me reflect which is always a good thing.

    I'd like to hear some more comments/suggestions/opinions on each of these items.

    For example with regards to railroading, I'd add

    It's only railroading if the players are forced into doing something they don't want to do. It's never railroading if you are 'forcing' the players to have fun! The mistake that inexperienced DMs make is to either under-prepare or over-prepare. Over preparing isn't bad for the players at all of course, but very few people have the energy and enthusiasm to turn out 100 pages of material a week only to see 95% of it never used!

    Rather, DMs need to take a hint from how the players have made their characters (and ask for hints if necessary!) Obviously a player who's created a good aligned Ranger wants to go orc hunting in the wilderness, defend sacred groves or tiny hamlets from abberrations, and probably shoot stuff from ambush and possibly set traps. Give that player a chance to do what he designed his character for. If it turns out he doesn't enjoy doing what he's designed his character to do, that's fine too, give him the opportunity to retire his character to NPChood and bring in a new one he'll have more fun with. The worst thing you can do as a DM is to ignore the characters your PCs have created and force them into situations that run against their characters' strengths or values

    (eg I once created a lawful good fighter and was forced to slaughter a village full of women and children under the thrall of a cruel warlord. Obviously the DM wanted to emphasise the evilness of the BBG, but it felt like a railroad when the other players and I anticipated well in advance and took every possible precaution against this event only to have it thrust upon us no matter what we tried to do to avoid it).

    Players all know (and desire) that the DM is in control of everything; but this only becomes a problem when the DM forces players to do things they didn't want to do even when the players take reasonable precautions to avoid them.

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