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December 25, 2006, 11:31 am

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Social Tricks for the GM


This is devoted to those common problems facing a GM. How do you get enough players? What do you do when there is a bad atmosphere within the group?

Everyone, please post those tips and tricks that come to mind. There is no one true solution. Different GMs, different solutions.

1. The angry SO/Girl Friend/Boy Friend/Wife/Husband problem
Often a player is faced with a partner whose views on roleplaying is dim at best. These partners won’t let their loved ones out for an evening with the boys and can prove quite a mouthful for any GM.

Solution A) The devious trick.
Often these partners just wanna feel loved. They feel that if their partner always choose roleplaying instead of a “love evening” at home with them, the partners has all the wrong priorities. It does not matter if you play twice a week or twice a year! These S.O.s count how many times their partner chose roleplaying, and how many times they chose them.

That is why you should talk about this with your players. It is a very common problem. One possible solution is to make twice the number of session appointments. This solution is less applicable when you play exceedingly often, but quite useful when you play every other month or so. Every other time there is a roleplaying session the player with the possessive SO must “respectfully decline” to play. The result is a player that is happier at home, a SO that feels loved and players that can regularly attend (and with a smile on their face to boot). Of course, there is no session every other time, everyone knows that it is just a facade to keep the possessive SOs happy. Don’t tell your SOs… they could become possessive too and then you would need this trick ;)

I have had fabulous success with this approach

Solution B) The tag along SO
Personally I do not like this approach. Some players become shy when there is an audience present and besides you never know what the cat dragged in.  But it is nevertheless an approach and if the SO is a respectful and nice person, it is a fair and good solution.

2. My players does not show up as we appointed

Solution) Absolute, rigid and unyielding rules
Do NOT under nearly any circumstance allow your players to not show or be excessively late. Have a set of rules ready for situations like these and refer to the rules when they are violated. True, you might not have an excessive amount of players ready to step in to replace the untrustworthy player you just ditched, but if you play by these rules you will discover that those formerly untrustworthy S.O.B.s can indeed change. (A few are beyond redemption though, but you don’t need those). It will be uncomfortable to tell your friend that “Fine, you don’t show tonight, but you realize that you thereby leave your seat open for another player”. Still, every time I have said so to my players, they have come anyhow… But: Do not use this if the player has legitimate reasons not to show, and do not use hollow threats. Always follow up what you say.

Never, ever, let your players know if you are troubled by lack of potential recruits. It will give them an upper hand in this regard. You don’t want that.

3. My players are unfriendly to each other

Solution) Get rid of the bad behaviour
This is a major problem. No gaming group should be torn by bad mouthing, cold shoulders and aggressiveness. If your players are behaving like this, have a talk with them. Let them know that you do not accept their behaviour and that if they continue behaving like this, measures will be taken. Have a set of rules for situations like these and refer to those rules. Be attentive to the dynamics of your players. Notice if anyone is demeaning, arrogant, bad mouthing, vulgar, harassing or in any other way unfriendly to other players.

Just like in every circumstance where players / friends are involved, this will not be easy, at least not the first time. But trust me: If you do not correct the situation, the poison will spread, polluting the group, creating a thoroughly hostile and unfriendly situation for all. There is no easy way, trust me: I tried them all.

If, for some reason, some players won’t listen to reason: let them go. A good atmosphere is worth much more than one player. If the atmosphere gets rotten enough, you will lose them all. I nearly did and I cut the bad limb. Now we are having the time of our lives…

Oh, by the way: Never, ever whine about these problems to your players. Whine here, to us, and we’ll help :)

Additional Ideas (8)

Life is too short to play with bad players.

I mean that. If you are not having fun with someone in your game, why are you playing with them? This is not a job. Is should not be a chore. It is your "fun" hobby. If it isn't fun, or at least enjoyable most of the time, why are you doing it.

Roleplay Nazi's and Rule Mongers: If your group is polarized enough, you will have both kinds in your troupe. Roleplay Nazi's are skewed to the acting end of gaming. They want plot, they want pathos, they want acting. They also really do not like these rules and dice things getting in the way of their dramatic scenes. Rule Mongers like rules, like moving tokens on a board, like things to be defined and measurable, and work the rules to their maximimum effect. They also name their characters things like BARD 2b, say things like "I roll a 20 for a seduction, does it hit?", and say "ummm.... ahhhh... and similar fillers when actually forced to roleplay. Both sides will complain about the other.

You just want to pull your eyes out wanting them to stop complaining about each other. The Roleplay Nazi, who thinks EVERYONE SHOULD BE PUTTING OUT AN OSCAR WINNING PERFORMANCE EVERY SESSION, will be the most verbal about it (they have the verbal skills to be such). To their eyes, they can not see why anyone should not be as good a roleplayer as them. The Rule Mongers will only complain after the Roleplay Nazi has totally muffed up their nice tactical situation and slowed the game to a crawl because they actually had to roll dice.

So team them up. Determine pairs. Then, without telling them about the other, talk to them. To the Roleplay Nazi, mention that, "since you are such a good roleplayer, could you take (insert name of Rule Monger) under their wing and help them roleplay better. To the Rule Monger, mention that, "since you are such good gamers, could you take (insert name of Roleplay Nazi) under your wing and help them game better... optimize their character, understand the mechanics, and so on. Both players, thinking they are helping you out BIG TIME will fall into this mentor role with gusto.

2005-10-27 06:02 PM » Link: [1181#6062|text]
An alternate solution, not as good but applicable if the number of players or the degree of polarization is lacking, e.g. only one player is an excessive Roleplay Nazi:

Rule Monger: Decide results without using the dice. This especially works to shock and confuse them in situations where the dice are used extensively, such as combat. Doing this in small doses often helps those who overly rely upon the little plastic polyhedra to realise that there's more to the game than dice. For truly difficult cases (e.g. the guy who has to roll dice to determine pizza toppings), entire sessions may need to be played diceless.

Roleplay Nazi: Coldly and ruthlessly enforce the game's rules. You don't want to stop them from roleplaying, you just want them to realise that there's more to being a good player than one's thespian abilities. For example, after an in-character bit of dialogue to an NPC, state "that was a great speech--that's good enough for a +3 on the roll."

Interruptions: There are two ways to handle a player who interrupts excessively. The sneakiest is the Bait-and-Catch method. This is where you start a description with something geared to get a response from the problem player, and end with an obstacle. If the player interrupts, you can continue your description appropriately, if desired. For example:
GM: "You open the door to the vault, gold bars stacked nearly to the ceiling..."
Player: "I start unloading them onto the cart."
GM: "... And as the alarms sound when you break the sensor laser, guards rush in with weapons drawn, pinning (Player) to the wall."
The second method is simpler in theory, but more difficult to put into actual use: ignore the problem player's interruptions. Pretend you didn't hear what they said & continue whatever you were saying without pause. If you ask the troupe what their plans/responses are, and the interrupting player doesn't respond at that (appropriate) time, then he or she must not really want to do anything then. If the problem player interrupts another, specifically ask the non-problem player to repeat him- or herself. Only when you have responses from everyone, only then do you turn to the problem player--who may have been trying to state his or her actions the entire time.


In many ways, the actions of the players reflect those of the GM. If the GM engages in bad habits, roleplays insufficiently, or arbitrarily ignores rules, then the players cannot be strongly faulted for doing so. In other words, if you want your players to roleplay more, et al. then do so yourself. The GM sets the standard for the troupe in most cases, especially as regards roll/role balance, table talk, etc.

2005-10-27 06:02 PM » Link: [1181#6063|text]
Here are a couple of things that fall into the Evil GM tricks category.

Kinslayer and a few others go at the storytelling tricks to keep your curs at heel.

I actually have a better solution for that. Don't play with the schucks. Never play with someone you would not spend four to six hours with doing something else. Period.

Life is too short to play with bad players. Even if there is a small handful of people that game in your area... unless the player is willing to improve their playstyle to make the game more fun for everyone... stop inviting them to the game sessions. If they are your friend or acquaintance, remember to invite them to parties, games, and videonights, but forget to invite them to game sessions. They will eventually get the point and either stop gaming badly or stop gaming.

Of course my Bad Gamer kept coming to the game, but not playing... just read a magazine ... talked with a few people... then left abruptly.

2005-10-27 06:03 PM » Link: [1181#6064|text]
The link is dead.

2007-11-25 12:55 PM » Link: [1181#32582|text]
Biff the Wonder Dog

We had a player who was disruptive. He always played the wierd character, the jester in the court that followed the adventurers, the cute furry alien, the pacifist in a military unit, the ultra-violent military man in a group of peaceful space explorers, etc. The player would pull switches, push buttons, read books (in CoC!), trigger traps (and hope to make the save), and a variety of random things just to see what happened. And do it without warning other people he was going to. So he often avoided the effects, but many of the group had to reroll characters. He would be totally nonsequitor in conversation with NPCs (and PCs), like he had run an entire section of the game in his head... by himself. He also did other random attention getting things. The GMs involved were softies. They did not want to get rid of him, nor did they think they had the right. So one afternoon they were complaining about said gamer... trying to find a way that he could not fiddle with things, talk to people, but still have a totally wierd character becaue he would play nothing else... in the upcoming Lost World campaign. Nobody could build such a character they said. Then I looked up from a rule book and they were all staring at me.

Let me explain. I can build hero game characters like few others. I was totally fluent in all the rule sets (4th edition down). I could quote page and rule. I had a unique mathematical knack for building characters, being able to keep running totals in my head, do the various computations in my head, and understood the various breakpoints intuitively. I was also a total genre fanatic, so I would do anything that would fit the genre and nothing else. So I could build super heroes that broke the backs of other players, things that nobody else could build for appropriate point totals. I was so good at this, that people would come to me... from other game troupes... for me to build their characters and work on their conceptions. Some GM's made it a point to say that every character I built was banned from their campaigns (except the villians I built for them). So they looked at me. They told me what they wanted. I blinked and said, "You want Lassie or Rex the Wonder Dog", then went back to reading.

So of course they made me build it.

He was actually a competent character who could be quite effective. Rex had every Justice Incorporated Pulp Power, including the psychic ones. Rex had no thumbs and no language skills (except for his NPC who he could talk to). People could choose to ignore the character because it was "just a dog", which I found to be an advantage as he could spy or be the agent of our escape because of it. I even managed to get the player to be enthusiastic about it.

It did allow him to have a uber character that would not endanger the party. Players would ignore him, because he was just a dog. (Which was somewhat uncool since he was a player). It all came crashing down when the player refused risk his life to save his DNPC "Timmy" from the dinosaurs, so Timmy went away. All of a sudden nobody could communicate with the Dog and all those massive sensory abilities went away. So he made his bed and had to lie in it.

2005-10-27 06:04 PM » Link: [1181#6065|text]
Don't ever say there's too few of you

If you don't have a full head count - which inevitably happens - think twice before calling it off and settling for lesser forms of entertainment. Wanna game? Then game. Make up some reason for the PC's that are missing, and make it worth for those (PCs and players) that are present.

Think: now you are more than ever free to change the tone of the campaign, try something else, or just have plain fun before saving the world yet another time. In one case, a PC has discovered in their meager loot a hidden treasure of precious gems. So basically, half of the session was spent by haggling with an extremely greedy jeweler, the other half shopping equipment and throwing a little party, both made a great time.

You can also continue with the plot in some alternative way, try to research for a change, or make the typical combat adventure a sneaky affair. A weakened group behaves differently than a fully charged one.

In the end, the PCs that were present will have more XP, practiced their skills, possibly even got richer, but most important: it was fun. I have said in some cases that there were too few of us, and in some didn't; you can guess when it was a mistake. So play the game.

2006-12-25 02:08 PM » Link: [1181#23270|text]
The Big Rule
For me the biggest rule is to play to your audience, which also means you have to know your audience. it is easy to map out a grandiose adventure to span the continent, band the free races together, destroy the dingus of power and overthrow the evil menace. Of course this all goes to pot when you discover that half of your PCs are more interested in developing new magic spells or end up fixated on the small town they all started in rather than following the clues on to the rest of the plot.

Like a leaky ship, a DM needs to know when to hold fast and keep the pumps running, and when to abandon the current plot. Planning an intricate game of courtly intrigue is going to bore your hack and slash players to death, while your Hamlet loving troupe will likely become exasperated after facing the third band of orcs. While obvisouly some people will cry out that hack and slash is not roleplaying. In my experience with a varied group of gamers, you will find all sorts and it is all to easy to claim whatever persuasion of gamer you are to be the best, and the other variations to be false, wrong, or problematic.

Got a band of Hack-n-Slashers, give a gauntlet of monsters to hack and slash to pieces. They will love you for it. Got the Shakespearian Troupe, let them hash out their own version of Much Ado about Nothing, or Midsummer Night's Dream or Hamlet if you've got the guts. Everyone present is there to have fun, yourself included.

In summary, know what your gamers want and give it to them.

2006-12-25 07:49 PM » Link: [1181#23278|text]

At times I have had other groups playing with my group and the conflicts of gaming style and preferences are often spectacular. My group are story nazis, with emphasis on roleplay, and my GMing is custom tailored to them.

Imagine then the situation when a hard core group of D&D dungeon crawlers come to play. It is a challenging situation to say the least. Both groups want bang for their buck (not that they give me any), and they want it now.

2007-11-27 04:43 AM » Link: [1181#32614|text]
GM's Desires .vs Players Desires

This is the standard problem where the gm wants to run a "type a campaign" and the players are more keen on "type b" instead. Usually this is brought on by the gm having a great plot line for their campaign, or having just bought a campaign setting/ adventure booklet set and eager to give it a whirl. Often this manifests itself in a difference between desired char classes, (as in a group of magic casting types rather than a bunch of fighter/paladin classes) and the ones the Gm would prefer for their campaign, and at times opposing views on what kind of campaign the gm wants to run vs. the campaign the players are expecting. (A world spanning "save the planet from the great evil" style campaign vs a more low key "explore and help your home community prosper."

Solution A: The Hard Sell

In this one the gm tells the players the style of campaign she's got planned and the type of classes that would work best for it, perhaps condensing the plot down into a two or three paragraph summary, about what you'd find on the back your favorite novel. This can perhaps intrigue or enthuse the players enough to change their char concepts or expectations to be more in line with what the gm wants, and still have a great game. After all if you can sell them on your idea being so much fun, chances are they'll have fun with it too.

Solution B: Give'em what they want while getting what you want

This one's a little tricky and can require some serious overhaul on the gm's part but can really be wroth it. Concede to the players desires as far as char classes, or motivations go, and let them have at it; with a catch. Your original campaign still progresses, but on a smaller scale or with a different setup. Perhaps instead of saving the world from the great evil, they need to save their town from a lesser (although still dangerous) evil. Maybe instead of the campaign being focused around the mages guilds corruption and rise of a new class of mages, the game revolves more around a new martial art and sword fighting style that's taking the kingdom by storm?

Essentially take the core of your campaign and change around the details and serve it up dressed as what the players want to see. Chances are they'll love you for giving them what they've asked for, and you'll still get the thrill of seeing your original campaign vision come to fruitation without a lot of disappointed players.

2008-06-01 08:11 PM » Link: [1181#65689|text]
It's the job of the GM to maintain the health of his/her game. This is anything and everything from making sure all players are engaged and have their time in the limelight, to barring negative elements from the game, even smoothing over ruffled feathers, dealing with unruly SO's, and managing groups of people.

A good GM will interact with players 1 on 1, allowing them the time to discuss their thoughts, wishes, quibbles, and so forth. They will know what each player brings to the story and plot, and will try to dissuade players from making the entire story collapse into an entire mess. They will manage their players and their games so everyone can have fun.

Don't ever be afraid to step back and watch your players banter with one another (in character, of course).

2012-06-10 03:08 AM » Link: [1181#81942|text]
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Comments ( 18 )
Commenters gain extra XP from Author votes.

Voted MoonHunter
November 6, 2005, 20:03
Not much you can add to this. It is a solid 3
Voted KendraHeart
November 12, 2005, 0:39
Most of my previous gaming group were Character Players. They are the gaming equivalents of "Character Actors". We all played the same basic character (or character type) in every game we played. We were all good at what we did, but it did get boring.

Our GM did two things to "help us".
First was the great mind swap game. It was Champions, and in hindsight, we were a pretty mottely group of supers. A psychotropic bomb blew our minds into each other's bodies. Every player had to hand their character sheet to the person sitting to their right (with one exception). For three game sessions, we had to play this other character like it should be played according to its type, background, and existing personality. Okay the personalities were not so great, but we all did a fairly good idea.

Second thing he did was starting us to play a Hong Kong Action Theatre game. We started using one of the supplimentry rules where we were "actors" in a movie series. So of course our actors were our normal types. Then we ran in some movies where we had to be "other roles". It was good for us. We did not play well, but we did stretch our range. The campaign eventually tanked in other reasons.
Voted manfred
December 25, 2006, 14:09
Being asked by AG, I have added what little remained of my GMing wisdom.

Oh, and it is an okay submission, too. :)
Ancient Gamer
December 25, 2006, 16:47
When you need it, it is great! :p
Voted Chaosmark
December 25, 2006, 17:37
Only voted
Voted Murometz
January 24, 2007, 22:10
Heh! yep. Fun and useful thread. I will ponder and add something.
Voted valadaar
January 25, 2007, 11:22
This is a pretty good sub with excellent entries!
Voted Michael Jotne Slayer
November 25, 2007, 12:49
For strolenites that game and GM still this makes for good reading and can be put to good use. Who hasn't encountered many of the issues. The expanded scroll is a nice addition as well, will have to add to that if I have the will:)
Voted Ted
June 1, 2008, 0:37
I find that the most dedicated players get the most experience- they miss the least games, badger me to play the most, and overall, play better.
Voted Peppe Pepis
July 29, 2009, 13:05
Only voted
August 5, 2011, 9:59

I find this thread to be very useful. It also gives more insight to the GM I know. As a player, it was easy to get wrapped up in the game and not understand how much effort went in to making it work. There were even game sessions on the fly. And there were spin-off games to the main game plot. When a few members of the group got together (an unplanned gathering) and wanted to play, we had secondary characters and plots that ran beside the main game. And when the main group got back together, sometimes we ran into the mess left behind by our other characters.

It was a lot of fun. But not easy.

And when there was a breakdown in the group, the GM handled it well. The game continued on, and eventually the group would get over whatever issues had cropped up. Then, the groups would merge back together and continue on. We would have new things to talk about, like some of the things we had encountered while seperated. It gave the game a deeper, richer enviroment to play in.

And we learned how to adapt to the diversity of the group.

Ancient Gamer
August 7, 2011, 19:35
This show that some of the best content at the Citadel, is that content which we co-created.
Voted Silveressa
June 6, 2012, 15:53
Not sure how I managed to add to this with an idea and forgot to comment/vote on it back in 2008, but it is one of the more useful GM advice articles I've read over the years and can be extremely helpful in making ones campaign a success.
Voted Kassy
June 10, 2012, 15:37
Only voted
July 30, 2012, 12:15
Thought I'd HoH this to bring it back to the surface. A very useful article.

Original vote was 4.5/5
Voted EmilioV
August 1, 2012, 10:37
Another article to add to my binder I think, as well as my favorites here.

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       By: Scrasamax

A city is being plagued by a swarm of winged mice. The vermin can get anywhere, and they can easily avoid their normal predators by simply flying away from them.

Ideas  ( Lifeforms ) | January 30, 2005 | View | UpVote 2xp

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