Game Mastering
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October 30, 2005, 1:31 pm

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Never Get Involved in a land war in Asia- Classic GM Blunder


You fell victim to one of the classic blunders. The most famous is “Never get involved in a land war in Asia.” But only slightly less well known is this: “Never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line.”

First posted at in the tips section.

One of my favorite movies is “The Princess Bride”. In that movie, the Evil VIZZINI, explains that there are a few classic blunders.

“You fell victim to one of the classic blunders. The most famous is “Never get involved in a land war in Asia.” But only slightly less well known is this: “Never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line.”

He laughs and roars and cackles and whoops and is in all ways quite cheery until he falls over dead.

I love that scene. Some of us are so confident in our abilities that we ignore the basics. There are things that begining GMs do wrong on a regular basis, that even experienced GMs do upon occasion. They are easy to do, so these classic blunders are things that every GM, DM, or ref needs to be on the look out for.

Classic GM Blunder #1: Failing to provide enough motivation for characters to go on the adventure. While forcing players to do things is never a good idea, a character needs some motivation to do things in the game. If the GM does not provide enough motivation, the players could easily go off on tangents that they find much more interesting. FIND THE CHARACTER’S HOOKS AND USE THEM TO PULL THE CHARACTER INTO THE STORY.

Classic GM Blunder #2: Failing to pace the story well. The GM must keep the story going, giving the players something to do or react to. Every scene has a purpose and a way to lead into the next scene. KEEP THE GAME MOVING OR THE PLAYERS WILL GET BORED.

Classic GM Blunder #3: Making NPCs more important than PCs. The player characters are the protagonists of your campaign story. If they are not, why should they play? GMs sometimes love their NPCs a bit too much, allowing them to save the players, show up the players, or make the PCs useless and unimportant. IF A GM IS WRITING THEIR NPC’S STORY, WHY SHOULD THE PCs SHOW UP?

Classic GM Blunder #4: Failing to engage the Troop in the fictional world and the campaign. The GM is the author and narrator for the campaign story. If you were reading a story and you don’t like the characters, the supporting characters were flat, and the setting was grey and lifeless, would you keep reading the book? Probably not. Why would you keep playing a game with the same failings? Players need to know about the game world, interact with colorful characters, encounter dramatic events, and encounter interesting things. PROVIDE THESE THINGS FOR THEM.

Classic GM Blunder #5: Failing to entertain the players. There is a reason it is called a game. The point of the game is to enjoy yourself. If players are not having fun, they have no motivation to come to your game. Run the kind of game the players want, with the kind of scenarios they want, with the kind of subplots they like. IF YOU DO NOT KNOW WHAT THE PLAYERS WANT: ASK!!

Classic GM Blunder #6: Failing to know the rules: The Game designer can only write so many rules; the publisher can only publish so many. There is no way to make rulings for every contingency in a game. That is what the GM is for. The GM must know the rules and be able to interpret them for any situation. They must be fair in their handling of the rules. They must know the rules so well, they do not have to think about them, so they can use them and still concentrate on the game story. KNOW THE RULES OR DO NOT GM!

Classic GM Blunder #7: Failing to listen to the players. A Game Master should listen to their players, determining what they like and dislike about the campaign, the game, and the GM’s play style. By responding to player comments, the GM can provide the kind of game the players will enjoy and improve their own gamecraft. LISTEN TO YOUR PLAYERS, THEY ARE YOUR AUDIENCE AND YOUR STAFF.

Classic GM Blunder #8: Failing to be prepared. A GM should spend some time before the game session to organize thoughts and notes, prepare any scenes or opponents, and plan out story lines. Do not take away play time by spending time at the session to do this. Even if you are of the “wing it” school of game mastering, some preparation will allow for easier, faster, and better play. A LITTLE PREPARATION GOES A LONG WAY!

Classic GM Blunder #9: Allowing the Dice to rule the scene. Dice are used to resolve conflicts and make the RPG more of a “game”. In roleplaying games, we also tell stories. Sometimes the dice generate responses that do not fit the GM’s desire for the campaign saga or scene. If it is in the best interest of the game, change the results to better fit the story. WHO IS IN CHARGE? YOU OR THE DICE?

Classic GM Blunder #10: Failing to improve your your gamecraft. Roleplaying games are not static, they are always changing. What challenged and amused your players a month ago might not do it now. The way you presented information a few months ago is now old hat. Gamecraft is like an actor’s craft, except it includes things that authors, storytellers, and wargamers do. Always strive to do it better than you have before. Find what works at a given time and do it. A LITTLE EFFORT TOWARDS SELF IMPROVEMENT GOES A LONG WAY!

PS: If you want to read the Princess Bride movie script: or rent it. It is a great movie.

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Comments ( 7 )
Commenters gain extra XP from Author votes.

Voted Mourngrymn
November 9, 2005, 15:20
This is a classical list that should be adhered to should anyone be Dming. It is all helpful information and should be used as a checklist for any DM. Good job to the limitless knowledge of Moonhunter.
Voted KendraHeart
November 12, 2005, 0:54
These is anothe presentation of the Best Rules of 2003. I like this one better.
Voted Silveressa
June 9, 2008, 20:41
Another gem I would have missed were it not for the useless barbarians senseless comment. Over all a useful compilation of rules every gm and player should reread from time to time. (And come to think of it, should be printed in the "how to play and rpg" section of most rpg books)
Voted Drackler
June 12, 2008, 12:48
I was reading through this article thinking: What of these, if any, do I commit?
The answer is between me and my players, but the question is one you should probably ask yourselves, too.
Voted Dossta
June 18, 2012, 14:43
A very good list of reminders and common pitfalls. There is a lot that I agree with here, and only a few things I don't. Knowing the rules, for example, is important. However, you shouldn't feel like you can't GM until you know all of the rules stone cold -- that is impractical for some of the more technical systems, and may make you reluctant to ever try a new system. Instead, know all of the BASIC rules (basic combat, character creation and social rules), and make a point to at least read through the more complex stuff once before you start gaming. That way, you'll at least know where to go when the more specific stuff comes up (bookmark your sourcebooks or take notes if you need to!).
Voted valadaar
September 22, 2013, 16:51
This is a great list, and while it does come from the gaming as storytelling direction, virtually all of the rules are good and applicable.

September 22, 2013, 19:10
All roleplaying games are a balance between story orientation and game orientation. It is easier, in most games cases, to approach it as a pawn/ board/ action orientation (game orientation). That is why most GM advice tends to slip towards the Story Side of things.

You can make an interesting game mechanic situation great (and thus more enjoyable) by adding story elements. Just as a good storyline can be made great with interesting tactical/ mechanical challenges.

Random Idea Seed View All Idea Seeds

       By: DaWergyling

Other improvisational weapons/tools:
Icicles are useful as daggers,
Bag Of Holding filled with copper pieces used by chucking the contents at foes, (by strolen)
sleeves make useful garrotes. Ya can't cut anyone's neck, but you sure can choke 'em!
Flaming Logs make great clubs, (any Barbarians out there?)
and Bee hives are very effective when thrown at a mob of enemies. :-)

Ideas  ( Items ) | December 15, 2002 | View | UpVote 0xp

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