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Give Your GM a Break

By Steve Darlington

In which the author reminds us that a happy GM is a good GM

Being a good GM is all about keeping your players happy. All right, you knew that. But, shocking as it may seem, the opposite is also true: being a good player is all about keeping your GM happy.

The more observant of you may remember this article from the pages of arcane magazine (may it rest in peace).

"What?" I hear you gasp in astonishment. "Since when am I supposed to entertain the GM? Next you'll be saying I have to accept every dice roll!" But think about it; we all play these games to have fun. And that's all of us. So if the players are stopping the GM from having fun, she's going to ask himself why the hell she spent hours of effort planning the game, or even why she bothered turning up. If the GM doesn't get any reward for her Herculean labours, sooner or later, she's going to wonder why she should continue them. She could, after all, be a player or a GM with another group at the drop of a hat.

So if you want to keep playing your games, you must keep your GM interested in playing them as well. This is not simply achieved by being a good role-player. It is achieved by respecting your GM, and all times endeavouring to make her job easier. Here are a few tips to this end:

1. Appreciate their job

To get some idea of the amount of work GMs do, see our next article, "Run Like a Man".

Never forget that the GM has the hardest job of all by a long, long way. Remember that the GM not only has to GM, she also has to be a book-keeper, a narrator and a inventive genius, plus play all the NPCs and maintain some control over the plot. This person has devoted a large chunk of her spare time, outside of the gaming evening, just to design ways entertain you. Whereas all you have to do is turn up. So remember you owe the GM, and if something doesn't work, or the game gets derailed slightly, don't you think she deserves a chance to correct herself?

2. Be sensitive to style

GMs, just like players, have a preferred style of game they like to run. Some like a specific genre, or system. Others have a favourite scenario, such as treasure hunts, or mysteries. Some may prefer to run large scale carnage, while others go in for intense role-playing experiences. Whatever the case, players should be ready to adjust to the style of their GM, as well as the other way around. Most of the time, if a new GM approached some gung-ho rambos about playing a murder mystery, say, they would quickly inform her to change tack, or get out. But if only the GM is forced to adjust, the players will never get to stretch their role-playing wings, and go to the great places their GM is trying to take them. Try and compromise.

3. Provide feedback

Remember, when giving critisim, to make it constructive. Don't risk offending your GM.

GMs love to get praise. That's why they spend all that time planning scenarios: it's great fun to have people enjoy your work. So if you like a scenario, or setting, or character, make sure you tell your GM. Likewise, criticism is equally important. If you don't agree with a ruling, dislike the setting, or think the GM has a problem with some aspect of game-mastering, don't be shy, tell her. This is doubly important when your GM is trying something new. The more you tell her what worked and what didn't, the better she is going to get at tailoring a good game for you. Don't be over-critical though. If you complain all night about a few measly rules, you'll ruin the game.

4. Get into the game!

A GMs greatest challenge is to make the players actually believe in her world, and feel what their characters are feeling. But it's a lost cause if the players won't meet her halfway. Why should the GM bother to role-play every NPC if the players don't role-play themselves? Why should she describe all the characters and scenes in loving detail if the players don't listen, or try to imagine them? The GM sets the stage, and lights the lights, but if nobody plays the parts, it's wasted time. The more you role-play, the easier it is for the GM to suspend your disbelief.

5. Go with the flow

Your actions should suit the game's setting - if you are playing kinghts, then it would be stupid not to rescue damsels or slay dragons.

One of the great things about RPGs is that they are live, and the story can take any turn the players want it to. But this freedom, if taken too far, can destroy a game. Sometimes, it's better to follow the dramatic needs of a story. And drama must have its conventions. For example, if there's a climactic showdown, it is much more effective for it to take place during a raging thunderstorm. Watch the GM clench her teeth, then, as the players decide to wait until morning to go after the villain. Even if you've figured out the entire module, go with the flow. You may have to be predictable, heroic, or even stupid in the service of the plot, but creating a good story is what it's all about. And just because something is predictable, doesn't mean it is boring.

6. Come prepared

As I said before, the GM has the hardest job of all. So, there is no reason why, on top of everything else, she should also have to look out for the players. There is nothing more infuriating to a GM than players that turn up late, who forget their character sheets, dice, pencils, or those who forget the plot, the setting, or the mechanics. When the players are so apathetic that they can't even remember when and where they are supposed to be playing, when they can't even be bothered to bring the basic tools of the trade with them, it sends a very strong message to the GM. If you can't be bothered, why the hell should she be?

Successful role-playing games are all about collaboration. The players and the GM have to work together to make the game enjoyable for everyone involved. This can only happen if there is mutual respect between players and GM. So consider this the next time things go a little astray in your gaming group: if the GM is willing to go out of her way to please you, don't you think you should make some effort to return the favour? If you want to play good games then, to paraphrase J.F.K.:"Ask not what your GM can do for you, but rather what you can do for your GM."


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