Thirteen GM Rules Collected

Last week in the Roleplay Rescue podcast, I shared my thirteen Game Master “Rules”… and it has caused quite a stir in the community. Quite the way to begin 2021.

In Season 8, Episode 2, I wanted to explore the Rules that I have – over a lifetime of gaming and roleplaying – constructed around the concept of being the Game Master. As I stated at the beginning of that episode, these Rules are all open to challenge and, in fact, are already undergoing challenge. My purpose has been to rock the foundations of these GM Rules and share with you the journey into finding some that are more helpful.

What Are You On About, “Rules”?!

On the 9th November 2020, I was sent home from work and consequently diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder and Social Anxiety. Since then I have been in therapy – two different therapeutic approaches, in fact – and made good progress. Right now, I am in a Phased Return to work and learning how my brain works, perhaps, differently to the majority.

One of the approaches to my therapy has been CBT: Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. As I understand it, within the theory behind CBT, our Thoughts lead to Emotions and, in turn, to Behaviours. Thus, what we do is rooted in what with feel and think. By extension, what we think is rooted in a litany of Rules. In common parlance, we might simply say that these Rules are our Beliefs. I go into this in more detail in Episode 2 but, in short, the fun stuff begins when you ask what happens when someone breaks the Rules as you perceive them?

Rules = Beliefs

Not everyone shares the same Rules as you do. A mismatch causes us to feel fear, to be threatened, and that can lead to anger.

You can work out the Rules under which you are operating by observing the behaviours that you display. It didn’t take long before I started to think about the Rules under which I operate as a Game Master. I began by looking at my behaviours.

Let’s be clear about two things:

Firstly, my roleplaying hobby has not been working out very well for a number of years; in short, I seem unable to focus on any game for very long and usually bail out long before session six, generally before even session three. I was curious as to why. This implies that my Rules are in fact not helping me to play.

Secondly, some of the Rules might well be helpful. What I am looking to identify, however, are the Rules that are no longer helpful. Helpful Rules can be checked out and validated. Unhelpful Rules can be challenged… and that is my intent.

Webster’s Thirteen Game Master Rules

As of the 2nd January 2021, the following were my Thirteen GM Rules. Since then, however, loads of very kind and honest listeners have called in – and some have messaged me on the RPR Discord or emailed – to tell me which of these Rules they consider to be bogus. Some of the Rules appear to have some validity. To me, the fascinating thing has been the range of opinion.

Here’s the initial list:

  1. Playing games should be a positive and enlightening experience for everyone at the table.
  2. It is the Game Master’s responsibility to make sure the players are having a good time.
  3. The GM needs to know everything about the game system and the game world before play begins.
  4. The GM should not force the players to play their predesigned adventure.
  5. The player is sovereign over their character.
  6. The GM should be prepared to handle any choice the players make.
  7. The GM should never look anything up at the table.
  8. Always make honest die rolls, no fudging be bound by the results.
  9. The monsters or opposition should always act in a rational and tactically understandable way.
  10. The game world needs to make sense to everyone at the table.
  11. Players expect you to be able to answer any question they ask.
  12. Players expect you to challenge them but ultimately to let them win.
  13. It’s wrong to kill the player characters.

I plan to share the reactions called in to the podcast in a future episode and use the comments to help me decide which of these Rules needs challenging and changing… and also help move me towards alternatives.

That said, the goal of CBT is to get us to change Behaviours. Thus, I will begin some Behavioural Experiments to try out some new Rules and, no doubt, keep you all informed in the journey.

Why post this here? Three reasons: 1) I thought it might be useful to the readers who don’t listen; 2) It gives me a handy list to refer to later on; 3) Perhaps you’d like to add your voice to the conversation. Constructive comments are welcome.

Game on!

2 comments

  1. I mostly agree with everything her except #13. If the players are foolish or intentionally idiotic and the dice kill them as rule #8 always make honest dice rolls. Rule #7 is also close to impossible in some game systems. You have to take a peak and look stuff up sometimes in game to make sure the playing result is legitimate.

    Liked by 1 person

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