A Friendly Word of Advice

Today I just wanted to share something that I’ve learnt from spending half of my life as a role-player on both sides of the GM’s screen. This is probably going to come across as a rant, and if I’m being honest, that is exactly what it is. But I like to think that it’s a justified rant, and also fairly topical at the moment given a situation that is occurring in a game that I run.

The advice is this:

Do NOT be a dick to your GM.

Just don’t.

No, seriously, it will not end well for you. 

Now admittedly there are, as always, exceptions to this. If your GM is being an unreasonable bastard, then by all means, find a way to deal with it. If talking it out doesn’t work, then maybe you decide to just move onto another group after pulling some wacky hijinks and shenanigans to get your own back. But those aren’t the sort of situations I’m talking about.

I know there are always going to be times we disagree. None of us are perfect. But I’m not talking about making a single mistake, and moving on, or having a bad night. I’m talking about a continued and persistent attitude of dickery towards your GM. You shouldn’t be a dick towards fellow players either, because every time you are, Wil Wheton cries a little. But the GM is a much more dangerous target.

For example, a situation has come up that requires the GM to use their discretion to make a ruling. The GM has:

  • Taken into account your arguments on the matter
  • Read the rules and interpreted them the way he thinks fits the spirit of the game (Rules As Intended or RAI vs Rules As Written or RAW – I feel I might actually have to do a full entry on this concept)
  • Spoken with other GMs about this situation and asked how they would rule it.
  • Left a question about the situation in a place that the game developers may actually see and respond to it

Now, after all of this, when the GM has made their decision and explained the reasoning behind it as well as what it would take to change their mind, you might still disagree. That’s fine. However, you need to understand that Rule Zero is in effect. For those of you unfamiliar with Rule Zero, it’s the unwritten rule of pretty much every RPG, and it exists to make sure that the GM can deal with situations where the rules are broken, can be exploited, or might just not cover it well. It can be summed up as follows:

The GM can suspend, alter or override the published rules of a game as they deem necessary.

So, how do you deal with this situation? In most cases, the best way is to just accept that the GM has made their call. If you really want to, do some more research and see if you can find something that might convince them. But just play it cool. They’re trying to keep the game fun, fair and balanced for all concerned, including themselves.

As for how not to deal with it, here’s a few pointers. Don’t keep pushing your argument. Don’t start whining about the GM house ruling something without consulting the players, because this isn’t a house rule, it’s a rules judgement. Don’t start telling the GM that you don’t believe in Rules as Intended and Rules as Written are exactly what the developers intended the rules to do, because if you actually look at somewhere like the Paizo message boards, you’ll find a lot of comments from the devs clarifying how rules are intended to work, and explaining what went wrong. Don’t become a rules lawyer. Most importantly though, don’t tell the GM that you insist the game be run completely RAW.

Why is that last one the most important point? There’s a few reasons.

  • It isn’t really polite to make demands of the person taking time out of their life to prepare a game for your enjoyment
  • As I mentioned before, they’re just trying to keep things on an even keel for everyone. Sometimes rules are broken as written and need to be addressed on the fly.
  • The GM is likely to be more familiar with the system, and is drawing on that experience to make a reasonable, well thought out judgement

These are all good reasons. However, there’s another aspect you need to take into account here, and it comes down to this. You keep arguing, after the GM has made a call and said they’re standing by it, and sooner or later, they’re going to start getting irritated, or in extreme cases, angry. You don’t want your GM angry with you. Mostly because you might just get what you wished for.

You want the game to be run exactly to RAW? That’s fine. Because the players aren’t the only one who can be a rules lawyer, and the GMs can normally do it to a much better effect. They will drown you in so many rules you won’t know which way is up. All the little things they normally handwave away, like encumbrance? Say goodbye to that. They can start imposing strict wealth by level limitations, because hey, it’s written in the rulebook. They’ll start utilising every single dirty trick that’s written into a monsters stat block. You want to create a custom magic item? Then you better be ready to spend the in-game time and resources researching what you’re trying to create and experimenting to see if it works, without any guarantee of success. Basically, to sum it up, let’s put it like this:

If you screw with the GM, there’s a good chance they’re going to screw back twice as hard.

Now as a GM, I personally don’t like doing that. It makes it me against the players, and that’s not what the game is meant to be. It’s meant to be all of us joining together to tell a shared story. But sometimes it seems to be the only way to get through to people.

I do everything I can to make my games fun and interesting for my players. I reward good role-playing. I give bonus feats and custom items to players in order to help them make their character concepts come to life. I love being able to hear ideas from my players that may not work according to the RAW, like using a combination of ice and fire magic to cause additional damage to metal structures, and say “Yeah, that’s a cool idea, I’ll allow it”. All of those things are born of my use of Rule Zero, since it’s our ability to put aside the published rules for the sake of the game that allows players to come up with such creative solutions to problems. So to have a player throw it back in my face the second I say no to something is actually somewhat insulting to me, as its equivalent to having them say “I’ll only respect your decisions as long as the benefit me”.

Here’s the thing guys. Rule Zero, GMs discretion, or whatever you want to call it, exists for a reason. Game developers are not omniscient beings, and cannot account for every single situation that is going to arise. We GMs use our discretion to try to adjudicate situations that aren’t quite covered properly, or are written in such a way as to be completely unusable. We use it to make sure that our players have a fighting chance against the hordes of monsters they face. We use it to make the game as fair as possible. But that cuts both ways. You can’t just accept our decisions when they’re in your favour, and then cry for RAW the second we make a call that has the slightest negative impact on your character. If we find you exploiting a loophole in the RAW to cheese out your character and get more power, we are well within our rights to shut that down.

Remember. We’re players too. We’re trying to have fun just like everyone else, but for us the game is also a lot more work. So when players start behaving like this, it stops being fun for us. Not long after that, it stops being fun for everyone.

Please just show your GM a little bit of respect. If you disagree with them, fine, but leave it at that. Don’t fight tooth and nail to try to overturn a perfectly reasonable call they’ve made. Don’t be a rules lawyer. If you must be a rules lawyer, at least make sure you’ve got your facts straight before hand.  Don’t be “That Guy”. The guy who GMs, and sometimes players, start to wish would just leave the group so the arguing could stop and the game could continue.

Please. Just give us that much. It’s all we ask.


Written while listening to Hold, Hold, Fire, the first album by Calling All Cars. They’re a rock band from Melbourne, and they play a fantastic live show.

You can check them out online at http://www.facebook.com/callingallcarsmusic

2 thoughts on “A Friendly Word of Advice

  1. It’s also important to remember that there is a context around the game. Within the game, there’s a GM and there are players. But the broader context is that we gave a group of people getting together to do a fun activity. Thing is: everyone – DM and players alike – are invested in the activity. Everyone has put their imagination and time into it.
    I always compare D&D to playing in an amateur sports league – indoor cricket or netball. Although in RPG, the DM is more than a referee. He is like the host of a party.
    What am I saying? I don’t know. Maybe simply “everyone should chill”.

    • I agree entirely with your comparison. Yes, the GM is more than just the “referee” of the game, but they are still closest thing to a referee the game has, and much like players in a sport should respect the referee’s calls (assuming they’re not blatantly unfair), the same goes for a player in a RPG.

      I’m also not denying that the players have to invest a lot of time and effort into the game. But I would submit that, as a GM yourself, you spend a hell of a lot more time on the game than just the sessions. Prep for adventures, contingencies for if the players go off on a tangent, it all takes time. Hell, even a pre-written adventure isn’t safe, just look at the party’s unexpected trip to the Cannibal Isles in last fortnight’s Skulls & Shackles session. As a GM, the more time you can put in as prep, the smoother the game is going to run.

      The advice that everyone should chill is in fact an excellent suggestion. It doesn’t always work, but it is something to keep in mind. If you have to, walk away and come back to it, when cooler heads can prevail.

      Just quickly though, I’d like to point out that, while the topic was inspired by the recent discussions in our group, this is a post I would have been writing at some point anyway. It was merely accelerated. It wasn’t intended as an attack on anyone, it was more a case of writing it while it was fresh in my head.

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