Ask The GM: Both Sides Of The Screen

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Straight talk for a moment. Have you ever lost your table to another GM? Have you ever had a storyteller kick you out of your own game, only to keep running the same game without you? Or even… have you ever been that storyteller that had to make this call?

Not only can this destroy friendships or cause entire rifts in a gaming communityit can shred your heart. When you are playing in another storytellers world, you are dancing around in their imagination. So you’ve gotta watch where you step.

I’ve watched games end in tears, and I’ve had to step in and take a game over. I’ve tried to stitch together fallen friendships due to a game break. We’ve also recovered from it all. So when Satine and Eric Campbell had an episode GM Etiquette on both sides of the screen, it hit a little closer to home than I would’ve liked. Eric Campbell has glorious insight into the types of games that will often cause problems, and often times, it is in the roleplaying heavy games. I feel that’s because the players have more connection to their characters.

This is to me, one of the more important episodes of GM Tips so far. The message between the lines helps us navigate drama, potential fallouts, and how to deal with negative situations.


Setting boundaries with players (and other storytellers) is paramount. Satine highlights all the merits of why you need them. Instead of rehashing why they are needed, here are some practical ones to get you started. In my past LARP’s these boundaries worked best to avert some of the disasters I’d seen prior (or learned the hard way.)

  • Time: Game should stay within the designated time boundaries and perhaps one or two emails. When you run one or two tables, or 30-200 players, people can nibble at your life and next thing you know—game is your life.
  • PVP: It’s allowed, but it must be adjudicated. Draw expectations for combat narration, rules, and what happens in case of death. Don’t be afraid to draft a rule that says: You must take whoever you kill out for a taco dinner.
  • Alcohol: This is one I’ve seen people shy away from. I’ve had to put alcohol boundaries in my games. In both larger games, or even small table games, this one can slip under the radar. Don’t be a jerk to your friends. Know your limits.

Satine, what are some of the boundaries you set in your games?

  • “No PVP: Unless it’s trying to grab something from your friend or hold someone back from doing a thing.”
  • “Time: I use a timer. I’m very strict with time.”
  • “Pay attention: To what your fellow players are doing so you know how to react BECAUSE you are playing with them, not next to them. Their choices affect everyone so don’t be rude by talking during their turn or cross talking over another player.”
  • “Subject matter: Know your fellow players. If you know they have an issue with a subject, do not go there.”

Player GMs

OMG… it’s happened! For 17 years you’ve been waiting to play a damn game, and you found some poor sucker you’ve convinced to GM! But, with this gift comes extra responsibility.

What is the best way for a GM Player to help the game? Is it pre-rolling dice? Helping speed along the rules? Or even tying your character with other players?

  • “Show by doing. Showing the GM respect by paying attention, not being on your phone when they are talking, being interested in another player’s feelings or choices. As another GM, you know how you would want to be treated, so act accordingly. It doesn’t feel good when a player GM starts going on about rules. It detracts from the hierarchy at the table, so be respectful and always refer to the GM as the GM might have their own variations on a rule.”
  • “Don’t meta-game.”
  • “Pre rolling damage dice along with attack die is smart. Don’t assume you know what skill the GM wants you to roll.”

Everyone who is new will follow your lead and Satine is 100% right when she says you must lead by example, even if that means standing up for your new players.  I’ve found that taking the edge off GM work is really helpful. Come up with names for your family, backstories, maybe even present a town. The GM will muddle and change it of course, but giving them fleshed out names and stats for the system you are using saves them the time. It also enhances the tie between player and GM (and thus that of the character and storyteller.)

On the flip side of that GM Screen:  You’re in a pinch. A group of players, with another GM are playing. Rather than follow your plotline; they’ve taken player agency to the extreme and have crafted their own adventure in your world. This destroys mountains of your work. Do you think this is good or bad? Do you feel they should be put back on track or let to run wild? Or would you secretly put them back on the track? For me, I feel strongly about player agency, and rather than hard-route them back on into the right sandbox, I would take a quick break to contemplate the consequences of their actions. Satine offers this insight:

“Absolutely it’s my responsibility to get the players back on track. The GM sets the bounds of the world. The GM allows the wandering. Decide what kind of game you want to run. Do you want the party to wander around and do what they want? Design accordingly. Do you want the party to follow your story? Design accordingly. You have the reigns to the story. You provide what your players need to want to maneuver one direction or another.

If your players truly want to go into a different direction, talk to them and find out what game they really want to play. If you still want to play with them, you’ll need to maneuver your story in that direction.”

The Break Up

Sometimes, it doesn’t work out. A GM at the table and your style just clash. The boundaries have been violated, and the game is just tanking. I really wanted to hear Satine’s take on this, so I asked her these questions: Do you think it’s wiser to keep the game running and ask the player to leave? Or is it better to rebuild the party and start a new fresh game?

“Every situation is different, but all situations need to be discussed by the GM & player. If you are a GM who doesn’t mesh with the players, then it might be time to find a new group. If it’s just one player, perhaps you should discuss the issue with that player. If it can’t get resolved, you have a few choices, two of which are: Ask them to leave, discuss with the whole group and ask them what they would like to do. 

If I had to go through this, I would probably feel like I failed somehow, but the reality is that not everyone gets along in all situations. Maybe your best friend and you have a blast at everything except playing together. What once was fun, sometimes changes and becomes frustrating. Always talk it out and be honest with yourself. There are tons of people who want to play but don’t have GMs or groups. The end of one story is the beginning of another.”

It’s great advice. The end of one story is the beginning of another. As time moved on, we found groups and styles for all players, rebuilt our community, and found our stride. We also learned each other’s storytelling styles. But it takes honesty, boundaries, and communication.

What do you think about Game Masters as players? Do you have a gaming experience you would like to share or some boundaries? Tell us in the comments below.

Featured Image: GM Tips w/ Satine Phoenix

Image Credits: Jessica Fisher

Rick Heinz is the author of The Seventh Age: Dawn, and a storyteller with a focus on LARPs, Wraith: The Oblivion, Eclipse Phase, and many more. You can follow game or urban fantasy related thingies on Twitter or Facebook.

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