While it’s true that almost anyone can run a game, it’s also true there are some staggeringly bad GMs out there. In my experience, most terrible GMs have five main characteristics in common.
I recently blogged about the characteristics of great GMs and great players. It would be very easy to simply reverse the characteristics of great GMs and list the opposite of those characteristics here. However, there are five even more heinous characteristics a GM can have that transcend such a list:
- Abusing the Position of GM: A GM holds a sacred position of trust at the gaming table. He is an impartial participant whose job it is to provide challenging fun. When a GM goes bad and abuses this sacred trust, campaigns implode impressively. Trust me, I know. I’ve been on the receiving end of a GM forgetting this vital point. A GM proving his dominance over the party by providing ever tougher encounters is abusing his position. A GM who obsesses about trivial details is abusing his trust. Does it really matter the rope is not listed as knotted on a PCs’ sheet?
- Refusal to Take Responsibility: No TPKs or other disasters are the fault of a bad GM. If only the party had used a specific set of tactics or listened to the GM’s unsubtle advice everything would be well. Of course, some disasters are just the result of spectacularly bad luck. Others are more contrived. A GM should remember he is responsible for everything in a module. If he leaves a specific monster in a module he knows the PCs have no way of killing, and engineers the fight so the PCs have no warning and little or no chance to retreat, it is his fault – not the designer’s.
- Complaining About A Lack of Resources: A GM who complains about a lack of resources is a pain in the arse. When he walks in late and loudly announces he’s had no time to prep for the session, for example, the players’ expectations crash and burn. Of course, everyone is busy and sometimes life gets in the way of the game. When it happens more often than not, though, and a GM complains about it that’s a pretty big sign you’ve got a bad GM on your hands. GMs can also complain about a lack of respect, appreciation for their hard work, that they have to pay for all the miniatures, maps and so on.
- I Win: Some GMs want to win the game. That’s beyond ludicrous when you consider it for a moment. Any GM can win any game, by simply making it colossally unfair. A GM who goes out of his way to prove his dominance over the players by repeatedly crushing the party will shortly find a distinct lack of players at his table. GMs with this characteristic often tell long and convoluted stories that feature gruesome PC deaths and the GM’s own tactical genius.
- Staggeringly Misplaced Self-Confidence: Some GMs believe they are an awesome GM and that they can learn nothing from others. This is so staggeringly misguided in most cases as to be funny…unless you have to endure one of their games. Truly great GMs are always looking to improve their skills. Bad GMs aren’t.
Help Fellow GMs!
In my opinion, these are the five most heinous characteristics of bad GMs. Do you agree? If you’ve seen other spectacularly bad GMs, what made them so bad? Let us know in the comments below and help us all dodge such bad GMing behaviour!