No GM is perfect. Everyone makes mistakes from time to time. Some mistakes, however, seem to crop up again and again.
Over the past 30 years I’ve seen GMs make loads of mistakes. Sadly over the last 30 years I’ve also made all the same mistakes myself. I’m not talking about rules-based mistakes; that would be a crushingly boring subject. Rather, I’m talking about even more basic errors that every GM is guilty of from time to time.
- Inappropriate Rewards: Sometimes a GM gives out too much – or too little – treasure. Both extremes are bad. If the PCs don’t get enough treasure, XP or whatever they’ll grow resentful and bored at their lack of success. Similarly, if they get too much, the campaign spirals out of control pretty quickly as they develop capabilities far beyond what their level assumes.
- Inappropriate Challenges: Every party occasionally gets into a fight they can’t win – or one in which one of their number will likely die. Such fights are fine on occasion – as long as they are not a total surprise – but having them every session is a bad idea. I once had a GM who didn’t seem to think he’d had a good session unless someone had died. We got to the third adventure in one of Paizo’s adventure paths with only one original member of the group left. In those three modules, the party had suffered 16 deaths! Needless to say, we didn’t finish that campaign.
- Playing Favourites: This is a classic GM mistake. Some GMs do it subconsciously – perhaps they find a player’s character more interesting than the others – while others are more aware of their actions. While the extra attention, cool story devices, treasure and so on are great for the affected player it is less great for the rest of the group.
- Not Keeping Control: A GM not in control of the table is doing a disservice to the players. A lack of control could manifest itself in constant rules arguments or could simply result in crushingly slow game play because players are checking their phones, talking about non-game related stuff and so on. While a GM shouldn’t run his game as some kind of totalitarian police state, he should be in charge of proceedings.
- Not Preparing: As a GM, turning up unprepared is a disaster. My pet peeve is a GM who turns up unprepared, loudly announces the fact and then runs a very slow, boring session as he tries to read the module on the fly.
- Trying To Win: I once had a GM who constantly seemed to be trying to win the game. I think he fundamentally misunderstood the GM’s role. A GM wins, when everyone has fun. He doesn’t win when his monsters loot the crushed and broken bodies of the PCs or the players get so frustrated they leave the dungeon (or the campaign)!
Help Fellow GMs
Have you made some of those mistakes yourself? Have you seen GMs make any other common mistakes? If you have, share them in the comments below and help your fellow GMs game better.