GM Basics: The Golden Rule

Most GM manuals provide a disproportionate ratio of mechanical tools (or worse, player options) over their treatment of core GM concepts. When they appear at all, these fundamentals are often only implied or alluded to somewhere within large flowery paragraphs usually in the introductory or early chapters. These GM Basics articles will provide some core GM tips so you can learn how to GM confidently!

THE GOLDEN RULE
The most important thing to all tabletops is meaningful decisions. What makes tabletops so unique is this ability to choose so openly and so regularly, and making those choices consequential for both the PC and the world around them makes players want to make more choices. Take away either player choice or its consequences and the game dies: you’re either dictating a pre-established story where player choice is restricted or you’re driving players through a meaningless chaos. Walking across the rickety bridge is actually a choice not to scout in either direction for alternatives – attempt to climb down the cliff face, spend hard-earned currency on a scroll of mass-fly or on renting a bi-plane, etc. By highlighting the element of choice in every action, you can keep your players drawn in and engaged.

Example: the player who chooses to play a chaos-driven barbarian with a taste for rum will quickly lose interest in his/her alcoholism if the townspeople don’t raise eyebrows (or arms!) at his/her rampant behaviour – no consequences. Similarly, players will become rapidly apathetic and non-responsive if their party is defeated several times by an overpowered nemesis – no choice.

This is not to say that a PC can never struggle, fail, or die. But these hurdles have to be used in moderation and only to emphasize the far more frequent times when players make meaningful choices. Even the most confrontational game systems, like survival-horror games where the GM’s job is explicitly to try and kill all players, are still built around players making meaningful and tough decisions. Players have to be able to choose whether to risk entering the infested shopping mall for supplies (and if so, how) or risk the journey to the next town with limited food and weapons.

As a GM, your first and single-most important task is to provide players the opportunity to make meaningful choices.

Be sure to check out our other GM Basics: [x] [x] [x]

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