Basic GMing Rules 6

A) Don’t script. Players will do the unpredictable. And that is that. You want north they go south. You have the old gypsy with the legend they visit everyone but. When that happens, punt. If an encounter is important, it can be fit in elsewhere. Only you know how the scenario is assembled. No one will smite you if you shuffle the parts. If the Vicar has the legend and not the Gypsy you don’t loose GMing points.

B) Let go. You are not in control, you were never in control and you will never be in control. The game is not about you the GM or your NPCs. The Player Characters are the Stars. Anything you do to derail that is bad, and anything you do to enhance it is good.

Most Important, have fun. The game is played for fun. If everyone is having fun, you are a successful GM.


“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” good advice from Muhammad Ali. I can’t stress this one enough. Stay off the Railroad tracks, physically and figuratively. Nothing frustrates a player more than railroading the plot. This is indeed where you must float like a butterfly. When the PCs go off were you didn’t consider you need to think fast. Think fast enough and you can reorder the plot to where they went. See above, no GM points lost.

You are not a computer program reading out the next set of code. Even the most free sandbox computer game is not as flexible as a Human GM because you can do things that are not coded and that is where Humans shine. So your graphics are not as good, but people still do social gaming because it is flexible and not coded. If AI is ever able to match that, I might start drinking.


Or have the Players over hear about the Gypsy with the Legend and act like the talkers are going to try and beat anyone else there…

(Back when GenCon was held in Lake Geneva (hence the name of the Con), I actually joined a party that was avoiding a certain door, due to the strong Fighter in the room. I was a 1st Level Mage, and I went around carrying my drawn dagger (point straight up) in my right hand and a Strawberry Pie at shoulder height (flat) in my left hand. >As the Group was passing the door, I stepped out from it, and using the Pommel of the Dagger Pounded on the door 3 times. And Shouted: “Open Up IN The Kings Name!” at the top of my lungs!!!

“For Some Strange Reason” all of a sudden I was alone in the Hallway! The Fighter yanked the door open and I smashed the pie into his full plate Helmet. Eventually I was able to Kill him when I finally got a good shot.

The rest of the Group wanted to mysteriously reappear to loot the room, but the GM had kept track of where they were running. Only a Quarter of the Group got out, the rest was still lost somewhere in the Dungeon…

They were less than happy with me. Oh Well, I got plenty of LOOT!!!

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The unexpected thing. What social RPG is good at and computers cannot. I love when a player pulls a rug jerk moment and totally tosses the expected out the window. The “How many hit points does the bridge have” moment. I actually saw that in a Lego Battlemech game I was in. Gandalf was not the first.

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I would say the graphics are even better! The movie monster, once revealed, is never as scary as the monster you concocted in your mind from glimpses and shadows.

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Fair point. I had one player I could scare with hand motions, doing horror around her was a breeze. Around Tom? Impossible because he giggled at everything. It was his form of stress relief.

Hence write to your players.


Personally, I have always been a little more “off the cuff” as a GM. I have certain beats I want to happen, and where can be decided on the fly. I sort of set up the situation and then dump it in the collective lap of the players and let them dictate a little more the flow. That “X” happens is more important than where it happens. But then, I am (like I sort of figure many ttrpg players are) ADHD, and even medicated I find it easier to go for the “organized chaos” experience of a session, than try to micro-manage it.

What ever works for you and your group. There is no single right way to GM any more than there is one group. I can, and will, speak only to what I have experienced.

I do more off the cuff than I would like to admit. I would like to think I have modules finished, edited, and ready to publish. That seldom happens. I’m usually some place between that and totally off the cuff. A few notes a map, if I’m lucky.

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Alright I’ve been critical before, but here I’ve got to be REAL critical. The premise (be flexible) is good, but the actual content of your advice, the actionable content between the fluff here? Bad.
Expecting the unexpected? Good.
Telling GMs not to railroad? Good.
And then… “think fast and reorder the plot.”
This is terrible.
This assumes that there is a plot, and an expected order, and the GM should be able to fly by the seat of the pants and reorder it. That’s a lot of work; you’re telling new GMs to plan in the wrong way; a way that is inefficient and can lead to burn out.
There shouldn’t be a plot to begin with.
While there’s not a single way to GM, there are ways to GM wrong, and writing a plot is one of them. Even if it’s a branching plot. Sure, it might produce fun experiences but it is a lot of work and is still fundamentally something that isn’t about the RPG being an RPG. Don’t tell people to be ad-hoc flexible. Tell them to be flexible from step 1.
Justin Alexander has already explained an alternate and far superior method with his node based RPG design. and posts on “Don’t Prep Plots.”

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Sometimes plotiless gaming works, sometimes plotted scenarios works. I do not believe you should never have a plot. Even in the most loosy goosy scenario there is a goal and an (open) means of reaching that goal.

Yes, GMing is work and requires you to juggle hats. I spend every day after a game totally spazzed out. I’m mentally exhausted. I have fun, but I expended a great deal of skull sweat doing it.

If you want to GM get used to the idea it is mental gymnastics. You heed to be an actor, director, encyclopedia, and more to successfully GM. It is not easy, and there is no shortcut.

Yes. This is the number one reason TTRPGs will always be superior to computer games/MMORPGs.


A goal and an open means of reaching that goal is not a plot, it’s just the game.

I’ve written fiction, I know how to plot. Game scenarios use some of the tools of fiction, but obviously not all of them. You need to set up a problem too much plot is called railroading.

You do need to have a conflict. Basic drama. You need an antagonist be that an NPC or a glacier. A McGuffin might be involved. You might use a timeline or have the problem open ended. In short you use all the tools of plotting, without a preordained path that would be a work of fiction.

I do think a creative writing experience is a positive tool for a scenario writer.

As a GM I go along the storytelling route. I have set up a complex fantasy world with a rich history. Various players through the years have come across different parts of it. But they all have a say in how the story develops.
As an example, I run a weekly campaign for characters who grow slowly through their adventures (after over three years they are reaching Name level). I also run standalone games set in that world for higher level characters from other campaigns. I had carefully arranged a scenario for a recent convention which I had plotted out and set up, maps in place, etc. - and the week before, the weekly players decided to ask scouts from the local authorities with them when they went to visit a monastery. The scouts (doing their job) found an anomaly, pushed the panic button - and my convention scenario changed completely. The only “ready” squad was the adventurers called in for the planned scenario - so they were brought in to deal with the anomaly, and caused a major upset in the ongoing plotline. The weekly players saw the final moments of the convention adventure, and things developed from there.
One thing I try to provide are mysteries. Why is the water in the pools in that old mine salty? Who is Count Tegel (protector of Tegel Village - yes, I use a lot of really ancient stuff, suitably adapted) really? Have a backlog built up in the players’ memories, and occasionally crosslink mysteries and add hints, and you will get them organising their own adventures to find out more.
I’ve heard GMing described as trying to herd cats. Players will end up doing what they want - so just make sure it is enjoyable for both parties.

I am that ancient stuff. I have a lot of old Judges Guild material and part of my world is based on the Judges Guild maps. Tegal Manor was my first module.

All of it is in acid free comic bags. It has developed that dusty feel of old paper. The problem with cheap shit.