Basic GMing Rules: Rule One

I have decided to take my GMing rules and explain a bit. Both to demonstrate how I GM and to expound the Old School thought process.

1: Garry’s First Rule of Fantasy
A) Do not change reality more than necessary to make your Universe work. Real world physics are your friend, you do not need to explain gravity, weather, or in general how the world functions. So don’t complicate things that do not require complication. Adding super science or magic is complication enough.

I think this fairly plain. I was asked exactly what I mean here. So I state. OK your game world does not have gravity. Inanimate objects stay down becase they are part of the Earth. Plants are rooted. Animals have heels. If you lose your heels you will float away.

So the commentator said, “That’s ridiculous.” I agree. Unless there is a very good reason to do this it is a pointless complication. While I could create a fantasy system of weights and measures, one for each nation even, I don’t. Sure it would be great world building. However I have found it adds little in play value. Good old Imperial measurements (I’m in the backwards US) work perfectly well and gee, do have a rather medieval flavor for some odd reason. Asking the players to memorize an otherwise useless system of measures is too much. So I follow the KISS principle.


B) All role-playing games are fantasy, even if it is not. Of course it’s fantasy, if it was real you would be living it, not playing it in a game. Even the modern games or science fiction games are a fantasy.

This is straight forward. Even the hardest of Hard Science Fiction is still a fantastical world. No one is mistaking James Bond for example for the real world. So this is fantasy as not real. Not fantasy as in wizards and dragons. You can do that however. Fantastical fantasy. My personal genre breakdown looks like this.

  • Hard SF: Obeys the known rules of physics with one exception. (FTL, Hyperdrive etc.) Can speculate on future developments within reason.
  • Soft SF: Obeys the general rule for Hard SF but can play freer with the exceptions.
  • Science Fantasy: Follows the framework of science fiction, using the tropes of that genre I.E. space ships, strange worlds etc. but hews closer to the rules of fantasy. Most space opera is Science Fantasy. Star Wars and Star Trek are clearly members of this sub-genre.
  • Fantasy: Breaks known laws of physics and replaces them with alternative laws. “Magic” known unreal beasts on Earth etc.
  • Alternate History: Can be hard or soft but explores the possible future if certain events in history had not turned out as they did. The Confederacy won, ancient people did invent the steam engine, etc. Harry Turtledove is a well known author that specializes in this sub-genre.


C) Fantasy is not an excuse for sloppy writing or world building. Never ever. “Fantasy” is not an excuse word that means you don’t have to do your homework or keep track of things. Good fantasy is internally consistent. We do wish to write a good fantasy.

And we do want good writing. When I was talking with Melissa Scott at ConFusion and Her Friends (local SF convention) some years ago (2003) I mentioned running a D&D game for 27 years (at the time) Her eyes got as big as saucers and she said “That is writing too!” So you have it from a pro, and a well educated one. Your RPG writing is writing. Treat your game with respect, take writing it seriously and it will furnish you and your friends decades of enjoyment. Last note, just don’t take yourself seriously.

And I have nothing to add to that.


This advice isn’t terrible, but rule one, really? This is putting the cart before the horse. If I were explaining GMing to a new player, I certainly wouldn’t start here, and due to that I can’t honestly rate this well as a ‘basic’ GMing rule. You’re assuming a lot, and thus I don’t think this does a good job of what you’re setting out to do (explain the oldschool style).

I’m not talking to the player. I’m addressing the Gamemaster.

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Good stuff. The theme of ‘running an RPG is writing’ has a lifetime of potential to it, in part because it is a distinct kind of writing. It’s not standard narrative-building; it’s not standard script-writing; it’s not technical writing - although all those facets come into play (pun intended!) to some extent.
Over the years, I’ve found that most material about writing hasn’t been very helpful for running games; the few classes I took in improv comedy and film-making gave some interesting insights, about my strengths and limitations as well as new perspectives.

Yeah, and I said “explaining GMing”.
If you think this is a good first basic rule, you haven’t put yourself in the mindset of someone new to TTRPGs.

Well put. I describe it as putting forth the question, and letting the players answer it. I’ll be getting into that further down.