10) Revealing Something You Shouldn’t
This is a classic, and more common than you think. For instance, one week, the characters find a mysterious scroll in a dungeon, they don’t know what it is but know it’s magical. The next session, which is actually seven days later in real time, the GM recaps what happened last week, finishing with “..and you found a scroll of transmogrification.” The player who has it goes “Aha!” and writes it on their character sheet. The GM slaps themself in the head. This isn’t a massive error, in this case, but it could have been a disaster.
9) Not Revealing Something You Should
I’ve been on the receiving end of this one on a few occasions. The party is in a dungeon looking for the lost Slippers of Ree Lak Sin. They’ve opened every door and killed every monster and arrived at what looks like a dead end. With no sign of the slippers, the PCs begin to search for secret doors/passages/shoe boxes. Dice are rolled, nothing is found. Then, only then, the GM says “oh, by the way, there’s a door here.” and puts down a door on the floor plans several corridors back from where you are. This is very annoying and, like season five of GoT, a waste of time for all concerned. GMs, check your maps!
8) Forgetting About The Back Door
This could be an actual back door, a rear entrance (careful!), a path or other such physical or metaphorical object that allows the characters to bypass the security/undead hoard/carefully painted new miniature you just bought at some expense. The GM has laid out the floor plans, the miniatures are psyched up and ready to go, dice are poised, there’s an air of tension, lips are dry, let’s do this! “Or,” says the sharp-eyed player, “we could just go through here, around here, down there, left at the end where the mars bar is and bypass all the bad guys!” Everyone looks and says “oh yeah.” The GM says “oh no!” and quickly removes the relevant floor plans, ruining immersion and providing the players with a story they’ll tell at every available opportunity. GMs check your floor plans.
7) Leading Characters By The Nose
This is a big no-no, but unfortunately common among novice GMs. Running a scenario where the players have limited choices so the GM can completely control them isn’t roleplaying. A single choice is, like socks, no choice at all. Using verbal clues in a similar manner is also common, like saying “The door to the east is closed, but the door to the west is locked and looks far more interesting!” It builds tension more to let the PCs find out for themselves, every time they find nothing it cranks up the tension. GMs, let the characters find things for themselves!
6) Giving The Players Something Powerful
Back in my youth, which is a distant and fading memory, I was guilty of such a deed. I gave my players loads of magic items, because I like magic, at a very low level. They had a ring of teleporting, an intelligent dagger, and even a baby black dragon as a pet. You’d think the players would be happy, and they were, for a while, but everything became too easy, the scenarios lacked challenge and things had to change. With a bit of alteration to the time-space continuumanum, and some restrictions so the items could only be used once a day, we got things back on track and much fun was had by all, but that’s a different story. So GMs think twice before giving characters powerful stuff, and make sure, like lawyers, you leave plenty of loopholes.
5) Making It Up As You Go Along
Sometimes, this can’t be avoided, and sometimes, it works, but mostly, it doesn’t. We’ve all been there, us GMs, when the PCs suddenly head off-map, thinking they’ve seen something or misread a clue or just because. In order to maintain immersion, the best thing to do is go along with it, while subtly returning the players to the hand-crafted scenario they are supposed to be playing.
The GM needs to be careful, because it can descend into farce if the characters keep seeing the same tower or meeting the same character everywhere they turn. “A rosy-cheeked farmer leans against a gate, looking across an open field.” The characters ignore him. “A rosy-cheeked farmer leans against a wall, watching you.” The characters ignore him. “A rosy-cheeked farmer winks at you as he lies in your bed,” Ha! ignore him now!
4) Killing The Whole Party
This one might seem glaringly obvious, like an orc’s head in your soup, but it happens on a regular basis. The GM misjudges the level/ability/common sense of the PCs and suddenly it’s all gone into the shape of a pear and dead characters are spread across the entire scenario like spaghetti at a wedding. This is, of course, entirely the GMs fault, unless you’re the GM, in which case it’s entirely the fault of the players. There are two things you can do here, which are pretend it was meant to happen and the characters wake up later in a cage/the hold of a ship/a large bedroom covered in lotion. Or have a handy standby deus ex machina you can throw in to rescue the dead and dying morons...er, characters before it goes too far.
For further advice on this subject, see here...
3) Telling Characters What They Do
This one is particularly annoying and one some rookie GMs can’t stop themselves doing. Ok, you’re the GM, and you’re running the scenario, but it’s my character, and I should decide if he tries to pick the lock, kick down the door, or stand in a corner and think about the she-elf with the big ears (Why do elephants have big ears? Because Noddy won’t pay the ransom! (You youngsters might need to google it.)) while someone else deals with what is quite frankly a boring door anyway.
This one can also go in the opposite direction, with players telling the GM their character does things that are down to the rules/GM. “I pick the lock and go through the door, killing the zombie on the other side.” You mean that’s what you’ll try and do, the rolling glittery, clinking dice of fate will decide if it actually happens.
2) Talking About Other Things
Different people have different levels of tolerance for this, according to such factors as age, immersion, sobriety and whether they’re there to play or because they fancy the GM. Let me give you an example. The floor plans are laid out, a mysterious temple with some intriguing blank spaces. The players move their figures into place. The GM says “A swirling vortex appears in the centre of the rune-covered floor, black and red, with a strange depth and feeling of creeping doom. A figure steps from the vortex, points at the party and opens a mouth filled with fangs. His voice is like a whisper from the grave as he speaks, did you see the Shannara Chronicles last night, man I wasn’t expecting that!”
And there goes all the tension and immersion you just built up. Talk about other stuff when natural breaks occur, if you want to, but never during play.
1) Not Knowing The Difference Between A Player And A Character
Ok, so it’s a fine line, but this one really makes me quite cross indeed. GMs, particularly new or bad ones, struggle with this all the time, and I’ve almost given up on gaming groups because of it. Dear Mr or Ms GM, I am a human being who lives in the real world, I cannot actually speak Dwarven, cast spells, shoot a Klingon through the eye at a thousand meters with a pulsed autorifle in the 40 watt range nor decipher the runes of T’ee -p’ott in my lunch break. Nor can I remember what I said ten seconds ago, because actually that was two weeks ago in the real world, (we didn’t play last week because Terry was having a vasectomy, and he brings Tina and Jeb.) Nor do I recognise the face of the person attacking me, because I’ve never actually seen them before because they don’t actually exist and don’t actually have an actual face for me to remember!
My character on the other hand, knows all of those things, but can’t, for instance, hear a fellow player tell me a joke that makes me laugh, but which you take as my character laughing at an inappropriate time and we are thus unable to complete our quest. And yes, this is a true story. (I’m not bitter about it.)
GMs, what can you do with them?