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Basic Human Respect: The perfect spice for your own GnomeStew

Posted By Matthew J. Neagley On June 4, 2008 @ 2:34 am In GMing Advice | 5 Comments

Hi.
Stands and addresses the room
I’m Matt and I have a World of Warcraft problem…

Alright, that aside, I want to discuss something that happened to me last week in my WoW guild. (For those of you that aren’t in the know, a WoW guild is a group you belong to for some purpose. It comes with some nice logistical tools that make it easier to do whatever you joined for, from socializing to tackling huge dungeons with nasty monsters.) I’ve been a member of this guild for over a year, and from the start, the guild master has shown little to no respect to any of the guild members. Last week I got fed up and quit because his latest disrespectful shenanigans were so over-the-top that I couldn’t give them tacit consent. After I stopped frothing at the mouth, I drafted up a short list of suggestions with annotated examples explaining what the issues I saw were and why I felt it would benefit the guild to correct them in the most neutral non accusatory wording I could muster. Unfortunately, I got some pretty offensive responses to my attempt to be helpful but, never one to be wasteful, I’ve re-tooled the gist of my statement for use here. After all, being a Game Master is a lot like being a Guild Master and despite the fact that some people have no use for it, basic human respect never goes out of style…

Entitlement
Let’s face it. Sometimes it’s easy to get cocky as a Game Master (at least for most systems). We put in a lot of time and effort. We juggle far more than the players do. We handle a lot of administrative duties and often, we assembled the group from scratch ourselves.
None of this however, gives us any entitlement. Our players owe us nothing for these efforts beyond the same basic respect they give to any human being. If they chooseto repay us in some way for these efforts that’s certainly nice of them, but we’ve done all this because we feel the work was worth the payoff of having a good time or running a game, not because we expect anything in return. The instant we start talking about the game like it’s solely ours, being derogatory towards our players, or acting like we’re owed anything is the instant that our players start to feel that we don’t care about them and that they’re not important to us. While it’s not as if we’re married to our gaming group, everyone wants to feel like the people they regularly interact with care about them on some level and once they start to feel otherwise, every other problem they may have becomes exponentially worse.

Disregard for Other’s Feelings
One of the things I disagree with most that my (former) Guildmaster said was that he didn’t intend to do anything about the dissatisfaction within the guild because he felt that there would always be a high level of dissatisfaction within any guild. While it may be true that to some extent not everyone can be happy all the time in any group of people, keeping the people you play with satisfied to the best of your ability is one of those things like shrinkage or error levels at a business. If they’re not perfect (and they never are) there should be a focus to some extent towards making them perfect. You’ll never hear a manager say “It’s O.K. that Bob lost the Anderson account because of human error. He’s still only got a .2% error rate.” or “It’s not a problem that we lose a half percent of our inventory to shrinkage. That’s why we have insurance.” and we shouldn’t be O.K. with saying “It’s O.K. that Jim never has a good time during our RPG sessions. We can never please everyone.”Granted, Jim not having a good time may well be outside of our ability to impact, or maybe Jim’s not having a good time because he just doesn’t like RPGs (He’s only here because he’s got a crush on our mom. Gnome Matrons are notoriously plush and curvy.), but the first step is generally talking to Jim and listening to his concerns not accepting that he’s a non-correctable statistic and ignoring him.

Not Thinking of Others
This may seem like a simple issue but it can be all too easy to forget that everything we do impacts those around us. If you take a half-hour phone call to talk with your buddy about who’s winning the Packers game, that’s a half-hour of your player’s lives that they chose to invest in you and you just threw away. Along the same line if you eat all the chips all the time and never bring a bag to share they’re supporting your greasy-fingered chip-mooching butt. Playing an RPG together is like any other activity. Everyone in the group has to make some kind of sacrifice to be there and as a participant it’s in poor taste to not take reasonable measures to see to it that those sacrifices are both evenly distributed and as small as possible.

Not listening to Input
Everyone you’re playing with has ideas on what they’d like to see in the game or how they’d like the game to be played. While you can’t please everyone all of the time, it doesn’t naturally follow that your ideas should be the only ones represented. Not only is assuming your ideas are always the best the height of arrogance, but it only satisfies you. Even if you can’t include the special ability that your player found on the Internet that he wants his player to have, or you can’t alter the way fire resist works because it’ll ruin the caster’s character that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t listen to what everyone has to say give it serious consideration and then explain why you made the decision you did. Usually these discussions are best saved for down time (after the game or during break time are good fits) but making sure they happen means that players are more likely to be satisfied with the decisions you make and be more willing to bring you new ideas in the future. That last bit is important because some day one of your players might just bring you an idea that’ll blow you away and make for the most fun game you’ve ever had.

Crime and Punishment
One of the worst things you can do is punish a player who brings you something you don’t like or something critical. Not only is this destructive to their urge to contribute and help but it quickly leads to a situation where you don’t have any players or those you do have give no reaction beyond “Yes sir!”. These punishments can take many forms both in game (Rocks fall. You all die.) and out (generally being abusive). While there are times that “punishing” a player seems like the only alternative, make sure you’re doing so for something that really warrants it. Cheating, kicking your dog, and peeing in your mom’s potted Azalea all fit the bill. Telling you they didn’t care for the pacing on your last adventure and giving you a list of tips to writing good chase scenes doesn’t.

I’d like to think that these tips are pretty useless, but if I were honest I’d tell you that looking back over them reminds me of some stories from various games I’ve run over the years. Fortunately for me, I’m not honest. My games are perfect.

About  Matthew J. Neagley

First introduced to RPGs through the DnD Red Box Set in 1990, Matt fights on ongoing battle with GMing ADD, leaving his to-do list littered with the broken wrecks of half-formed campaigns, worlds, characters, settings, and home-brewed systems. Luckily, his wife is also a GM, providing him with time on both sides of the screen.




5 Comments (Open | Close)

5 Comments To "Basic Human Respect: The perfect spice for your own GnomeStew"

#1 Comment By Cole On June 4, 2008 @ 7:44 am

Ask yourself what you are getting out of spending time in either place. If the answer is “I feel stressed” or “It feels like a job”, you should take a break and ask some hard questions. Maybe the answer you get will be, “stop with that activity” or even “stop caring and just enjoy the game.” Whatever they are, the sooner you find them, the faster you can get back to the “having fun” part of a hobby.

#2 Comment By Scott Martin On June 4, 2008 @ 10:33 am

I’d go further and state that anything that has has you thinking about “punishment” really needs to be a player-to-player discussion. If they’re doing something wrong because they didn’t know, then they’ll be informed. If they were doing something wrong and got caught, it’s out in the open and they’re warned against doing it again.

Trying to solve it in game results in confusion (if he doesn’t understand what he did wrong, he can’t learn) or a warped world (a world where rocks fall, everybody dies).

#3 Comment By brcarl On June 4, 2008 @ 10:45 am

Having played WoW and a couple other MMORPGs, I have found that social interaction problems like the ones described in this article are more common than in tabletop RPGs. I think this is due mainly to the fact that electronic interaction by definition shields you from what would normally be immediate repercussions of socially unacceptable behavior. Some people take advantage of this in order to act on urges they know would affect them negatively in the real world. :(

Also, online it’s hard to tell if you’re dealing with a frustrated individual or a griefer until you’ve interacted for a while. Right or not, IRL you get some visual cues to help form an opinion more quickly.

I also agree with Cole’s comments that if you’re dealing with these sorts of issues on a regular basis, it’s probably time to consider a different hobby, or at least find a new group of “friends.”

#4 Comment By Martin Ralya On June 4, 2008 @ 4:36 pm

This dovetails nicely with Patrick’s 5 Mistakes of the New GM, and in both cases this is foundation-level advice that I really, really wish I’d heard when I was first starting out.

Well said, Matt!

#5 Comment By Hautamaki On June 5, 2008 @ 3:05 am

I’ve been pretty insulated from a lot of stuff I guess! I’ve been playing and running games since I was 14 (over 10 years) but there sure are loads of horror stories about personality conflicts that I’ve never personally experienced. Hard to believe some of this stuff comes up enough to even be said. I guess I’ve just been really lucky. And, I think this is key, I’ve never played with anyone that wasn’t a very good friend of mine BEFORE we started to play D&D together, with only a single exception. I guess that’s where the lucky part comes in; he turned out to be a perfectly normal human being and we became great friends through our shared D&D experiences, instead of my normal route, which is having great D&D experiences through our shared friendship.


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