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You Are Forbidden To Say This

Recently a GM gave me the role playing kiss of death in a game in which I was a player. It was a science fiction one shot. The society of the game world was dystopian, and the player characters were trying to overthrow the oppressive government. My character was a techie and when we came across a door locked by a computer system I said that my character would attempt to circumvent the security system using one of his skills. That is when the GM uttered these six words that you must never utter yourself:

“Your character would not do that.”

The GM then went on to explain how my character would know of other ways to access the room that would be less risky. That my character recognized the security system as being out of his league. That my character would find it impossible to accomplish the task at his skill level.

I do not care how you justify it. If you as a GM say these words to one of your players you should not be a GM.

For one, all of those reasons given could have been discovered through role playing, and in this particular game system with skill checks. Second, by not allowing my character to make an attempt the GM not only took away my chance to succeed but also to fail. With RPGs a failure can be even more fun than a success if handled well.

Yet the ultimate sin here is that a GM never has the right to tell a player what his or her PC does in the game. No GM can deny a player’s choice to attempt an action or to say something of the player’s choosing. It just removes all reason for the player to have even shown up for the game. Never do this to a player.

It does not matter if you are right. It does not matter if the player is being a jerk on purpose. It does not matter if the consequences of the player’s action results in the death of the entire party. The character is a player character, and that means that you as the GM have no say in the matter.

Afterwards I tried to explain this to the GM. He was not interested. He defended his decision and that was that. The result? I will not play in one of his games again. Will this change his GMing style? I do not know, but I would rather play with a GM who understands the difference between a PC and an NPC. Perhaps others playing in his games will do the same for similar reasons.

For once I do not believe that there is much to discuss here, but as always feel free to leave your comments and share your own experiences with the rest of us. And remember that the GM is a player too. Have fun with it!

About  Patrick Benson

Patrick was born in 1975, and is more or less your typical American male for someone of his age. Except he is a tabletop RPG gamer and a damn fine game master! What else matters?



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52 Comments To "You Are Forbidden To Say This"

#1 Comment By Storyteller On July 30, 2009 @ 6:12 am

Brilliant article. I have been on the receiving end of those words many times, and have heard them said to other players, and also between players! I’m actually writing up a post that will probably be posted on my blog later this evening about just such a topic. I’ll make sure to send a link this way :)

#2 Comment By Chris McDaniel On July 30, 2013 @ 1:10 am

Nothing like posting long after something is dead, but I’m working my way through the archives and I feel the need to share. I have done something similiar to this to a fellow player.

We were playing a sci-fi game in Savage Worlds, and the player in question was playing a Doctor with the Pacifist (major) hindrance. For those of you unfamiliar with the setting that means exactly what you would expect, he was supposed to avoid combat like the plague, not even defending himself unless it was against inorganic or unquestionably evil beings (robots or demons basically). Through a series of events our group was on a ship full of mass-murdering, cannibalistic cultist pirates (and those were their good traits) with the mission of keeping an eye on them and reporting their coordinates to the military. The doctor slipped up (ordered a salad while amongst cannibals) got thrown into a gladiatorial arena (five stories or spiked chains crawling with slaves attempting to reach the top level and earn membership into the pirates). The GM forgot to have the guards disarm him though, but that shouldn’t have mattered right?

Well, after tossing his grenade in the thickest clump of slaves he then took his beam rifle and systematically destroyed the chain nets sending around 100 slaves plummeting to their deaths… and he was supposed to be a pacifist. I didn’t call him on it then, it was actually a few sessions later when he absolutely destroyed a man’s skull (this was a very violent game) for killing his pet bat that I sent him an e-mail essentially saying “Your character shouldn’t be acting this way”. I gave him options, switch out Pacifist for Vengeful and allow his Hippocratic oath to stand for his “respect” for life, and I also sent a copy of the e-mail to the GM so he knew about my concerns, and, for all I know, he took my advice (he was playing over skype so we never saw his sheet or his dice rolls), but I feel like the GM should have stepped up much sooner and said “Your character wouldn’t do that” not because of some other situation, but from the very restrictions the player had placed upon themselves during character creation.