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Players – The GM Does Not Work For You

Today being GM’s Day I wanted to tell a story that occurred recently with one of my groups. Where I live it can be difficult to find players. It has taken me about two years to build a nice solid group that meets twice a month to play. We have had three players in the group for quite a while and recently it has expanded to four. I am currently looking for number five.

In order to keep the game running smoothly I have allowed two of the players, at their request, to play two characters each. During a recent session one of these players had one of their two characters die during combat. This is the second death of a PC in a campaign that has lasted about 6 months. Not exactly a high death rate considering the high amount of combat that there is in this particular game.

Now I gave the player the option of creating another character, or if he wanted he could continue with just the one character and we would see how it worked out. His response was angry when he said “I wouldn’t have to if you would find more players!” I know that some players take the death of character harder than other players do, but that statement made me upset.

You see, I am the person who found and recruited all four of our current players. I also schedule, organize, host, prepare, and run the game. And despite the fact that I have made it clear to the group that I would like some help on any one of these matters only one player has stepped up to help. I do all of this to run a fun game for myself and the players, and I do it all on top of my demanding career, my marriage, and the raising of my two kids.

I talked to the player later and made it clear that he too can recruit players for the group, and that he had crossed a line. Not a line having to do with the game, but a personal one. You do not give the people who are working hard in order to entertain you crap especially when they are doing that work for no compensation. This is not a gaming lesson, that is a life lesson. Treat people well. Always.

In the end the game is just a game, and the people at the table always come before the game. Including the GM.

14 Comments (Open | Close)

14 Comments To "Players – The GM Does Not Work For You"

#1 Comment By Scott Martin On March 4, 2009 @ 1:23 pm

Yes, one hundred percent yes. The GM is a fellow player, and one who often takes on far more burdens than others. (Whether that is prep, scheduling, or just being the player who coordinates the others, it’s often quite a bit more work.)

It sounds like you caught your player at a low moment and handled the situation pretty well. It’s annoying when anyone carps about you not doing enough to solve a problem– particularly when they’re not doing anything at all.

#2 Comment By riel On March 4, 2009 @ 2:56 pm

Props to you for your hard work and for handling the situation well, also.

Interestingly, this illustrates a social phenomenon I have seen outside of gaming, as well. Some people just don’t appreciate hospitality. They seem to feel that they are entitled to have someone go out of his or her way in order to entertain them. Players have responsibilities too: it’s not like watching t.v. You don’t just flip a switch and there’s the game… I’m hoping he went home and counted his blessings: I wish I had ANY group to play with at the moment, even one with lower membership.

#3 Comment By chabuhi On March 4, 2009 @ 3:36 pm

Having posted this, are you now down to three players? 😉

#4 Comment By Karizma On March 4, 2009 @ 4:26 pm

There’s a corollary for this too. I’ve recently wrangled together a group, and we meet on Monday nights. I’d had a really crappy weekend and had absolutely no prep time, and was simply not in the mood to be the pro-active individual I needed to be as a GM. This is a rather new group, so no one would have been willing to run a one-shot, or anything of the sort.

I stressed out all day before the game thinking about whether or not to go finally shell out the money to buy Munchkin for my group, or to whip together something shoddily to run–oh man, I really can’t afford to get Munchkin right now. Oh man oh man–

Oh wait, this is a game. This is for fun. I do not “owe” my players anything. I simply set out a mass text to them all letting them know that I couldn’t make it, and that it’d have to be shelved. No one had a problem :P.

So GMs–You do not owe your players anything!

#5 Comment By Cole On March 4, 2009 @ 4:40 pm

It is only just a game, if you are not the one that has to do all the work to make it happen.

#6 Comment By LesInk On March 4, 2009 @ 5:05 pm

His comment was definitely uncalled for — there is no reason the GM should be doing all the recruiting (unless specifically stated so). But, yeah, sounds like the player was irritated and just generally lashed out. Hopefully everyone took a breather and came to their senses.

Players sometimes have some pretty high expectations (TV, music, movies, books, etc.) and it is easier to criticize than to do something about it (write a script, create a song, produce a movie, write a book, etc.). I was always amazed at the players that knew every min/max rule for their character, but refused to GM saying, “They don’t want the work.”

This goes again with the comments we’ve heard in the past that every player needs to GM at least once to understand the stress/work that a GM goes through. Nothing pisses me off more than a player who doesn’t even show up with his player’s sheet. Talk about ingratitude.

Sometimes I think GMs are a unique breed and players are the other.

#7 Comment By Patrick Benson On March 4, 2009 @ 5:07 pm

Fixed that image issue with the post.

Great replies everyone! And for the record I still have four players. 🙂

#8 Comment By Rafe On March 5, 2009 @ 10:17 am

Damn right.

However, to play devil’s advocate (and garner the spite of all here), the player who takes on the mantle of GM is, in some respects, taking on the mantle of responsibility. Responsibility for every – single – detail? I hope not, but often that’s the case, especially with people new to RPGs who may be a bit coddled at first (and it becomes a habit). Sometimes you just have to knuckle-down and come to terms with the fact that, if you want to game, you’ll have to do the leg-work, especially if the pool for players in your area is small.

Perhaps handling it like a committee would work: “I’m the chair. You, you’re taking the minutes. People don’t get a recap or no one can remember an NPC’s name? They can blame you. You, you’re the rules guy. Something needs to be referenced (and it isn’t your turn), you check it. If I have to check it, your character is losing a random limb (d4). You over there, you’re the host and responsible for organizing us. Check with me first because if I’m not around, this particular game won’t be happening.”

Etc. 🙂 (I wonder how that would go over, actually…)

#9 Comment By Patrick Benson On March 5, 2009 @ 12:01 pm

[1] – You make a good point, and I don’t disagree with your comment. Runnign things by commitee doesn’t work well with small groups based upon my experience. Forget gaming, I’m talking about any small group (less than 10 people).

But I have to point out that your example isn’t ruling by committee, it is ruling by intimidation and probably wouldn’t work at all for gaming.

GMs do have to accept the fact that they will be doing a lot of work. I’m not complaining about that, what I am saying though is if you are the person bennefitting from someone else’s work and you aren’t paying for that experience or helping in some way burn this concept into your mind – If someone is giving you something that you value with no strings attached, just shut the fuck up and enjoy it. Your complaints may result in that thing of value being taken away from you.

I’ve dropped entire groups in the past when I felt like I was being treated poorly, and I’ll do it again if I feel that it occurs again. Good GMs are hard to find, and I’m a good GM. I have more than one game going, so it isn’t like I won’t get my fix of gaming. That isn’t meant to be a “I don’t need those fucking players!” type statement. It is just a fact of life. If you are good at what you do and that skill or talent is in demand you can choose how and when you apply that skill or talent.

Now the flip side is that a GM without players is useless, and if you have a good player in your group that person is just as valuable as a good GM. So in the end if you are a good player or a good GM and the rest of the group is not treating you well leave the group. Life is too short to put up with such nonsense.

Luckily, this group that I currently run this particular game for is a good one and this incident was about as bad as it gets with them. I don’t think I’ll be ditching them (and hopefully they won’t ditch me either) any time soon.

#10 Comment By Rafe On March 5, 2009 @ 1:45 pm

[2] – Yeah, my committee comments were meant to be tongue-firmly-in-cheek. … followed by an honest curiosity in whether such an approach could, in actual fact, work… so long as I’m not the one attempting it. 😉

—If someone is giving you something that you value with no strings attached, just shut the fuck up and enjoy it.—

Couldn’t agree more.

#11 Comment By Martin Ralya On March 7, 2009 @ 12:04 pm

Ouch, Patrick — that would certainly have annoyed me, too.

Splitting up some of the GM’s responsibilities is definitely a good way to ensure a happy group (and GM!), and I’ve found it also makes for a more tight-knit group, too.

#12 Comment By BryanB On March 10, 2009 @ 4:15 pm

Amen to the OP. You handled it well.

GMing is more work. GMing is sometimes more rewarding than playing, though I enjoy playing just as much. Being the group cordinator is even more effort, but it isn’t too much of a chore when things are going well with everyone’s schedules. I’ve thrown in the towel between Thanksgiving and Christmas because it is near impossible to get the group together. Better to switch to mini or board games during that stretch.


I once had a player that would complain about the game incessently after a session. It wasn’t constructive criticism at all and in most cases was rather petty. I was a fairly young GM then and it was kind of intimidating to be “ripped to shreds” at the end of each session. One day I had had enough and just as the player in question began his routine, I said, “Ok then. I guess you aren’t enjoying this game. Why don’t you run a game next week then?”

That really took him by surprise. His response was illuminating, “I don’t know how to GM.” Here he was, nitpicking any guy that was running games in our group and he had never run one himself. He never stepped up to run a game for our group because he said it looked like “too much work.” I asked him to remember that in the future when he was about to complain. Constructive feedback is good. Petty nitpicking is not.

Gaming is completely different on the other side of the screen. Some people don’t appreciate that fact. Give them some time in the hot seat! 😀

#13 Comment By Bercilac On May 10, 2009 @ 11:36 pm

A great way of dividing up gaming responsibilities is to do it in-character. The party should chose:

1. A navigator – draws maps of wherever the party goes, notes down important locations.

2. A treasurer, or a quartermaster if rations are an issue in the campaign – keeps track of general loot accrued (I forgot, how many silver pieces did we get from that last band of orcs? Oh, you randomised it and didn’t note it down…), how much food is left, et cetera et cetera.

3. A diplomat – if the character is the group’s “front man,” they should also be responsible for generating a list of NPC contacts, possible allies, and enemies. It would be quite revealing for the GM to see this, as it may show that there was more player interest in a minor character than was at first intended, but that interest can of course now be capitalised on.

It would be easy to sort out out-of-character responsibilities to line up with this. The navigator helps the GM arrange a time and place for the meeting. The quartermaster arranges food, and collects a small contribution from everyone. The diplomat finds new players, or at least encourages others to find new players (Didn’t your flatmate express an interest last time we played at your house? Why don’t we get him in for a session?)

In-character notes could be handed back to the GM after each session to reduce player homework and to let the GM know how the party is doing, what details they missed, et cetera. As we say in the profession, “assessment of learning.”

#14 Comment By Bercilac On May 10, 2009 @ 11:49 pm

Assessment for learning. Whoops.