A while back, I espoused what I thought was
a fairly simple concept. Although I know
it is not for everyone, I strongly believe that it will make the average GM
While I've written longer essays
on the concept, it can be embodied in three simple rules:
1. If you don’t want something to rely on
chance, don’t roll for it. I.e., if your
game absolutely requires that the PCs succumb to sleeping gas, don’t allow a
save. Certainly don’t allow a save with
some penalty under the belief that no player will roll a 20! Likewise, if you absolutely cannot stand by a
roll that gives a PC 24 points of damage, don’t roll 4d6. Or make the roll “4d6, to a maximum of 20”,
2. If there is something that you can’t accept
occurring, don’t make it a possibility.
Most of the time, this will mean not making something a consequence of
failure if you cannot accept it occurring, so that you don’t change events to
“force” a PC win.
3. If you do roll for it, abide by the dice.
It is my thought that, if you follow the
first two principles, following the third will be easy. There should be no reason to fudge a roll if
the result is one you can accept.
Now, my thinking on this concept is that
there is an implicit contract between the players and the Game Master that the
decisions of the players will matter.
And, in order to make those decisions matter, the Game Master will
present a world, present options, and allow the results of the players’ choices
within the options presented to play out.
I believe that this is the second most
fundamental contract between the players and the Game Master. The Game Master will not change the scenario
so as to thwart the players when they make good decisions. Nor with the Game Master change the scenario
to cushion the consequences of poor decisions.
I will go further and say that the Game Master should not ameliorate the
consequences of good or bad luck, either, as (1) luck has a tendency to
ameliorate itself, and (2) total failure does not generally revolve upon a
single unlucky roll – the players made decisions that led their characters to
this pass. If you let the good things
happen when players gamble and win, you should also let the bad things happen
when players gamble and lose.
The contract at your table may be
different. It may be explicit or
implicit that the Game Master will not let you lose. It may be that death is off the table. It may be that the Game Master is going to
tell you a story, and that you are only going to make choices that allow you to
remain within the framework of that story.
If that is the way you want to play, that’s
cool. Really. In fact, you can play in all three of these
ways and still never fudge a single die roll if you don’t want to. Those first two rules support the third
rule. Being knocked to 0 hp can mean
that you are knocked out, if that is the game you want to run. It can mean that you are just unable to
fight. A monster reaching 0 hp can mean
that it is slain in a gruesome way, or that it simply runs away.
You can alter these rules to do whatever
you want them to do, and you can be honest about what you are doing.
That is what I believe is the most
fundamental implicit contract between the Game Master and the players. When I am running a game, I will present the
world as honestly as possible, within my understanding of how your characters
would perceive it. I may roll a die that
doesn’t matter to indicate uncertainty – which I believe is part of
verisimilitude – but if the roll says the monster did 6 hp of damage, I will
neither pump it up nor deflate it to make what I want to have happen occur.
In fact, with very few exceptions, I will
roll the dice where you can see them.
And those exceptions are only where the characters themselves experience
These are not, IMHO, “rules that tie the
GM’s hands”, despite the fact that some seem determined to present them that
way. I can’t imagine any scenario which
I cannot present using these rules. I
certainly do not feel that my hands are tied.
I have a hard time imagining anyone who has ever gamed with me
entertaining a notion that I stand for dis-empowering the GM. I am the GM, far more often than
not. I run games that I want to run, in
the way that I want to run them.
But neither do I imagine that players have
no right to judge my GMing, or my methods.
I expect their trust. If the
experience is worth playing, then play, and don’t bitch and moan that things
are unfair when things go against you. I
get to judge you, too, and if I find you wanting, you are gone. I have no interest in running games that are
not fun for me. If you want to play in
my game, you might have to suck it up once in a while.
If you don’t want to play in my game,
walk. There will be no hard
feelings. I get to judge whether or not
I want you in my game. You get to judge
whether or not you want to be there. I
will be as honest as I can about what I am running, and how, to help you make
up your mind. I don’t want you there if
this is a game you won’t enjoy.
I cannot fathom how this becomes “rules
that tie the GM’s hands”.
Something that is not for you? Sure, I can see that. Your game won’t be for me, but I can see that
my game might not be for you. But “rules
that tie the GM’s hands”? I can see
that, if you are just starting, you might not realize that 4d6 damage can
result in 24. I can see that, if you are
relatively inexperienced, that you might not understand how to create an
adventure, and you might feel a need to modify your work as you see the unintended
consequences of your design choices.
I can see those things. Folks grow as GMs, same as they grow as
players. I have a hard time imagining
any GM of even halfway decent calibre, though, who would feel like his hands
were tied by not rolling for things he didn’t want to leave to chance. It begs the question – just why would you
feel your hands were tied? What is it,
exactly, that these principles prevent you from doing?