A few weeks ago I wrote an article about dealing with bad game masters. I had intended to get back to part II and continue the list sooner but life seems to have it's own plans for me at times and the ideas in my head all want to get out at the same time. This is a good thing because it means I seldom am at a loss for ideas to write about, but can mean getting back to a subject takes longer than I intend. Anyway enough about my personal problems.
The reason I am putting articles together about the various types of bad game master's and how to deal with them is because it seems something few of us want to talk about. Among table top gamer's the game master occupies a position of great respect and provides players with a chance to play. The problem is there are a lot of bad game masters out there. It is my hope that talking about this accomplishes two things. First I hope it helps players recognize they are not alone in their struggles. Second I hope that game masters will read this list and use it as a means of self reflection and recognize their faults and work to improve their game mastering.
One thing I want to clarify before I get started on the list is that I am not talking about occasional lapses. I am not talking about a good game master who sometimes has a bad night. The following list (and the one I wrote before) are talking about a game master who has an extreme degree of these characteristics. There is no such thing as a perfect game master and all of us have ways we could improve. Enough babble, on with the list.
The unprepared game master is the game master that always shows up without having anything prepared for the night, forgets rule books, dice, and other things. They haven't thought about the adventure they will run, seem to care less about using any real rules, and in general doesn't seem to care about the game at all. On top of all this, the unprepared game master seems to expect the players to create the story. While allowing room for players to do their own thing is a good idea, it can be taken to far and lead to a series of boring and unproductive game sessions.This can be frustrating as a player because it often leaves you feeling like you should have done something else.
The best thing to do with an unprepared game master is help them prepare in some way. Maybe suggest an adventure idea you like the sound of or buy them a pre-written adventure you think would be neat. A lot of times an unprepared game master doesn't really have the time to prepare a game and giving them something easy to run that requires little planning can be a big help. Another idea would be to offer to switch off game mastering duties with the unprepared game master. By doing this you can take some of the pressure off the game master and give them more time to prepare between weeks.
One thing to think about is if the unprepared game master actually wants to be the game master. A lot of time a game master is willing to do the job but may not have their heart in it. Game Mastering is a pretty serious commitment and can eat away at your free time. If a game master is not someone who enjoys preparing for a game session, then they are likely to not bother with it. If this is the case then you might want to suggest someone else take over the game master duties or even do so yourself.
The un-challenging game master is the gm that is never willing to actually provide a serious challenge to the party. Their monsters are always too easy to kill, their riddles too easy to solve, and their adventures too easy to complete. For some reason the un-challenging game master is afraid to actually provide the players with a serious challenge and this can lead to a stale (though easy) game. While no one wants every single encounter to result in a characters death, if the game isn't challenging on some level it can get boring pretty quickly.
In my experience an game master that is afraid to challenge the party because they don't want to make anyone mad. Generally a player in the past has gotten really upset that their character got hurt or died and the game master doesn't want that to happen again. The best way to deal with this kind of game master is to let them know you won't get upset if a character is hurt or even dies. By letting the game master know this you are freeing them up to make the encounters a bit more difficult. Be careful though because you might wind up with a GM that winds up going overkill on the group.
One thing to think about with an un-challenging GM is if there is someone at the table who might be a bit of a whiner when their character gets hurt. I have had several times where one player will throw an absolute fit if I manage to hit their character and go into a full blown rage if their character happens to die. While I hate to admit it, I did let this affect how I game mastered that group and over time the group got smaller and eventually completely disbanded. If you have a player that you feel is causing the game master to be to easy, try talking to the player and letting them know your feelings.
The Puppet Master:
The story teller GM is the gm who wants to tell a story and treats the players like robots whose only purpose is to further the plot of the story. While everyone likes a good story in the game, no one wants to feel like they are a puppet without any ability to make a decision for themselves. A lot of times the story teller is a wanna be writer who uses the game as a means of telling their personal story. I don't think there is any thing wrong with telling a good story as part of the game, I do think there is something wrong when you don't allow the players some input into the story.
If you want to address your problems with the story teller the best thing you can do is to talk with them. A lot of times the story teller just wants to tell a good story but feels like the players don't care enough to contribute. If you talk with the story teller gm about how you feel like you can't make any choices, they are likely to listen. If you really want to make the story teller happy tell them about a story line you would like to explore with your character.
Unfortunately there are going to be story teller GM's that won't change the way they run a game for anything. The story is simply too important to them and they often view the players as an audience for their greatness. The only way I have ever found to deal with this kind of game master is to simply refuse to be part of the audience. It sucks, but at some GM's will only learn after hey loose everyone in a group.
The Burn Out:
The burn out GM is the GM who starts out supper enthusiastic and runs a great game for a few months then seems to lose energy and interest in the game. Eventually the game dies and about a month later the burn out calls you up and tells you about their newest campaign. Having a burn out for a GM can be a frustrating experience. They tend to start out with awesome games but they always die out and this can leave a player feeling frustrated at never finishing a campaign.
If you have a burn out GM the first thing you have to do is find out why they burn out. If they are burning out simply because they lose interest in the game, the best thing you can do is find out why the GM is loosing interest. By discussing the game with them you will show that you care and that will encourage the GM to keep going.
If the Gm is burning out because they have to much going on in the rest of their life, try lending a supporting ear and suggest scaling back on the game a bit. While it sucks to game less, a lot of GM's appreciate being allowed to take breaks. By giving the GM "permission" to slow down a bit it is likely they will regain their enthusiasm for the game and things will slowly get back to where they were.
The Rules Don't Matter:
Every GM will occasionally make a rule up on the spot or overlook an occasional rule in favor of a smoother game or better story. The Rules Don't Matter GM goes beyond this to a point where you are often left wondering if they even bothered to read the rule book. This GM will often make up one ruling then turn around and give a totally different one for the exact same situation. If you complain about this inconsistency they are the first to say "This is my game and rules are guidelines" or "If you don't like it play with someone else". This can make things frustrating when your trying to point out how a rule should work or even just ask for some consistency. While sometimes rules do get in the way of the game, playing with a GM who never uses the rules can make a player feel like the time they invested in their character was wasted.
The reason there are GM's that have a rules don't matter attitude exist is because the rules of most role playing games can be a bit cumbersome in some areas and the GM gets frustrated by this. If this is the case, you can help the GM out by explaining how a certain rule works. Don't be afraid to talk to the GM about the rules a lot of times the GM is more worried about slowing down the game to consult a rule then they are about following every rule in the game. If the rules are important to you (and there are times they should be) then let the GM know.
There are still more bad GM archetypes to discuss and I am sure I will get to them in the future. For now though this is a list that a lot of players (and GM's) should be able to relate to. If you have, or are, a GM on this list the best thing to do is discuss your feelings with your GM. A lot of times we game masters don't realize we are doing these things and if you point it out to us we are more than happy to make changes. Don't expect things to change right away, habits are a tough thing to break. However, if you can be patient with us and help us be better game masters, it will make for a better experience at the gaming table.