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Between Dictator and Doormat

Have you ever had someone in your life you loved, loved, loved hanging out with but hate, hate, hated playing games with?

I can relate.

I have been Game Mastering for over 20 years and there is nothing worse than bracing yourself to run a role-playing game with a player who is an absolute pill to play games with.

Being a Game Master (GM) for Pathfinder 2e (P2E) or Dungeons and Dragons (DND) can be a rewarding experience, but it can also be challenging to strike the right balance between controlling the game world and giving players the freedom to make their own choices. The key to being a good GM is finding a balance between being a dictator and a doormat. Being a game master that is a dictator to their players means that the GM has complete control over the game world and the players are expected to follow their lead without question. This type of GM may dictate every aspect of the game, from the storyline to the rules, and may limit the players' freedom to make their own choices and decisions. "The Dictator Gm" is there to see their storyline and their vision executed and the players are merely regarded as highly intelligent A.I. NPCs who are there to add originality only when it is congruent with the GM's entertainment and doesn't stray from the dictator's creation. Players are there to constantly stroke the ego of this GM. This style of GMing can lead to a rigid and unchanging game experience, which can be unfulfilling for the players.

On the other hand, being a pushover game master means that the GM gives the players complete freedom to do as they please without any direction or guidance. This type of GM may not provide enough structure or challenges for the players, resulting in a lack of direction and engagement in the game. The Doormat GM is too easily accustomed to even having their direction or ruling on rules disputes, rejected and argued with any time it conflicts with a player's vision for the game. This GM is willing to do all the heavy lifting of designing the game but completely loses any agency in order to keep the peace with players who have no interest in compromising or continuity of the game or group. The GM simply submits EVERY SINGLE TIME in order to curry favor with the argumentative player or players. In this scenario, the players outright reject the GM's storyline and game plans, players can feel stuck watching the chaos unfold, or the game is absolutely random. The GM may struggle to constantly be trying to improvise new content which is not nearly as entertaining or flushed out because there is no prep time. The game may quickly become boring and uninteresting. Finding a balance between being a dictator and a pushover is essential to create a satisfying and engaging game experience for everyone involved in P2E or DND. In this post, we'll explore some best practices for being a great GM that encourages players to be engaged and involved in the game.

Communicate clearly with your players

Clear communication is crucial in any role-playing game. Make sure your players understand the rules and mechanics of the game, as well as your expectations for their behavior. Encourage players to ask questions and clarify any confusion.

Be flexible and adaptable

One of the challenges of being a GM is that players may do things you didn't expect. Be prepared to adjust your plans on the fly, and don't be afraid to change the story or game world to accommodate the players' choices. This will help keep the game fresh and exciting, and it will show your players that you value their contributions to the game.

Encourage player agency

Player agency is the idea that players should have the freedom to make their own choices and shape the game world in meaningful ways. Encourage your players to be creative and come up with their own ideas, and give them the space to explore and experiment.

Provide challenges and obstacles

While it's important to give players freedom, you also want to challenge them and keep the game interesting. Provide obstacles and challenges that require the players to think critically and use their skills and abilities to overcome them.

Foster a positive and supportive environment

It's important to create a positive and supportive environment for your players. Encourage players to work together and support each other, and avoid making the game overly competitive or confrontational. Remember that everyone is there to have fun, and a positive atmosphere will help ensure that everyone is enjoying the game.

Be firm with rules disputes.

The GM has the last say and any disagreements with a player should happen in private away from the group. Take a smoke or bathroom break and keep the discussion to 5-10 minutes to not keep everyone waiting.

It is best to view Game Mastering like being a Chef in a restaurant. It is completely acceptable to make preference changes and substitutions to items on the menu so that the person eating the meal enjoys it fully, but it is NOT acceptable to be expected to have to make a custom order of tacos at an Italian restaurant simply because a raging Karen or someone's spoiled kid doesn't like the menu. They can simply go to a Mexican restaurant to eat tacos or in this case find a different group or GM their own game. You are the chef and it's your menu.

In conclusion, being a good GM for Pathfinder 2e or Dungeons and Dragons requires striking a balance between being a dictator and a doormat. By communicating clearly with your players, being flexible and adaptable, encouraging player agency, providing challenges and obstacles, and fostering a positive and supportive environment, you can create a great gaming experience for everyone involved.



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