This isn’t What I Wanted:
Incompatibility at the Tabletop
Hello, my friends and fellow Adventurers. Welcome to the Ye Olde Wayfarer’s Adventurer’s Almanac. Here in the Ebonspire Inn, we gather to talk about Adventures from Long Ago, Fantasy Worlds, World-building, Inspiration, and more… When last we gathered to talk on the subject of Incompatibility between Players and their Gamemasters, we covered the topic of Power Gamers; players who treat the tabletop experience like a video game and seek to tank and maximize their characters to superhuman levels. We have also covered Divertive Players, and the Game Wreckers, who seek to see the fantasy world burn. However, Sometimes the problem isn’t the Player Characters at all. Sometimes the Gamemaster is the one who is incompatible for the group. “How so,” you ask? Well now, pull up a chair, grab a mug of your favorite ale, and we shall discuss this topic at large.
Let me start by saying, just as there are
good players and bad players, one must understand that the same can be said of Gamemasters. A Gamemaster can just as easily make or break a game as the players surrounding the table. While there are several types of Bad Gamemasters, we will talk about one in particular tonight; one that I call, the Deadly GM. This Gamemaster type is a terror for both the player in his or her campaign, and for the hobby itself. Let me explain.
The Deadly GM is much akin to the Game Wreckers, except rather than wreck the world around them, they are a bitter nemesis to their Player Characters. Every session is a lethal game of cat and mouse where the Gamemaster puts his players through rigorous adventures that are nearly impossible for the players to survive. From overwhelming encounters to unforgiving traps, the Deadly GM’s adventures are usually deathtraps with little to no chance of survival. It almost seems that the idea behind their treacherous adventures is to see just how long the party can last. Often Deadly GM’s will boast, usually to a new group or to fellow players, about how they killed the last party. This “us versus them” mentality is often damaging to the game, creating a sense of distrust between the players and their Gamemasters from day one. Much like the “Game Tyrant,” they tend to see their role as a bit of a power trip.
Deadly GMs revel in their position at the head of the gaming table. This is not for the apparent reasons one would think of, such as having an immaculate world rich in history, myth, legend, and adventure. Rather, they seem to enjoy the thrill of deathtrap style dungeons, fortified with lethal encounters, and deadly traps meant to end adventuring careers before they can truly begin. This type of Gameplay tends to ruin the experience for both new Players and Veterans alike.
While it may seem novel, at first, Deadly GMs are a menace to the Tabletop Roleplaying Hobby. One can often find illustrations, memes, and other jokes about these types of Gamemasters as well as their Player Character Counterparts, in nearly every Roleplaying forum. However, these memes, while making light of the circumstance, also highlight these incompatible Gamemasters and their antics.
So, how do you deal with the Deadly GM? Well, the answer is simple. While Gamemastering is a skill that can be learned, some people are not truly qualified to fill that role. The responsibility, respect, and adjudication of the rules that govern the game can be a bit more than some players can handle, even if they can tell a solid story. In my own experience, I once encountered a Dungeon Master, who could articulate a beautifully painted scene, yet his thrill of seeing how long the party could last against his encounters, took his Gamemastering skills from above average to well below. His mindset for the gaming experience was not that of Game Leader, and narrator, but more of an omnipresent enemy of the player characters, which was expressed in his boast about wiping out an entire investigating party in a single trap while playing “Call of Cthulhu.” So, the best way to deal
with the Deadly GM is to not take their actions personally, nor let it reflect on the game or Gamemasters as a whole. Rather, show them that you do not support this kind of gameplay by finding another, more qualified Gamemaster, to play with instead. If asked why, don’t be rude, condescending, or sarcastic, but be honest about why you chose to go elsewhere. There is a chance that when a Deadly GM sees that players don’t want to play in such a deathtrap style of game, then he or she might realize that their style of play is not conducive to long term gaming groups. After all, a Gamemaster is the GM of nothing if he or she has no players to play the game.
On a side note, Deadly GMs are not to be confused with Novice GMs who have not quite got a grip on the structure of balance within the game. While many Novice Gamemasters seem like Deadly GMs, they tend to get better with time, guidance, and experience. When it comes to new GMs, constructive criticism from those who have experience can make a difference in how that Gamemaster turns out.
Well, the fire is burning low and there are many adventures to be had. Don’t be discouraged from playing should you encounter one of these Deadly GMs. Just know, that like players, Gamemasters can be either good or bad, compatible, or incompatible with the player group. If you come across a group or Gamemaster with whom you cannot seem to enjoy the gaming experience, then do not feel obligated to stay with that group. Instead, find a group with a GM who shares similar interests in the kinds of adventures you want to experience, as well as whose style of play fits what you’re looking for. Well, it is time for me to go. May the road rise to meet you, and may your journeys be filled with excitement and glory. Till the next time, my friends and fellow Adventurers, Happy Adventuring.
W. R. Frady