Bad GM, or When a GM goes bad

bad GM

So we have all have bad GMs. Come on admit it, you will feel better. See what I mean? Okay, really though, bad GMs can suck the fun out of the best games in the world. I have seen adversarial GMs, the “I want to win” GMs and even the dreaded no-prep at all GM. I can’t stand a bad GM, mostly because I try so hard to be a good one. I can’t claim that I am the best game master to ever GM, but most of my players enjoy my games. So what are some signs that a GM is going bad? These are the three signs that I perceive:

— The GM begins to think in terms of Me vs Them. The game turns into an attempt to destroy the players rather than collaborate with them. Players quickly wear out when they have to deal with adversity from the GM. I have personally had to quit games because the GM became too obsessed with TPKing the party.

— The game becomes too serious all the time. The GM starts to cut out the little things that make the game fun. Examples of this can be being sharp when the players get off topic (this is tough to measure) or forcing the plot in order to minimize the amount of in-character fun that the players are having.

— Prep time starts to go down. The GM starts to prepare less and less over time. The game starts out with a lot of prep and it shows. The prep work dwindles as they become frustrated or lose interest in their own campaign.

Note that the GM may not be a bad person or even a bad GM. In fact, many times the GM is a good GM who just goes bad. What are some traits of a GM going bad that you have seen? Have you ever been under a GM that was just bad? Tell me about it! 


12 thoughts on “Bad GM, or When a GM goes bad

  1. When they actively let others talk over another player is a good one. Especially if the player being talked over started first.

    There’s also openly mocking both the player and their character, with no-one else at the table gets.

    There’s also breaking their painted and assembled figure, for use in combat. Not just once mind, multiple times. Never an apology for it.

    There’s also the ‘well, it’s your fault’ whenever that campaign gets brought up. Like somehow that excuses the rudeness.

    I might sound a little bitter, I was the player in question, it’s not fun to talk about under the best of circumstances. That level of crap damned near killed me in high school.

      • I wouldn’t have punched him, it would have been much worse, what type of cell I’m in would be the question. I was also being abused at work at the same time. So when….. here’s another, your ideas get credited to other players, even things you say, you get really tired of that level of crap. It’s enough with the current troubles in my own campaign to give up role playing entirely, not just a break, entirely.

        Another would be just being ignored by the group, that you repeatedly say ask questions, I’m a history buff and playing to those very concepts, themes, nobody ever does and holds your actions against you because ‘you’re not playing the character right’. There was an argument about a landed noble, first in line to the family title, flying her personal colours. Seriously.

    • I so feel what you are saying Leon – Being cast out is worse than having sh*tty friends when you’re in high school. I assure you, you were not alone.

      • If it waddles, swims, flies and quacks, it’s a duck. Calling a duck a duck earned me this ire for some reason according to them. Making everyone else see it’s a duck, I gave up. For people who are ‘smart, sensitive role players’ that damn near brought out my worst, that takes more time and effort than I want to admit.

        I don’t think people every really leave high school, it’s either a licence for bad behaviour or an excuse. My end, more an excuse. I try not to though.

  2. I do agree in great parts of this, namely the first and second signs a GM is going bad. The third point though should be a sign that there is something else underlying it possibly. As a GM who has suffered from number three… it mostly comes from what could be termed burn out. A GM who has done a massive amount of prep work and detail work will feel tired and exhausted if it gets little return from the players. If the players show little interest in the details, there is less desire to keep pushing more out. After awhile, after many attempts that all meet with disinterest, the GM can easily go bad, so to speak. It is his fault in some regards for not running better.

    • I agree. Most of my signs can be a sign of a greater issue. Prep time itself is not a bad thing (or lack thereof). These issues become a big problem when they come together to form a perfect storm.

    • I agree with you, K — it’s important to know when a game is over. RPGs don’t always have discrete endings and both players and GM can get tired of an existing story/campaign… know when to stop and reboot or take a break.

  3. I am not really in agreement with his blog post, for several specific reasons. I’m going to try and elaborate here.

    First, I disagree that “bad DMs” are common. In my entire gaming career, playing with hundreds if not thousands of people, the number of really bad DMs deserving of the title would be counted on the fingers of one hand. That’s the first point.

    Second, corollary point is that many DMs aren’t perfect and make mistakes. That doesn’t equate to a “bad DM”. Or “going bad”. It’s just making a mistake — mistakes happen, and that’s fine, as long as we learn from them. I think that some gamers are particularly picky about their tastes, play style, and what they want out of the DM and tend to blame him or her when things go south, instead of analyzing how their own tastes and wants clash with those of the person in front of them. What is really key to a good game is empathy and awareness — empathizing with the other players and the DM, and vice versa, so that everyone plays the same game and gets pleasure out of everyone’s turn, rather than each play in his or her own corner and “the hell with the others”. That’s important.

    In regards to the particular points, I’ll note that there’s a difference between an adversarial DM and a lethal game. A DM can be fair and run the game in a consistent, neutral way with a lethal environment that can spawn TPKs on the players. As long as everyone’s aware of this, and everyone enjoys the challenge of survival around the game table, it’s all good. Again, what matters is ensuring everyone plays the same game together, even when that means the DM plays the bad guys efficiently to the best of their abilities.

    The two other points I disagree with.

    The “too serious all the time” DM might be great for some specific players who enjoy the same thing — that’s a game preference thing. For the record, I don’t like games that are too serious myself, and appreciate Monty Python jokes, Cheetos, and the fun of it all, especially when playing D&D.

    Lastly, the “prep time goes down” phenomenon can have a variety of reasons behind it. Namely, it may be a symptom of different play styles and modi operandi around the game table. For instance, if you are running a sandbox, open world type of campaign, the prep time WILL go down over time, because as you run the world and role-play it, it will take a life of its own, NPCs and factions and going-ons in the world will become more and more intricate over time, and at the end of the day, you will end up as DM just having to sit at the table and ask “OK, what do your characters want to do this session?” and you’re basically ready.

    So yeah. Much is predicated on play style and inclinations in this blog post. Not necessarily a bad thing, but I think it would have gained in strength if the specifics of what the author thinks is a good game, and his specific default play style, were explicitly pointed out to begin with.

    • It’s alot like any sport, when things go bad the coach (or dm) is to blame but when things go good its the players who brought that about. When in all reality its a conjoined effort on both parts that equates to good or bad experiences.

  4. I must be a bad GM, because I rarely, if ever, prep. What is the point of prepping a game when the players spend all their time seeing who can do the best impression of Christopher Walken, making a complete joke out of everything (seriously, jokes about cheese dip, chips, soda, water, whatever), and talking about their favorite video games.

    I get 4-5 hours a week away from work and the family to game, 2 of those hours are spent listening to the above, the other three are spent babysitting 3/4 of the group to let the person who I asked a question actually give me an answer without their two cents thrown in.

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