Types of GMs

bad dm


Well, that was a long layover for us! We didn’t intend to have a three week layoff, but we did have a holiday, a couple of finals and some other work to do. That being said, we are back on the horse. This week, types of GMs. I know that I may be oversimplifying but these are the three types I see:


1. Railroading GM: This GM spends most of his time telling a story and you are just along for the ride. They don’t care what your actions are, you are going to this town, damnit! You get little, if any, choice in your actions, as everything is predetermined. The lich is going to be at the end of this rainbow, and you are going to face him. While there is nothing wrong with having a story in mind, you should never force your players to play out your novel for you.

2. Sandboxer: The GM does everything by the seat of his pants. He responds to the actions of the players and never plans out anything. Again, there is nothing wrong with this, but it can be a rough ride. You don’t always have a story, and it shows. When you don’t have an ending, you really don’t have a great game.

3. Mix and match: This GM does a little of both of the above. He railroads when HE HAS TO and he reacts when it is needed. He has a story in mind but he lets the players decide how it plays out. That lich from above, if the players want to ignore him then he takes over the world. Too bad for the characters, huh? This seems to be the sweet spot. Again, this has failings as well, mostly that you can find yourself slipping into one of the above two types too easily.


Do you agree with the three types above? Did I miss something? As always guys, we welcome your comments, but don’t be a dick!


EDIT: For anyone who is dumb enough to think that the author doesn’t know that there are more than three types of GMs, guess what he does! He is putting things into a simple matrix for the sake of making the article read faster. He could have gone out and made a 2000 word article on every type of GM he has sat under, and it would have been more complete, but it also would have been time consuming for both the author and the reader. Stop telling the author how dumb he is for simplifying things.


5 thoughts on “Types of GMs

  1. I’m going to say you’re pretty well spot-on, here. However, I’ve been a GamesMaster since 1993, and have seen all types of gaming, or so I had thought, until a recent player, who is also a GM and just wanted to play in a world -Middle Earth- he had always loved and wanted to see how I would do, decided he was not going to play through the story, at all.

    Normally, I’m a mix GM… I will write a story premise, [beginning-a few waypoints with events between trivial and critical-ending], with what I hope will be important points in the story, a good ending with rewards -also between trivial to important to the character as well as the player- and I will attempt to run the game well.

    With this most recent Play-by-Forum run for these players, I was learning to run The One Ring, my first foray into that particular RPG, and I was trying to make sense of the silliness written into the rules. So, I was fighting the game at the same time I was trying to get the story on track, get the players invested, and then move along into the main tale, an introductory adventure known as “The Marsh-bell” from the main rules of the game. This is the way of all games, and I thought I was doing pretty well, except for the unusually high number of dice rolls required by the adventure, which I realized too late. Unfortunately, the desire of the authors of the game, to REDUCE the number of required dice rolls, were not fulfilled. It is now proven that the experience of the game’s authors is grown from a base of Cthulhu, so The One Ring is, quite literally, designed to make your character go insane, and to put extraordinary difficulty to things that should not be such, with a dicing convention that is nigh impossible to overcome for standard, inexperienced characters.

    Well, we came to a part in our adventure where my players were stuck in a dangerous place, with several markers around to indicate such, right at a strange entrance to the dungeon they needed to enter, and the players lingered in their posting to the game by several days of inaction -no information gathering, no planning, no anything from the players. So, I set off a loud warning to bring out the main antagonists of the story, which was not an ambush of the player party, but a natural part of the written story-line, and a fight began. It was quickly realized these were powerful, mindless foes, and I gave my players an out, a way to get free, since the bad guys were also shamblers, not very quick at all, and I continued to point out, in posts, where the alternate entrance was, as well as ways to shake off the bad guys. I gave the best verbal descriptions I could, as I felt a large map of the area would not help them, at all, and I gave a TON of time for them all to ask questions.

    It was at this point, with no answers, no questions, no actions, nothing for several more days, that I decided to railroad -after all, there are only so many suggestions one can give, and only so long one can wait for the players to help advance the story, before the GM has to take action, right? Well, I set my players at the alternate entrance, away from the bad guys, and their humongous winged alarm, and that’s when my obstinate player, who wanted to do his own thing, went off the rails.

    This effectively ended the game at that point. I can’t have players who will not respond, who do not appreciate the efforts I’ve made, all of the information, the story, and the role-play opportunities I’ve provided them, and hope to have a successful game, can I?

    Ask questions, let me know what you think; how would you have done things differently? The story starts at http://www.wolvesau.net/wh/fantasy/viewtopic.php?f=56&t=2813#p10461 .

  2. There’s another type of GM I’ve had a problem with. I think they’re more common than people realise but I rarely recognised. They’re related to the Rail Roader but different, for they are not a Game Master at all, they are The Puppet Master.
    They like to take control of your PC sometimes. They force your well meaning but non-violent protocol droid to become savage battle droids. They force your still-enraged barbarian to make unwanted, aggressive sexual advances to female characters (even PCs).
    They are, In my experience, played by young (often late teens/early 20s) players who expect your PC to conform to their expectations and ideals of how you should play.

  3. I think you nailed it. If I had to add, I would suggest the monte hall gm. This gm is a very giving person and soon your 3rd level priest is tackling ancient red dragons and winning. The other side would be the scrooge gm. There is a balance with rewards as much as story. I think they have synergy.

  4. I would say there is a fourth type of GM that I have encountered which is sort of a variant of the Sandbox GM and I would call them The Collaborator GM. These GM’s share some of their power and allow the PC’s to help guide the game by allowing to give their input or at least interpretation. They tend to ask probing questions, they will set the scene and then ask “So what happens when…?” A lot of newer games (such as Apocalypse World, FATE, Fiasco and to a certain extent FFG’s Star Wars) seem to embrace this kind of style where rather than the old adversarial set up of players vs. what ever the GM has concocted for the evening, it’s more collaborative “we’re here to tell a story together”. If everyone buys into the setting and get invested into the process it can be a wonderful thing.

  5. I’m a “Plan everything I want, then sandbox as the players play” DM. Having paid an incredible amount of attention to my players, I have (on several occasions) written up round-by-round actions for my villains, the players did their own thing at their own speed, and my round-by-round, pre-planned actions have successfully nullified a character’s action. It’s hard to argue “the bad guy only did X because you (the DM) don’t want me to do Y” when the villain’s actions were all written down before the first round of combat even started.

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