Trust and Tension


Messing With Your Players for Fun and Profit

I could do a whole post on each of these, and one day I might, but you can think of this as an overview of how to use players’ trust. In essence, I think that there are two different ends to leveraging trust with players. You can use it to create tension, and use it to relieve tension. Within those ends there’s a lot of things you can do, but they’re all in the service of one of those two goals.  Read more

Leveraging Trust

Last week I discussed how to build trust, but I think it’s wroth talking about how to leverage it ethically before digging into the different ways a GM can leverage trust. I briefly mentioned that it allows GMs to challenge and even outright lie to players, but didn’t expand on that, and it’s worth talking about. I think there are good reasons to believe this, and that it can be done ethically, though ought to be done with care.  Read more

Building Trust

I’ll be the first one to rail against notions of GM authority, but there’s a difference between having authority and acknowledging a power differential. Players place trust in the GM to respect their decisions and give them legitimate consequences. The GM is empowered by that trust to challenge players, tempt them into traps, and even outright lie to them. But we’ll get to that in time. For now, I want to talk about how GMs can build trust, in three key ways.  Read more

Killer GM: A How To


Last week I talked about why, although being a Killer GM isn’t something that’s desirable, there’s a a way to borrow tricks from their playbook to spice up the game. Having players believe that you have some kind of personal investment in their destruction can heighten tension and make them more personally involved in overcoming challenges. Now I’m going to lay out some strategies you can use to instill this idea in your players.  Read more

Killer GM

Attendant: How do you deal with players who try to break the game?
Gabe: Lie to them. Rob them. Drive them mad. Concoct impossible scenarios whose only outcome is their death.
And then, when their eyes glisten with shame and rage, drink their tears.

The Killer GM is the player’s worst enemy, and strives to be so, creating scenarios where the PCs have no choice but to die. It’s a different kind of agency denial than the railroading GM, who forces the players to go along with their story. The Killer GM marshals all the forces of the campaign setting against the PCs, and cackles with insane glee when one of them succumbs to the icy hand of death. This can be fun in certain settings, or for short term games, but in a long term campaign I’d never advocate this kind of strategy. However, I think there’s a lot of things to be learned from the parts that are fun, and that it’s worth being a bit of a Killer GM in any game.  Read more

Roles in 4e

In an earlier post I discussed how I encourage thinking about roles at my table. I want to expand on that now, and talk about how the ways in which we think about roles can show how we’re thinking about the game as a whole. For me, the perfect example of this is 4th edition D&D, which was the first time to my knowledge where roles (rather than class combinations) were made explicit in the design of the game. First I’m going to briefly go over each of the roles, and then discuss the implications of them. Read more

Safe Space, A How To

Last week I talked about why safe space is important at the gaming table because it helps encourage creativity and comfort, both of which are things that make a game more fun. It can also be used to add depth to a game and present more poignant moral challenges and choices. What I didn’t talk about was how we can go about creating that kind of space at the gaming table. It can be challenging, especially with a new group or a group which isn’t used to thinking about things in that way. It’s important to recognize that there’s going to be an adjustment period, but overall I think you’ll agree that a game in a safe space is better than a game not in one. Most of the information here is pulled from the GLSEN “Guide to Being an Ally”, a kit meant for educators looking to establish safe space for LGBT youth, and tuned for the gaming audience. If you’re looking for more information than I provide here, I recommend downloading the .pdf, and if you’re interested in establishing safe space at your local schools, I recommend it as a guide. What’s more important than safe space at the gaming table is safe space for our youth. Read more

Safe Space


In one of my earliest posts, I talked about how working with players to create a safe space in which people can express themselves is an important goal for a GM, and really for any group organizer. But it raises a lot of questions about what it means to have a safe space, and why it’s important. Today I thought I’d talk about that, and give some examples of safe spaces which could be used as models. Read more

Starting A Game

This is something I should have talked about right at the beginning, and happily we’re close enough to the beginning that I don’t feel terrible about it. Starting a game. It might be as simple as getting people together, finding a game, and going, but I want to take the time to consider a series of actions that can make your fledgling game a lot more fun for everyone. Read more

Sandbox GMing

The time has come for the third and last of my GMing style posts, and this one’s a doozy. the first thing that I have to admit is that I’m a sandbox cheerleader. I like it, I like what it tries to do, and I think it does a pretty good job. However, I’m not going to let that distract me from the challenges that it presents to a GM who wants to pursue that style. I designed a sandbox setting about a year ago, and run two separate games in it at the moment, and have been for about eight months now. I’ve had to adjust some of the ways I think about the game and the players, and it’s been an interesting experience to do so. That said, this is definitely the style I have the least experience with. This isn’t a post about how to design a sandbox setting, just an analysis of the the strengths and weaknesses of the style. So, sandbox! Read more

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