Semi-Linear GMing

Last week I took on linear GMing, which is a bit of a touchy topic for me, but this week I want to explore semi-linear GMing, which is a style I have a lot of experience with. I’ve run a number of semi-linear games over the past decade, though I’m finally making a try at turning that setting into a sandbox (and at developing a wiki, the results of which can be seen here). In general, I find that semi-linear is usually a good starting point, because it accords people more freedom than a linear style while maintaining a balanced workload for the GM.

What is Semi-Linear GMing?

A linear campaign is like a rollercoaster. There are ups and downs, and it can be exciting, but it stays on the track. Semi-linear is more like an amusement park. There’s lots of rollercoasters and other rides, and you get to pick which ones you go on and which you don’t, but someone else decides which ones are open. Mapped out, semi-linear campaigns tend to look like a tree, possible options branching out into various different directions depending on the choices the players make. The usual way this works is that the GM presents the party with a few “hooks”, possible adventures they could go on or situations in which they can become involved. The players choose which ones to pursue as a group, and hijinks ensue.

No Bites Today

But some days none of the rides look appealing, and it’s the same with plot hooks. Maybe it’s because the pot isn’t sweet enough, or because the nature of the hook isn’t clear, there’s a hundred reasons, but none of them spell fun. The GM has to become a barker, pitching adventures to the players in order for them to venture forth and have a good time. There are some time honoured ways of doing this, such as leveraging a goal or relationship of one of the characters, but at the end of the day, the GM is playing the entertainer, and the players the guests. They shape the way the story goes, but for the most part do it within the bounds presented to them.

Semi-Linear vs. False Choices

Semi-linear GMing assumes that the choices players make between hooks are real ones. If all roads lead to the cheese factory, then you’re not really choosing whether or not to go there. This can happen because semi-linear games require the development of several simultaneous adventures, and sometimes one of them is more complete or more interesting to the GM than another. I think the most important thing to emphasize is that committing to running semi-linear means respecting players’ choices about where they want to take things, and having all of the choices lead to the same place is misrepresenting the nature of the game. The way to get players where you want in semi-linear is to make the hard sell, and it’s better still if it can be done in a believable way within the context of the setting.


The best thing about semi-linear GMing is the excellent balance it strikes between giving players options about what they do, maintaining an underpinning narrative to events, and preparing adventures in advance. Come up with three or four well-prepared hooks for a session, get the players to pick one or two, and you’re probably set for a few months, which gives you time to develop more hooks. It also makes it easy to fit in modules or episodic adventures, but puts a bit of choice about the nature of the adventure into the hands of the players.


The players are still an audience. They get to choose what channel to watch, but not the programming. Their characters are, for the most part, protagonists in your Choose Your Own Adventure story, rather than their own. The strength of the underlying narrative can be undermined by players wandering away from hooks, or deciding to create their own and go their own way. This behaviour, while a credit to their interest and motivation, can force the GM to toss away a lot of hard work and improvise on very short notice, which can be frustrating. Part of this can be solved with a buy-in, that is, reaching an agreement to the players that they’ll pick from the choices offered, but even so, if the options don’t seem good, or logical, it can cause tension.

In short, the effectiveness of semi-linear GMing is almost entirely based on how good a salesperson the GM is. If you understand what your players and their characters want, and can tempt them with your hooks, then it can go swimmingly. If your pitches miss the mark, they can spend sessions spinning their wheels. It’s a good alternative to linear GMing though, and more sustainable in a long term campaign because of the control it gives to players. What are your experiences with these styles, and are there others which I haven’t thought of?


  • Dave G _ Nplusplus

    This is a great way to look at giving players more options and allowing their decisions to have an impact on what their characters actually end up doing.

    I've seen plenty of games however where the players don't get involved. Yes, the GM is the entertainer and the players are the guests, but there's at least a partial agreement the players silently make with the GM to get involved once they're there. A GM caters to a group of people, even the ones who aren't quite as vocal about their in-game choices. Stories have ups and downs, action and plot, etc… and the players need to allow themselves to get involved.

    To continue the theme park analogy:

    If a group of people are at a theme park, presumably, it's a "Theme" they enjoy. A bunch of goth kids aren't necessarily going to have fun if they CHOOSE to go to Hanna Barbara's Fun Land – but it was their choice.

    Or, if you go to a water park without swimwear (a character you'll enjoy) don't be surprised when you're left sweltering in the heat.

    Meanwhile, when you're at the park, if you go to see a magic show, and audience participation is required, then the show might be dull if nobody in the audience is interested in being part of the act.

    Yes, the GM has the ability to change the "theme park" at will, but I'm just suggesting players need to show up ready to play and cooperate to a certain extent.

    Otherwise we end up with this:

    • Is that really all there is to it because that’d be flbegarbasting.

    • Ik zou veel meer schrijven en bloggen, mijn cursus korte verhalen schrijven afmaken en daarna beginnen aan een boek. Ik zou mijn grootste droom laten uitkomen =D

      • You put the lime in the cocnuot and drink the article up.

      • Moi je n’arrive pas à rechercher le fichier, j’ai essayé avec alt et j’ai appuyé sur rechercher les mises à jour mais ça me met juste « Cette version du logiciel de l’iPhone (3.1.3) est la version actuelle » =(Comment ça se fait ?Je suis sur pc cela change-t-il quelquechose ? et j’ai la toute dernière version d’iTunes ça pourrait venir de là ?Help me please j’aimerais bcp avoir cet OS 4 dès aujourd’hui =D

      • Precious you are doing so well, we love your bed and your toyz. It was lovely to see youz again have a great Caturday ..Keep practising xx00xx

      • I am not really a fan of Bachmann, ever since she accepted a forgery for the usurper as the matter being settled. What troubles me is the people in IA who have her at 40% above all the others. These people are obviously misinformed. The one who gets my vote will be who brings up the ineligibility and criminal activity of the usurper.

      • I've been drinking in public places since I was 15, and I've only been carded twice.Once in New York City when I was 18 and legal. Downside was the store guy annonunced I was 18, thereby killing my chances with a college woman who thought I was a Senior like her. I went back the next day just to complain. He commiserated but that was about all.Next time, I was 55 and still the youngest in the group. We all got asked for ID. My friends all laughed, I gave the server a big hug.It evens out, I guess.Stay safe

      • I’m impressed. You’ve really raised the bar with that.

    • that anyone who makes less than 250k per yr is poorso we are poorand u r DESTITUTE YOU BROKE BITCHFYIPER YOUR MILLIONAIRE GOD HOBAMA AND HIS BILLIONAIRE BANKSTER POSSE

    • Hiya, Miss Vain!!!! Love your enthusiasm as always!! You make me feel like a cynical skeptic!!! Yikes! I’ll hop over to your Giveaway – yay!! Have an awesome Friday!

    • I had to smile- my Nonno's car was always "la Carolina"- and look where I live now! This may be just the thing for an upcoming baby shower- thank you!xoxo Pattie

    • / Sympa cet article musical J’ai bien apprécié le morceau de Philip Glass, que je ne connaissait pas du tout.Ce morceau m’a fait (un peu) penser à Délirium de l’être seul de Eros Nécropsique.CédricCédric Vimeux Son dernier article…

    • Good Job cousinRester concentré, pro, avoir une bonne hygiène de vieCe sont les fondamentaux pour bcp d’autres victoires.Affectueusement Souleymane

    • Most szombaton, Újlaki-hegy oldalában a reptér felett zúztunk lefelé, és egy köves-gyökeres részen vidáman megreptettem a gépet, csak amit én a tervezett landolási zónámban sárgolyóknak hittem, bizony méretes lócitromok voltak, szerencsére sikerült földetérés után korrigálni, és nem tekertem át rajtuk…nejem biztos örült volna a szennyesnek…Na, ennyit a lovas erdészrÅ‘l. DD

    • Hi Mikko, top notch stuff with Imagick btw! Would love to help anyway I can. Can you drop me an email? I couldn’t find your address on the site. Thanks dude.

  • A lot of what the GM can do to allow choices is limited by player maturity and experience. Better players will either allow for the flow of the game to proceed or understand when another character has a legitimate need to take a stand against some outcome. But in these cases it should always be about the character and never about the player (and never taken personally).

    Semi-linear GMing is probably the best mix of story and options there is, but it requires players who understand the game in order for them to get the most out of it.

    Regarding the issue of intransigent players, this is absolutely something the other players should deal with. If they won't the GM can and must take a hard line against these folks. My take would be to explain to the person that they don't understand the game very well and they can choose to learn from everyone else how the game is played or they can choose to stop playing. In a game of pick-up basketball, if one guy refuses to let go of the ball, the other guys don't need a ref to step in, they can just simply say, "Dude, that's not why we're here. We're here to play basketball. Get on board or leave." So there is no reason that gamers who witness behavior which is obviously outside the spirit of the game can't say the same thing. But if they won't or can't or lack the experience, it is up to the GM to say, "Here is the issue. This is not what the game is for. Anyone playing this game will not engage in this behavior." The confidence to do this must come from the GM's knowledge that his role it to promote the game and that what is happening at that point is no more a part of the game than the guy in my example who won't let anyone else touch the basketball. Put in very clear terms, it doesn't even have to elicit that much drama. The GM can say, "I can see why you want X, but it is just outside of the game that I am running. Choose to play along or remove yourself from the game." If the other players aren't delighted to have their GM deal with a party pooper in such blatant terms, then they need to get more experience playing in other better established groups.

  • Thanks for commenting, you guys make some intriguing points. You're also going to keep me in potential post topics for the next year at this rate, so keep it up!

    I don't know about a silent agreement made by players to get involved in the game. I think that would be better if it were made clear, especially with regard to new players. And it doesn't seem appropriate to pin the responsibility of getting them involved entirely on players without allocating it to the GM as well. To use the entertainer analogy, if my act is reading from a phonebook for 45 minutes, it doesn't seem like my audience has a responsibility to be engaged and enjoy it just because they bought a ticket. Even if I think it's interesting, they're not obligated to think the same thing. If players aren't getting involved in the game, the best thing to do, rather than taking the hard line, seems to be to pose the question "What can be done within the bounds of the game to get your interest?" Marketing research is a pretty big part of semi-linear GMing, precisely because the narrative needs to cater to the goals of the players and their characters.

    Regarding the hard line, sgt_peppy, it seems like there's other options for resolution beyond learn or leave. I agree that the player that doesn't get involved is missing out on aspects of the game, but rather than working to secure the integrity of the game, I'd rather ask why they're not involved, and how we can work together to get them involved. I don't think I've ever found someone who would show up and then not want to play. I imagine that very few people are party poopers for the sake of being party poopers, after all. Issuing an ultimatum seems like the last resort of last resorts, and there doesn't appear to be anything that stops players from saying "I can see why you want X, but it is just outside of the game that we want to play in. Choose to play along or remove yourself from the game." Roleplaying games are a cooperative activity, and as such I find that resolution is better achieved through negotiation than exercise of authority. What do you think?

  • Dave G _ Nplusplus

    *nod* I guess silent's not the right word.. There usually is some discussion before a game as to what we're all looking for.

    And I'm not saying it's all up to the players. The GM is the one creating the world.. but the players do have to be on board for the experience.

    Not to open a huge can of worms, there were people who showed up to LARP not to play, (get involved in plots) and just to socialize. It was playing for them… but then they'd complain about being bored while they were the ones who actively didn't get involved. But that's a whole nother aspect of "how do you involve 15-30 people at the same time with limited storytellers and plots" uglyness.

    @peppy: I really like the pickup basketball analogy. Even if there's people you know, instead of strangers in a "pickup" game, the friend who always wants to play street rules will always be the guy the other roleplayers aren't too keen on gaming with.

  • Jim,

    I had a better post but it was wiped when I tried to sign in so what you read was the speedy restatement. By party pooper I was meaning the kind of obstructionist behavior cited in Dave's link. I did not mean that I favor the GM or the players taking a hard line with newbies who may be as involved as the others. Heaven's no. My comment was specific to that circumstance where one player is taking a stand that hold's up the game for everyone, and he is doing it without the protection of being "in character". For example a player who is playing a "knight of good" who refuses to allow the party to poison the castle's water supply — who even threatens to fight to the death anyone who tries — is not obstructing the game. He may be blocking certain action within the game because his character can simply not tolerate that action, but that is not the same thing at all. I am talking about a player who refuses to board the tiny boat until the DM agrees that his horse can come too.

    That kind of player is someone we have all had to GM for and to play alongside of. And my argument was that dealing with this BS is first and foremost the other players' responsibility. They should simply say, "Dude, cut the crap and get on the boat. The horse ain't coming."

    Anyone who insists on throwing these kind of tantrum's is someone who really does not understand the game and how it should be played. They make the game less enjoyable for everyone and eat up valuable time with their shenanigans. Dealing swiftly and harshly with this kind of behavior is always best, and players usually agree. The point is to play, not to politic with everyone else's time and get what you want just to prove how clever you are. I have no tolerance for that nonsense.

    This is very much different — as any experienced player can attest — from the kinds of legitimate issues and questions which arise in game. I am allowed to spend a few moments deciding if my dwarf really trusts the thief enough to want to join him on the boat that will take us into the heart of the thieves forest. That's good play and can lead to all kinds of fun. But it is different from insisting that the GM provide us a boat so we won't have to walk down the long and winding river trail. That is what I meant by saying "Look, I can see why you want a boat, but it's just not going to happen. There is no boat. Unless you can come up with a way to make a boat or find a boat or buy a boat out here in the middle of nowhere, you guys are all on foot."


    So part of the problem is that my post was more about the kinds of issues mentioned in Dave's comment than it was the ins and outs of semi-linear. That may have caused some confusion,

    When players are all playing in the spirit of the game and are playing to the highest level their experience will allow, I am very much a champion of allowing choices, allowing players to convince me to allow something, or giving folks at least a chance on the dice to have things play out to their satisfaction.

    For example, to use the boat problem from above. A very good player would say, "Can we wait for a little while and see if anyone comes down the river on a boat?" I would ponder the matter and agree that it was not an impossibility. "You can wait for the rest of the day and if you roll snake eye's it means someone comes by in a boat." Since that is just a one in 36 chance, I think it is sufficiently small to say "There is not going to be a boat." But now let's say they DO roll double one's. Then I am likely to be very conciliatory and allow that there is room on the raft that the farmer is using to push his wool down to town. The farmer would be delighted to receive what the adventurers consider a pittance to ferry the bunch down river for a spell. So in this manner the players "win" and get their way. But this is because the matter was dealt with in-game, not by some bozo stomping his feet and refusing to play unless he got a boat. There is a huge difference.

  • Dave G _ Nplusplus

    Heh, see, if a player refused to back down from "Sorry, the horse doesn't fit on your boat." and was disrupting the game, I'd cave in… just as fast as the boat would cave in the moment the horse stepped on it. Now the party wouldn't have a boat.

    • Superior thinking denrtstoamed above. Thanks!

    • Feedback! Does the Acai Berry actually work?I’ve been eyeing this “Acai Berry Diet” for a while. I’m wondering if it actually works or if it’s just another gimmick. If anybody has used it before (or is using it now), please give your review of it!Thanks very much.

    • That’s so cute! (the sock and the girls!!!) Glad to hear you conquered kitchener – something I still have yet to accomplish. I get it seamed up alright, no holes or anything, but I always seem to get these little nubs at the corners of the toes *sigh*.Do hope you feel better!

    • i really do not remember and dislike to make one up the but still, would love to win. happy leap lay to you all and thanks for the chance.

    • – I’ll make sure to up the Shitty Racist parts of my column next week, that should make you happy.@mrejr8234 – Get over it. You’ve been leaving negative comments since that Jeff Gordon breakdancing video where I quoted King of the Hill and you thought it made me anti-white people.

    • Was this your opinion? Really, it’s facinating! It seems that a lot of folks won’t take the time to make a true effort towards excellence. The internet is full of such crud and I end up wasting so much time trying to find good information from reliable sources.

  • Hmm, I'll have to give this some thought. I've got a ton of meetings today, but I'll get back to you more thoroughly tomorrow. I do have some questions, though. What kinds of assumptions are we making about a player's behaviour? If a player is willing to throw an tantrum, or even insist strongly, on a direct alteration to the world, then might it not be best to try and find out why? One also might make a case for the precedent that it sets. If it's agreed that the GM is allowed by the players to alter the setting on a whim, that won't always work in their favour. I've got to run, but let me know what you think.

  • Good point Dave. The rest of the party would be thrilled to have find Mr. Horse cost them a boat!

    I think we are getting off track though. Dave posted a link about (from what I read) an obvious problem player. The question of how to deal with problem players is really very much outside the question of how to deal with player problems. Probably most of the time spent here should be used to explore normal GM goals and tactics as relates to a "normal" party and a "normal" group.

    Problem players are very real, but skewing the discussion toward dealing with them may make it seem like some of us are advocating GM styles that we really don't use 98% of the time. It would be like trying to talk about education by focusing on how the problem children are handled. Sure, it's important when it comes up, but it is by no means the meat and potatoes of the game.

    Regarding why players throw tantrums, I'd offer this little tidbit. Gamers as a group tend to be above average intelligence and below average socially (as measured by normal social standards). But the lack of social grace usually comes from a greater than average awareness of what socializing is and how it affects us — in other words, the intelligent ones can't ever turn off their "observer" lenses and the tend to be self-conscious as a result. Self consciousness leads to insecurity in social settings and leads to awkwardness in social exchanges. The person who is not "inside his own head" all the time may actually be less intelligent than the average gamer, but he also tends to be more socially graceful and skilled as a result.

    So among the gaming group there is a large crowd of "kind of off socially" folks. That's no problem, as other gamers all feel comfortable around these kind of people and their social functioning in such a group is actually quite high. So the irony is, to oversimplify, nerds socialize quite well with other nerds.

    Now, among this band of social misfits we will call the hard core gamers, there is a small subset of folks who are severely lacking in interpersonal skills. These folks still behave socially as five year olds — as if the world revolves around them. They are not comfortable unless they are talking about themselves, drawing attention to themselves, or having things go their own way. These are your problem gamers. They want to use the game as a way to get more attention. They are not interested in subverting their own egos for the good of the game, even every once in a while. Their every move is advised by their own need to be the center of attention and to have the "story" to be about them. In real life, these folks are drama magnets and can turn the most routine undertaking into a comedy of errors that will allow them to share with others their tales of woe. They are not found exclusively in the gaming community, of course, but they are found in common enough numbers around the gaming table that every player can imagine at least one person who fits the personality I am describing.

    So, no, these temper tantrum players do not need to be catered to. It only fulfills their goal of being the center of attention. They need to be culled from the group of normal hardcore slightly off socially gamers who are trying to have a few hours of fun in a very social and intellectually stimulating way. Problem gamers are vampires, who grow stronger with every ounce of life they suck from the game. They need to be separated from the group as early as possible. IMHO.

  • Dave G _ Nplusplus

    Definitely right – GMs dealing with problem players and compromising with players breaking the mould are two different things.

    I think you've mentioned before, and I know STs did it in LARP sometimes, which was ask someone out of character what they're trying to accomplish. Sometimes there's room for an OOC discussion.

    Other times, with reasonable requests, I don't see a problem with a GM allowing players to do things the GM hadn't planned for – it's good to reward creativity, even if it might mean rethinking plot stuff.

    Those are good things, and I think that's where this semi-linear tree comes about. The GM will have the foreseeable branches planned, and players may find their own branches to follow. (The GM deciding whether or not those branches lead anywhere) It's an excellent way to look at the story.

    You don't want to punish players for finding their own ways to solve problems, because they might stop looking later, and just following NPCs blindly. When a player is being annoying or asking for too much, I think they know… (and don't care) and if they don't know, GUARANTEED the other players know and are tired of it. For this reason, and to keep a game running smoothly, then why not let players take a branch of their choosing… but maybe that branch can't support their weight and will snap.

  • We've covered a lot of ground here, from players who don't get involved to players who throw tantrums and insist that the game go a specific way. I'm going to try and answer some of the central themes I'm seeing here.

    Your characterization of the social skills of gamers may or may not be accurate, sgt_peppy, but either way it seems uncharitable to apply that generalization to a person in a specific instance, and I don't know that trying to understand their motivation is the same thing as catering to them. I think the question the GM wants to be asking isn't "How can I give you what you want?" but "How can we resolve this in a way that doesn't detract the overall fun of the game." If players accept that the setting obeys the GM's whims, or that it takes a 1/36 chance to do so, then that's a precedent, and a new policy. The mechanism by which that uncaused boat arrives is the exact same mechanism by which an uncaused dragon could arrive to eat the party. It's easy to say that a good GM wouldn't do that, but why then would we create a policy which directly enables it when there are other methods of resolution? As far as they're concerned, they'r engaging in a legitimate pursuit (even trolls see it as a legitimate pursuit), so marginalizing them by demeaning their social skills doesn't seem as effective as making arguments for what the implications of complying with those kinds of demands are.

  • Another theme I'm noticing here is the notion of the GM's authority, what players or their characters are allowed to do, and the kinds of obligations they have. There's hints of umbrage at the notion of player entitlement, but I think we need to examine the underlying assumptions which are being made. I don't think the relationship between players and a GM is an authoritative one, because the GM is also a player. Characterizations of the GM being in charge are not only outdated, but unsound. A more accurate picture might be that each player (including the GM) accepts certain restrictions on their choices. A game with no restrictions is freeform. Using a ruleset, like D&D, means accepting certain restrictions on the actions of characters. Adopting a campaign style, whether linear, semi-linear, or sandbox means accepting some other restrictions on choices. At all points, the GM is accepting these restrictions as well. For example, committing to using a semi-linear style means that she shouldn't choose to change to linear without a discussion. The point is that this is a process that happens together, and in no way puts the GM in charge, even if the GM initiates the process or influences its results. I mean, if a player accepts the notion that the GM is in charge, then all of their choices are meaningless. The game is literally "GM May I", which isn't fun. Why would someone accept that restriction in a game where fun is defined by their ability to make meaningful choices? What good reasons are there to assume that authority exists without people accepting that restriction? Ostensibly the GM takes on the most responsibilities, but those responsibilities could be delegated elsewhere. You could have two players who design the setting, two who govern interaction with NPCs, one who makes rule calls, and one who organizes the game sessions, and still have a coherent gaming group.

    To tie this back into semi-linear campaigns, they're not about pushing people into doing things in the setting, but finding ways to encourage them to do things in the setting. If there are no hooks of interest, then the GM needs to work with the players to find their things of interest. If the GM and the players are interested in very different things, the answer is to negotiate about it, which is what a salesperson does. It's probably the biggest challenge semi-linear poses.

    Also Dave, you're right that there's definitely some distinctions that can be made on GMing for Larp vs. GMing for tabletop, and I've got a post in the works on those, but this comment is already too long.

  • I think there is a disconnect here. I think the more I try to explain what tiny slice of GMing I am talking about – how to deal with a person who is refusing to honor the rules – the more you think I am talking about a GM who insists it’s “my way or the highway”.

    If the GM is an entertainer, then he has an obligation to his audience to deal with disruptive hecklers who are ruining the show. If the GM is a host of a party, then likewise he has an obligation to deal with (and possibly eject) a rowdy party guest who insists on ruining everyone’s fun. If the GM is a group therapy counselor, then he has an obligation to confront that member of the group that obstructs group progress by failing to respect others. Can you see where I’m going with this? The GM is the coordinator. We can argue about his level of authority, but his role is certainly that of referee. The framework that is provided by the rules and arbitrated by the GM is what separates role playing games from a group of children playing make believe. As arbiter, the GM absolutely has authority. The players need and respect that role. That is not the same as saying that the GM has a right to be ARBITRARY.

    I have to ask if you read the link that Dave provided that was the starting point for much of my commentary. Because that link presumed that there was a player that was being a jerk for the sake of being a jerk. So, no, I am not interested in the motivations of that kind of player. I am more interested in saving the experience for those who came to play and not be jerks. Now if we are talking about a random problem with a player, then yes, of course your right that a sensible GM tries to get to the root of the matter. But all of my comments are predicated on a situation where there is a player who is refusing to respect the game. He is no different from a heckler at a comedy club, a jerk at a party , or a guy at group therapy who won’t let others get anything out of the experience. If you take away the premise that the player is causing trouble for the sake of trouble, then of course my argument does not apply. But the situation I was discussing was one where that premise was appropriate.


    “You could have two players who design the setting…”

    You could. But, do you know where the role of the DM comes from? Gary Gygax was asked by two friends playing a siege game to be the arbiter of their tunneling and combat. The two friends who were playing a game together needed a third party who was impartial and could see what they were both doing without telling the other and make rulings about what happened when. The GM is absolutely required, and his authority is essential to the essence of the game.

    About 20 years ago my friends and I toyed around with a gaming style that relied on three “game conductors” – The Story Conductor, The Game (Rules) Conductor, and the Player (NPC) Conductor. This triumvirate ran the game, in theory, with great focus on each area of the game. The SC was free to worry about plot while the PC was making funny voices and witty dialogue. The GC was “physics” and made sure the rules of combat and casting were applied correctly.

    The whole thing was awesome – in theory. In practice the only guy that really mattered was the only one who really had authority, and the was Mr. Physics, the GC. The others may as well have been assistant managers. Because it is the arbitration of the rules that is the source of the power and authority of the GM. The rest is arbitrary. Fun? Certainly. But required? No. Only the rules referee is required. And this is indispensably at the root of the GM’s role no matter what type of campaign he is running.

    Now if you have a bozo who (for instance) insists on rolling a d20 when he is instructed to roll a d6, this “player” is not even playing along. He is not respecting the very idea of allowing everyone to make their choices and allow the rules to resolve their outcome. He is basically just ruining the game. I could take time to pull him aside and find out if he has deep seated issues with d6 that keep him using a d20, or I could just recognize that he is not there to play but to waste everyone else’s time. This case of a person at the table who is not actually playing the same game as everyone else has very little to do with GMing or types of GMing. So I never should have wasted your time by going on this tangent to begin with.

    Your awesome articles on GMing theory are to interesting to get hung up on one tiny example of deviant behavior. Yet I kept feeling compelled to try and clarify how I felt. I will let you have the last word on this topic if you desire, then I will move on to many of the more interesting points and features you raise.

  • I don't feel like you've wasted my time at all, sgt_peppy. This is a really interesting discussion, and I'm learning a lot. Part of what I'm learning is how I tend to ramble on tangents of my own when I've had a long day.

    I agree that someone has to be the final word on the rules, though I don't know that it has to be the GM per se. That seems like a responsibility one could delegate to a particularly rules-savvy player, though the GM tends to know more of the rules by virtue of spending more time with them. That player would accept the responsibility of impartiality, not because of tradition, but because that makes for a more fun game.

    I did read the link, but I don't see somebody being a jerk just to be a jerk. What I see is someone who's really focused on getting what they want to the exclusion of all other things, which isn't healthy, but it's the justification the poster gives for the handling of it that I'm concerned with. The notion that the GM is in charge. The GM might have resolved it by explaining it in terms of policy, rather than authority. The players could have dealt with it in character by plainly stating "We're going, guide or no. We want you to come with us, but if you won't, we still have to go." Which is a perfectly rational explanation for their characters. Now that the choice is in character an in the insistent player's hands, alternatives might be suggested by the players. They might be able to hire a guide along the way, or seek out an NPC who knows the terrain. It's certainly possible that the player would just keep insisting, but it seems like a better approach to handle it publicly and have everyone contribute, even if it yields the same results. You're right, there's a point where people aren't playing the same game as everyone else, but I don't know that not going along with things, which is how this whole discussion got started, is the same as not honouring the rules. If someone insists on rolling d6's instead of d20's, then they're literally not playing the game. But making choices that the GM or players don't like doesn't appear to be the same thing, even if the person is being a giant jerk about it.

  • I also want to take a moment to think about your d6 example, though. If a player has deep-seated d20 issues, and wants to roll d6's, it doesn't seem to logically follow that he's there to waste everyone's time. Similarly, I could be very bad at tennis, not because I'm uncoordinated, but because I don't understand the rules. But I could come out and be really interested in playing, and I'll make mistakes, and people will correct me. If I keep making the same mistakes over again because I'm not learning the rules, I can still be there to play tennis. Now, this might mean that tennis isn't the game for me, because being good at tennis is contingent on understanding the rules. And if I insist on doing it my way rather than by the rules, then very few people are going to want to play with me. But at no point am I there on purpose to waste my time or anyone else's. I'm there to play tennis. I think what bothers me is the characterization of people as jerks or timewasters. I'm not claiming that they have some kind of legitimate entitlement to get what they want, just that we can think of it as a problem to be removed from the table, or an opportunity to explore their motivations with everyone. Entertainers do this all the time. A juggler or comedian doesn't ask that the ushers take a heckler away, they make it part of their act and involve everyone in what that heckler is doing, and then move on.

    Thanks for commenting, sgt_peppy. I don't feel like I've wasted a minute on this thread, but it's covered a lot of topics that are too big to be done in a few paragraphs. I can tell that we feel strongly about these things, and there are some good supporting arguments. It's also a goldmine of new post ideas. I might even go to twice a week, depending on my workload. It's nine at night though, and I've got to get out of this office. Until next time.

  • I gotta agree w/ Jim that the guy wasn't necessarily being a "jerk". He was a guy trying to get what he wants – but the outcome's the same.. game becomes derailed and someone needs to get it back on track. In that regards, Peppy's right – the GM is the coordinator and needs to keep the entertainment moving.

    Perhaps the item of another post, but this talk reminds me of "nasty checks" from the LARP days… a simple test to make up the GM's mind on how to deal with a situation – leave the outcome up to chance. Rock, paper, scissors.

    Player wins, outcome favours the player.
    Player loses, outcome goes directly against the player.
    Ties were usually situational… either nothing comes of it, or it might also help the player. (while losing tended to be very bad)

  • Pingback: Problem Players – TPK

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *