The Ideal GM

I started talking about trust last week on my philosophy blog, Concept Crucible (blatant plug), but I want to continue this discussion here, because I think trust is one of the most important facets of GMing. I want to find out what the ideal GM does with trust. How does she build it, why does she think it’s important, and what does it let her do that she couldn’t do without it? I hope to answer all of these questions briefly today, and spend more time on them in the coming weeks. 

Why trust is important to the Ideal GM?

Having the trust of other players is ideal it allows the GM to go further and push players harder without arousing ire or suspicion. Players can trust that these kinds of pressures are in the service of something they would endorse. Trust is especially important in a game with hidden knowledge. It’s better to not know the exact strength of challenges, because that uncertainty creates a greater sense of fun, but in order to have someone manage that, you have to trust them. The Ideal GM recognizes this, and she builds trust with her players, and then leverages that trust to challenge them further.

How does the Ideal GM build trust?

Well, one of the ways she builds trust is through system mastery, which means knowing the rules, following them, and adjudicating rule calls fairly. Another way is by ensuring a certain level of transparency and accountability in her actions, by being able to offer good justifications, and recognizing when those justifications ought to give way in the face of better ones. She builds trust by recognizing that the answers she ought to have to the players’ questions should never be “Because I wanted it to be that way”, but should be answered from within the setting instead. She can also build trust by cultivating good relationships with the other players and working with them to achieve their goals in the game.

How does the Ideal GM use trust?

There are lots of ways to leverage trust, and some of them are more constructive than others. There are a lot of other questions which surround this, like when to leverage it, how to do so, and how much to do so. The Ideal GM, being ideal, knows the answers to all of these, presumably. And one of the ways she leverages trust is through improvisation. The rules can’t cover everything, and there are times when one wants to or has to go afield in order to create a more meaningful experience or interesting setting. Having the trust of the other players means being able to slip the leash of the rules from time to time in a way that’s in service to the players’ needs. Improvisation can create a more fluid and interesting experience, provided the necessary trust exists. Another way she uses trust is in managing the autonomy of the players. There are all kinds of situations where the players choices are restricted (town laws and societal structures in the setting are a few examples), and those restrictions are often in tension with the players’ ability to act in the way that they choose. The Ideal GM is trusted to know when to use these restrictions in the service of greater fun, rather than to hedge the players in to a set of preferred choices.

These are just some examples of how the Ideal GM would build and use trust, but I think it illustrates the point that trust is an essential thing to cultivate in gaming, as it is in theatre or other forms of cooperative art. Over the next few weeks I want to talk about some ways to build trust, what trust can mean in games, and how the GM can use trust to create interesting and meaningful challenges for the players.

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