Common Game Master Mistakes

by Mike Shea on 4 January 2016

This article has been updated from the original published in November 2012.

It's often better to be positive than negative when thinking about improving our skills as game masters. Sometimes, however, it is worth looking at the bad so we can better understand the good. Today we're going to look at common game master mistakes we might often see, might often even do, and might spend some time learning to avoid so we can run the best RPG we can. Let's put our egos aside and dig in.

A potential indicator your game isn't resonating with your players

Above: Keep an eye out for potential indicators that your game is not resonating with your players

Forcing Your Story

We love our stories. It's what got us to play D&D in the first place. Our drive to tell stories often gives us the desire to run games. It's a hard thing to remember that we GMs don't create the story, the group does. D&D stories aren't written down ahead of time—they're created during the game.

We all know this. It's an easy thing to say. It is equally easy to forget it and let our overactive imaginations run wild, building seven volume epic stories that push players from point A to point B without ever considering what the players want.

Forcing our games to go down one path when the drive of the game may head down another is one of the biggest pitfalls even expert GMs fall into.

Shutting Down Good Ideas

The greatest source of creativity we have at our table is the collective imaginations of our players. Each player often has something interesting to bring to the table. These wild ideas, though, sometimes don't follow our expectations as GMs. Thus we're more likely to shut these ideas down without even considering them.

Shutting down these ideas may remove the greatest potential source for fantastic stories. Take the D&D improvisation tip of Steve Townshend and learn how to say "yes, and".

Losing Patience

Sometimes in our RPGs, things just don't go like we want them to go. Players take to long coming up with decisions. Players find weird loopholes in the rules that circumvent encounters we carefully planned ahead of time. Boss monsters drop after only half a round of combat.

For some reason, something in the game makes you lose our patience.

We're all here to have fun and enjoy the game. The tighter we squeeze, the more pissed off we can get when things slip through our fingers.

Take it easy. Relax. Be patient. Don't rush through things. Try to do less in each game so you're not in a rush.

Ignoring the Desires of our Players

The more we pour ourselves into our stories, our campaigns, and our worlds without considering the backgrounds of the PCs and the desires of our players, the less likely we are to pay attention to what the players actually want from the game themselves. Everyone comes to the table with an expectation for the type of game we want to play. As a GM, we owe it to ourselves and our players to take the time to figure out what sort of game our players want to play.

The easiest way to handle this is to bring our players into the conversation before we begin building out our campaign. We can ask them what they want to get out of the game. As we run our campaign, we can use PC-focused campaign worksheets to keep our own visual focus where it belongs, on the PCs.

Really Just One Big Problem

The above mistakes come down to a single problem: taking too much control over the game. Don't forget that the group drives the story, not the game master alone. Embrace the ways of the lazy dungeon master and move the focus of your game to the story that grows at the table.

If you enjoyed this article, you might enjoy the Lazy Dungeon Master and Sly Flourish's Fantastic Locations. You can also support this site by using these links to purchase the D&D Starter Set, Players Handbook, Monster Manual, or Dungeon Master's Guide.

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Send feedback to @slyflourish on Twitter or email mike@mikeshea.net.