21 Sure-Fire Ways to Lose Players

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Problem players are a perennial subject on GMing blogs. But problems can go both ways. Here are some GM behaviors guaranteed to cause friction in your group. Please feel free to add more.

  1. Force your PCs into a predetermined plot line and refuse to let them deviate from it.
  2. View the players as opponents to be beaten.
  3. Don’t listen to player suggestions. Get angry is someone even tries to talk to you about improving the game.
  4. Spend a lot of time looking up rules during combat, especially to find that +1 modifier you know it there to give the NPCs an edge against the PCs.
  5. Argue with your players. Tell them they’re not allowed to do certain actions.
  6. Permit your players to argue with each other. Allow these arguments to consume large amounts of each game session.
  7. Be obviously unprepared. Spend copious amounts of time shuffling papers trying to find the next page of the adventure.
  8. Don’t keep an eye on the magic items your group has. Allow them to surprise you with a game-breakingly over-powered item you forgot you let them create.
  9. Destroy, loose, or pick-pocket every helpful or impressive magic item the party ever gains.
  10. Be very easy going and permissive one game session and hard-nosed rules-stickler the next.
  11. Arbitrarily change the rules from one game session to the next.
  12. Allow yourself to be bullied into decisions you don’t like by the players.
  13. Regularly show up late to game session without an explanation. After all, you’re the GM; they have to wait for you.
  14. Frequently cancel game sessions at the last minute.
  15. Show obvious favoritism to certain players in your group — SO’s, best friends, etc…
  16. Make all adventures as lethal as possible.
  17. Don’t take the party’s abilities into account when designing encounters.
  18. Regularly fudge die results in the NPCs favor. Make it obvious to the players.
  19. Use an NPC to solve every major challenge. Don’t let the PCs do anything important.
  20. Forget how many opponents the PCs are fighting. Increase that number midway through combat. Berate any player who tries to correct you.
  21. Don’t allow your players to make changes to the game world. Make sure their actions have no permanent affect on the setting.

Do you have any more GMing pet peeves? Please tell us in the comments below.

3 responses to “21 Sure-Fire Ways to Lose Players

  1. This seems to be a pretty comprehensive list, and I can’t say that I haven’t violated more than a few of them in my GM-ing career (…especially 13 and 14 for various reasons, both legitimate and otherwise). It’s hard enough to find four or five people with the same general interests who can schedule a night (…or, in some cases an afternoon) to come together for a few hours. Many GM’s in my experience, especially those who are new to it, tend to forget that it’s a social activity and it’s their responsibility to make it interesting and fun for their players (…which makes it fun for them as well when they put the effort into it).

    The two rules of thumb that I’ve always followed is “Know your audience” and “Keep it fun.”

    The only thing I’d take issue with is #16. Sometimes the level of lethality needs to be ramped up to absurd levels in order to capture the right spirit of the game…especially when it comes to RPG’s like Cyberpunk or Paranoia where PC’s tend to die in job lots simply because the games are kind of engineered that way.
    .-= Chris´s last blog ..Just follow me… =-.

    • @Chris — I think we’ve all probably violated one or more of these. I know I have 😉 . On the lethality — I completely agree with you for games like Paranoia, etc. where lethality if part of the game itself. I mean, without it, how can you brag that you made it through the entire adventure with one clone :) !? #16 was basically meant for games where that isn’t an expected part of it.

  2. As far as the article isetlf is concerned, it’s a little light on content. I feel like you only really begin discussing gender in TT gaming concertedly in your last two paragraphs. Take that as a compliment; too short just means that I’d love to have been able to read ten more pages by you on this.Amazingly, it’s a somewhat frequent occurrence to see a pretty mature discussion on this, along with that one player horror stories, out of The Image Board That Must Not Be Named (brushing past all the everything else to get to it obviously). Optimistically, I’d wager that most people are just interested in gaming, and gender of the player or character is less important than whether you’re breaking the game with your Pun-Pun kobold, destroyer of worlds. But then, I GM’d a game where one of my (male) players raped a female karmic justice NPC that was sent to him for his murdering an innocent. That wasn’t a high point.Anecdotally, however, it is sad to see the most frequent transgression to be sexual(ized) violence against the characters of such gamers.

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