Gamemaster’s Guidepost: The 10 Commandments of Gaming

I’ve been sitting on this post for a while now while I thought on it. But here we go. Here are my 10 Commandants of gaming when you’re the GM.

1. Thou Shalt Be the Law

You’re the GM. Your word is law. The game session is a ship, the players are its crew, and you are the captain. While underway, the captain’s word is sovereign. After the game is over is the time to give feedback as a group. If you’re lucky your players will elect you as their GM ala a “pirate democracy.” If you’re really lucky you’ll get an adversary/quartermaster out of it too.

2. Do Not Suffer a Rules Lawyer to Play

You will only ruin your fun and your player’s fun. If you’re a long time reader you’ll know I have a special dislike of rules lawyers. NOT to be confused with rules experts – a rules lawyer can’t accept the GM ruling any way other than his interpretation of the rules. A rules expert is well-versed in the game rules and can point out possible problems, but roll with the game when the GM decides different. Learn to spot them both, one is your bane and the other a helpful addition.

3. Thou Shalt Communicate

Clear lines of communication are key. If the players aren’t having fun, they need to tell you so make sure they know up front you want their constructive criticism on how you can run a game better for others and themselves. You won’t be able to hit the high marks for all the players, but getting an equal consistency shouldn’t be hard if you have cooperative players.

4. Thou Shalt Also Have Fun

Remember that as the GM you need to have as much investment as the players. If you’re not having fun you need to say something to the players. Ever wonder why your games keep crashing and burning – either the players aren’t having fun or you aren’t. It’s pretty much one or the other in most cases.

5. Thou Shalt Roll and Shout (When Needed)

It’s ok to make mistakes or forget rules. Do whatever it takes to keep the game going and avoid looking up rules mid-play if possible. Make a note of it and figure out what it actually is afterward. A game is like a boat pulling water-skiers behind it. If the boat (the GM) stalls the players are going to sink and getting the same momentum as before will be difficult.


Do not complicate the plot/arc/session thrust. The players will do that for you. “Oh, man, what if it’s X and not Y?!” is the universal cry of a player invested in your campaign. Listen to what they are saying. Consider using it. Sometimes they’ll come up with something better than you did an that’s ok. Use it. They’ll be even more excited when you do.

7. Thou Shalt Prepare a Place For The Player

Sic Vis Ludum Para Ludio “If you want to game, prepare for the player.” Yeah, it’s faux Latin, but it’s true. The best games I’ve ever ran have all had one thing in common: the players have gone utterly off-book, knew they had, and gave me time to prep for the next game while moving the current session forward.

8. Thou Shalt Not Bait and Switch

Be upfront about what you’re going to be running. The exception is if you are going to pull a bait and switch tell your players you will be doing so and if you don’t know them that well flat out give the elevator pitch. It will save you heartache.

9. Thou Shalt Limit Tabletalk

Avoid tangents to actual gameplay like the plague. Enforce it at the table/video call/etc. TEXT games often don’t have this problem and is one of the benefits to them.

10. Thou Shalt Know Thy Player Characters

Know your player’s character sheets backward and forward (or cheat and make notes). Read everything they can do. Know every spell, skill, advantage, and disadvantage. Know their damage output. Know what they can’t do. Nothing derails a game quite like “I have Danger Sense! I would have seen this coming” or “Errr, I have 10 HP, not 12…I just suffered a major wound . . . [player rolls] . . . and now I’m dead.”

Picking Over The Bones

This whole post gives me an idea for a series of posts on GM/Player interactions – but that needs to stew a bit before I outline and write it. I’m almost sure something on my list will offend someone’s sensibilities, but I’ve been GMing for the better part of 25 years now with at least one 8-12 hour game session a week. I’ve had hundreds of players, run hundreds of games, and made thousands of mistakes – I’ve learned some lessons the hard way and come out of it a better GM. Maybe by sharing some of that hard-earned experience I can save a few folks that heartache.

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  2. I was ready to disagree. .. but pretty much agree with all of them, especially the first two.

    I had to kick a player out,and another left of his own accord, because they couldn’t accept not getting their own way on every single decision. The thing is I couldn’t understand if they weren’t happy why come at all? As a player there are GMs who I wouldn’t play with (I suspect I wouldn’t get along with you to be in your game). I dont turn up though and make your session unpleasant.

    • Yeah, I don’t do well with rules lawyering. I’m the one putting 15+ hours of work into the game every week, it’s going to go down like I say. Though that’s not obviating agency – simply that if I feel I must I will waive a rule – just like if it adds dramatic tension I’ll have an optional rules sudden toggled on. My games tend to move very fast and there are some people who just cannot keep up with that. It’s not their fault, we just have incompatible styles.

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