I’m taking a break from my normal series on “The Many Hats of DMing.” This post will be about something that I believe every gamer, and especially every DM needs to get worked out. Here you go!
One of my favorite websites for D&D, and general game running advice, is angrydm.com. If you are interested in gaming of all kinds, or just D&D, then I recommend you visit his website and learn how to properly run some quality games. The guy comes with years of experience and a highly humorous approach to explaining why gamers get upset at something, and why our games sometimes flat-out suck. His advice has revolutionized the way that I run my current D&D game, and how I design my games for my players.
A lot of his advice is even reflected in my previous Monday Morning DM articles on this same blog. DMs wear many hats, and angrydm.com helps explain what those hats are. Please look him up.
Today’s post was prompted by another fantastic read from angrydm.com. The article is posted here, http://angrydm.com/2014/01/thy-game-mastering-commandments/, andI recommend reading it before you read my whole blog post.
So what is your GMing credo? This question does not have to refer solely to D&D, it can refer to how you run all of your games. As a guy who games in many different genres, my credo will reflect all genre’s of gaming. This credo will also refer solely to me. This credo is personal to me. It reflects what I hold important and dear in my gaming. To understand where I’m coming from, you need to understand my worldview.
I’m a student at Calvary Bible College in Kansas City Missouri. I have no problem stating that I am a Bible-believing Christian, and have been for the past 5 years of my life. My GMing credo will be written with this worldview in mind. This is important for me because my relationship with Jesus Christ influences all aspects of my life.
If you don’t share my opinion of the Bible, or of God, I still want to be your friend. I still want to dialogue with you on gaming. If you want to talk about God at all, then I’m willing to discuss that too. I’ll leave the door open for you, just like I do at my house. My wife and I love to have company over just to talk and be a friend to whoever needs it.
But back to the point of this post, and why you’re here after all. Here’s some guidelines that angrydm.com has given us, and this will deal with the nuts and bolts of writing your credo.
This is taken from angrydm.com:
Rule #1: A Credo is a List of Rules and Principles on a Single Sheet of Paper
Your Credo should work as a simple, bulleted or numbered list of basic rules and principles. If it takes more than a short statement to put something on there, it is too complicated to be a core belief or principle. But remember that your Credo is a personal statement of belief. If you KNOW what something means, that is good enough. For example, one of the rules on my Credo is “I am a Dungeon Master, no matter what the game.” That means something very specific and personal TO ME. I know what it means. No one else has to. And I don’t have to explain it. Yet. There will come a point when we want to expand on some ideas because we want to communicate with our players, but now is not that time.
In the end, your Credo should fit on one sheet of paper so you can print it out and keep it in your Dungeon Master’s Guide, Core Rules, GMing Notebook, Binder, or wherever you keep all your stuff that follows you to every game. It should always be with your GMing stuff and come to you to every table because your beliefs, principles, and values come with you to every table.
Rule #2: A Credo is System Neutral
Nothing on your Credo should be specific to one specific game system. If something applies only to one game system, that is a house rule. There may be some rules that aren’t applicable to every game system, but no single game system should be mentioned.
Rule #3: A Credo is Rules for You, Not Your Players
Your Credo should never ever address the players directly or state things you will require of your players. If you want to lay down House Rules or Table Rules for your players, do it somewhere else. If you think it is vital to have your players behave a certain way, think about what YOU can do to enable or encourage that behavior. For example, one of the rules on my Credo is “I will never require a player to count squares.” This is an abbreviation for my principle that I would prefer to keep things moving by winging it rather than getting bogged down in the minutiae of any game that I am running. That rules reminds me that, when a player wants to take an action, I need to err on the side of the player’s intentions and play it a little fast and loose so they never feel they have to “count squares” to avoid danger or penalties.
Those are some helpful guidelines. With that in mind, here’s my personal Game Mastering credo:
1. I am a follower of Jesus Christ.
This is something odd to put first in gaming, but it is the most important aspect of my gaming. Personally, this credo reminds me that I have a responsibility not just to my players to work hard to design the best game I can for them, but it reminds me that I have a responsibility to work hard for my players to produce a quality gaming experience, no matter the game, so that God is honored by the quality of character and gaming present. To my players, they can rest assured that I will operate with their best interests at heart (I didn’t say their characters :P) because I care about them as people and as good friends of mine.
2. Rules aren’t always final.
Just because a game has a rule book doesn’t mean that those rules are a good final product. Case in point, my wife recently bought a game for me involving wild west strategy. I want to first say that the game is high quality, very fun, and very well made. The more I played the game though, the more my players and I realized that the game was oddly designed. Some of the rules made little sense. Therefore, I decided to modify the rules to match the world. The adjustments were liked by my players and the game is now more fun for all of us, as it caters to more play styles. As a GM, it is my responsibility to make sure that the rules make sense, and to suggest modifications if necessary. To my players, you can be sure that I will take suggestions on rules, and listen to ideas you have about game rules. It most likely won’t work, but I will listen after the game.
3. My world is just that.
As a GM, my world is my design. Even when I run a pre made world, no matter what you’ve known about or read of the world, my world is mine. It has my own interpretations of everything, and my stamp of character. My worlds do not operate according to traditional lore all the time on published works, my world operates on my lore, and my worlds have their own rules of logic. I own my world, and it makes sense. If you play in my world, you are passing through. Respect the laws. As a player, you can trust me to make a world that makes sense. My world will have logic that binds it, and when something ceases to work, there will be a good explanation for it. When the players make decisions, there are real consequences in their characters’ world, just like in the real world. Ideas have consequences, and this doesn’t change whether it’s Eberron, Deadwood, Asara, or Ragol. If you make a decision involving an NPC, or an object in the world, that change is felt. Time goes on, and stories wait for no one. If an NPC is waiting for you to come save him/her, and you keep putting it off, they could die. Priorities. The world, and all it contains, is my character in this game, and I know it well.
4. My games are trust funded.
As a GM, I trust my players to play the game in a fair and honest way. I am not capable of running a game if I cannot trust my players, and vis-a-versa. I trust my players to play my games with integrity as people, even if their characters are nefarious villains. I will be honest with you. My players can trust me to be honest with them in everything. I will not lie about information unless a character in my world is deceitful. You will get accurate information from me. I will roll the dice the same way you will, and my results will be what the dice show, regardless. The only things that hide behind my screen, are my minis, and my story. I often roll in front of the screen just to emphasize this trust. In any game, I will not benefit from a rule if I forget to explain it. I will not take advantage of your ignorance, and my forgetfulness.
5. Dice will never roll needlessly.
Proverbs 16:33 in the New Living Translation says, “We may throw the dice, but the Lord determines how they fall.”
This translation of the Bible is sometimes a little sketchy, but I use this verse for my college group of D&D. This applies to my credo in the fact that I will never make my players roll dice for challenges that they can’t do, and challenges that they can’t not do. If the challenge is impossible, I will not waste their time or my time rolling dice. If it cannot fail, I will not waste their time or my time. I have a story to tell, and only one day a week to do it. My wife shares me enough for my players, and I won’t waste her time either. Basically, my players will know this: if it’s attainable and failure changes the game, roll. If neither of those two things can happen, then no roll is required. Carry on, my wayward children.
6. I will not spoon feed my players.
It is not my responsibility to keep you alive, or in the game. I will not coddle egos, nor hate target you. Every challenge I throw at you, you are able to overcome. You are also able to fail. If you fail, it’s not my fault, it’s yours. There is always a solution to the problem. Stabbing is rarely the solution. I will construct challenges that are surpassable, but challenging enough to match their real world difficulty. Either way, it’ll be fun. I am not on the players’ sides, nor against them.
7. You are living in a story.
In any game, you are playing out a story. In D&D specifically, you are not a faceless, voiceless weapon when you have a character. You will accomplish nothing in my games if you do not interact with my world, and with my real characters that I’ve created. No one is an island. When you burn every bridge, the only thing you cut off is your escape route. Besides, Magic Missile can still hit from 100 feet. Stories drive my world, and as long as you exist within my character, my character will interact with you. Be prepared. My character is friendly, aggressive, tyrannical, trustworthy, and personal. My character changes masks depending on who you’re talking to. In exchange for your participation, this story will be one of a kind, and will blow you away. I promise.
8. I will always apologize when I’m wrong.
As a Christian, I firmly believe that I am a fallible human being, saved by the grace of Jesus Christ. Therefore, I am not perfect. I’m just a guy who knows someone who is perfect. As such, you as a player in my game can rest assured that I will apologize whenever someone feels slighted by me, whether intentionally or not. I will never try to intentionally hurt someone. Games cannot continue until the problem is dealt with. If any of my players offend someone at my table, an apology is in order, or gaming privileges are suspended. Gaming at my table is a privilege. If you break this policy, and make no attempt at repentance, then my table is not for you. You will be welcomed back with open arms when an apology is made. My gaming table is not best served in an atmosphere of strife. I will never speak ill of player who leaves my table by choice, or force.
9. My players can expect to have all the info they know, and all the options they have.
My players will never suffer from lack of knowledge of the world around them if they have the opportunity to know it. I will inform them. They will never have to ask, “What else do I see? or What do I know?” They will already have all the information. Also, when it is time to make a decision that alters something in the world, they will have all the options available to them. If death is an option, I will inform them of the risk. I will never let my players take chances without informing them of the personal consequences they can incur.
10. Point of order/need a Twix moments.
My players will always have the ability to talk out a scenario or a circumstance in the game from a 3rd person perspective. This is important to me and relevant to my players all the time. I’d rather have them play the game and role-play at their best with a grasp of the scenario, rather than run the risk of ruining a potentially great plan because someone can’t role-play, or because of that one dude who always plays a useless comedy character.
11. I always welcome new players.
If you are wanting to learn how to play a game, or want to join in on the fun, you can expect a quality gaming experience that gives you an accurate feel of what a game should be like. You will not have to worry about not knowing how to play, because my players will be helpful to you, and my game will be one that you want to experience again and again.
12. I take my games seriously, and my players can as well.
I thought angrydm hit the nail on the head with this one. As such, I will use his wording. “There are some things that ruin my ability to run the world or destroy my suspension of disbelief. There are some things that make me upset or uncomfortable. I am allowed to veto these things in the interest of making the game runnable. If there is something that upsets a player or makes them feel uncomfortable or ruins their suspension of disbelief, they may ask me to remove those things or mitigate them and I will do my best to comply or to explain why I cannot.” Games, like sports, can be fun while being serious. As a college athlete, I take sports seriously while having fun.
13. I am a freelance writer by hobby, and an editor as a life principle.
I firmly believe that I am not perfect at my game, nor will I ever be. As a Christian, I never will be perfect as a person this side of heaven. That doesn’t I stop trying to be a better person every day through God’s grace. This applies to me as a GM as well. I will never stop trying to improve my ability to sculpt a quality gaming experience for you. I am constantly editing the way that I do things. I can always improve. I will also constantly learn about a game. Therefore, I better explain the rules of a game, and help new players, and make the game better for seasoned players.
14. Whoever is hosting the game should not have to provide food.
This is a rule I learned from Chris Perkins who works for Wizards of the Coast. Whoever is running the game, should not have the responsibility of providing food for everyone. The players should bring food. It makes it fun for all. Personally, my group’s gaming food is three-meat pizza, and IBC root beer.
15. Answers are not written in the clouds.
My players will not solve problems when they sit around doing absolutely nothing. This rule applies to my rule of gunfights. Doing something is better than doing nothing. No matter what it is, do something. The world will continue to go on, and the bad guys will win, unless the heroes do something. Therefore, my problems have to be complicated enough for them to figure them out after they do something. My players do something, something will happen. They won’t find the answer contemplating their navel, or twiddling their thumbs, or stabbing the wall.
16. Excitement breeds memories.
The games become most memorable when the players are involved in the best kinds of conflict. Those conflicts depend on the characters that my players have made. Without fail, my players have the greatest memory of our games, when they were challenged greatest. For some of my players, character death was their most fun fights. Even though they lost, they loved those fights the most. Excitement is the key to making lasting memories in a game, and my players can expect great memories from their games, because their games will be exciting.
17. Minutae can be vetoed at any time.
Minutae is just that. If it becomes the source of an argument that takes time away from gaming, then I can veto it any time. Miutae arguments suspend disbelief for me, and therefore, can be stricken from the record. I like to keep the players focused. I’m a GM. I adjudicate how I want.
As of right now, that’s my GM credo. It is subject to change, and editing. I am always in the business of reevaluating the way that I feel a game should be run. Therefore, who knows what this credo will look like down the road. But as of now, if you’re ever in the Kansas City area, and want to join in on a game, feel free to join. You know what you’re getting into, after all :)
Please like this post, share it, comment on it, and give me your thoughts please! I’d love to dialogue with you. Follow me on twitter https://twitter.com/JustraXephon
Your learning DM,
Also, go here for great DMing tips. angrydm.com