2 Simple Rules for Being a Teenage Game Master

I don’t claim to be an expert Dungeon/Game Master. I’m not bad, and while I’ve been doing this on and off for years, I haven’t had time to play four times a week since I was seventeen. I recognize that I’m probably behind on those 10,000 hours it takes to master a particular skill. However, I have played a variety of games over that time: some great (Star Wars d6, Most version of D&D) and some god-awful (anything with Kevin Siembieda’s name on the cover). I’ve also played with a huge variety of people: from old-timers who actually played with Gary Gygax (and Kevin Siembieda, ironically) to non-gamers playing for the first time, to WoW addicts going through withdrawal to my 10-year old sister. I’ve probably had a much higher female-to-male ratio at my tables than most, which may have coloured my perceptions (and probably instilled much better manners) and I’ve led groups ranging in size from as few as 1 player to as many as 12.

(What did I learn from playing with 12 players? Don’t play with 12 players. Just don’t. At best, you end up playing with 3 or four guys while everyone else wanders off to play Nintendo or carve their initials into something. At worse, you become the referee in the middle of a no-holds barred, gloves-dropped hockey brawl.)

Like this. But with nerds and dice.

Anyway, my point (and yes, I do have one) is that through my experience I have learned that there are only 2 rules you need to play role-playing games, and they apply to ALL role-playing games.


Everyone knows this one. It’s in all the rule books: it’s just a game, don’t take it too seriously. When the rules fail you, make a decision to keep the game moving and to keep it fun.

What many people may miss is that “fun” is very different for different people. For some people fun is driving out to a fair to get ice cream and to play ring toss with their children. For others, fun is having a total stranger wearing a latex mask perform bodily functions on them. Similarly, no single game system or style of play is going to appeal to everyone. One player's "fun" is another player's "oh-my-god-if-you-describe-your-character's-jiggling-bosom-one-more-time-I'm-going-to-punch-you."

For some players, fun is kicking open the door, rolling buckets of dice, and having the GM tell them how many experience points and how much treasure they won. For others, it’s weaving a long and intricate story while fully immersing themselves in their character and gently dabbing the tears from their eyes as their comrades applaud their masterful performance. Some people even have fun arguing endlessly about the rules. For example: whether or not they can actually shoot the gun out of the bad-guy’s hand while blindfolded and riding a horse, whose reins are in their teeth because they are simultaneously fighting off a knife-wielding bandit with their other hand.

Well, this guy could do it, anyway.

Because there are so many different definitions of “fun,” we need the second and I believe far more important rule:


This goes for GM’s and players alike. If you’re enjoying yourself while everyone else is bored and/or frustrated, what’s the point of playing a social game? Why not just go jerk off? Seriously. If you’re a GM running an adventure/campaign into which you have put hours of work but which your players don’t enjoy, then you’re doing something wrong. Or maybe you're just in the wrong group. If you’re a player being a git to get attention and trying to be funny but you’re just annoying everyone else, then you’re also doing something wrong.

I played at an organized event a while back where someone showed up expecting to DM, but because we were short on players he ended up joining the party. He obviously didn’t want to be a player, and subsequently acted like a jacakass all afternoon.

Now, it is customary for a GM who doesn’t get to play much to act up a little when he gets on the other side of the screen. It’s okay and even expected to harass your GM a little bit (especially if they’re new and look like a crier). It’s not okay to attempt to derail the game by wasting time and going out of your way to actively screw up the adventure for everyone else. Wandering off on personal (useless) missions, harassing or outright attacking NPCs without provocation, and stealing the focus from everyone else when they attempt to do something productive or fun are all really jerky things to do at any table.

Everyone is there to work together and have a good time. Be respectful of the other players. Some tables may enjoy beating up/maiming/killing/pillaging NPCs for no reason, or arguing for hours about whether or not that goblin sharpshooter has line of sight to their warlock. Many do not however, so if you find yourself in a situation where everyone around you looks bored or annoyed, ask yourself if you could be doing something differently. The answer may surprise you.

Are these guys having fun? No, really, I can't tell.

Actually, these rules apply to any game master or player, regardless of age, but I wish someone had explained them to me when I was a teenager.
Does anyone else have suggestions for having fun at the game table? Or even better, stories about people who thought they were having fun but were actually annoying/embarrassing/pissing off everyone else at the table? (Bonus points if the annoying player was you). John posted some great rules for new players a couple of days ago. After you've master these, you may want to think about those.

Like this?


  1. Actually they were having fun, I loved that episode of Freaks and Geeks ;)

  2. Elwyn needs a miniFebruary 08, 2011

    Solid advice. Unfortunately the person who's acting like a dick and ruining the game almost never picks up on that fact. Gee, I hope it isn't me...hey! wait a minute!

  3. Book_ScorpionFebruary 08, 2011

    I can't claim the bonus points (I hope), but one of my groups once had to live through a few sessions with the girlfriend of the GM. And she didn't like for anything bad happen to her character. So it was a case of babying her character and rewarding her for anything she did, paying attention to her at all times ect. which annoyed the hell out of all of us. Including the GM, but "she's my girlfriend". Groan. Lucky for us, she grew bored after a few sessions.

    12 players...wow. We have had up to eight players and for some reason, with this particular group it works well, but normally I prefer 5 players max.

  4. CDGallant_KingFebruary 08, 2011

    Did you see the D&D episode of Community last week? Not one of their best episodes, but still pretty funny.

  5. CDGallant_KingFebruary 08, 2011

    I said nothing. :-)

  6. CDGallant_KingFebruary 08, 2011

    I've played with family members and S.O.'s and it has generally been fine, but I can see where that would be awful. Hilarious, but awful.

    With 12 players it just ends up being slow and boring. It's impossible to keep that many people entertained at one time. You would be much better off splitting into two groups but unfortunately at the time no one else wanted to GM. Five is a good number, though I've been leaning lately to more "intimate" groups of 3 or 4. Maybe because that's all the players I can find.

  7. He had to make that comment about family and SO's, as he knows we read this...But we all know that it can be tough to DM a group of noobs who haven't figured out all the rules / combat options / strategies yet. But we've had a heck of a lot of fun along the way (with only minor quabbles about whether or not a particular acrobatic feat is possible / probable / necessary for a non-ninja!).

  8. Book_ScorpionFebruary 09, 2011

    I made a rule for a while out of not playing with S.O.s after that and one other pretty awful experience with my own S.O. at the time, but I changed that to not playing with people who can't stand to lose. I played a game of Settlers of Catan with the pair I mentioned and they had such a row when she was beginning to lose and he did not help her. I'm glad we didn't play Munchkin.

  9. Great article!

    I grew up with four siblings, so we quickly learned the benefits of Rule #2. We always strove to include everyone in whatever activity we were doing, and tried our best to make sure it was enjoyable for each one of us. After all, if everyone was having fun, we all had fun. It's a fundamental lesson that can be applied to anything in life, and is especially prevalent in gaming.

  10. CDGallant_KingFebruary 09, 2011

    Hey, you guys aren't that bad. And you're getting better! Hopefully you're looking forward to next session - it's going to be interesting. Someone requested singing and/or dancing...

  11. CDGallant_KingFebruary 09, 2011

    I didn't really plan to be so deep with my interpretation, but I guess you're right. I mean, you had to learn the hard way with that many siblings, but alot of stuff in life would be way easier if people took the interests and concerns of those around them under consideration before they acted like a prick. Thank you for sharing!

  12. I always have fun gaming... the alternative is to sit in my house and stare at the wall, so whatever the DM wants is fine by me

  13. CDGallant_KingFebruary 14, 2011

    You should have higher standards. You've been doing this long enough that you should know what you like and ask for it. If you have any suggestions, please feel free to share them. Trust me, I've sat at enough bad games to hate the idea that someone is sitting in a bad one of mine.

  14. HappyWifeJune 21, 2011

    I don't think that it's a couple issue.  I play RPGs with my husband all the time...it's great for our relationship that we share a common interest. Some couples just make for horrible socializing...I once played an RPG with a married couple who left the room to tear a piece out of one another.  Unfortunately, the baby monitor was on....yikes. 

    And of course, RPGs with an SO can be fun in lots of ways that I won't go into here.  I suggest you think about it!

  15. Book_ScorpionJune 22, 2011

    I've been playing with my Mr Bookscorpion for a couple of years now and it works really well, so far I haven't played with any other couples again. But I've made up this rule for myself of playing at least a game of Munchkin with anyone I'm thinking about inviting to one of my rounds. That weeds out the "I cannot stand to lose"-types and the "I can't laugh about myself"-types equally well ;)

  16. I once played with two couples where the girl from one couple had just broken off an engagement with the guy from the other couple a few weeks prior. So when her ex ticked her off she said "Excuse us for a moment." grabbed the new boyfriend's hand, went into their room and started having loud sex. So then the other couple went into their room and did the same, yes these morons were still living together. So the rest of us packed up our dice, left a note, and went home. I think that has to be my most awkward gaming with couples experience.

    As far as things I was a part of, I DID used to have a boyfriend when I was 19 that would get jealous if any of my characters became involved with any body else's character but his.


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