GMs put a lot of effort into running  an RPG – some more than others. All too often, folk regard GMs as the ones that should be doing EVERYTHING for a gaming group. So I started think of what we, as GMs, are responsible for; before, during, or after the game. And a few a misconceptions people have about a GM’s duties – from both players and GMs. This is probably going to turn into something of a rant!

Finding, and booking a venue should be a group activity, not just relying upon the GM (who may be too busy during the week). If the venue charges to play then the cost should be shared among the group. In the same way, clearing up afterwards should be done by both GM and players – especially if it involves moving furniture or clearing tables!

Getting a group organised often falls to the GM. There’s a certain amount of practicality involved in that, but it can also easily be accomplished through a meet-up (ORC Edinburgh, the Pathfinder Society, the ENworld forums are some examples). Ideally the GM should have some of  the contact details of all his players – if the game is cancelled or he’s running late, he can let them know.

And that brings me on the next topic: timekeeping. Unlike Gandalf, GMs should be punctual. Turn up at the arranged time, or earlier. Don’t keep your players waiting, and be realistic about start and finish times – not everyone can play for 12 hours for example (nor should that be expected). Four hours is best, but a window on either side is a good safety margin – usually to take care the tardy players, rambling conversations, displaying of cool stuff just bought, etc.

Providing rulebooks, miniatures, and food is not down to the GM. They have already invested a certain amount of time in planning the game. Even the most basic of games require a GM to at least read ahead and perhaps anticipate what the players may do (good luck with that). The GM shouldn’t have to carry a ton of books, and the players should have access to their own books (or on tablet etc), especially if they’re constantly being referenced during the session (Pathfinder!).

Writing up the session is not just a GM’s task. Session write-ups are not something I do any more – instead I give XP rewards to players who write up the session. There’s a number of reasons for this:

  1. It is incredibly time-consuming.
  2. Your players (in committee) usually have a better memory than you do.
  3. The players were there.
  4. Writing it from the PC’s perspective can really add to a game’s sense of inclusion.

I look at session write-ups as something of a vanity endeavour on a GM’s part as a result. Actually planning the gaming session and/or writing are far better uses of my time.  The players (those who turned up!) will largely remember what happened. There’s probably those who’d say “But it keeps the group immersed in the game!”. And that’s the problem right there. Immersion. Or the perception of it. RPGs are, by nature, already “immersive”. Part of being a GM is to keep the players “immersed” in the first place!

The GM has a duty to keep everybody involved, even the quieter players. Letting everyone have their turn and occasionally getting the more excitable players to calm down and let the other players (and possibly the GM) get a word in edgeways. Being a GM means being an adjudicator and referee, but be fair. Don’t sideline a player simply because they’re not doing what you want as GM.

Poor player attendance is a tricky one that all GMs have to deal with at some point. There’s no easy way to deal with a player who frequently fails to turn up or cancels at the last minute. There’s no hard and fast rule to deal with this. You take the player aside and find out if there’s an underlying issue regarding the game (but see below!) or the group. The GM (or another player) could also play the PC. With that in mind no player’s attendance should be critical to your game – if you haven’t got enough players, and have enough time to prepare, run an Interlude – perhaps featuring The Other Guys. I usually aim to have 6 players for my games, as there are usually two who drop out later or decide the game isn’t for them. If you game is running with 50% players every session  you may want to get some more or look at your game schedule (weekdays are especially bad for many regular games).

People can get excited during games, and often players can lose their tempers (as can GMs! A GM should never lose their temper and shout or berate their players.). As such a GM, should be prepared to step in and try and defuse these situations – you don’t have to put them in a “time-out”, but should be adroit enough to ask them to calm down. Remember if you’re in a public venue such as a cafe or pub, local staff may get complains or become concerned enough to intervene. Any physical threats should be treated seriously – it’s rare, but has happened in some groups I know. If it gets physical – give them a verbal warning and call the police if  need be. If you have to, get the arguing players split up, and come back to them when they’ve calmed down.

GMs and their players are often friends, but some GMs just want to turn up, run a game, and go home. They don’t want to obsess about the game they run or be stalked by their players during their lunch hour. Respect their boundaries; and as GM, respect your players. If one player is making inappropriate suggestions  or making other players uncomfortable, have a private word with them. If they make you uncomfortable, chances are the players are feeling it too.

Gamers have the reputation of being socially awkward. This is completely wrong in my experience – six strangers meet in a pub for the first time, with no idea as to who the others are. The tradition of adventurers meeting in a tavern holds true in real life. Relationships can be formed in games, not just friendships! However as a GM, don’t abuse your position, and don’t play favourites. Seriously. Or a player and GM have an epic falling-out mid-game due to their actions in real-life or in-game.  I’ve also seen GMs hit on players in the past during games. Their interest isn’t always appreciated and it usually makes ME uncomfortable. You’re a GM, not a cult leader, so let people have private lives outside your game.

Well, that was something of a rant. Hopefully I’ve not offended any of my players past or present – no one should be harmed by the reading of this post.

Published by Bill Heron

Wannabe game designer and would-be author. I've been playing RPGs for over 25 years and have recently started creating my own RPG called Mandragora: Ashes of Freedom. I also run a number of RPGs: Cthulhutech, Call of Cthulhu, WFRP, and D&D. I'm active in the Edinburgh RPG community at and regularly play RPGs.