In honor of GM’s Day, I’d like to help out the beleaguered GMs out there with some universal advice on how to be polite. Players, this applies to you, too!

The Golden Rule: Treat others as you would have them treat you. There’s a reason this formula shows up in almost every human culture.

Some general guidelines:

  • Bathe daily, even if you’re at Gen Con. Hell, especially if you’re at Gen Con.
  • Wear some kind of deodorant. If you think you don’t smell, you’re wrong; you’ve just gotten used to it.
  • Brush your teeth on a regular basis. Especially after coffee and strong meals. Especially if you smoke.
  • Say “Please” and “Thank you”. It’s amazing how much smoother things are when people are nice to each other.
  • Smile. It puts your friends at ease and freaks the hell out of you enemies.
  • Treat others as people. Look them in the eye, but not aggressively. Be sympathetic to their situation, even if it has little or no bearing on yours.
  • Treat other people’s stuff better than you’d treat your own. Ask before borrowing it, even if they’ve let you borrow it before.
  • Take responsibility for your mistakes. Saying, “I have no excuse; it’s my fault.” will end a chewing-out much faster than any excuse, even if it’s valid.
  • Praise publicly, criticize privately.
  • Don’t cut other people off, even if you know what they’re going to say. You’ve got two ears and only one mouth, so listen twice as much as you speak.  (Vincent van Gogh, this doesn’t apply to you.)

Disagreements are inevitable, especially at a gaming table. But when it comes to disagreement, don’t be disagreeable. Some pointers on how to resolve a disagreement and still remain friends:

  • The point of a discussion is to find the best solution to the problem. It is not to win the argument.
  • Sometimes, the worst time to hash out a disagreement is mid-game. Be willing to accept an interim ruling and discuss it later.
  • When disagreements occur, state your case briefly, politely, and logically. Then be quiet and let the other sides speak. You do not win arguments by shouting down the opposition, despite what you may have learned from family, friends, and Jerry Springer.
  • You do not win arguments by calling people names. Attack the argument, not the speaker.
  • Try to see things from the other point of view, and try to restate their case in a manner that makes sense to you.
  • One of the smoothest ways to point out flaws in someone else’s argument is to ask questions that point out the contradictions in it. (See: Socratic Method, or any given episode of House MD. Do not take politeness lessons from Dr. House, however.)
  • If you’re not taking up one side or another in a discussion, try to facilitate it by ensuring that each side gets a chance to have their say. GMs, you are the ‘default leader’ of the group; use your power wisely.
  • Give your opponent a ‘way out’, so that they can retreat honorably without admitting defeat. “Are you confusing Burst with Spread?” sounds much better than, “You’re a fucking idiot.”
  • If you lose the discussion, lose gracefully. “I don’t agree, but the consensus (or GM or whatever) is that it works that way, so that’s enough for me.” And then shut up and deal with it.
  • If you win the discussion, win gracefully. It’s okay if the other side doesn’t agree with you, only that they are willing to accept the decision. We geeks sometimes feel the need to convince people of our point of view; ignore that need.

Feel free to send this link to anyone who needs it. One of my crusades is to banish the reputation of gamers as rude and argumentative social misfits, and to do that, we first need to put our own house in order.