Continuing our informal series on bad GMing (which began with My Girlfriend is AC 100 and Gandalf Flies in on His Gold Dragon…Again), here’s another classic example of GMing gone wrong: “My way or the highway.

This one’s tricky because in moderation, it’s actually a very useful approach to GMing — GMs are authority figures in nearly every RPG out there (as well as in most gaming groups), and you need to exercise a degree of control.

But when moderation goes out the window, along with fairness and perspective, it’s not hard to spot:

  • One meeeelyun house rules.
  • Extensive pre-campaign guidelines.
  • “No you can’t” outnumbers “Sure, but it’s going to be tough.”
  • Pouting.
  • You can hear another train coming up the rails behind you.

Having tons of house rules, writing up novel-length campaign guidelines and the tendency to say “no” too often can also point to abused GM syndrome (which is related to abused player syndrome). Abused GM syndrome (AGMS) comes from running games for bad groups for too long.

For example, I’ve known GMs who made a shitload of house rules because they were used to playing with powergamers, and needed to plug every loophole. Whose fault is that? Everyone’s, really — not just the GM’s.

Railroading (the fifth item on the list above) isn’t inherently a bad thing — it’s a great way to start a game with a new group, or when learning a new system. And some groups continue to enjoy it for years afterwards, too.

But when an NPC comes along once per session, puts a ring in each PC’s nose, and then leads them to the preordained conclusion of the GM’s kewl story, that’s a problem.

I’m not much of a pouter myself, and I rarely say no when “yes, with a really high difficulty” is an option — but I have had some pretty long campaign guidelines in the past. Ditto with house rules, although that stems more from my desire to tinker than from needing to plug loopholes. I definitely don’t have AGMS — my GMing stints for bad groups have been brief and very infrequent.

How about you — do you have abused GM syndrome (AGMS), or have you gamed with a GM who did? I think ruling with an iron fist — essentially, being a control freak — is one very clear sign of AGMS — do you agree?