“The GM is always right.” Right?
In the heat of the moment, yes. But in the calmer spaces between sessions, no. And it’s okay to be wrong sometimes.
Enshrined as either Rule One or Rule Zero, depending on your preference, the idea that you, as the GM, are always right is pretty pervasive.
And when it comes down to rules calls, on-the-spot judgments and anything else you might do to keep the gaming moving, it’s true.
Even then, though, many RPGs advise revisiting on-the-spot calls after the game, so that you can evaluate them when there’s no momentum to maintain and nothing on the line.
That’s good advice when it comes to pre-game and between-session decisions too, especially house rules. It can be tempting to stick to your guns because you don’t want to seem wishy-washy, or because you’re stubborn, or because you feel strongly about something.
But sticking to your guns isn’t always the best idea.
House rules are a good example. Something you decided before the campaign began could turn out to be a) flat-out wrong, b) right, but not much fun for your players or c) in need of some tweaking.
That’s the benefit of hindsight, and there’s nothing wrong with re-evaluating a decision and changing your mind. Like adjusting difficulty on the fly, flexibility is one of the big advantages tabletop RPGs have over video games.
Plot, story and world-related decisions can be just as flawed. In a D&D campaign I ran a couple of years ago, I made two big mistakes along these lines — both related to being an incredibly stubborn person. They’re described in the Urban Adventures thread on the TT forums.
At the same time, you don’t want to roll over like a hot dog every time you’re not sure about a decision, or every time one of your players asks you to reconsider. (The latter is especially true if you have a player who likes to bend the rules to the breaking point.)
Instead, strike a balance. Give your decisions a fair shake, but don’t be afraid to reverse them. Your players just might thank you for it.
Great post, Martin. I think this whole issue is tied to the idea that confidence is a skill you have to develop as a key part of the GM’s toolkit. You have to be confident enough to make a call on the spot, even if it is wrong. But past that you have to be confident enough that you can admit mistakes to the players without undermining your authority as GM.
I’ve never bought the “GM is always right line,” even when it applies to a decision that feels like it needs to be made quickly. By adopting the position that a GM is simply correct for the sake of expediency, you’ll find that decisions are going to be made which can greatly disrupt a game’s flow and fun. They can turn a battle against the characters, cause unnecessary resource expenditure, completely change the outcomes of social encounters, and more.
It is essential that a GM who has made a bad call be willing to reverse it when he realizes his error, but it is just as important that a GM accepts the wisdom of his players before he makes these calls. Players often know the rules as well as the GM and often better, particularly when it comes to how the abilities of their characters function.
For me — and many others I suspect — it isn’t so much about “being right” as it is about “being consistant” (and fair). This puts me in the situation where I may not always be right, but at least I’m consistantly wrong. 😉
On expediency: if something is degenerating into a lengthy rules argument, someone needs to be able to call a halt to it, make a ruling, and move on. I suppose in the GMless games, you can vote. Or in Universalis, you spend coins and whoever spends the most coins gets to make the ruling (of course fewer, more universal, rules make for less likelyhood of a rules debate in the first place).
On the other hand, the GM does need to be willing to reconsider a rules decision outside of game session time. Players should make an argument, and the GM should consider it. In these days of e-mail, that can be easier because the player can take his time to compose a good rebuttal, making references (by page number) to the rules.
Consistency is important (though refusing to reconsider a ruling just to maintain conistency is also unfair). One consideration – if the NPCs got to use an unfair ruling against the PCs, allow one last opportunity for the PCs to use the unfair ruling against the NPCs.
Well said Martin, especially about revisiting decisions on house rules. After you’ve struggled to get your group to include a rule, it can be hard to back down and admit it isn’t working. For everyone’s fun, it’s good to admit you’re wrong and return to the standard whenever necessary.
At least for me, the tough part isn’t reversing rules decisions — that’s easy. I’ve nearly always had a player in my groups that knows the rules inside out, and knows many of them better than I do.
The hard part is reversing decisions that fell more personal or POV-based, especially house rules.