GMs have a lot of power in most RPGs, and that includes the power to continue personal, out-of-game disputes at the gaming table. For instance:

  • Player: “I’m going to scale the castle wall
  • Crappy GM: “Okay…it’s windy, so that’s +2, and the wall has mildew on it for another +2. Plus your leg still hurts from the last battle, so that’s +3.
  • Player: “It didn’t look mildewy — and what do you mean my leg hurts? Nobody took a called shot on my leg!
  • Crappy GM: “Do you want to roll, or not?

Contuining our “hey, it’s a series” bad GMing theme (My Girlfriend is AC 100, Gandalf Flies in on His Gold Dragon…Again and The Iron Fist and Abused GM Syndrome), here’s another common example: The ball-busting GM.

Along the lines of Crazy Jerome’s comment about being too tough on his girlfriend when he was GMing (rather than too easy), this is basically the flipside of the AC 100 significant other.

And back in high school, boy was I guilty of this one. I started out giving my girlfriend AC 100, and then overcompensated in the other direction and was very hard on her — if she did something even slightly wrong, I jumped down her throat. (Thankfully, that phase of my GMing development is long over.)

More common, though, is taking personal grudges to the gaming table — and this is a player-player thing just as often as it’s a GM-player thing.

Monsters hit more often, difficulties go up and — as with the iron fist — “No” replaces “Sure, but it’ll be tough” more often than not. One player is singled out to get their balls busted, and unlike some of the other bad GMing behaviors we’ve looked at, there’s really no excuse for this one.

The bottom line is that personal grievances should be left at the door when you get together to game — and if you can’t forget about them for four hours, you shouldn’t be gaming together until you can.

Does that sound about right, or do you think there’s more of a gray area here? Have you had any experience with ball-busting GMs, or been one yourself?