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Never Make This Mistake

The worst GM that I ever played with was an idiot of such profound magnitude that I cannot begin to find words that would adequately describe the stupidity unleashed upon the world by the three pounds of excrement that resided in his skull in place of a brain. This event took place about four years ago, but it is still so fresh in my mind that I want to share it with all of our Gnome Stew readers even though I sincerely hope that none of you need to learn its lesson. I have contemplated writing this article ever since Gnome Stew launched and I hope you understand why despite being an obvious message that I feel that this must be shared.

A friend had vouched for the worst GM ever and praised his Twilight 2000 game as one of the best gaming experiences that he had ever had. I had not played that game since my twenties, so I eagerly accepted an invitation to join the game. The GM’s apartment did not betray his lack of higher mental functions as it was organized and well kept. There was no reason to be concerned upon entering the moron’s abode. In fact, the GM did run a fun game with a nice plot, convincing NPCs, and interesting encounters.

Why the only thing that this GM did that ruined this rather pleasant game was to produce a pistol halfway through the game.

Not a toy. Not a non-firing replica. The GM brought one of his fully functional pistols out of his bedroom to use as a prop during the game.

I enjoy going to the range and shooting paper targets or skeet shooting when I have the opportunity to do so. As my children grow older and the biometric locks improve I often consider buying a firearm once again and to return to the hunting of small game. One of the best times that I had with my younger brother was when we went to an indoor range to just hangout and practice firing handguns upon his return from the Army. I look forward to this summer when I visit with friends and we might find some time to go to the range to fire a few rounds. I am no stranger to firearms.

And the first rule of firearms is to treat all firearms as if they are loaded [1].

It does not matter that the GM assured us that the pistol was not loaded. It does not matter that the GM showed us that the pistol was not loaded. You never use an actual weapon as a prop. You never treat a firearm as if it were not a loaded weapon. These rules have no exceptions.

I know two police officers who despite years of service unintentionally fired their weapons while handling them (one while preparing to clean his firearm, the other while holstering his firearm resulting in a self-inflicted gunshot wound). This impacted their careers despite neither incident resulting in harm to another person. This person’s career ended [2] when he accidentally fired his own weapon in front of a classroom full of kids [3]. He shot himself in the leg, and thankfully did not harm any of the children. These three examples all involved law enforcement professionals who due to carelessness fired a weapon unexpectedly. In two of these three examples the person handling the firearm believed that the weapon was not loaded.

The worst GM I ever played with was not associated with law enforcement in any way (even if he was it would not have made a difference in any way whatsoever). In his own words "I love guns. They are my toys!" Now that statement by itself means nothing about how a person handles firearms, but that statement combined with the idiotic actions of the worst GM ever spoke volumes to me.

I left that game almost immediately after the pistol came out. Does that make me a coward? I really do not care. I suggested to my friend that he no longer attend the game either, but he still played in that game until eventually he too became concerned about the safety of that environment. Seems that the worst GM ever used the game to regularly show off the latest addition to his firearms collection

I do not know of anyone being harmed in that gaming group. I have no idea if that game is still going on. I hope that it is not.

I apologize to all of you in advance for the lesson that I share with you today. It is so basic and simple that it really should not need to be said at all, but somewhere out there someone needs to learn it before he or she harms another person:

Weapons are not props.

Collect swords? Keep them in your collection. They are not props. Have a kitchen knife that is exactly like the one you envision the homicidal bad guy using in your game? Keep it away from your gaming table. It is not a prop. Own firearms? Keep them locked and secured. They are not props.

Why did I finally write this article? Last October a gamer brought in his fully functional flintlock rifle as part of his costume for the annual Halloween game night at my local game shop (the owners had no idea, but upon discovering what was going on had him return it to his automobile). This gamer apparently is a re-enactor in Revolutionary War battles. So what? That is no excuse for treating any form of a weapon as a prop, and other re-enactors that I know agree. They treat their firearms like firearms, and their props like props.

But I have now met two gamers who treated a firearm as a prop. I hope that I never meet a third.

Again, I apologize if this offends anyone’s intelligence. I know that the tone is preachy. But if reading this article prevents a single accident at a gaming table or anywhere else it is worth it.

Have a similar story to share? I wish that you did not, but please do tell us about it in the comments section below. Think you know of an exception to the rule of "Weapons are not props." at the game table? Do not bother. There are none.

48 Comments (Open | Close)

48 Comments To "Never Make This Mistake"

#1 Comment By Don Mappin On January 27, 2011 @ 12:53 am

Not having played/met/knowing the person in question I can’t say with any certainty, but referring to a person as “the worst GM…ever,” an “idiot of such profound magnitude,” or “betray[ing] his lack of higher mental functions” seems incredibly unfair and over the top. A colossal lack of judgement? Certainly. An idiot or the worst GM ever? Likely not.

I can’t help wonder if anyone actually spoke to him about the dangers of firearms. Did you have this frank discussion with him? Does he understand the danger he’s placing his fellow players in?

You say you left the game “almost immediately.” Did the firearm come out and you picked up your stuff and left? An hour later? A session later? Did you tell the GM why? What was their response?

It sure sounds like an unfortunate situation. I hope someone sat both people down and calmly, rationally, explained to them the dangers and what they were doing wrong. Otherwise, how else are they supposed to learn?

And on Saturday I will definitely make sure the safety is on my phaser. 😉

#2 Comment By Bercilac On January 27, 2011 @ 12:58 am

Wow… That’s not even a gaming issue. That just seems a bit weird. If a group of people were over at your house for any other social occasion, would you just casually pull a gun in the middle of the conversation? Unless it were a meeting of the gun club, I think that would be regarded as a faux pas… I think I’m underreacting to this example a bit, in all honesty. Having never owned a gun, it’s never been my responsibility to learn to handle them safely. But my step-dad does shooting, so I understand the whole spiderman (power/responsibility) thang. I think your… encounter crossed the line between someone with an interest in firearms and the stereotypical gun nut (I have a gun, so I’ll flail it around in really stupid irresponsible ways). I imagine if I were sitting at that table I’d have left too, and more closely identified all gun-owners with gun-nuts to boot.

Sorry that happened. Must have left a pretty sour taste in your mouth.

#3 Comment By Bercilac On January 27, 2011 @ 12:59 am

[8] – Ahhhh ha ha ha…

#4 Comment By The_Gun_Nut On January 27, 2011 @ 1:54 am

The only thing I have ever done with any weapon was to show a picture of said weapon to my group. I own a pair of firearms and the ubiquitous replica katana. While I MIGHT show my group what the weapons look like if I actually owned anything noteworthy (everyone knows what a shotgun or a katana looks like), they would get put back immediately and NOT touched by anyone. The only time my firearms get handled is for servicing and the range.

Using any weapon as a prop, and letting them out of your hands, is simply too dangerous.

#5 Comment By Rob Lang On January 27, 2011 @ 3:44 am

Come on, Gnome Stew, this article isn’t about GMing! I was hoping to read about terrible GM mistakes that I might make myself (and avoid). I can’t see that this article is useful to anyone – those missing the wherewithal to understand it’s bad to treat firearms as toys are unlikely to take heed from this post.

#6 Comment By Cloudyone On January 27, 2011 @ 4:17 am

Good article about gun/weapon safety–but not really a good article on DMing per se. Personally, I have shown my longbow and an arrow with blunt target point to my gaming group. However, I did not string the bow and I put the arrow back in the basement after everyone had a look. I would say guns are clearly out of the question as props and even edged and pointed weapons are not to be left lying around or messed about with casually.

#7 Comment By Hawkesong On January 27, 2011 @ 7:34 am

I think his point is about weapon safety, not GM-ing…and yet at the same time, this fellow’s mistaken attitude about his guns is something that could extend to other things in his gaming.

I do hope that someone tried to enlighten these misguided folks. I was unfortunate enough to be involved in a near-shooting – a man grabbed me and held a gun to my head, then tried to play off his actions by pointing out that the gun wasn’t loaded. You can imagine how forgiving anyone was of that.

I can see this relating to GM-ing however, as it brings up the point that GMs, as hosts or simply as leaders of the group for their games, are responsible on some level for the safety of their players. I would extend this to not only include the obvious things like guns and knives, but things like fire – if you’re gonna have candles at the table, make sure you also have ways to put out a sudden fire should the candle fall onto someone’s papers. That seems pretty idiot-obvious to me, but then again, some folks don’t consider it. Or they think “Oh, if the candle tips, it’ll put itself out. No reason to worry.”

Or, an even less obvious problem: allergens. Let’s say you’re GM-ing for some folks, and you put out snack food. Peanuts as minion tokens, perhaps.

And one of your players has a heretofore unknown peanut allergy.

Now, no one would blame you if Peanut Allergy Man gets sick – you didn’t know, he didn’t know – but at the same time, wouldn’t you feel bad? Wouldn’t you feel at least a little responsible?

Your gaming group is your community. If they’re not quite your brothers and sisters, they’re certainly your cousins in spirit.

Bringing out your gun, your sword, your dangerous toy, is not something you’d just casually do, if you were showing the item to your brother. You’d be careful, you’d take precautions, you’d be respectful of the weapon and of your family.

Or maybe you wouldn’t. There are plenty of tragic stories in the news about that kind of thing, aren’t there? -.-

A game master is responsible for his players. Just as with guns, there are no exceptions to this rule. It is YOUR JOB as GM to protect your players from dangerous toys. It is YOUR JOB to care what happens to them while they’re in your sphere, namely the game session.

Acting any other way is shooting yourself in the foot.

Though…hopefully not literally.

#8 Comment By Ravenbow On January 27, 2011 @ 7:39 am

[9] – Indeed. Useless article.

#9 Comment By jonboywalton On January 27, 2011 @ 8:07 am

For what it’s worth, if someone pulled out a real gun, knife, police truncheon, meat-cleaver or poison-tipped blow-dart, I’d be getting the hell out of Dodge too, and I wouldn’t be hanging around to debate pros and cons.

Having said that, I think I have a contender for worst GM ever – a guy I was in high school with. It was a Red Letter day when the session didn’t finish with a TPK and a bunch of stunned fourteen year-olds, all because of some perceived slight at the table. A different kind of dick, but a dick nonetheless.

#10 Comment By Martin Ralya On January 27, 2011 @ 8:19 am

[9] – It wasn’t the kind of mistake I expected to read about when I clicked on the article either, but at the end of the day this is an incident of poor judgment made by a GM in service of the game. That’s not the same as, say, letting your pet GMPC run roughshod over the PCs, but I do see it as sitting at the intersection of poor judgment and GMing (if not actually poor GMing).

It’s comparable to saying “Don’t refer to all your players as ‘Fucknuts'” — that’s not a GMing issue as much as it is a you’re-an-asshole issue, but it would impact your GMing. 😉

#11 Comment By Martin Ralya On January 27, 2011 @ 8:20 am

[8] – I just looked, and my phaser doesn’t have a safety. Talk about an optimistic vision of the future!

#12 Comment By Patrick Benson On January 27, 2011 @ 8:51 am

Again, I apologize to those of you who feel that this article is inappropriate for this site. I have been inclined to write about this for Gnome Stew ever since Gnome Stew was launched. I always restrained that inclination because I felt that the topic was not tied strongly to GMing/gaming.

When I saw the guy with the flintlock my mind was changed. I decided that this article did have merit. Sometimes the obvious needs to be said. It still took a while to actually write the article.

The catalysts for this article were incidents with firearms, but as I wrote it I realized that I had seen the same thing happen at other tables with replica weapons that could still cause serious injury or even death. I firmly believe that any weapon should not be used as a prop.

As for what I did following the pistol coming out in the first incident, well I did as I was taught to do as a teenager when you see a firearm being handled poorly. If you are in immediate danger leave and call the police. Otherwise don’t panic, try to start a dialog to explain the 4 rules of firearms, and if the person is unreceptive leave the area. Don’t argue and do not try to gain control of the firearm by force.

I may have crossed the line here with this article, but I would not do so on purpose. I hope you fans of Gnome Stew understand this. Thanks!

#13 Comment By Alan De Smet On January 27, 2011 @ 9:18 am

To tie this perhaps a bit more tightly to gaming: Prop weapons are a subject you need to ask about before bringing them to the table.

People who have been victims of weapon violence (gun, knife, whatever), have friends or family who were victims, or were threatened with weapons may have serious problems with a prop weapon. To grossly oversimplify things, victims of weapon violence can suffer PTSD, and your prop may trigger it. More mild cases can still leave victims extremely anxious and uncomfortable, and gaming should be fun, not unwillingly uncomfortable.

This is more likely to come up in a LARP, but I’ve seen it become a problem at a tabletop game as well. You can’t be sure who might have a problem; I only discovered that a friend had this problem when a prop firearm at a game caused them considerable stress. So ask first! When phrasing the question, be careful that your question doesn’t imply that the prop is “right” or the default and thus discouraging dissent.

Come to think of it, this might make a good Gnome Stew article: What sort of things do you need to ask before introducing into your game? Possible thing would include prop weapons, violence in general, violence against specific groups (children, women), racism, consensual sex, sexual assault, torture. And you might have different answers for actions that occur off-screen versus on-screen (the difference between finding a body versus seeing the murder).

#14 Comment By TwoShedsJackson On January 27, 2011 @ 9:19 am

Thanks for the tip — it’s conceivable that someone may even learn from it. Ignore the critics. The worst that happens is that they get so irritated by your terrible article that they go start their own blog and write DM articles for it. Or maybe they do nothing — I forget which is worse.

#15 Comment By MonsterMike On January 27, 2011 @ 9:35 am

The day that me and my best friend (and fellow gamer) moved into the dorm at college, he unpacked a .32 revolver and said, “Look what I brought!” or words to that effect. He then pointed it right at my face. I asked him, calmly, to please not point it at me. His reply, “Oh it’s okay, it’s not loaded. See?” He then aimed the pistol about six inches to the right of my head and pulled the trigger. Bang! – the bullet went past my head and through the plate glass window of the dorm room. (And off into an unoccupied wooded hillside, thankfully.)

Our friendship ended soon after.

While I agree that _most_ GM’s would know better, and therefore that _most_ GM’s would not find this article useful, I think it needs to be put out there just the same. There are plenty of irresponsible and untrained people out there with access to guns and other real weapons. Some of them are gamers. Some of them may not know any better, but still read this worthy blog.

If you own, or have access to a firearm, please take a safety class. Keep it locked up. Use it responsibly. Don’t bring it to the gaming table. Crazy stuff happens. All guns are loaded.

#16 Comment By BryanB On January 27, 2011 @ 10:01 am

Yeah, real world weapon props are a horrible idea. More than ten years ago, I had the opportunity to travel 50 miles to a game ran by a good friend. I hadn’t seen my friend in a while so I was willing to make the long drive and crash at his place for the night, after the game. The day before the game, I got that stupid tickle you get when a cold is coming on. By the evening before the game, I was in full blown summer cold mode. I had to cancel my plans.

It turns out that I missed one of the most bizarre incidents I’ve ever heard about in the local gaming scene. The game being played was a modern RPG, perhaps even Twilight 2000 (I can’t recall). One of the players was a guy who had some mental health issues in the past. He had been discharged from the military due to his health. During the game, the disabled veteran and another player became engaged in an argument about the effectiveness of MACE. The argument escalated beyond the norms of geek banter.

At some point, the GM tried to settle things down and end the debate. The disabled veteran lost it completely when the GM didn’t take his side. The disturbed individual produced a REAL can of MACE and proceeded to spray several players at the table with it. I guess he wanted to prove a point? The GM, a bull of a man, knocked the can of MACE from the disturbed gamers’ hand and then held his arm in a lock before pushing him from his home. Vile threats were made by the disturbed gamer and the police were called in to restore order. The man was taken to a mental health clinic, though no charges were pressed. Four players told me the exact same story, along with the GM’s wife. But I’m kind of glad I missed being there.

Real weapons at the table can only lead to accidents or bizarre things like this story. They don’t belong near a gaming table at all. That said, I don’t think it makes the guy a terrible GM. It just makes him someone using poor judgment. I would have left the game, however, since a real weapon being handled like a prop would have set my departure alarm off to.

I also think matters of gun or weapon safety are always worth mentioning, even on a site about gaming. Until enough people understand weapon safety, there will continue to be preventable accidents.

#17 Comment By drow On January 27, 2011 @ 10:05 am

the only gun that’s not loaded is the one you’re sure was loaded before the zombies attacked.

#18 Comment By Patrick Benson On January 27, 2011 @ 10:07 am

[10] – I think that you have an excellent idea there, and I will work on an article to do it justice.

[11] – Thank you for the words of support. I really appreciate it.

[12] – I am so sorry that you had such an experience, and so thankful that you are still with us to share it.

#19 Comment By Patrick Benson On January 27, 2011 @ 10:13 am

[13] – Wow. Just wow!

[14] – Which is why you should always have a nice heavy blunt object like a crowbar ready for zombie attacks. Just don’t bring it to the gaming table. 😉

Everyone – I understand that others won’t call this GM that I described the “worst GM ever”, and I respect your opinions on that. I honestly don’t care if the guy was the greatest GM I had ever seen. All of that gets wiped away immediately the moment you take the risks that he did. It sends him straight to the bottom of the list for me.

#20 Comment By DNAphil On January 27, 2011 @ 10:31 am

@Alen De Smet brings up a great point. The GMing issue here (putting the complete lack of weapon safety as an issue aside) is talking to players about the use of props in your games.

A few weeks ago, for the launch of my second Corporation game, I allowed one of the players to bring an unloaded airsoft pistol. We all checked it out and held it during the game. It was unloaded and with no ammo in sight. Still we were all careful with it, and did not brandish it around in any scenes. It did add some tactile feel to the game. For the record, I would not have condoned that with a real pistol.

Props at a game, especially prop weapons is a serious topic that should be discussed and everyone’s feelings should be respected on this.

#21 Comment By Patrick Benson On January 27, 2011 @ 10:51 am

[15] – Good point. To me an airsoft pistol is not a weapon although it may cause an injury. I would have no problem with an airsoft pistol that was unloaded being used as a prop. Someone else might consider that just at taboo as a real firearm though, and you need to know those boundaries before you bring a prop to the game.

#22 Comment By Bravemaximus On January 27, 2011 @ 11:17 am

I agree with your point in the article. But I have a question for people: Exactly when is an item considered a weapon? My brother has a prop sword that looks like a claymore, its heavy and metal, looks awesome, but is so fake that the handle wobbles when you pick it up. Technically, its a weapon, but it would make a great prop to say “his sword looks like this.” Now, I would never wave it around, but it does add to the experience having the prop there to show what it looks like. Is that bringing a weapon to the game? Its not even sharp, though you’d probably swear a red stripe if it landed on your foot. Do you consider that to cross the line?

#23 Comment By Patrick Benson On January 27, 2011 @ 11:36 am

[16] – It is combination of what the item is and how it is used at the table (or how it might be used). You have to use your own judgement, but I would say that the fake claymore should not be used as a prop. It can still cause considerable damage if someone were to swing it around. You might not do that, and your players might not do that, but why risk it? Leave the claymore away from the table.

#24 Comment By Lu Bu On January 27, 2011 @ 11:59 am

Well this is the worse story ever i had with gaming. I was playing a game at a friend’s place. This friend is a Marine and has many weapons. He is very smart with his weapons and does not use them as props. However on this evening his roommate thought it would be wise to clean one of his hand guns while he was drunk. The hand gun discharged in the next room was he was cleaning it. It the bullet flew through the door and hit a chair. That chair happens to be empty at the time because the person who was sitting in it was using the rest room at the time. I have never played in that game sense Many of my friend own weapons of some sort mainly for decoration like swords and such and we will point to them if we want to illustrate what a weapon looks like but we never take them down.

#25 Comment By hattymchappy On January 27, 2011 @ 12:01 pm

@All The Complainers – Gnome Stew has great articles every day. If you think today’s topic was a waste of time, save your breath and come back tomorrow. No need to tell Patrick something that he apologized for to begin with.

#26 Comment By Patrick Benson On January 27, 2011 @ 12:54 pm

[17] – I am glad that no one was hurt in the situation that you described. While an outsider to the game might have fired the weapon, it just goes to show that you don’t need an insider to take such a risk either.

[18] – Thank you for pointing out that Gnome Stew has articles daily, and that if we disappoint fans one day we will try to reverse that the very next.

I thank all of you who appreciate this article. I do appreciate the complaints as well though. It is the Gnome Stew community that keeps us writing, and any feedback is good for us.

#27 Comment By Martin Ralya On January 27, 2011 @ 2:22 pm

[18] – Christ, if we pleased every reader every day, I’d know we were doing it wrong! 😉

With 10 authors, we look at things 10 different ways — and with ~5,000 readers, our readers look at things 5,000 different ways. GMing is a big topic with lots of room for different takes on every aspect of the craft; that’s one of the things I enjoy about writing about GMing.

#28 Comment By reemul On January 27, 2011 @ 7:02 pm

From the intro, I was *sure* you had to have been in the “magic dire badgers” game at the Greenville, SC D&D Meetup. There just isn’t any way to top it. Even folks at other tables knew they were in the presence of legend.

But I understand the weapon safety issues – several of the folks at one of the games I’m in are concealed carry licensed, and show off new purchases before games. They’re all put safely away before play starts and never used as props, but I’m still not a fan of one of my buddy’s muzzle control. I don’t care that it’s an airsoft gun. I don’t care that it is non-firable condition. Don’t let the muzzle point toward me. Ever. Or I’ll take it away from you.

LARP is a problem for weapons, too. A convention I used to go to decades ago didn’t limit live steel for con members – they booked the entire hotel for the weekend, you needed a badge to get above the second floor, why not carry a cool sword? Fantasy RP with live blades put holes in the walls every year, the con never got it’s deposit back, and the stairwells were unsafe due to crazies with weapons in mock battles. A claymore doesn’t have to be sharp to be a threat, it could be pot metal that has never had an edge and couldn’t really be sharpened if you try, and it would still kill you from sheer mass hitting a small surface area.

#29 Comment By hanliam On January 28, 2011 @ 12:28 am

Patrick, thank you for writing suchh an article. In the past I have utilized toy guns (Star Wars and Star Trek weapons) and airsoft guns as demonstration props with player consultation in all situations. Unfortunately, I have been in several games where the GM wanted to demonstrate by showing off their sword or knife as a prop. Thankfully no one swung them around, but with some of the personalities in the groups, it was always uncomfortable. The worst situation for me was after an airsoft game, not roleplaying, a friend put a .38 snub against my back to see how I’d react. Needless to say, after he ejected the rounds to show me it had been loaded at the time, that friendship ended rapidly.

While I agree with previous posters that this was a problem of judgment, I also feel that your GM was absolutely terrible. The need to introduce real, potentially lethal items as props without consideration for others in the group or the possible lethality reaches far beyond the bounds of bad judgment. It is a statement that he did not respect the weapons or his group, feeling that the “cool factor” of his new weapon far outweighed the possible threat. Mutual respect among the group is in my opinion at the heart of any good game, and its disregard, again in my personal assessment, makes him one of the most terrible GMs I have ever heard of.

Great job for leaving the game!

#30 Comment By Patrick Benson On January 28, 2011 @ 9:09 am

[19] – I wish I lived in a state with a concealed carry license. I would apply for one. Yet the license does not guarantee that the firearm owner will be responsible. If I were your GM I would require that if you cannot observe strict gun safety practices then you can’t play in the game.

[20] – That is my issue with unsharpened swords at the game table. They may not be blades, but they are still weapons. They are called clubs and if you want to fracture a person’s skull they are very effective. They may not be “weapons” in intent, but neither is a baseball bat. Yet would you swing a baseball bat around at your gaming table? I hope not.

#31 Comment By Matthew J. Neagley On January 28, 2011 @ 2:24 pm

I fail to see where the complaints are coming from. Everyone sit and think for a few minutes. Do you know/know of a gamer who would bring a weapon to the table and wave it around as a prop? Of course you do. We ALL do. If you have the good sense to not do that, than this article clearly isn’t for you. It’s for that other guy.

Further, is this one mistake all it takes to justify calling this guy the worse GM ever? Of course. Think of the worst GM ever from the article of the same title: [21]
Now, who’s game would you rather sit in for a few weeks? The one with a god awful game, or the one where someone may just get shot and die?

#32 Comment By Patrick Benson On January 28, 2011 @ 2:50 pm

[22] – Thanks Matt. That is exactly what my logic is behind this GM being the worst GM ever.

Off the net a person asked me that even though the GM did not respond favorably to my approach of bringing up the four rules of firearm safety why I didn’t sit there and insist on his complying with the four rules. My response startled her, but then she realized why I left “Because he wasn’t listening and was holding a gun.” 🙂

#33 Comment By Squeejee On January 28, 2011 @ 7:53 pm

Very, very true, though I must admit that I’ve made this mistake a few times with a knife. Perhaps, as a weapon lover, it is hard to contain the excitement about owning a new knife or sword or gun – does this excuse stupidity? No, of course not.

I’ve found that the best response to safety issues at the game table is to simply make myself abundantly clear to the owner – I do not take my pocket knife out at the table anymore because it was made clear to me at one point, after all.

Now, if the object in question is an actual prop…

#34 Comment By Squeejee On January 28, 2011 @ 8:18 pm

[23] – To elaborate, I use a prop longsword to illustrate what certain techniques look like to my friends in a Riddle of Steel game. The combat in that game is very involved, and I find that a prop helps players figure out what they want to do – we can’t all read the Nürnberger Handschrift GNM 3227a.

#35 Comment By Patrick Benson On January 28, 2011 @ 11:41 pm

[24] – I am very happy to hear that you do not use weapons as props at your table anymore. Great job!

I agree that if you have a prop of a weapon go ahead and use it to demonstrate things with. I am considering picking up some of the Nerf foam weapons to use in my next D&D game as props. Replicas made of steel even if unsharpened I will not use, because they are still dangerous if swung with enough force.

#36 Comment By hanliam On January 29, 2011 @ 12:44 am

Patrick, those nurf swords do look like great props. I wonder if prop alternatives to increase realism have received much attention. I already have enjoyed your past articles on the subject of props, but that is a different story I suppose. Again, great article!

#37 Comment By Patrick Benson On January 29, 2011 @ 1:43 am

[25] – Thank you for the compliment! I think you just inspired my next video gnoment. 🙂

#38 Comment By suburbaknght On January 29, 2011 @ 10:50 pm

As someone who regularly attends and runs larp events, thank you for writing this article. I’ve bookmarked it and intend to use it as a frequent reference when explaining my “no weapons policy” to new attendees at my games.

#39 Comment By Patrick Benson On January 30, 2011 @ 11:17 am

[26] – Thank you. As mentioned I was very concerned with posting this article, but comments like yours have vindicated its usefulness and purpose. I appreciate that.

#40 Comment By spikexan On January 30, 2011 @ 2:47 pm

Not to make light of your situation (I can’t think of any good reason to whip out weapons at a game either), but I have a comical story to share. Our GM at the time was running Delta Green. He purchased a few high quality mock replicas of pistols, which he passed around the table to the gamers.

My friend Scotty carefully examined his weapon, figured he had located the safety, and pushed in the button. The button was actually the clip release, which let the clip fall square in his, well, I can imagine you can guess.

One quick look of pain on his face followed by a slow exhale of air gave that group of gamers material to poke fun at Scotty about for over a decade now.

Moral: It doesn’t take a real weapon to hurt somebody!

#41 Comment By Karizma On January 30, 2011 @ 3:45 pm

I can understand the *desire* to show a tactile example at the table. But safety isn’t just a button on a firearm, it’s a practice.

My roommate got a recurve bow not too long ago, and was showing me a way to draw the arrow that she learned. She nocked the arrow, and–to show me how her new drawing technique reduces the chance of the arrow falling–she drew the string and pointed the tip straight at me.

“Not cool man” doesn’t cut it sometimes.

#42 Comment By Patrick Benson On January 30, 2011 @ 4:00 pm

[27] – Ha! Thanks for sharing that!

[28] – I will never understand why people do such things. You just don’t point a weapon at a person unless you intend to use it on that person. Find pictures or a video if you want to show how something is done. Use equipment designed to do demonstrations with, or use a prop/toy if you want a more tactile experience.

#43 Comment By Roxysteve On January 31, 2011 @ 9:22 am

Ye gods.

Two stories from my own life.


In a carpark behind a game store I made a remark too some fellow gamers disparaging a member of the local police wrt an off-duty shooting due to his poor judgement and too much testosterone, and one of the group drew his police-issue Glock, pointed it at me and said “what do you say now?”

I’m kinda proud of the fact that I said, “If you fire that thing it will prove my point”, but I then said a few other things to defuse the situation too.

I then made a point to inform another person, whom I knew to be a police officer and colleague of Quick-Draw McGraw and with whom I was friendly, that should I suffer the same situation and survive, I would be calling the police to issue a complaint that I would press with all dispatch. I added the snippet that my wife worked for what was then the most aggressive and successful law firms in the state.


I used to play paintball in the days before automatic 500 round per minute guns, back at the dawn of the sport. One game I went to was delayed because one of the participants had carried in a Rambo-style knife onto the field (I was later told that knives were a constant TOS violation people committed there) and another had dug pits and lined them with Punji Sticks.

All these stories, mine, Patrick’s and all the others, really highlight something we all eventually learn the hard (and hopefully non-injurious) way: That some people cannot tell that an RPG is all made up, and they often have trouble partitioning the in-game stuff from their real world lives.

Sometimes this can tale the form of, say, someone who doesn’t forgive you for lying to him during a game of Diplomacy 15 years before (true story), sometimes it can take the form of people believing that in-character comments or behavior are real world interactions.

And sometimes it can take the form of someone braining someone else with a “blunt” sword because their brain is currently the property of a berserk barbarian from Cimmeria rather than a network admin from Beluga Falls.

Patrick is right. Our hobby often encourages people to pretend they live in a more primitive, lawless and (most importantly) largely consequence-free world, and to do so with all the power of their usually vivid imaginations. Mixing this with anything that is already weaponized is a mistake, and it is worth saying so LOUDLY.

#44 Comment By Patrick Benson On January 31, 2011 @ 1:38 pm

[29] – Thanks for sharing your stories.

I want to make it clear that I do not believe that it is our hobby that is to blame, and I do not believe that is what you are saying either. I also do not blame firearms, nor the providers of any of these items that we are discussing.

I blame the individuals that do such things, and I hope that this article convinces people to either stop using weapons as props or prevents people from ever doing so in the first place.

#45 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On January 31, 2011 @ 10:47 pm

Take a few days to get a tooth replaced, and look what you miss…

I live in Texas, where some studies show that there are far more guns than people. I have some of my own (guns, not people). I occasionally shoot them competitively (again, the guns). Some of my friends have concealed handgun licenses. I also have real swords that are sharp, and carry at least one knife. Before I got old and started herniating cervical vertebrae, I used to train with my blades (full contact Eskrima).

After games, I’ve had a ‘firearms show and tell’, but cleared it with everyone, and went over the Four Rules: (Every gun is loaded. Don’t point a gun at anything you wouldn’t destroy. Be sure of your target and what’s behind it. Finger off the trigger until you want to pull it.)

Despite having all of this at hand and a very hoplophilic attitude, the only thing I ever did that was even questionable was open a pocketknife during an intense RP session. I stepped back from the table, looked around as I built up to the finale, and snapped it open as my character revealed the knife in question (an important plot point). The table’s reaction was mixed; some leaned forward (“Cool!”), and some did a classic double-take, but one player was visibly uncomfortable.

My mistake was assuming that my views on weapons were shared by all of the group. Afterwards, it was cool with everyone (especially after pointing out that I was five feet from the nearest person, and kept the knife close), but at the time, it was a bit of a shock to one player.

And that’s one player too many. Which is why this is a valuable lesson. Don’t make your players uncomfortable, whether through weapons, unwelcome subjects, or bad body odor.

#46 Comment By Patrick Benson On February 1, 2011 @ 4:30 pm

[30] – Thanks for sharing that story. I still think that even if everyone at the table was comfortable with the real knife that your practice set is the better choice to use. We never did find the time for that knife fighting lesson at CotC you were going to give me, so next time we get together be sure to bring them!

And for the record, Kurt is the instructor and the practice set is dull aluminum. 🙂

#47 Comment By kwixson On February 2, 2011 @ 10:31 pm

I think this was a very responsible and appropriate article for you to write. You often, if not always, suggest that GM’s add props to their games. It’s not too far a leap to think that someone might hear or read that advice and think, “Yeah, it would be really intense if I brought out my gun as a prop.” I’m glad you’re on record as unequivocally saying that your prop advice never extends to real weapons. It’s only sensible, and in the context of your previous work quite appropriate to this forum.

#48 Comment By Matthew J. Neagley On February 9, 2011 @ 9:05 pm

So reading up on All Flesh Must be Eaten tonight i come across this snippet:

” the players had no idea what was going to happen or what game we’d be playing. I just told them all that instead of our usual game session we’d have a gamers show-and-tell so bring your favorite weapon. The geeks I game with have either blade or firearm collections…. so they all brought their favorite stuff.

When they got to my place to game I didn’t have any books or anything out. They all sat down and got ready and then I started show-and-tell – everyone gave a little speech about what they brought and why it was important to them. ”


It makes me cringe because in a room full of gamers with swords and guns, there has to be at least ONE who isn’t careful with them.