Becoming a GM makes you an instant expert and arbiter of taste

I have long had a bit of a problem with RPG rules and gaming advice that require the gamemaster to act as sole judge of good roleplaying and other appropriate play, either to award experience bonuses and other benefits for good play, or to teach lessons and good habits to the feckless and childish players. It has seldom seemed to me that being the gamemaster for the time being gave me a keener understanding and better taste than I had at the times when I was playing a character. And it has almost never seemed to me that any gamemaster in whose game I have played understood how I was playing my character better than I did.

But then, I hardly hold with experience points and other mechanical incentives for good play anyway. It seems to me that the only proper definition of and reward for playing well is that it should be enjoyable.

I’ve played and run quite a few systems that supposedly worked like this, but the rewards generally devolved fairly quickly to “X points if you show up at the session”. Any differentiation beyond that feels like punishing the players.

Though I do give a bonus point (GURPS 4th) for causing me as GM to collapse with laughter.

The first edition of Blue Planet had an xp system where the GM awarded some, but the players secretly voted to awarded others, with a ‘winner’ of that vote getting more xp. That quickly turned nasty, since 2 of the players had fallen out in real life, and the 3rd player always voted with Player 1 to deprive Player 2 of any of those “most votes gets them” xp.

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The groups I played white wolf and hero system with regularly had GM acclaim and Table acclaim XP awards. The table acclaim was public and never turned acrimonious. The public table acclaim XP tradition came out of our LARP days.

It was white wolf LARP on a university campus. The games ran a full school year. The play groups were large.

Humor awards at my table go back to the TSR Marvel heroes game. That’s been a part of gaming textually since I met it.

One of the things I liked about RUNEQUEST was that it relieved me from virtually all responsibility for deciding on player improvement. They got their experience ticks and the chance to do some training and they moaned when they failed to improve.

When some of the versions produced by Mongoose and the Design Whatevertheywerecalled required the GM to ration increase ticks… It fair made me weep.

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I have to say that’s not been my experience.

My usual practice is 1 point for participation, 1 point for progress toward player group goals, and 1 point for roleplaying. Most often all the players get the roleplaying point; I have players who are pretty actively interested in getting into character. I give out the occasional extra 1 point for really good roleplaying, or for the player coming up with something that’s just brilliant. I don’t myself use a player-awarded bonus point, but the GM for a campaign I play in does that and it seems okay; I don’t see it being used unfairly.

I don’t really see the objection to GMs being the ones to make that call. By playing in my campaign, the players are trusting me to know how to design the world, portray the NPCs, and run combat and other agonies in a way that will entertain them, and thus to know what will be entertaining for them; being able to decide whether a player has been good at entertaining the other players seems to call for the same sort of judgment. The “equalizer” here is that my players are free not to play in one of my campaigns; several of my San Diego circle GM their own campaigns for each other, so it’s not like it was me or no one. Having the players vote on who should get the “good roleplaying” award seems like an artificial equalizer, and I’m not sure why it would be needed.

I knew one RuneQuest GM who punished tick-hunting (“I’ve used the sword, I’ll switch to the mace… now I’ll switch to the flail…”) by an encounter with a Hunting Tick. (I believe it was about ten feet long.)

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That would seem a little unnecessary.

If they were changing weapons in mid combat there are ample methods for punishing that. And if they were choosing a different weapon at each encounter they were just trying to become a well rounded warrior.

Or spending every journey looking for a thing to climb, a thing to swim in, a lock to pick…

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That doesn’t seem unreasonable for a certain type of character. A group made up entirely of that type of character seems like it would strain credibility unless it were explicitly a roving band of practical experientialist philosophers.


My favourite RuneQuest character was Hermod the Silent, a Sartarite refugee whose adventures led him north-west from Dragon Pass as a slave/mercenary of some dragon-newts (I did not understand that bit), then west down the Janube to its mouth on a series of boats (that bit was kind of piratey), then on horseback south-west across Ralios to Maniria, across Maniria and Holy Country with his loot/wealth in the form of horses, and finally back to Dragon Pass. When he got there he had ten “Sever Spirit” spells stacked up in his cache of Rune magic, and was lacking but one thing to qualify as a Sword of Humakt: he had yet to master Ride. You see, he had ridden thousands of kilometres over the space of several years, but it had nearly all been between adventures, so no rolls had been called for.

No-one else’s character had survived, and everyone but me was dreading the time when Hermod should get re-usable rune magic.

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I always found that the important thing was to win at least one POW-v.-POW contest in every adventure, which biased my choice and use of spirit magic somewhat.

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This gets rather more difficult in Call of Cthulhu.

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