What’s Wrong With the GM Always Being Right

There is a school of thought that the GM in a game is god and their word is law. Personally I despise this idea.

Note: If you and your group like having an absolutist GM, that’s great. The existence of different gaming styles and points of view in no way invalidates your own gaming preferences.

There are two reasons why I find “the GM is always right” objectionable. One is practical and the other more philosophical.

The Practical Reason

Anytime a GM declares their word is law and that players must accept it, the GM is shutting the doors on compromise. Yet compromise and accommodation of other people’s quirks and preferences is how a social group sticks together. When tempers get frayed, when people have a bad day, when egos get bruised, the only way to defuse the situation is compromise. It allows people to accept a sub-optimal outcome on the basis that no one else is getting exactly what they want either.

A GM ruling by diktat removes the option of compromise and forces conflicts to escalate to the inevitable ugly climax of a player leaving the game. This never, ever improves the gaming night experience for anyone around the table.

The Philosophical Reason

Gaming is a social activity – a way to get together and have fun with friends and no different from going to a restaurant together. When we socialise with friends in other situations, no one is in charge, no one is deciding what is right and wrong for everyone. Yes, there may be one person who has booked the restaurant or is making sure everyone chips-in towards the bill but that is an administrative function. Their enjoyment and opinions are no more important than others in the group.

So why in gaming should we place one person’s opinions and enjoyment in a supreme position? Would you go for a meal with someone who insisted in having final say on what food you could eat?

It is true that gaming has a lot more “administration” than going to a restaurant and a group certainly needs a way to resolve questions about rules without disrupting the game session. (Most) role-playing games also need the story-teller-in-chief, the person in charge of the monsters, NPCs and the game-world.

But neither of these roles need dictatorial powers and the problems they bring. There is no need for these roles to even be combined in the same person. The rules judge could be a role which passes around players or a magic 8-ball. It doesn’t matter how decisions are made as long as all the players are happy with the process.

The social experience of a game is a collective one, created and owned equally by everyone around the gaming table. A GM who claims absolute power is claiming ownership of the game and placing their enjoyment, their preferences over all others.

Photo Credit : Arne Hjorth Johansen

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