Rules calls are a touchy thing – a slippery slope that the skilled game master must navigate with their players, testing their footing all the while. Especially until a trust can be formed, game masters must be careful to be even-handed and address all of a player’s concerns or risk losing the player – or worse yet, losing control of the situation and losing all your players.
But what can game masters do to keep control of the situation – and still make it fun for everyone at the table?
What is true for parenting is often true for game mastering – and there are rules that apply to children and players alike when it comes to establishing boundaries.
1.) Once a decision has been made, act on it and move on –
As we discussed in an earlier entry, exploration and discussion is a healthy – even required – part of the decision marking process. But once a decision has been made, dwelling on it just harbors ill feelings all around – as those that are happy with the decision will be irritated that the others are taking the time to continue discussion, and the longer the conversation stays on that subject, the more heated the unhappy parties can become.
2.) Do not argue in front of the other players –
Occasionally, a player will not appreciate point #1, and will want to continue to focus on the issue. Arguing at the table will only make the situation worse – not to mention kill your credibility and trust as a game master. If a discussion gets heated, take it away from the table. Call a quick break (if things have been really heated, maybe buy a quick round of snacks for the table. You are playing at a well-stocked game shop, aren’t you?) and take the affected parties aside to discuss things quietly, and away from the group. This shows the angry player that their concerns are important – and saves the others at the table from the awkward shuffles and anxious looks associated with watching mommy and daddy fight.
3.) Admit your faults – when you’re wrong, be wrong –
If you re-think your ruling at the table later – whether as a result of a change of heart, or further research – let the players know. For minor changes, simply update the House Rules and let your players know about the change via email – but if there was an argument around the ruling, take the time at the start or end of the next gaming session to apologize for your mistake, miscalculation, or judgement lapse in person. Fully explain the revised ruling to them and let them know that their questions are important. By reaching out to the players in person – and setting the time aside to directly address your mistaken – you show that you are willing to be wrong, and that their concerns are being heard.
4.) Empathize –
In a recent seminar on managing people, the instructor had the managers transfer their pen to their off hand (left hand for righties, for example) and try to sign their name. Many couldn’t even hold the pen. This exercise was to teach them to think about things from other people’s perspectives. I think this applies at the game table, too. Part of tearing down the “Us vs. Them” barrier between game masters and players is to understand how your rulings impact them – to Empathize with the player. That doesn’t mean they always get their way because you feel sorry for them, but that you deliver the ruling in a way that is respectful of their opinions.
This tip, above all the others, should have been an underlying theme of this entire series. If you take nothing else away from the blog, take this: As a game master, you must Empathize with your players if you want to ensure everyone is having fun!
So there you have it. The final installment in the Golden Rule series. Like what you saw? Visit our website and click the “Follow” button on the right to keep up with our future posts.
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