I was pointed to a Gnome Stew post, “Killer GM or Selfish GM?” by a post over on Triple Crit titled The Selfish GM.

I want to talk about what Telas said in the Gnome Stew post:

Many GMs run the games that they wish they were playing.


I think this is true of almost any GM who chooses a particular campaign over another. They see something and say, “Man, I want to play that.” He jokingly calls it “being a selfish GM.”

Here’s the thing, though: That’s not a bad thing.

You need to have player buy-in to run a game, absolutely. But more essential is GM buy-in. If the GM isn’t interested in the game, things are going to go badly, quick.

I’ve played in games like that. The players goad the GM into running something he doesn’t have any interest in, and the thing shows. Players lose interest quickly when the GM can’t muster any type of excitement.

But what about selfish players? They can almost just as easily derail the game. I’ve seen a lot of players who, bored with the game, decide to do their own thing, killing important NPCs or burning a town to the ground.

Another thing he says in the post is “Every GM wants to run a grim and gritty campaign, but nobody ever wants to play in one.

This book will never see the light of the gaming table.

Sigh. This is so true. But beyond the desire for gritty campaigns is something else: A lot of GMs want to run games the players have no interest in. I would LOVE to run an original Hackmaster game, with all the complicated tables, and overdone rules. I’d love to run a Song of Ice and Fire game. I’d love to run a Burning Wheel campaign. But none of these are things my players are interested in.

So how do you strike the balance between the selfish GM and the Selfish players?

I’d give you the answer, but it’s something people have been struggling with for years. Do you have any suggestions?

5 thoughts on “Selfishness

  1. I think you’re right on the money with your observations- there are a number of dimensions to this question.

    On the one hand, I run games I would want to play in- which by corollary means I don’t run games I wouldn’t want to run in. I actually think that reverse holds true for our group more often. It isn’t that I have pet genres or themes I have to run- but rather that some things I don’t enjoy as much and wouldn’t be interested in (like Cyberpunk or a villains game). I think that still leaves plenty of room. And I do make an effort to provide options and get player input when I go to run a campaign- because that’s what I would want if I were a player in the campaign.

    And I try to run the game at the table in the way that I would want it if I were playing: the level of complexity generally, the focus on NPC interactions, the amount of playtime I get, the level of attention, the speed of play. I use that as a baseline and then adjust for different players. I’m not sure how you could run without working from that as your yardstick for what constitutes an enjoyable game.

  2. The more you talk about the difference in gaming preferences between the players and DM’s, the more it makes me wonder we’re fundamentally different breeds of gamers. In my case, I realized from the outset that I wanted to be the one runing the games. It’s an extension of the writer in me, to be able to grow worlds and weave plots. And a little bit of the control freak/perfectionist in me.

    Then, once you start to DM, you almost get stuck in that role, and the amount of prep/reading you have to do for game further separates you from the players–you are the man behind the curtain, and those levers and buttons are yours to wrestle with. But then again, you’ve been different from the start. You speak in the language of kingdoms and gods and ruins; the players converse in levels, equipment, friends or foes.

    How to reconcile this? I do think it really comes down to communication. From the outset, not after you realize there’s some incompatibility.

    In Gamemastering by Brian Jamison, he notes that the traditional way of starting a game is for the GM to choose a game system and then write the adventure. In a better world, we’d choose our players, decide on a setting together, and collaborate on the characters and the story.

    But nothing’s perfect. So we’ll both have to give up something so that everyone can have fun.

  3. “Another thing he says in the post is ”Every GM wants to run a grim and gritty campaign, but nobody ever wants to play in one.””

    What? Don’t tell my players of my HM4 game that. My game has been going for almost 5 years and it is nothing but constant strife, “grim and gritty” with traitorous NPCs and TPKs/Character Death…

    Also, don’t tell all the other HM GMs out there that run a similar game… 😉

  4. I think that players need to be more receptive to the Narrator because the Narrator tends to invest much more time and effort into games. However I can’t stand the idea of being railroaded as a GM and therefore try my best to not do this in my games. In all honesty common ground should be reached between the group and all options should be explored. The players should get to have their fun but the GM should get a healthy slice too as he/she does the majority of the work.
    I always try and pry information from my players so as to try and include events that will thrill them and make them interested enough that the give the less thought about aspects of their game a chance to be played out

    Great subject Mark


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