This is the first of what’s intended to be a semi-regular series of posts, about my rules of running a good RPG.
Rule #1. If everyone is having fun, you’re doing it right. This is the only valid test for whether you’re doing it right.
This is the most basic, and most important rule. It trumps all others – both the rules printed in your game’s sourcebooks, and the rest of my own GMing rules. All other rules are ultimately aides to adhering to this first rule.
This rule has a couple of key corollaries:
Rule #1a. If someone’s not having fun, you need to investigate.
The fundamental purpose of a game is to have fun. If there are people at the table who aren’t having fun, then the game is failing at its basic function.
It might be that not everyone is on the same page about what sort of game you’re playing. It might be that someone’s not happy with how something turned out – does something need to be retconned, or compensated for in future? Maybe someone wants more (or less) combat, more (or less) intrigue, more (or less) romance. Maybe someone’s character has a cool ability that they’re excited about, but they’re not getting to use. Maybe the players have different comfort thresholds for violence, or sexual innuendo, or even foul language, and the game is tromping all over someone’s boundaries on that score.
No one should be in the position of enduring the game – if someone’s not eagerly looking forward to each game session, then you should investigate.
(How to facilitate communication on everyone’s satisfaction, how to avoid such problems and how to solve them, is a whole discussion on its own.)
Rule #1b. Don’t worry about any external notion of how the game “should” be.
The game should be how you and your players want it to be. No one else’s opinion on the subject matters. Changing rules, adding exceptions to rules, ignoring rules, or adding rules – these are all fair game, if they’re what everyone at the table wants. Likewise, changing elements of the setting, if you’re working with a published setting.
This point holds a particular relevance for new gaming groups – new players, and new GMs:
Sometimes, people see RPGs (usually Dungeons & Dragons, in my experience) at a distance, are intrigued, but don’t have access to an established gaming group. So they get their hands on the sourcebooks, gather some friends, and start playing, with no one bringing any prior RPG experience to the table.
And in some cases, though those groups are having fun, they worry – sometimes out loud, sometimes on the Internet – that they’re not doing it right.
Are you having fun? Then you’re doing it right. Even if you’re getting the rules wrong. Even if you’re ignoring the rules. The rules are there to help you meet the goal of having fun. If you’re having fun, then that goal is met.