Day 26: The Other Side of the Screen


It’s probably a toss-up between whether I’ve spent more time as a player or Game Master since I started playing TTRPGs in 2008. I enjoy both, but I definitely think that I’ve developed bad habits as a player that stem from my time spent behind the GM screen. Does that mean all GMs are bad players? Certainly not, but I think that there are definitely some pitfalls to watch out for as a player when you hand the reigns over to another GM.

Despite my history of struggling with all the rules in D&D 3.5 and Pathfinder, I’m actually fairly fluent with the D&D 5th edition ruleset at this point. As a result, I tend to know many of the answers to the rules questions that arise during play, answers that the GM doesn’t know off the top of his or head. This can help the party save time that would otherwise be spent looking up the answer, but I imagine that some GMs might see it as a usurpation of authority. More than that, I’ve found myself interjecting with answers that were asked more or less to the GM.

Other Player: “I want to look for traps.”
Me: “Roll Intelligence/Investigation.”
Game Master: [pauses] “What’d you get?”

Although none of the GMs whose games I’m playing in has said anything about it to me yet, I feel like it has to be annoying. (Or at least, it would be annoying to me if someone else were doing it. Maybe? Or would I see it as helpful? I’m not sure.) This is one of those times where better impulse control would help, cause it’s totally habit at this point to adjudicate rolls and rules, and I need to be better at waiting a split second for the GM to intercede when I’m not running the game.

Another bad habit I have as a player, one that perhaps also comes from my time as a developer for RPG adventures, is that I can be very judgmental of other GMs. I’m constantly thinking, “How would I handle that in my game?” or “What if he or she had done this instead?” Asking those questions has helped me learn and get better by seeing what works and what doesn’t in other peoples’ games, but taken too far it get in the way of enjoying the game at hand. In the worst case, I get caught in the trap of thinking the campaign would be better if I were GMing—if I were doing it my way. (It doesn’t help that I have control-freak tendencies.)

Yet, I know I’m not a perfect GM either, and in my own games I make many of those same mistakes that I’m judging other GMs about. It’s possible that being too hard on yourself can also translate to being too hard on others. (Note to Kat: stop being so judgmental in general!)

Finally, as the GM I’m used to constantly being in the limelight. Everyone’s attention is focused on the GM to find out what happens next, and the GM gets to be involved in every scene and encounter no matter how much you’ve split the party. As a player, it’s hard for me to to settle back into the paradigm of being one of four or five or six. Being used to GMing has turned me into one of those alpha gamers who will dominate the table and guide the story from the players’ side, and unless my fellow players are also alpha-types, I can unintentionally overshadow less vocal or assertive players. It’s something I’ve been working on as a player, but I’ve still got a long way to go before I don’t feel like I’m setting on other players’ toes.

The easy solution is to exclusively GM, but that’s not always feasible because a) sometimes I want to play just one character, b) I don’t have the time or creativity to GM non-stop, and c) other people have stories they want to tell too. I just have to work harder at being mindful of my foibles and recognizing them when they happen so I can stop before I commit a role-playing faux pas.

Do you think Game Masters are bad players? Link your answers in the comments below! You can find the rest of the 30 Days of Gamemastering Challenge prompts here. And stay tuned for tomorrow’s post on co-GMing. Thanks again for reading!

2 Responses to “Day 26: The Other Side of the Screen”

  1. David B says:

    I feel like I can be a pretty bad player, but also one that pushes things along. I don’t get a whole lot of time on the player side of the screen, so when I do, I want to keep things moving. So my guy is the one who’s going to pull the lever, push the button, etc.

    I’m also pretty judgmental about other DMs styles. I think some of that is ok, as it can help us pay attention to things that we don’t want to do ourselves. Plus, sometimes we can learn new tricks!

  2. Chris Herrick says:

    I feel that although GMing may have given me some bad habits (as are outlined here), there are some effects I have noticed as a result of GMing:
    – I am much more assertive as a player. Some of the players I play with are very timid on taking actions and do not show appropriate character initiative, instead content to do nothing in a port or town, whereas I go to places and provide the opportunity for something to happen.
    – I am much more willing to work with the GM to accomplish a task or goal (i.e. going to a certain trigger soon as opposed to ignoring it); the players shouldn’t be the only one having fun.
    – I am more descriptive and creative as a player.
    – I find it easier to differentiate character-knowledge from player-knowledge.

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