Conducting the Game

by Peter Mullen

Rolling Dice and Control of the Game
Handling Troublesome Players
Integration of Experienced or New Players into an Existing Campaign
Multiple Characters for a Single Player
Intervention by Deities
The Ongoing Campaign
Conducting the Game

Book-keeping: The GM should set up some simple system for
book-keeping and may wish to delegate some tasks to the players.
The present author, for example, keeps a piece of scratch
paper by his books and makes a tally mark when each turn
has elapsed, enabling him to see at a glance when to roll for
wandering monsters, when the next REST period is required,
and when the party has run out of lantern fuel. In extreme
cases, if the campaign has grown so large that ten or more
players per session is typical, an assistant GM can help--the
assistant, or apprentice, GM helps the main GM with book-keeping
and organisation, and may help the main GM design
new dungeons and adventures, eventually becoming either a
co-GM or branching of into a separate sub-campaign.
- OSRIC, page 142

Question: In an adventure we had recently (with three char-
acters, all of whom were no higher than second level) we had
to fight a wraith and a wight. We were at our every-other-week
meeting and one of the PCs forced a friend of ours to DM. The
“volunteered” DM never said whether the adventure was first
level or not. We managed to kill the wraith without loss with
silver arrows (fortunately it was a weak wraith), but when
fighting the wight the PC who forced our friend to DM was hit
and lost a level of experience (he was a Keeper [P2]).
Also on the adventure that PC received a sword that was plus 2 against giant weasels only.
Now the PC has erased the
treasure and experience for the adventure and acts as though
the adventure never took place. He says that the ideas in the
adventure were stupid. Is this right?

Answer: No, it is not right!
Whenever a PC decides to go adventuring anywhere he/she takes a risk and therefore must bear the consequences.
I’m sure that had the PC not lost a level of experience that he/she would have gladly reaped any benefits, i.e. treasure || XP.
— W. Niebling, J. Ward
l l l

Originally Posted by Edena_of_Neith


I view myself, as DM, as a servant of the players. I exist to cater to them. If they are not having fun, I feel like a failure.

That much is so, as the DM is there to provide entertainment to the players.

Originally Posted by Edena_of_Neith
The only problem with this approach is ... it can cause a nervous breakdown. Trying to please other people, much less a whole crowd of other people, is an awfully hard thing to do.
I've never run a game, period, where at least one player didn't end the game in misery. I'm afraid that my approach to DMing is just inherently fatally flawed.
But I don't know of a better way. I really don't. Honestly, I don't.

You are surely a very consciencious DM, maybe too much so.
First, you are at least as important as any other participant, so you must have fun too, or something is wring.

If you aren't always having fun, likely someone, or several someones, in the group is causing a problem.
Weed out such person or persons, and you and the remainder of the players will likely find the game sessions are uniformly enjoyable.


Originally Posted by Orius
I think it's really a matter of how experienced the DM is. ...

If you add self-confident and well-grounded in fantasy and history, I can not disagree


Originally Posted by Whitey
Happy GM's day.

If anybody should get special kind wishes today, it's you - and if there's anybody who can really answer this question, it's you.
Beyond 'everybody has a good time', what would you say are the five most important elements of a dungeon/campaign/quest? You should answer that as broadly or specifically as you like.
It'll give us something to think about here while we're waiting on Castle Zagyg.

Hi Whitey,

Rather than have you wait for about three years, the likely toime the last part of Castle Zagyg will be published, I'll take a stab at the five elements that make a game session enjoyable:

1. Good personal relationships between all the participants.
2. Subject matter that interests the whole group.
3. Able GMing, including animated participationby that one.
4. Able play, role-assumption, and roleplaying by the players.
5. A sense of danger from the environment, but knowledge that clever play will likely overcome all hazards,
6. In-game reward for characters played successfully in the scenario,
7. Shared recounting of the adventure at its conclusion.
8. A conclusion that opens the portal to yet more exciting possibilities for play.

There, I went you three better


gideon_thorne wrote:

Funny you should mention that. A summer school I went too in california (I was taking extra art related courses) also offered an AD&D 'class'.
The fellow running the class, a chap named Clint Owen, taught much about cooperative team work and strategy.

I spent several summers in that class and had many a good time. It went on for the length of the summer break in school.

Learning how to be a better player is fine, but the ftf RPG hobby is totally dependent on the supply of able GMs, for growth of the hobby that is the single critical factor.
Thus, to expand the audience more competentant GMs are mandated.

They are teaching game design at several schools now, but to the best of my knowledge there is nowhere one can go to learn the art of game mastering.


Lord Mogrim wrote:
Hey Gary,

Through out the years how offten did your group play. Once a week or monthly. It has been hard for our group (The Storm Crows) to get together. Once a month is good for us. At one point a long time ago we played every sunday. As we get older its much harder to get time when we all can play. With wives and kids that is to be expected. How did you handle it when 1 or 2 people could not make a sesion.


How wellI know!
We have about none or so members in our group, and usually four to six make a weekly session.
Actually, what I fear is having everybody show up 



Saga of Old City...Great read here! I'm on page 134....Gord just used a staff to tumble a bandit off his horse who ended up impaling himself on his targets spear.

Did you allow tricks like this in your AD&D games? i.e..thrusting out a staff and tripping a horse. I wonder, how would one actually implement such a mechanic?

But of course...

...provided the player desiring to do some special thing could explain how and why it could be done.
Dismounting riders is hardly astonishing, and there are numbers of means for accomplishing such a thing.

As for rules, nonsense.
The name of the game is roleplaying, not ruleplaying.
the Game master is there to handle all the thousands of situations where rules are UNNECESSARY 
Knowledge, logic, reason, and common sense serve better than a dozen rule books.



Your quoting me is a honor. Thanks:)

After all this time, I do shake my head in wonderment regarding all of those who doubt their own capacity as the final arbiter of the game they are GMing. I hope my words will give them the confidence to have fun managing things in their campaign as they deem best. Any slips will be "corrected" by indignant players, of course. I've made a few of those myself 



On that topic [judge, ref, DM, GM, JM, LM] I do have a couple of questions for you, although I don't know if you would want to answer these or not. Who are the 5 best that you have played under (in no particular order) and why did you like each one of them/what was unique about their style that made them great? The second question is similar, what are your strong points are the GM and what makes your style unique?

If you would rather not answer, I am cool with that, but curious just the same.


The GMs I remember as providing outstanding adventures are Russ Stanbaugh, Rob Kuntz, Jim Ward, and Ernie Gygax. Likely there are a couple I don't recall, as my playing is rare compared to my being the GM.

As for my own virtues in the role in question, I suspect the main one is love of the game and conveying that to the players. If I have any special qualities, those for whom I serve as GM are better able to answer that. Frankly, I think I am not all that special 


dcas wrote:
Still, there is something about the LA game that resonates with me. Maybe it just came along at the right time -- when I was busy reading fairy tales and the like to my children.  Plus, it facilitates the kind of GMing (seat of the pants) that I should have been doing all along. (I must say, even the discussion of mounted combat in this forum nearly put me to sleep -- too many rules! 

Yes indeed...thanks!

That is how I prefer to play, did when using the A/D&D game systems.
In putting together the LA game I did my best to make it rules light and friendly to all GMs that like best to wing their campaign sessions when not using a prepared adventure scenario 


Buttmonkey wrote:
Gary --

I am wondering what were the best/worst bribes you were ever offered by a player hoping to secure some sort of advantage in a game you were running. Even if no one ever came out and said "I'll give you $20 if you let me have a <insert desired magical item>", surely somebody brought you some of his wife's special cookies and then stared at you with puppy-dog eyes when a level-draining monster was reviewing the party to pick targets.

Boy, if any player ever did that, did they have the wrong vampire! Once the action is underway I notice nothing of that sort, and anyone hoping to curry favor thus is plain out of luck. (My wife says I am unobservant in such regard...  )


Richter_Bravesteel wrote:
Colonel, out of curiosity, what do you think is the worst possible thing one can do as a DM? I've heard a lot of different opinions on what a good and bad DM is like, and I'd be curious to see what the father of the game thought.

Simply put the GM is there to amuse and entertain the player group.
Failure to do so is the worst thing a GM can do, If in so failing he also causes them to reject the game form, that is about as aggregious a thing as can happen.
That typically occurs when the GM becomes the antagonist of the players.


Originally Posted by khyron1144
Dear Esteemed Mr. Gygax, inventor of my hobby, and chief deity of my pantheon,
How does it feel to be an adjective? see here
I bet they got what the term means wrong too.
I apologize, if this has been asked before.

Feel free to call me Gary, as I am a fellow gamer, right?

The term in question simply makes me shake my head in wonder. So many people opining without any actual knowledge to base their assertions upon is astonishing to me.

I read those posts, and I had to chuckle. Nobody seems to know what "Gygaxian" means. I sure don't after perusing the lot. there's a considerable amount of confusion in regards to my DMing style, and not a few people there blowing hard without having an inkling of what it is like.

If I set out to kill PCs, how on earth did Tenser, Robilar, and the rest ever get to relatively high levels? What the whiners don't like are adventure situations where they lose their PCs due to their own inept play. My modules don't suffer fools lightly

One poster was quite on target by mentioning running away as an option...

Originally Posted by Joe123
Hello Gary, 

How important is the ability of “winging” an adventure? Particularly, when players take actions the DM did not expect. Apparently, allowing players true freedom in determining their PC’s action provides them a better gaming experience. Is “railroading” something the DM should strive to avoid. If so, then to what extent should the DM give freedom to the players when they choose a course of action the DM may not have accounted for?



Noting your query, I went back a page and found your earlier post.
Sorry, but I missed it somehow.

The opinions of some folks to the contrary, I have always "winged" most adventures--the exceptions being play-tests of material in a ms. for a module, and a few set-piece places I developed.
All the outdoor adventures I ran, and most of the dungeon crawls were half or more made up on the spot.

When extemporizing, the GM must be prepared to handle all manner of unexpected actions by the players.
If they are foolish, I always invent a number of opportunities for disaster.
If the course taken is one that is clever and innovative, I add in rewards.

Before a party goes off on a likley disasterous course I will try to deter them from such action--wandering monsters have much usefulness in this regard.

As for "railroading," there are some scenarios where a bit of that is absolutely necessary to further the whole of the adventure.
This is not to say that an entire adventure should be linear and force the party into a situation with a foregone conclusion.
The use of a predetermined outcome should be only to set up an interesting and challenging scenario where the players are absolutely free to manage the outcome on their own, that outcome offering penalties for wrong decisions, rewards for correct ones, large rewards for innovation and creative solutions 


Originally Posted by MerricB
It was probably missed because it was posed whilst Gary was answering another question, thus ending up sandwiched between his answers. It's happened once or twice to my own questions.

Gary, I was wondering:
Have you ever Dungeon Mastered an adventure designed by someone else?

It came to me that I primarily know you as an author/DM or (rarely) a player, but I wasn't sure of what experiences you have of DMing someone else's material.


Howdy Merric 

Right you are. Somehow I missed Joe123's post, but its TCO now.

I have indeed DMed a fair number of adventures using other designers' material.
The SLAVE PITS series, for one, and another I used often for quick pick-up games was the ABDUCTION OF GOOD KING DESPOT, one of my favorite short scenarios.

Usually, though, players want to adventure in something I have created, so I do a lot of winged adventures outdoors or in the old Castle Greyhawk dungeons, or else use manuscript material I have on hand.
To be absolutely truthful, I usually create new material on the spot for my own material that doesn't exactly follow what is written down, as circumstances alter cases 


Originally Posted by Jehosephat
Good day to you Gary !! 

I have a quick question for you on the art of being a good gamemaster.
I know you have probably answered this at some point in your career, but I missed it.
Do you think being a great gamemaster is a natural ability or a learned one?

Hi Jehosephat,

As with most things of creative sort I believe that the really great GMs have a natural talent for it.
Most of us are not so blessed, but with desire and practise and we are able to do a good job of it.
I might have great ideas for adventures, but I do not consider myself to be a great GM, adaquate usually, sometimes near-great becaus eof enthusiasm, and now and then pretty dismal.


Originally Posted by oldschooler
I assume the OD&D game is the one written about over at Dragonsfoot. When you DMed that AD&D game, did you go "by the book" or just have the books handy while making it up as you went? I like trying to go by the book, but the details (like age modifiers for starting PCs, weapon type vs. AC, etc.) always trip me up. I can't seem to keep all the rules called for in my head at the same time.


I consider the rules something to consult when you are absolutely stuck for what to do.

Read them, know the main mechanics, and then play the game so that all concerned are having fun <laughing>


Originally Posted by Rakin
Wow this thread looks way over my head, but I'm going to take a stab at it anyhow. I just have a request for some advice...

It seems that somehow I have been mistaken for Ann Landers <confused>

Okay, I'll stop ribbing you and give this advice: To encourage role-assumption make it important that the players "know" their PCs and be rewarded for that knowledge by Dm lauds and even some extra XPs where that is apropriate. to encourage roleplaying, do a lot of it while DMing, and whenever a player responds in kind, make it clear there is approval and let all the group see it--but make it both entertaining and fun, with some humor in it that all can share.

Finally, stop worrying about yourself--your DMing--and just have fun. That will improve the performance of the best of DMs<cool>


Originally Posted by trollwad
colonel pladoh, the original 'cowboy dm'

At one of TSR's small cons--Autumn Revel, Winter Fantasy, and Spring Revel--a large contingent of the DMG group came to assist us in managing events. All they asked unb return is that I run an adventure for them on Sunday. I actually prepared a combined outdoor trek and dungeon crawl as its conclusion, had it in a manilla folder, and grabbed it early Sunday morning when I left home to travel some 35 miles to Lake Geneva and the convention.

About 10 AM I gathered the group of around eight players to a large round table and hauled out my books and the folder. Lo and behold! It was one filled with copies of inter-office memos regarding some company matter I have long since forgotten/

I gulped, began winging a play session that went on for about six hours. Only one person in the group suspected I was making up the whole adventure as I went along, that near the end of it. I told the players about how I had messed up and not brought the prepared material I had done especially for them, displayed the memo copies and so forth. They assured me that what I had DMed was excellent, kept them guessing and on edge throughout. That was most gratifying, as I was nervous about such a special session not being very special because of my error.


Originally Posted by RedFox
Wow. I'm new here, so forgive me if this has been asked before. I think it's incredibly cool of you to field questions like this though. Thank you!

I'm a new-time DM, having just run his first two game sessions of D&D. I came into the hobby with AD&D 1st Edition, but never got to play back-when (just got to oggle the books), and re-entered the hobby with actual play in the mid-90's with White Wolf stuff. So I'm not very experienced with D&D, which has a much different play-style than other RPGs I'm used to.

Do you have any advice for a newbie DM such as myself?

That's a difficult thing to do succinctly, but here are some salient tings a GM must do to have a successful campaign:

Pay attention to what the player group finds most interesting, and provide adventures that reflect this preference.

Do not let the rules get in the way of play; be the arbiter of the game so that the adventure continues on without unnecessary interruptions, and the immersion of the players in the milieu remains complete.

Do not make the group face impossible challenges, and keep the rewards as reasonable as possible (that is modest), so that there is always someting more to seek after.

Well developed villains are usually very compelling to players, and the longer these antagonists remain alive and thwarting the PCs, the more exciting the adventures.

Mix up the adventure settings so that play is not always in the same dort of place. A town adventure leads to a wilderness trek, that brings the party to a subterranian setting for example. From there they might have a waterborne or earial mission.


In general I envisaged the DM as a special member of the group, the one most dedicated to providing creative and imaginative material that would serve the other participants in their adventuring. The DM is nothing without the group, the group is nothing without the DM. these disparate elements are necessary to have a whole. The DM can also be a player, probably wants to take such a role a good deal of the time, but many players have no desire to assume the role of the DM, because of the responsibility and effort required.

Does that answer your questions?


Originally Posted by Doug McCrae
Would a competent DM have the rules memorised? Or make on-the-spot rulings that are not necessarily consistent with the rules as written?

A bit of both. A good DM has read the rules, knows the spirit of the game, and is aiming at captivating his player audience with the fantastic experience of the campaign, so he can make up what is necessary on the spot.

Digging around in rules books is much the same as having the film break or the TV station experience transmission difficulties during an exciting program...a loss of the unagined participation.


Playing does indeed improve one's GMing skills!


James M: 3. Gary Gygax thanks you by name for your contributions to the AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide. Do you recall what you contributed to this book?

Lawrence Schick: When I started work at TSR in January of 1979 Gygax handed me this huge, sprawling, unorganized manuscript and said, “Here’s the Dungeon Masters Guide – edit this.” So I did. There were a few things he wanted to include that he didn’t particularly want to write; for those parts he told me what he wanted, and I wrote them. Unfortunately I don’t have a copy of the original DMG at hand – I lost all my D&D stuff in my recent divorce – but I recall writing the Example of Play, some of the advice for Dungeon Masters, and a number of other bits here and there. But it was all under Gary’s direction, and he certainly deserves all the credit.

- Grognardia (Interview: Lawrence Schick)