John's Expectations and Bitching Page


First, a brief glossary of terms:

Someone (I forget who) proposed a three axis system for measuring how people approach RPGs. Keep in mind that very few people only adhere to a single axis:

To provide a concrete example. Let's say the GM is running a spy game. The PCs are trying to track down the hotel that Frank Zappa, International Terrorist, is staying at. There are eight hotels in town, and the PCs have no clues as to which one, but will know him when they see him.

The Gamist GM finds an appropriate skill for people to use to find Frank, if possible. If there's no appropriate skills, he goes for whatever luck mechanic the game has. If the game happens to have no built-in luck mechanic either, then he rolls a d8, and that's the hotel that Frank is staying at; he probably quickly runs them through making search rolls for the wrong hotels if they go to those.

The Narrativist GM decides the PCs will find Frank in the third hotel they look in (regardless of which hotel they start with), but that the first hotel will have a run-in with drug-dealers who may think the PCs are looking for them and the second hotel will have a very suspicious desk manager (who is actually embezzling and worried that he's going to be caught).

The Simulationist GM decides which hotel Frank is at, and happily accepts either the PCs getting lucky and going right to him or fumbling around through all of them, if that's how it comes out. He may well throw the same encounters at them that the Narrativist did, but he decided in advance which hotels would trigger those as well.

Like most players and GMs, I combine all of the above, though I tend to be Simulationist, then Narrativist, then Gamist in my priorities. I love world-building (as I'm sure you can all tell), and I plan things out extensively in advance (even knowing the PCs will blow things wide open within a few sessions). Ultimately, I will change the rules to make them model the world instead of vice versa. Though I love drama and character interaction, if I ultimately have to choose between feeling the world is realistic and drama, drama usually loses.

Still, I have a great deal of narrativist in me. I like to bounce characters off each other and see what happens, and I like character conflict. The writer in me is concerned with giving every player plots to work with and balancing the importance of each player character so that they all have a narrative role to play of importance. I like to play out dramatic scenes. In some cases, enough so to fiddle with my setting to facilitate it. My adventures are designed to fit into an overarching plot.

I will happily trample the rules underfoot in the interest of 'realism' or drama. I do have a gamist streak which manifests in the fact that I am very concerned about providing fair challenges and structuring my campaigns around various adventures in which the players will have to overcome various challenges. I am also generally happy to let the PCs trample my plots into the dust if they come up with clever solutions I did not anticipate.

Unfortunately for my nerves, my players do not always share my priorities. Some of you are more gamist, some more narrativist, and some more simulationist. It is impossible to please everyone, I know, though I try hard to.

So, how do I view the job of the GM?

Being a GM combines aspects of world-building, directing improv theatre and being a referee. As a world builder, the GM creates the setting (places and NPCs and world laws and all) and integrates the PCs into it. As a director, he runs the NPCs of the world, giving them motivations, and creates plots for each of them, tying those plots together into overarching plots and also stages the adventures which the PCs will face. Such adventures should be scaled to the potency of the PCs and any problem they can't overcome, they ought to be able to avoid if they play intelligently or else able to get help in order to overcome it. Finally, the GM acts as a referee who interprets the rules, sets the difficulties of things within the game structure, creates new rules as needed, and resolves disputes between players before everyone kills each other.

The GM must always assume the players will do two impossible things before breakfast, fail to do two simple things before lunch, and do two things you never imagined before dinner. Ultimately, the actions of the PCs should be decisive to the plot, at least in so far as the plot impacts them. I am perfectly content to let the PCs mangle my plots into small crumpled balls so long as said mangling doesn't screw other PCs who couldn't do anything about it or reduce the world to rubble. In fact, I always assume the PCs will mangle my plots, both in good ways (find easy way to beat villain) and bad ways (destined hero trips on shoelace, dies on Pattern). This means that all other things being equal, I let the PCs be the leaders unless this strains my sense of reality too much (for example, if PC is hanging with Drake, Juri, and Touga, he is unlikely to get to be leader). NPCs are ultimately secondary to PCs, as the PCs are the stars. This does get tricky in a game like Amber where you have potent Elders. I addressed this issue on [another Wiki page]?.

PCs being able to control their own actions and making their own decisions is very important to me. I will give advice if asked, but ultimately, I very much prefer not having to tell people what to do. I will generally only veto a player action if I think it's going to be hideously campaign-wrecking, and even then I'll try to find a way inside the context of the game to prevent it doing so if I can. Characters may come under many IC constraints, but I ultimately think it is the responsibility of players to make their own decisions, once they've been correctly informed so they can make intelligent decisions.

Because players do not and cannot know the setting as intimately as I do, it is my job to make sure that players get all relevant information they ask for. Information should only be concealed if there's no way for players to know it. However, it is up to the players to dig for information if they are interested in it. I know that some players enjoy this process and others hate it, so I will generally summarize for those with less desire to analyze data themselves.

Because players are the stars, player actions have consequences. I am very big on consequences. PCs can save the day, but they can also make big messes. My NPCs will generally try to contain any messes which are made, but I generally expect PCs to clean up their own messes if possible. (If they survive them). I generally am reluctant to sweep the consequences of PC disasters under the rug, because it's the flipside of me not squashing unexpectedly easy/wide-reaching PC triumphs either. If you earn your victory, I'm not going to steal it from you; if you earn a disaster, you're going to have to cope with it.

I recognize this can drive those players not involved in the disaster crazy with having to deal with the consequences. I try to avoid letting other people be made more miserable than I can help by the results of mistakes and disasters, but in a game with other players, there are times when you, as players, will have to cope with the results of other people's actions. Just as you may benefit from their triumphs. Otherwise, I might as well run everyone in a seperate campaign.

Similarly, with nine players, it is not always possible for me to advance everyone's personal plots as evenly as I would like to. Some things have to await specific triggers, sometimes I think it best to wait to start things, sometimes there's just too much going on because someone did something really good or really bad. There are also pacing issues at times. You will, at times, end up subordinated to other people's plots. Please bear with it.

I am, as a GM, often torn between my narrativist and simulationist sides, between the part of me which wants things to be dramatic and the part which is reluctant to shuffle things around in the service of drama. This is one of the reasons why my campaigns include a certain number of whacky humor situations (where my dramatist side can run wild with comedy) in addition to the more serious situations, and a lot of character interaction stuff where there is no risk of death or other horrible consequences.

I like drama. I like deep characters with interesting motivations bouncing off each other in interpersonal conflicts. If you want me, as a GM, to be interested in your character interaction scenes, you need to be willing to engage in character conflict. If you do not like having conflicts with other Amberites, you should not be surprised if I show signs of not finding your character interaction scenes as interesting as those of people who are willing to have interpersonal conflicts. While I certainly don't require everyone wallow in hate (and in fact, generally don't want everyone to end up hating each other IC), character interaction scenes work best if there is sometimes non-violent interpersonal conflict as well as friendship. Much as I would like to be fair and be able to have equal interest in every kind of character interaction, I am not a perfect human being, and I can only hide my own preferences so much. If people want more character interaction, I'm always happy to give it to them, but I am most interested in scenes which involve some amount of conflict and/or reveal other sides of a character's personality which are not as often seen.

It's also important to remember that characters need something to talk about. I do enjoy scenes where people discuss 'current events', so to speak, but I do not enjoy playing out really extensive recappings of things we all already know. (Which is why I try to make most of the gaming public, so that recapping can be minimized.)

It is also important to me that characters grow, develop, and change over the course of the campaign. They need flaws (if only to outgrow them). Not all of my NPCs undergo this (Anthy is much the same now as she was in TAMD), but I try to ensure the most significant NPCs who hang out with the PCs do grow and change. I know I sometimes fall down on this (Lily, Kentaro), but it is something I try to focus on, and which I think players need to focus on for their characters, especially if they want to do a lot of character interaction. Characters who are much the same at the end of the game as at the start are less interesting than ones who respond to events with real changes.

Ultimately, I, as DM, am the final authority of the game. I try to be flexible and to respond to PC complaints, as I know I'm not perfect. But there have been, are, and will be times when my response to complaints is 'suck it up, this is how I do things'. I do my best to be fair, but will confess I am only human and never perfectly fair. There may be times when I will defy the united consensus of the group, because ultimately, there are things I am not willing to change because they are too important to how I view the game. Hopefully, such conflicts will be rare.


There are certain things which will drive your GM insane. Thus, if you find yourself about to engage in one of the following activities, please rethink doing it, as the more things like this happens, the more tempted I become to have your character targeted by rabid weasels who will bite your face off.

Asking For Advice You Don't Take

This applies to a specific form of advice-asking. If you ask me what your character thinks the best thing to do is, and then you decide that's not good enough, it drives me nuts. I extremely do not like telling players what to do, so forcing me to do that, but then deciding not to take the advice is pretty much a figurative kick in the nuts. I don't mind being asked what the pros and cons of an action are, or whether the character thinks X will work. But it drives me apeshit when people ask me what to do, then decide not to do it. Please don't ask me what your character 'thinks is the best idea' unless you're too stuck to come up with any ideas yourself and you're going to actually take the advice.

Bitching About Hypothetical Player Motivations

I cannot read the minds of my players, and thus it is possible that all of the various evil conspiracies by other players which various players have complained to me about may actually exist. But in my experience, no one in this game is deliberately setting out to hose other players, and I am sick and tired of hearing people complain about things which are not actually happening. There have certainly been clashes between characters and clashes between players, but I am not seeing evidence that anyone in this game is actually out to deliberately screw other players over beyond the occasional rude comment. This sort of paranoia simply forments bitterness which is not conducive to what, in theory, the goal of this game is, to have fun. I know that you'll sometimes get aggravated with each other and not like each other or each other's characters, but unless you can produce actual evidence that someone is out to destroy you or NPC X or whatever, I am not interested in speculating on what people are 'really doing'.

If you have a problem with player X and want me to try to moderate, I will be happy to help. I am not interested in listening to the umpteenth complaint about how player X is trying to destroy Juri when I know full well that player X is not doing any such thing.

Bitching About Playing Style and IC Behavior

I have heard enough complaints from people about other people's playing styles to choke a horse with, and I am simply not interested in listening to it. Would you like it if I mocked your playing style in the peanut gallery during your sessions? It is inevitable that with nine players, some people are not going to like the way other people play. But repeatedly harping on it accomplishes nothing except to drive me insane. If you actually think someone is engaging in unacceptable behavior (using their character to take out a private grudge against you) or that they're heading towards something which will wreck the campaign, please let me know. But I think that eliminating constant public harping on people's playing styles will reduce people's stress and be more fun than all of us mocking each other.

Failure to Distinguish Between IC and OOC Behavior/Goals?/Etc?.

Please keep in mind that people's IC behavior does not necessarily reflect their OOC beliefs. I'd think this was easy, but I've been proven wrong too many times. When my NPCs hate you, it doesn't mean I hate you, and the same applies to players.

Ignoring Warning Signals

I do not give out warnings for my health. They are typically an effort by me to keep you from destroying yourself. The heavy frequency with which I have given out warnings and had them ignored greatly reduces my desire to give out any at all. In general, if I give a warning, please pay attention to it. This hasn't been so much a problem for F9R as it was for TAMD and UnS, but it still happens sometimes.

Excessive Criticism and Inability to Take Criticism

Some of the criticism which gets offered around here can be excessive, I know. Especially when people make a major mistake, the rocks can fly pretty hard. And some forms of it, I'm sick of. But at the same time, it's also important to be able to take criticism without undergoing emotional collapse or assuming that people who offer criticism of your IC actions are out to get you. Being criticized is an important part of learning from your mistakes and usually is not a sign people hate you.

At the same time, criticism around here can sometimes get excessively harsh. I've pinpointed some specific examples of this earlier, but in general, please be careful about ragging on people.

It's especially important to distinguish between IC criticism and OOC criticism. I would ask everyone involved to please try not to be too harsh in OOC criticism, but IC criticism may be pretty rough. Ideally, we should be making enough of a distinction between these (see point above) to make this viable.